Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 3, 2012

Why my top 25 looks weird

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:33 pm

This season for the first time I’m filling out a top 25, one that, I need hardly add, is of infinitesimally small consequence even in college basketball terms, much less in the real world. My humble little top 25 plays no part in the non-coach version of “real” (AP) rankings, and even at ESPN it forms just one-sixteenth of the evaluative verdict to be found in each week’s Power Rankings. Nevertheless the responsibility of coming up with a top 25 every seven days has directed my thinking toward rewards and predictions.

There’s been a top 20-something (it was originally a top 20) for men’s college basketball since 1948, and over the years it’s become an absolute jewel of a reward. I know because like any fan I’ve waited impatiently for the rankings to come out to see if my team is included and/or has been moved up this week. By common understanding, sanctioned by decades of actual experience, what a No. 1 ranking says is something like: Congratulations! You’ve won enough games against strong competition for you to deserve this No. 1 ranking.

That is what’s so cool about the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. They engender real interest and even excitement. If you don’t think so, I feel sorry for you because it probably means your team has never reached No. 1. Maybe the No. 1 spot has become old hat for fans of Duke and North Carolina, but for those of us who are stuck being fans of “normal” programs, trust me, it’s an amazing brand of euphoria.

The other thing that’s cool about the polls, of course, is that in this sport we then turn around in March and dispose of these interesting and exciting baubles entirely, so that we can settle things definitively on the court. The system works.

In addition to a top 25 that acts as a reward, I thought it’d be interesting to use the information I have and concoct a top 25 that functions as a set of predictions. What my top 25 is saying is something less congratulatory and exciting, and something more speculative and, hopefully, systematic. Something like: If every team in Division I could play every other team 500 times on a neutral floor, here is how I think those teams would sort themselves out according to winning percentage.

If I’m going about things correctly, I can see two potential virtues in such an exercise. First, as a reader, I’m interested in what a list like that would look like in any given week. Second, you, as a reader, don’t need me to tell you that Kentucky and Syracuse have fewer losses than any other major-conference teams. You already know that. I’d like to offer something new if I can, even if the “something new” turns out to be merely affirmative and I say simply, “Well, what do you know, Kentucky and Syracuse look like the two best teams from this perspective too.”

For the record I’d like to see teams selected for the NCAA tournament according to a process that more or less aligns with the traditional “reward” approach, and then seeded according to a method informed by a modicum of “prediction” wisdom.

Part of a continuing series.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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