Year end polls are weird. For the majority of the season you try -- in vain -- to assess the relative quality of teams and put them in some kind of cockamamie order. At the end of the year, that idea gets thrown in the trash: You're basically slotting teams based on limited outcomes; the idea of ranking teams with the notion of "If the season had no end. . . ." is no longer applicable. In other words, there's no more "Is Cornell better than Duke (and why)?" but rather, "Duke beat Cornell; let's play Frogger!" That maks sense, and I don't necessarily have a problem with falling in line with that approach. (In fact, that's how the majority of my ballot this week is put together.) It's just . . . the last poll is likely the least focused on relative quality you'll see all season (if you truly believe in the "If everyone played 100 games" theory), mostly because it’s taking finite results and ranking teams accordingly. When the media poll is released on Wednesday -- the coaches’ poll is already in cold storage, having done the wise thing and closed voting before the NCAA Tournament began -- there is likely to be large deviations between human polling and computer-based answers. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is something that will likely exist.
Anyway, here's what I'm submitting this week. As always, some brief notes accompany the ballot so that you can understand why I did what I did.
- New this week: None. Dropped out this week: None. I didn't have the heart to shake up the back end of the ballot. I took another long look at Villanova, Hofstra, Army, and Towson but I couldn't slide them in based on "Idle-idle: Did I totally screw the pooch at the beginning of May?" (The exception, of course, was the Tigers, and as the beating they took at the hands of Ohio State wasn't the kind of performance necessary to change my thoughts about Towson after the Tigers won the THUNDERDOME! Tournament, I kept them out on the outside looking in.) So, the final six positions remained static. I'd expect both Villanova and Towson to earn votes in the final poll on Wednesday, which is cool, babycakes.
- Sorting out the top five was basically the equivalent of smashing my face through a window. Duke won the title, so the Devils moved into the top position. The next four positions were difficult: I went with Cornell over Syracuse because the Red fared better than the Orange against Duke (and also because Cornell looks stronger than Syracuse in every advanced metric raking); Syracuse fell into the third position by virtue of the Orange's defeat of Denver; and I slotted the Pioneers ahead of the Tar Heels due to Denver's defeat of Carolina in the national quarterfinals (even though I think that if the Pioneers and Tar Heels played 100 times that Carolina would win at least 60 of those games). Again, this is the residue of completing a year-end ballot that isn't built entirely on attempting to assess the relative value of teams if the season went on in perpetuity. That's okay, but it's just . . . expectedly finite.
- I compared this final ballot to my preseason ballot to see how prescient I was back in January. The biggest differences were the teams I completely whiffed on -- Yale, Albany, Pennsylvania, and Drexel weren't in my preseason ballot (although Yale and Drexel were just on the outside for me) -- and the teams I overestimated -- Colgate, Massachusetts, Bryant, and Hofstra (all fell out of my ballot by season's end). I was almost on the money with Duke, Princeton, and Bucknell (each were one position misses) and was within four positions for five other schools -- Cornell (4 positions), Maryland (4), North Carolina (3), St. John's (2), Drexel (2). That isn't too bad, I guess. The biggest movers from my preseason ballot -- both upwardly and downwardly mobile -- were Yale (from unranked to eighth) and Colgate (from eighth to unranked). The average miss was by 5.63 positions (which isn't great but aligned with my guiding principle of getting teams within the right ranking tier (those tiers built on five ranking positions)). In an unsettled year, I'll take that. Patience tends to pay off.
I'm always willing to hear what you guys think, although there's a lot of no-brainer positioning in my ballot. Have something to add or want to call me a moron in a few sentences? The comments are your launching pad.