Top 25 Voters Change Minds Slowly

January 3, 2012

B1G Poll Watch, IU Hoops

Indiana is up against inertia among some AP voters.

In our Weekly Poll Watch posted yesterday, a commenter asked how anybody could vote for Wisconsin at No. 12 after the Badgers lost to Iowa over the weekend.

Good question.

The answer, we believe, is inertia. Voters have long believed that the 2011-12 Wisconsin Badgers are a good basketball team. They started the season at No. 15 at climbed as high as No. 9 in AP and No. 7 in the coaches poll.

Now, despite home losses to Marquette and Iowa, many voters continue to put the Badgers right around where they’ve been all year.

The Badgers aren’t alone. Voters tend to reward teams they perceive to be good – performance on the floor notwithstanding. And many of the teams they perceive to be good are those they thought were good in October.

As for teams they believed to be less good? It’s a bit of a slog up the polls.

Consider the following team profiles:

Team A:

  • 13-1.
  • Wins over No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation at home.
  • Loss to No. 15 team on the road.
  • Two road wins.
  • No. 4 in Sagarin.
  • No. 8 in kenpom.
  • No. 13 in RPI.

Team B:

  • 12-2
  • Overtime win over No. 19 team in nation at home.
  • Loss to No. 12 team in the nation at home.
  • Loss to No. 3 team in nation on road.
  • One road win.
  • No. 13 in Sagarin.
  • No. 17 in kenpom.
  • No. 11 in RPI.

Based on that resume, which team should be ranked higher in week nine of the college basketball season?

Team A, of course, is Indiana. Team B is Louisville.

Why – based solely on performance to date – would Louisville be ranked higher than the Hoosiers? Yet they are No. 11 in the latest AP poll, with Indiana right behind at 12.

Let’s look at our inertia theory:

Louisville So Far

The Cardinals started the season at No. 9.

Week by week, the Cardinals climbed as other teams got knocked off: No. 8 in week 1, then No. 7, No. 6, No. 5 and then finally leveled off at No. 4 for three weeks. They did this despite not having a signature win, unless you count a home overtime win over then-No. 19 Vanderbilt (a team that earlier lost to Cleveland State and has since lost to Indiana State).

The Cardinals weren’t even blowing out lesser opponents: a 10-point win over Western Kentucky, seven over College of Charleston, five over Ohio (a fine MAC team but one that just lost to Robert Morris). In the midst of a 12-game winning streak, Louisville had one road win – at Butler.

Finally, Louisville lost to No. 12 Georgetown at home and No. 3 Kentucky in Lexington last week – dropping them from No. 4 to No. 11.

Indiana So Far

Indiana? Well, the Hoosiers understandably started the season with zero votes, with some Big Ten writers picking them to finish last in the conference after an 11th place finish last year.

Indiana blew through the early schedule, including a true road win at Evansville and a home game against Butler, with easy double-digit wins before heading to North Carolina State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. That turned into another double-digit win on the road over a team that had beaten Texas the week before but hadn’t done much otherwise.

That earned Indiana two or three votes, but – still understandably – no ranking.

Ten days later, however, Indiana stunned No. 1 Kentucky in Bloomington – leading the Hoosiers to join the Top 25 at No. 18. After wins against Notre Dame and two nobodies, the Hoosiers climbed to No. 17 and then No. 13 entering Big Ten play.

After losing to No. 15 Michigan State on the road, the Hoosiers beat No. 2 Ohio State at home – giving them wins over the then-No. 1 and then-No. 2 teams in the nation.

Either one of those wins is far and away better than anything Louisville has done this season. Together? The body of work isn’t even close between the two teams.


Yet, there is Jason Franchuk of the Provo Daily Herald voting the Cardinals No. 4 this week – and Indiana a reasonable No. 10. Bill Cole of the Winston-Salem Journal voted Louisville No. 5 – and Indiana 14th. Roger Clarkson voted Louisville No. 9 (which is fine) – but Indiana at 18.

Really? The Cardinals deserve to be No. 4 or 5? And really? The Hoosiers have performed six to nine spots worse than the Cardinals?

Please show your work.

That, of course, is not to say Indiana should be ranked higher in the polls. Nor is it to say with any certainty that Indiana would beat the Cardinals on a neutral court, in Louisville or even in Bloomington.

It merely is to say that Indiana – without a doubt – has played better basketball than Louisville so far in the 2011-12 college basketball season.

No matter how anybody voted in the preseason polls.

(All information from the invaluable Pollspeak.)

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About Tony

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9 Comments on “Top 25 Voters Change Minds Slowly”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Very well written, Tony. This theory could easily apply to all college sports with major rankings. It has always been very “hard” for writers to see past the school’s logo. (IU, admittedly, has benefited from this bias in years past!) The Coach’s Poll used to be more reliable, as coaches usually actually saw a “team” and not a “mascot”, but that seems to not be the case anymore, either.

    As an IU fan, the ranking certainly makes me proud. I remember when that little subscript ranking number was in front of “Indiana” all season long on WTTV4… However, to be honest, I’d prefer to stay “under the radar” (as unlikely as that is with two enormously covered wins!) just to keep everything grounded. I’m sometimes amazed at how mature our younger guys have been playing so far – I just don’t want to have to strain that further than we have to, especially this early, with them having to play the remaining games ranked 10+ spots above every opponent! That could shake even the best of them! (See KY, OSU) Especially on the road. Regardless of how weak the opponent is, a road game in the Big Ten can be as tough as any game in any conference.


    • Tony Says:

      Good points. It’s the same reason Notre Dame is in the Top 25 every preseason poll.

      And to be clear:I really am not claiming that Indiana is all that underrated at this point (maybe a little, but not a lot). They just should be a head of Louisville – and this is a useful case study to demonstrate voter inertia.


  2. dusty 12 Says:

    Thankfully, the rankings in college hoops aren’t as high-stakes because they play a tournament. Football needs to get there soon. The “rematch” that should be taking place in football is LSU-Oregon.


    • Tony Says:

      Very true. It isn’t all that important on Jan. 3 – or even March 3. It’s just interesting to watch voting patterns.


    • Daniel Says:

      The tourney definitely makes the rankings less “substantial” – and early rankings, especially pre-conference rankings, are only slightly less laughable than pre-season rankings, but I feel that they do add more than just a number.

      When a young team goes up against a highly touted, highly ranked team – that little number becomes something that can really rattle them. Sure, a good team can overcome this (IU v. KY,OSU) but if you’re on the brink, especially a young team, it can be a real tipping factor.

      Also – unfortunately – while college doesn’t have the BCS, it has something almost as bad: the whackados that decide the tourney rankings! They make the difference between playing 2 teams hoping to be “cinderellas” and playing Duke, UCLA, and Michigan State to get to the Final Four… Sometimes, just getting your number lower is the only way to “prove” to these “ESPN-faithfuls” that you’re good – unfortunate, but true!


  3. Tony Says:

    Speaking of which, big game for No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 11 Michigan State today.

    In Madison.


  4. Says:

    Great read as always. There are also some writers for the poll that do their picks ahead of time and don’t really worry about the Late Saturday/ Sunday games. At least that is what I have heard in the past. This would explain the voters who gave IU a 15-18 rating.


    • Tony Says:

      Good point.

      When I worked at the AP, the ballots used to come in from the newspapers over the wire to the sports desk, so I watched them come in on Sunday nights.

      Some had “If Team X wins, use this,” while others seemed to just go with whatever.


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