Luke DeCock

Luke DeCock’s AP Top 25 basketball poll ballot: Week 12

Villanova remains No. 1 in Luke DeCock’s AP top 25 ballot for Jan. 22, 2018.
Villanova remains No. 1 in Luke DeCock’s AP top 25 ballot for Jan. 22, 2018. AP

The big debate in pollster world this week was over the Poll Attacks column by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, which picks an AP poll to – pick your phrasing: hold to account or ridicule – on a weekly basis. One voter, USA Today’s Lindsay Schnell, dropped out midseason because she was tired of the social-media abuse, and the Lansing State Journal’s Graham Couch used his equivalent of this space last Monday to discuss the relative merits of Poll Attacks in the wake of her departure.

I got into the discussion on Twitter last Monday, but I think it’s a healthy debate to sustain because it actually has bearing on the future of the AP poll. There’s no question that accountability is healthy. I screwed something up early this season, my first as an AP voter; I was attacked for it and I deserved it. If I mess something up, I don’t have any problem answering for it. That’s why I post my ballot here every week, before it’s officially posted publicly by AP. I don’t mind defending it. (Parrish never reached out to me to ask for an explanation, for the record.)

Debate is good for college basketball. It’s why the AP poll is still relevant in a sport where a committee picks all the teams for the tournament anyway. People like to talk about it. I don’t mind giving fans an explanation of how I voted, even if they might still disagree.

In that sense, there’s nothing wrong with Poll Attacks. Parrish’s defense was entirely reasonable, with one exception: Whether he likes it or not, he is marshaling and enabling a Twitter mob that he cannot and does not control. Each week, however noble his intentions, he picks a social-media target for some of the worst people online. They have no interest in asking why I put Virginia ahead of West Virginia a few weeks ago (an answer I was happy to provide to West Virginia fans, even if they weren’t happy about it) but are just looking to pick fights.

All AP voters have a responsibility to take this duty seriously. I think most, and I hope all, do. I think most, and I hope all, welcome accountability. But if accountability crosses the line into targeted harassment, inadvertently or otherwise, there eventually aren’t going to be any willing voters left. We’re volunteers, and while that may obligate us to give voting our full consideration if we accept this invitation, it doesn’t obligate us to accept it in the first place.

As for the actual ballot, with 13 of my top 25 losing at least one game, there was a lot of movement. The toughest decision for me this week was the 9-10-11 trio of West Virginia, Cincinnati and Ohio State. There’s really not much to separate these teams in terms of analytics or resume – the Mountaineers are 8-3 in KenPom A/B games, the Bearcats are 5-2 and the Buckeyes are 9-4 – and West Virginia lost at home to Kansas while Cincinnati and Ohio State each won two games against lesser opponents. This is one of those cases where the only criteria is who you think is “best” because there’s not much to objectively delineate between them. Which is, in the end, the point of an opinion poll.

I did also wrestle with Auburn, which ends up moving up four spots to 12th despite a loss at Alabama. But when you weigh the Tigers and their win against Georgia against the other teams in that range, that’s just kind of where they fell. Their 6-2 record in A/B games compares favorably to the next five teams, including Arizona.

I wasn’t sold on Michigan as a top-25 team last week, but I am this week; Florida is back with a vengeance; and Wichita State clings to the 25th spot by its fingernails – but also because I can’t find a compelling argument to put anyone else in ahead of the Shockers, who I still think can be a Final Four team but sure didn’t look like it this week.

PAST BALLOTS

Week 1 (Preseason) Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11

MY TOP 25

1. Villanova (Last week: 1)

2. Virginia (2)

3. Duke (3)

4. Purdue (4)

5. Kansas (10)

6. Michigan State (9)

7. Xavier (11)

8. North Carolina (13)

9. West Virginia (7)

10. Cincinnati (15)

11. Ohio State (18)

12. Auburn (16)

13. Texas Tech (6)

14. Oklahoma (5)

15. Arizona (19)

16. Gonzaga (12)

17. Florida (NR)

18. Tennessee (17)

19. Nevada (25)

20. Michigan (NR)

21. Arizona State (20)

22. Clemson (21)

23. St Mary’s (NR)

24. Creighton (24)

25. Wichita State (8)

OUT Seton Hall (14), Kentucky (22), TCU (23).

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, @Luke DeCock

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