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Polls: An Abstract Art of College Basketball

Few things can exhilarate or infuriate a fan base quite like polls do. This is especially true for the Big Blue Nation when it comes to Kentucky Basketball. With UK’s basketball pedigree, coach, and abundant talent, the fans expect the Cats in the upper echelon of the voters’ picks week after week. However, one loss for any team can dramatically change the landscape of these surveys.

I know it feels good to see Kentucky’s name atop the Associated Press Poll and Coaches Poll. For Kentucky Basketball, a program that is fashionable to hate, it gives the fans something to brag about to the rivals. They are proud to wear that number-one ranking as a badge of honor. After all, it is a familiar position for Kentucky. It feels like home. Last season, the team held the number-one spot from coast to coast. At the start of this season, they held the top spot along side North Carolina. Voters have recognized what Kentucky offers and they award them accordingly.

Photo: wkyt.com

Photo: wkyt.com

Yet, what does it really mean to be ranked? Are there benefits? Does the “award” come with rewards? And, if the polls actually matter, when do they matter?

Polls before March are like abstract art. They are to be loosely interpreted according to one’s taste.

Polls can feel worthy of investing importance when your team is on top, yet their quality can be called into question when it does not look so favorable. See? Open to interpretation.

If compiling a sports ranking poll is a practice, I know a lot of people who need more practice. They base their votes on a bit of win/loss ratios with schedule strength considered, but their personal opinion (biases and all) play a massive role when they cast their ballots. If it is a practice, it is an extremely flawed one.

Last season, John Calipari assembled one of the greatest college basketball teams to ever set foot on the hardwood. Yet, one member of the voting delegation (cough, cough- John Feinstein) refused to give Kentucky his number-one vote, awarding it to Virginia. The nonsense continued until about half way through the season when the Cavs dropped their first game. At that point, he had no choice but to hand over his top vote to the Cats. They were finally and rightfully ranked number-one across the board. Remember what I said about flawed? Case and point.

Both polls aforementioned have serious issues. The AP Poll is composed of votes cast by sixty-five sportswriters and broadcasters. Not to throw them all under the bus, but they do not keep great company. The Big Blue Nation has experienced more than their fair share of media types who have personal vendettas against Kentucky Basketball. Be it a certain commentator (cough, cough- Chris Webber) who declared that Willie Cauley-Stein would never be significant in the NBA, or a certain sports radio host (cough, cough- Dan Dakich) who denied that Tyler Ulis is a top-five point guard in college basketball this season, Kentucky Basketball seems to always be catching heat from media personnel; some of which share company the same personnel who vote in the Associated Press Poll. It is no wonder it cannot be taken seriously. As for the Coaches Poll, we all know that there are no coaches voting in any poll. They do not have the time to watch and dissect the game of every possible candidate. They have a team, their team, to focus on. Someone in their office casts the ballot on behalf of the coach from week to week. How familiar is that person with college basketball? Who knows.

Contrary to Webber's prediction, WCS has started in 21 of his 31 games as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP.

Contrary to Webber’s prediction, WCS has started in 21 of his 31 games as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP.

Lastly, the obvious bias that permeates these polls is downright disrespectful. On any given week, there will be at least one team with a handful of losses amidst some weak wins who finds a way to get ranked and stay ranked. Wait a second!? Is not the purpose of the weekly poll to judge the teams as they stand that week? Not by their future potential, but by their current state? If that is the case, how does one explain Duke? Duke is struggling, evident in losing 4 of their last 5 games (3 of the 4 prior to Monday’s poll release), and 2 of which were at Cameron Indoor Stadium. They are now 15-5 with their “quality wins” being over Georgetown and Indiana, yet if you look in the AP and Coaches polls, there they are; 24 and 20 respectively. What about Louisville? They may be 16-3, but who are their “quality wins” against? Florida State and Pittsburgh? Like Duke, they are also ranked in both polls; 16 and 14 respectively. It is probably worth mentioning that Kentucky beat both of those teams, but I will digress.

December 26th, the Cats beat the Cards in Rupp Arena. However, the neither AP or Coaches polls reflect this at all. Photo: Barry Westerman, UK Athletics

December 26th, the Cats beat the Cards in Rupp Arena. However, the neither AP or Coaches polls reflect this at all. Photo: Barry Westerman, UK Athletics

For what it is worth, I believe that some teams get preferential poll position, but I also think Kentucky Basketball is fairly ranked. They have been performing at a “20’s” level, but they have potential to be any number they want to be. The sky is the limit for the very young, yet immensely talented squad. With back-to-back big wins over Arkansas and Vanderbilt, they seem to have settled in a rhythm they are comfortable with and productive in on both sides of the ball. They are trending in the right direction, which is all the Big Blue Nation could want nearing the end of January.

It is not a direct quote, but I believe the summarized words of our fearless leader, Cameron Mills, say it best: Polls do not matter. A team can theoretically lose every game until the conference tournament and still win the national title. UK’s 2013 squad was pre-season ranked number-one and lost in the first round of the NIT. The 2014 team, also pre-season ranked number-one, were unranked with a record of 24-10 at the end of the SEC Tournament. Headed into the NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed, they battled their way into the championship game. Polls do not matter.

I know it is frustrating, BBN, but try your very hardest to take the weekly rankings with a grain of salt. As I illustrated, they are erroneous at best. Should they be better? Of course! The sources that peddle them should demand better. But, until then, they are not worth the investment. Whether the Cats’ rank first, last, in between, or out, it matters not. Regardless of what a poll says now, if the Kentucky Wildcats play their best basketball in March, they will have as good of a chance as any other team to win it all. They could have that coveted number-one beside their name in April. That is what matters. Only the last ranking counts; the one that is decided on the court… and no one votes in.

Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

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