Top 25 rankings are always a great source of debate, especially who should be #1. This year it seems there’s even more debate about that with someone saying no one deserves to be #1.
I was curious what goes through the mind of a voter when they fill out their ballot. I was very fortunate to email Bret Strelow, who is an ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer and AP Top 25 voter, and pick his brain. Make sure to follow him on Twitter, and check out his work at the Fayetteville Observer.
Me: How do you go about determining who’s #1?
Bret: I personally don’t have one formula that I use, like, “Who would win on a neutral court between team A and team B?” I try to factor in about everything, which might sound like a bit of a cop-out answer. Stuff like complete body of work, how a team is playing right now, injuries, schedule considerations and passing the eye test all matter. Earlier in the year head-to-head stuff plays a bigger factor, but the transitive property throws too much out of whack the deeper you get into a season.
Early in the year, before Duke officially got there, I had the Blue Devils at No. 1 based on the unbeaten start against an incredible schedule. At other points my top spot obviously changed, especially after the Ryan Kelly injury. Duke is a different team without him, one that is growing without him, but the uncertainty of when he returns and how effective he’ll be once he does come back takes some, not all, of the significance away from what they accomplished with him completely healthy. Once someone returns from missing time and again becomes an integral piece (like Dieng for Louisville, Southerland for Syracuse, the various issues for Miami, possibly even Brown for N.C. State), if that team returns to top form at full strength, I’m more likely to forgive a loss/losses that occurred when they were out.
Me: What factors into a team moving up/down in the poll?
Bret: I’m probably less reactive to a single loss than a lot of voters, mostly because the schedules for teams are so different. This week I’m keeping Indiana at No. 1 even though it lost at the buzzer at Illinois, a streaky team in a loaded conference. Of late the Hoosiers have handled Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, so I think they’re playing really well, especially by winning 81-68 at Ohio State on Sunday.
When I look at IU’s week (two-point loss at the buzzer at Illinois, 13-point road win at OSU) and Duke’s week (13-point home win vs. N.C. State, one-point road win that came down to the buzzer at BC), I don’t see much difference. I had Duke at No. 7 last week and have moved it up to No. 4, past teams like Kansas (two road losses), Florida (loss at Arkansas) and Arizona (loss to Cal). Very few teams, outside of possibly Miami, don’t have road hiccups. For instance, after watching Florida collapse late at Arizona, I still felt after that game that Florida was better. And I basically treated the controversial Arizona-Colorado game like a loss for Arizona, even though the Wildcats were officially credited with a win.
With a team like Miami, I needed more and more time for it to prove it was for real, and I’ve rewarded the Hurricanes in the last few weeks. Some of the toughest teams to judge have been Minnesota (had a four-game losing streak with Ls at Indiana, home to Michigan, at Northwestern and at Wisconsin; brutal stretch) and N.C. State (close losses without Zo Brown). I still ranked the Wolfpack last week, after seeing it play Miami so tough without Brown and knowing he’d probably return soon, but I dropped N.C. State this week.
Me: What drops a team completely out of the poll or brings them into the poll after being unranked?
Bret: There is so little difference between teams in the late teens and the early 30s, it really is kind of a crapshoot. There are so many good but not great teams in the Mountain West, for instance (New Mexico, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV). Based on timing of the schedule on when they play each other and who is playing better now, those teams seem flip-floppable almost every week. Within that muddled middle, I do factor in how a team is playing at the moment when comparing teams that I’m considering dropping after a loss or two and teams I’m considering including after a run of wins. I almost brought Kentucky back in last week, but with a few more teams in the 20s of my poll losing and the Wildcats still surging to 8-2 in the SEC, I put them in this week.
Me: How does the AP choose who votes on the Top 25?
Bret: I don’t know the exact specifics of this process; I just know that I was approached last season by the two college basketball writers from the AP bureau in Raleigh (there are bureaus all across the country, including two in N.C., the other being in Charlotte). I don’t cover one team specifically like some voters – the other two N.C. voters are Duke writer Steve Wiseman and UNC writer Andrew Carter, who is new this year after replacing Bill Cole from Winston. The bureau knows I see a lot of basketball (keeping closest tabs on the three Triangle teams) and felt like I’d be a knowledgeable and responsible voter. They do change up voters at times, but I’m not even sure how frequently or what dictates those changes.
Many thanks again to Bret for taking time out of his hectic schedule to answer my questions!