What’s in a ranking?
We’re on the record as being big anti-bracketology proponents. The whole idea of giving teams seeds in the NCAA tournament early in the season is ridiculous.
What we do care a bit more about? Rankings. Not so much that we think UNC deserves to be ranked at all times or even deserves to be ranked as we’re typing this. We know that rankings actually don’t mean a whole lot either. I guess it perturbs us that press members and coaches have put sometimes illogical thought into determining which teams are good and bad, and we want to call them out. Actually, are we calling out anybody? We don’t really know where we’re going with this.
Here’s the main question we have about the AP and Coach’s Poll: What goes into casting these votes?
Actually, no, here’s our biggest quandary: Over the past several weeks, why is N.C. State viewed as a better team than UNC?
You can say that the Wolfpack, at their best, or even their mediocre-est, pass the eye test easier than the Tar Heels would in the same scenario. And we saw N.C. State beat UNC earlier this year, so you could say our argument ends there. But this is a UNC blog, so it doesn’t.
Week 12 of the rankings. North Carolina has won two ACC games after dropping its first two. In that week’s rankings, UNC has 3 points in the AP and 0 points in the Coaches poll. Not nearly enough points to break in, but the Heels were getting attention for putting together a couple of wins and playing well. In the week (week 13) leading up to the January 26 game in Raleigh against the 18th-ranked Wolfpack, UNC beat Georgia Tech. Not a resume win, but doing what they were supposed to. UNC obviously lost to State that week.
When the week 13 rankings came out, UNC has no votes. Fine.
N.C. State lost two games against Maryland and Wake Forest (WAKE FOREST!) in the two weeks prior to the first UNC game and was still ranked 18th going into the UNC game. Still fine. The Wake game was midweek a couple of days before UNC, so it wouldn’t have been factored in to that ranking. After beating (an unranked) UNC that week, NC State dropped one position in the week 13 rankings to 19th. Eh, apparently beating UNC at home means a lot even though the Heels weren’t ranked or expected to win the game. Still fine, though, we guess.
State decides to come out and lose two games last week, dropping them out of the rankings for week 14.
Look down there at the bottom though. Voters still think N.C. State is in the top 30 teams in the nation after dropping two close games to pretty good opponents. Whatever. During that same stretch, UNC won two games they should have, but they don’t get one vote in the rankings.
Take a look at what ESPN’s Eamon Brennan said about the two teams in his Bubble Watch feature:
North Carolina State [16-6 (5-4), RPI: 18, SOS: 16] The Wolfpack may not be living all the way up to their too-lofty preseason expectations — they’ll have to defend better to do that — but their win over No. 1 RPI-holder Duke, and a dearth of bad losses, makes them a likely NCAA tournament team at this point. Thursday night’s trip to Cameron Indoor would be a massive win, but at this point for NC State, avoiding a bubble slide will be just as much about avoiding bad losses.
North Carolina [16-6 (6-3), RPI: 32, SOS: 40] The Tar Heels’ at-large resume doesn’t have much to recommend it. The numbers are merely OK, borne of a few tough dates on the nonconference calendar, but this young, formless team’s only “good” win came against UNLV at home. On a weak bubble line, this current profile might be good enough to sneak into the tournament, but UNC has to put away some quality wins.
I guess what we’re trying to ask is, what makes State such a better team in voters’ eyes than UNC? State has exactly the same overall record (16-6) as UNC. Both teams have one signature win (Duke for State, UNLV for UNC). Both UNC and N.C. State are 1-2 vs Top 25 teams. Both have lost at home against Miami and on the road at Virginia.
Statistically, Carolina is sixth in the country in points per game (State is 11th); third in rebounds per game (91st); second in assists per game (62nd); and 103rd in field goal percentage (fourth). If you’re more of an efficiency guy, as of this writing, N.C. State is 32nd in Kenpom’s ratings, while UNC is 36th. Beyond field goal percentage, there is not a lot of statistical advantage to N.C. State’s case either.
Is it because UNC relies on freshman? That’s a thing, we guess. UNC can also play more than six people. With Lorenzo Brown going down for N.C. State recently, it’s shown how shallow the Wolfpack bench is, much like when Kendall Marshall went out last year for the Heels.
Oh, and there’s the fact that State has lost FOUR OF ITS LAST SIX games, while UNC has won six of its last seven, with the one loss being to State. UNC is even ahead of State in the ACC standings. Really coaches and AP voters? That team is still getting votes? We’ll overlook the fact that y’all immediately forsook UNC after its loss to State (some votes in week 12 then nothing after one loss and a solid stretch of wins?) The Heels honestly haven’t done anything above average to deserve being ranked. That’s cool. But, again, when State loses FOUR OF ITS LAST SIX, many of you are still ranking them?
Basically, poll voters think that one awesome win cancels out several bad losses. If you can win the biggest game on your schedule, but lose to a bunch of conference bottom feeders, you’re tournament material!
Call us crazy but we’d prefer the squad on a hot streak. Poll voters are dumb.