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Graham Couch’s AP basketball ballot, top 25 analysis: Purdue explained

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This is the fifth installment of a weekly column in which Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch explains his AP Top 25 basketball ballot, which he sees as thorough independent analysis, even if it often leaves his ballot dubbed “most extreme” of the 65 AP poll voters. Read here for his criteria and further explanation.

It’s quite possible that I have Purdue ranked too low on my AP poll ballot. But we don’t know that yet. Not Boilermaker fans, many of whom have gracefully expressed their feelings on Twitter. Nor CBS Sports’ writer Gary Parrish, who again featured by ballot in his “Poll Attacks” column this week.

I can’t figure out what about Purdue’s resume makes anyone sure that this isn’t the 16th-best team in in the country, which is where I have the Boilermakers ranked this week, 11 spots lower than their collective AP ranking at No. 5. 

You can make an argument that Purdue is No. 5. You can make an argument the Boilermakers are 16. Like with many teams, it’s a good-looking squad, an imperfect resume, still with plenty to prove. But, in ranking them 16, if you check my Twitter mentions, you’d think I just insulted coach Matt Painter’s mother. 

I hope I’m undervaluing the Boilermakers. I’m a Big Ten guy and I’ve always liked Painter, dating back to his Southern Illinois days. But I can argue there are 15 other teams with resumes of at least similar quality or playing basketball at the level of Purdue.

One of those teams is the Miami Hurricanes, the comparison that most caught Parrish’s eye. I have Miami at No. 12. As Parrish said, “I can’t think of a single approach to ranking basketball teams that should have somebody ranking Miami ahead of Purdue.”

OK, let’s go there. Miami is 4-1 in true road games, including a win at Minnesota when the Gophers were still something. They have two RPI top 50 wins, against a good Middle Tennessee State club and, Sunday, against Florida State, which I have ranked 13th. The Hurricanes have one bad-ish loss, a pre-Christmas stumble at home to an 11-3 New Mexico State team.

Purdue’s resume is different, but similar in quality — as is the case with many of the teams between Nos. 8 and 18 on my ballot. The difference in those 11 spots is a good road win from being flipped. 

Purdue has more top 50 wins than Miami — road wins at Marquette and Maryland, on a neutral court against Arizona and Butler, and at home against Louisville. All quality wins. Only one of those teams is ranked in the top 25, however. The Boilermakers have a quality loss on a neutral court against Tennessee, which I have ranked No. 21 and the collective AP poll has at 24, and a not-so quality loss on a neutral court to Western Kentucky, which is in the RPI realm of Miami’s loss to New Mexico State.

Yet, you can absolutely argue that Purdue ought to be ranked higher than Miami (or Florida State or Florida, as Parrish flippantly argued). But if you didn’t make that argument before this week — and some of you did, but not Parrish — what did Purdue do to vault those teams now? Did home wins over Lipscomb, Rutgers and Nebraska do it for you?

Purdue will land where it’s supposed to land in the rankings. The Boilermakers are at Michigan Tuesday night, then at Minnesota this weekend. If they beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, they’ll likely move up. That’ll be one of the better wins of the week and their best road win to date.

I value road wins above all else. Probably more than others. Do it on the road and you’ll jump a ways on my ballot. Ask Arizona State and Texas Tech, after their wins at Kansas. 

Last week’s results gave credence to my philosophy. The top seven teams in the collective AP top 25 went a combined 1-5 in road games. So much is revealed about a team on another team’s campus.

I like Purdue’s two road wins. I think Miami’s road resume is slightly stronger at this point. Same goes for Seton Hall, which I have one spot ahead of Purdue. The Pirates have true road wins at Louisville and Butler, and, like Purdue, have five top 50 wins, including a neutral-site win over Texas Tech. Xavier, No. 14 on my ballot, is 3-1 on the road, with a similar resume to Purdue in several respects. Florida State, at No. 13, has a win at Florida and, this last week, at home against North Carolina. Two of the Seminoles’ three losses are narrow defeats on the road at Duke and Miami.

Florida, whose placement on my ballot at No. 8 Parrish also criticized, has two road wins in the last week — at Texas A&M and Missouri. The Gators weren’t in my top 25 at all before this week (not since Dec. 11) because they hadn’t played a true road game yet all season. Same for Texas Tech and TCU. 

