Friday, September 14, 2007

Fun With Math - The Preseason NCAA Polls

The National and Regional Rankings dropped earlier this week, but really, it’s too early to quibble too much with them, as few teams have taken the reins off yet and really let their big boys race. A couple things did jump out as far as how teams related to each other last year and where they're placed now in the first poll. So let's dust off ye old transitive property and see why if A equals B, and B equals C then, A must equa- ah screw it:

> Providence graduated Martin Fagan, good for a mere 3 points at Nationals, and they don’t have any clear front-running successor. Yet the voters slotted the Friars in at 11th, just two spots down from their 9th-place finish in 2007 at Terre Haute. Max Smith and the Oddly Skinny One, Ahmed Haji, will probably move up in the field this year, but it’s still a two-dimes-for-one-quarter situation. They could improve 20-25 each at Nationals this year, but those 50 points are going to be more than offset by the 90+ points I expect to swing against them by losing the lad from County Westmeath up front…

> … by comparison, BYU loses champ Josh Rohatinsky and plummets 8 spots in the polls from their 11th-place showing? In addition to Fagan, Providence also lost their 5th and 7th men from Nationals, but not only did BYU return everyone other than the rider of Rohan, they also picked up Michigan State transfer Stephan Shay who was 108th last year, and who looked pretty solid last week in early season action. My math es no so good, but I expect BYU to be much closer to Providence and 11th or 12th place.

> Louisville was 15th, brings back #1-5 and their #7, plus 36th place in the region, and the coaches have them… still at 15th. Really? They won’t be ANY better? Meanwhile, NC State has a similar personnel situation – #1-4, then #6 and #7 back, plus Bobby Mack and Freddy Torres (24th at regionals) – but the prognostications have them leaping from 16th to 10th. Then again, the Pack beat the Cardinals at Regionals in 2006… by a whopping 16 points. 4 teams are really going to get between these teams at Nationals? I’d use the buddy system in ranking these two until shown evidence that begs to differ.

> Now for one of the big questions of the season – will Sammy Chelanga “transfigure” Liberty into National-caliber team. Survey says… yes. You have to figure Chelanga, solidly ahead of all Southeast returners at Nationals, is good for at least top 3 in the region. Sub that 3 in for the unwieldy 123 that pushed Liberty to 7th at regionals, and a 120 point difference would have put them 4th last year, ahead of National Qualifier Virginia (14th at Terre Haute). Graduation diminished William & Mary and Virginia (2 schools, not 3 people) up front, and youngster Josh Edmonds has come along nicely for the Flames, so I’d put them as a close 3rd in the Southeast and, potentially, a top 15 team in the country. Scary.

> Finally, I don’t pretend to have any knowledge of how these poll things are put together, but Washington… 8th in the Pacific behind Wazzu and Arizona State… 30th in the country in the national poll… with the Cougars and Sun Devils notably absent… hmm… As a matter of fact, that happened in a couple of spots:

  • NAU - 3rd in the Mountains, 20th nationally; BYU - 4th and 19th
  • Iowa St. - 2nd MW, 25th nationally; Minnesota -3rd MW, 18th in all the land
  • Butler - 4th GL, not ranked nationally; Michigan - 5th GL, 26th in the country
  • Virginia - 5th in the Southeast, 28(tie) nationally; Liberty - 4th in the Southeast, but NR in the US.

Me? I'd take Minnesota over ISU, Michigan over Butler, and, of course, you can deduce that I'd take Liberty over UVA. It's an interesting hiccup, if nothing else, but more on this in a moment.

How many bids are awarded to each region is an annual point of consternation, hand-wringing, and Oh No, They Didn'ts. Based on the polls, things would break down like so:

West - 6
Mountain - 4
Great Lakes - 4
Southeast 4
South - 3
Midwest - 3
South Central - 2 (no bonus points for guessing those without looking)
Mid-Atlantic - 2
Northeast - 2 (again, no bonus points awarded)

In other words, it looks much like last year, only sans the UTEP slight (whether real or perceived). Now, what makes no sense to me is the poll stops at 30, despite there being 31 slots at nationals. Do a top 25 like other college sports, or make it relevant to your sport and go all the way to 31... ranking 30 is utterly incomprehensible in terms of reasoning.

But now for the fun part: if we can assume that the 30 teams in the poll are expected, from a pre-season vantage, anyway, to make an appearance in SW Indiana, who is that mysterious final, 31st team? Well, going back to the discrepancies between polls, the following teams were those "sandwich" teams - caught between nationally-ranked teams in their respective regional polls, but unranked themselves: Washington State, Arizona State, Butler, and Liberty. You have to figure one of those teams is the likeliest recipient of the 31st-most votes, along with Weber State, Kansas, Iowa, EMU, Belmont, American, Lamar and Syracuse, who enter the conversation as the highest-ranked in their respective regions not to appear in the national poll. OK, maybe Syracuse and Lamar don't enter the conversation. Anyway, let's take a flier and guess blindly that Washington State is the coach's 31st place team. So congratulations, Cougars - you're 31st! You're 31st!

Of course, that would mean 7 teams coming out of the West... and if that comes to pass, my money is on the angriest fist-shaking to come from Liberty, American, Iowa and EMU.

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