College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make the arguments any less fun. In that spirit, I present the creatively named Poll Thoughts, which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.
Another week, another ESPN/USA Today poll. I have to say, this week's poll is pretty much inoffensive all the way around. This has been the case for much of the season -- for whatever reason, I've found myself saying "Hey, you know, this week's poll isn't totally terrible!" more often than the opposite. That makes for rather boring Poll Thoughts. When discussing a pointless weekly exercise, it's always better when there's an avenue toward outrage.
Oh well. This week's poll had one particularly glaring issue it absolutely had to fix, and it did: The inclusion of the Wichita State Shockers.
Better late than never. Last week's Poll Thoughts headline -- "Um, hello? Wichita State?" -- was me being snotty. But I like to think my snottiness was warranted. Wichita State probably deserved to be ranked two weeks ago, but their absence at that point was understandable: They hadn't really gotten that high-profile win to make casual viewers of the sport's national landscape (which at this point is what I assume most of the coaches who fill out ballots are) sit up and take notice. But last week's omission was just downright weird. Wichita State was coming off a 21-point drubbing of Creighton in Omaha, and was 22-4, with three of those losses coming to Creighton, Temple and Alabama and the fourth coming in triple-overtime at Drake in late January. The Shockers were ranked in the top 15 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings; they were No. 11 in ESPN's new BPI formula. At least one of the teams ranked ahead of them, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, had just lost at home to Georgia. How was this team not in the coaches poll? What the ... what?
A week later, that glaring exclusion has been remedied. Gregg Marshall's team jumps in at No. 19 this week. Frankly, you could probably make the argument that WSU is still underranked, given their season-long body of work and their impressive recent play. But oh well. The important thing is, if you're going to put 25 teams in a poll, Wichita State has to be one of them, and now it is, and the end. Our long national nightmare is over.
But that's not all! Some much-deserved love was also sent in the direction of the Temple Owls, who, like Wichita State, had a similar argument for inclusion last week but were nonetheless left behind in "also receiving votes." The Owls' sterling offense (in an atypical reversal from its usually defense-oriented style) has guided them to, count 'em, 10 straight wins in A-10 play, not to mention a guaranteed spot in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Temple finds itself just one spot below New Mexico, and I have no problem with that. The Lobos are your third new inclusion in the top 25 this week, and, well, duh: Last week, Steve Alford's team beat San Diego State in San Diego and followed it up with a runaway, Drew Gordon-beast-mode win over UNLV Saturday. UNM has been great defensively throughout MWC play, but like Wichita State, only recently have they had opportunities to showcase their chops against the league's best teams. When you sweep SDSU and UNLV by a combined margin of 30 points, and take a two-game lead in the Mountain West standings as a result, you're one of the best 25 teams in the country. Believe that.
Year of the mid-major? The rest of the poll is pretty static. The usual suspects moved a few spots up, or a few spots down: Baylor dropped out of the top 10, but only to No. 14; Michigan jumped six spots after the win over Ohio State; Murray State leapt to No. 12 from No. 14 last week after their nationally broadcast win over Saint Mary's. (You could probably argue that Saint Mary's deserves to drop out of the poll. I had them out of my Power Rankings last week. But it's not exactly a crime to leave them in, I guess.)
The only real intrigue left here is when you scan down the page to those teams receiving votes, and you tally up the number of non-power-six teams in the ranks. In the top 25, there's Murray State, Wichita State, UNLV, New Mexico, Temple, Saint Mary's, and SDSU. In the other votes category, there's Creighton, Gonzaga, Saint Louis, Harvard, Drexel, Middle Tennessee, Long Beach State, Virginia Commonwealth, Weber State, and Nevada. Seventeen teams out of the 41 total listed either in the poll or just outside it are affiliated with non-power-six leagues.
Now, not all of these teams are mid-majors in the truest sense of the word; plenty hail from leagues resting comfortably above the Red Line. But there are plenty of true mid-majors in the group, too. However you dice it down, that's quite a tally. The "rise of the mid-major" is one of the past decade's biggest meta-storylines, one that many expected would fade in this post-lockout, talent-rich college hoops year. Clearly, that isn't the case. Perhaps more than ever, in fact.
Does that mean we'll see another mid-major (or two!) at the Final Four in New Orleans? OK, probably not. But it may mean that the trends we've seen in the past few years (the dispersal of talent, the advantages of veteran players without NBA draft hype, and so on) aren't going to be undone by a few lottery draft decisions in Chapel Hill, Columbus and Lexington. And thank goodness for that.