Purdue is No 16 on my ballot — a hair behind Nos. 8-15 — in large part because the Boilermakers’ recent schedule hasn’t allowed them the opportunity to flex. That’ll come. As will the ranking if it’s warranted.

RELATED: 

Here’s my ballot for this week, with asterisks next to the “extreme” rankings, meaning those teams are five spots higher or lower on my ballot than their collective ranking, and the collective AP poll ranking to the right of the record.

1. Villanova (13-1) 1
2. Duke (13-2) * 7
3. Michigan State (15-2) 4
4. West Virginia (14-1) 2
5. Texas Tech (14-1) 8
6. Oklahoma (12-2) 9
7. Arizona State (12-2) 11
8. Florida (11-4) * 23
9. Wichita State (13-2) 5
10. Kansas (12-3) 12
11. Virginia (14-1) * 3
12. Miami (13-2) * 18
13. Florida State (12-3) * 23
14. Xavier (15-2) 10
15. Seton Hall (14-2) 13
16. Purdue (15-2) * 5
17. North Carolina (12-2) 20
18. Arizona (12-4) 17
19. Gonzaga (14-3) 15
20. Cincinnati (14-2) * 14
21. Tennessee (10-4) 24
22. Notre Dame (13-3) 26
23. TCU (13-2) * 16
24. Clemson (14-1) * 19
25. Ohio State (13-4) 29

Here are teams and situations on my ballot, beyond Purdue and the state of Florida, that deserve further explanation:

Welcome back Texas Tech, Florida and TCU: This trio, along with Kentucky, finally played true road games last week. And, thus, they were again eligible for my top 25 ballot. Kentucky didn’t make it on merit. But I wasn’t kidding when I said it wouldn’t be a long climb up for these teams once they stepped foot on another team’s campus — their entire resumes would be judged, like everyone else.

Texas Tech had one of the better wins in college basketball this year last week, at Kansas, and, considering the rest of its resume and what I’ve seen from the Red Raiders, they jumped to No. 5. Florida, which I like more than most voters, is No. 8. And TCU, which I don’t think has as strong a resume as many believe, is No. 23. The Horned Frogs have just two RPI top 50 wins, over Nevada and St. Bonaventure.

The inclusion of Texas Tech, Florida and TCU meant a couple schools were bumped from my ballot that otherwise would have been on it — Nevada and Texas, namely. 

Tough week to evaluate: When 15 ranked teams lose in one week, most of them on the road, including nearly everyone at the top, it makes for a challenging week of evaluation. I rarely knock teams much for a single road defeat, unless it comes at the hands of a truly bad team. I think this week’s ballot reflects that. And the results of the last week — with teams finally forced onto other teams’ campuses by conference play — reflect the lack of true road games scheduled by teams in November and December. These kids showed they weren’t ready for the severe emotional swing between home and road. 

Other voters have Virginia too high: The Cavaliers are a terrific team. I’ve seen them play a couple times. I like a lot about them. But they are not the No. 2 team in the country, not even after an impressive week, winning by 26 at Virginia Tech and at home by 12 against North Carolina. Those are great wins, as is a decisive neutral-site victory over Rhode Island over Thanksgiving weekend. But a week ago, Virginia struggled to beat Boston College by a single point at home — the same BC team the world said was garbage when it upset Duke in Chestnut Hill. Virginia doesn’t get really tested again until late January, when it plays Clemson and Duke back to back. We’ll see if Virginia is truly a top 5 team then. I have my doubts. I think the Cavs are good, but not that good. 

Xavier fans, where are you? Every week, some fan base jumps all over me because I think for myself, trust my own analysis and have their team several spots lower than its collective ranking. Often I don’t see that fan base coming. Last week, it was Xavier fans, who were rankled that I had their team ranked No. 15, 10 spots behind the collective AP poll. Xavier beat Butler last week but then lost at Providence, thus falling five spots in the overall rankings. Meanwhile, the Musketeers moved up a spot on my ballot. Like I’ve said, every week is a fresh evaluation. They lost a conference road game. Big whoop. So did just about everyone. Xavier’s resume puts it somewhere between 8 and 18. I have them at 14.

Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

 



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