I asked Bleacher Fan and Optimist Prime to debate the relevance of polls in college basketball, due in large part to the fact that in our pre-production meeting last week, the relevance of the polls was called into question. When that happens, that’s usually a good signal that a debate is on the horizon.
It was evident when assigning sides that Bleacher Fan would argue about the IRRELEVANCE of the polls. This was due to the fact that Mr. Fan is a proud graduate of the University of Akron and still actively follows the Zips. In fact, last year Mr. Fan managed to sneak out of the office a couple of days to walk down the street to watch some of the MAC conference tournament at The Q in Cleveland, Ohio. Surprisingly, that was not brought up in the argument. However, some quality points were made.
While the first seeds were exactly matched up with the first four positions in the poll, it did differ quite a bit the further down the research went. What struck me was the fact that Baylor, which was ranked 21st, somehow got a third seed. I forgot that fact. The selection committee obviously saw something in those Scott Drew’s Bears from Waco that the pollsters didn’t, and maybe they were right, considering Baylor did advance to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Duke. The rankings are totally disregarded as the committee tries to match up major conference representatives in each bracket as evenly as possible. Bleacher Fan suspects (and he’s probably right) that San Diego State, even with a win over BYU, could be upset on Selection Sunday with its seeding, despite a likely top five ranking in the conventional polls.
Optimist Prime takes the opposite side, but, you know, that’s because that’s what happens in a debate! The angle is that polls and rankings are relevant because they give teams a chance to gauge where they are. Maybe it provides a struggling team a boost of confidence when they knock off a ranked team or provides the opposite effect to the team that loses to the unranked team. I don’t recall the Tiger-Wahoo matchup used in the debate, but on the opposite end, imagine the uptick that Kansas State – a team squarely on the bubble – could very well get from knocking off the number one ranked Kansas Jayhawks on Monday night. That’s what I gathered that Optimist Prime was going for in the debate. Like the closing of the argument states, how would anyone know when to rush the court without that little number one beside the defeated visiting team?
I went back and forth on this even while typing this decision. I started out thinking one way, but then wasn’t so sure. But, by looking at the corresponding evidence, I am awarding the victory to Bleacher Fan.
We can all agree the rankings provide good conversation for fans. They add buzz to the games. But in the big picture, they obviously are no factor in what happens during March. The NCAA tournament selection committee looks at a teams’ RPI, its strength of schedule, and other factors. One of those others factors is not the team’s standing in the top 25. Those rankings are thrown in the nearby trash can, which is probably where Optimist Prime is going to throw this verdict. There’s just been too much inconsistency when comparing the rankings to the seeds in the tournament, and what happens comes tournament time is ultimately what matters and is RELEVANT.