College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make them any less fun to argue about. In that spirit, I present the creatively named "Poll Thoughts," which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.
The early weeks of the season failed to produce much poll intrigue. There just weren't a lot of moving parts. That changed markedly in Week 4 of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, thanks to a Feast Week chock full of noteworthy early-season results. Commence the weekly fallout gander:
North Carolina is officially out of the top spot in the polls after Saturday night's loss to UNLV, and that's no surprise. The only question was how fall North Carolina would fall, whether the voters would still think the Tar Heels so talented that they deserved to be ranked ahead of, say, Syracuse or Duke. That seemed like a long shot, one requiring a new breed of poll logic -- usually, a loss means a drop, regardless of talent or end-of-season predictions or anything outside of that win-loss record next to the team's name. And so North Carolina dropped to fifth. That seems fair.
Also fair: Kentucky taking over at the No. 1 spot. The Wildcats not only deserve it by default -- they were No. 2 and No. 1 lost, so there you go -- but they also look deserving, too. The only bummer? UNC's loss means Saturday's sure-to-be-wild UNC-Kentucky game is no longer a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Instead, it's No. 1 vs. No. 5. I suppose we'll make do.
Syracuse and Duke both moved up one spot in the poll, to No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, and this is not a surprise, either. Unless a team does something truly eyebrow-raising, it's very difficult for one unbeaten team to leapfrog another unbeaten team. They usually just get slotted in order. But if you were seeding these teams in a tournament today, you'd have to agree the Blue Devils (best wins: Belmont, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, Kansas) have amassed a far better early-season résumé than have the Orange (best wins: Virginia Tech, Stanford). Do I think Duke is better than Syracuse? Eh. Maybe. The Orange's athleticism and length would certainly give that Blue Devils backcourt some issues. But that's not really the point. The point is, why doesn't the poll take a gulf in quality results like that into account? If the rankings don't matter anyway (and they don't), why the strict procedural adherence to the prior week's results? (Add this to the list of things I don't get about the poll voting process. This list, in case you were wondering, is very long.)
The middle portions of the poll don't offer many qualms. But the latter portions of the poll have plenty to go around. The chief mistake? Memphis at No. 21. In the week since last Monday's poll, wherein Memphis was still a top-10 team, the Tigers were handled by a smarter Michigan team, taken to the overtime wire by an impressive but shot-careless Tennessee bunch and beaten in overtime by Georgetown. They're 2-2, but they're still in the poll. Georgetown, meanwhile, received just eight votes this week. Just eight! The Hoyas' only loss came to Kansas 67-63 and John Thompson III's team was excellent throughout the Maui Invitational. Did coaches miss those games? Did they not see this versatile and apparently balanced team at work? Did the overtime losses obscure their opinion of Memphis? What gives? The AP voters kept the Tigers in at No. 22, too, so it's not just the coaches. Apparently, more than a few people missed a really good week of basketball at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Speaking of another team that deserves a spot in the top 25 instead of Memphis: Harvard. The Crimson are 6-0. They're the Battle 4 Atlantis champs. They outlasted Florida State in a defensive struggle and beat a hot UCF team that had downed Connecticut just one day before. That's an impressive little early-season résumé, far more impressive than that of Memphis. Coaches' poll voters: Show the Crimson some love?
Harvard may not have felt the warming glow of first poll contact this week, but another team outside the power-six sure did. That team is Saint Louis, which after a 76 Classic title is now 6-0 with wins over Washington, Boston College, Villanova and Oklahoma. None of those is a truly marquee win, and at least one doesn't say much (Boston College is bad, kids) but taken together they comprise a truly impressive start for Rick Majerus' team. Many expected the Billikens to be the biggest outside threat to Temple and Xavier in the A-10. That prediction looks awfully good today. At the very least, SLU -- even at this early date -- has given itself a massive head start on its at-large NCAA tourney bid hopes. Saint Louis just edged into the poll at No. 25. With a batch of very winnable games on the docket, it seems the Billikens will be within that range for weeks to come.