The "AP" in "AP poll" doesn't stand for "Advanced Placement"

November 27, 2012 - 1:23pm
No. 12 Oklahoma has many assets, among them the return of junior playmaker and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg (No. 3). They may well finish higher than their current No. 12 ranking. But how do the polls have the Sooners ranked above No. 19/21 UCLA, when the Bruins beat OU on its home floor in Norman and, at 3-1, have lost only to No. 5 Notre Dame? (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

No. 12 Oklahoma has many assets, among them the return of junior playmaker and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg (No. 3). They may well finish higher than their current No. 12 ranking. But how do the polls have the Sooners ranked above No. 19/21 UCLA, when the Bruins beat OU on its home floor in Norman and, at 3-1, have lost only to No. 5 Notre Dame? (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

So if Stanford beats Baylor on a neutral site, Stanford is better than Baylor, right? And so, it seems right, at least for now, that No. 1 Stanford (6-0) is ranked ahead of No. 3 Baylor (5-1) in both major women's basketball polls ....

But, in just one of multiple anomalies currently afflicting both polls, 3-1 UCLA, which beat 5-1 Oklahoma in Norman on November 14 but fell to No. 5 Notre Dame (5-0) last week, finds itself ranked seven spots behind the Sooners, at No. 19 to Oklahoma's No. 12,  in the latest Associated Press poll. (And, by the way, the USA Today Coaches Poll, just released, didn't get this one any better, pegging OU at No. 12 with UCLA all the way down at No. 21.)

Now, you can make the case that the scoreboard doesn’t lie, which would put Stanford above Baylor and UCLA above Oklahoma.

Or you can make the case that the overall body of work, and your speculation about what might happen the next time the two teams might play, matters more. If you go with that line of thinking, and factor in Odyssey Sims missing 35 minutes of the Baylor loss, then you can put Baylor ahead of Stanford and, by stretching logic as far as possible, you might justify slating Oklahoma ahead of UCLA.

But you can’t have it both ways – unless of course you’re an AP poll voter, and you don’t pay attention and you don’t care who knows it.

Perhaps the respected news organization, whose Top 25 polls of women's college basketball are first out each week and get so much play,  should take a close look at its panel of voters and start paring it down to those who care about and follow the women's sport. The following commentary on this week’s top 25 makes it pretty clear the present group has too many people who fail in one or both categories.

1/1. Stanford (6-0): I’m definitely of the school that the scoreboard doesn’t lie, so Stanford has to be above Baylor –- all else being equal. And since the Cardinal haven’t lost, it’s pretty hard to find any dead wood on the tree. But Stanford travels to Gonzaga Sunday, notoriously one of the most difficult places in the country to play. Stay tuned …

2/2. Connecticut (5-0): RPI and strength of schedule don’t mean all that much at this point in the season, but it is worth noting that Lamar, according to the numbers, has had a tougher early slate than the Huskies. True, UConn has routed both the then-No. 16 Aggies and last weekend handed the No. 14 Boilermakers a similar spanking. But neither team is really in UConn's weight class, and the rest of the Huskies' 5-0 schedule has done little to impress. After stomping on Colgate this coming Wednesday, though, UConn will get at least bit a modest test against No. 11/10 Maryland next Monday (Dec. 3) on national TV.

3/3. Baylor (5-1): So you lose to what is now the No. 1 team in the nation by two with your starting point guard hurt for most of the game –- and you drop down to No. 3? And that despite having handed then-No. 6 Kentucky a nationally televised, 85-51, horsewhipping.  With nothing more challenging than unranked Rice on this week's platter, Baylor's first chance to show whether it deserves to be No. 2 will have to await that Dec. 5 faceoff at No. 5 Notre Dame. 

4/4. Duke (4-0): I think Duke’s a really good team, and probably deserves to be here, but … the toughest opponent so far has been powerful 2-3 Iona, at least according to RealTime RPI. No. 10 Cal is coming to town Sunday, but even after that, the Blue Devils’ schedule will be the weakest of the top group.

5/5. Notre Dame (4-0): I’m sure not too many Fighting Irish supporters have noticed their unbeaten women’s basketball team, or its top rating in RPI, what with all the hoopla about some football team. But Muffet McGraw’s group has knocked off both Oklahoma State and UCLA, two solid if not spectacular programs, each ranked No. 19 at the times in question. This week's match against the Central Michigan Chippewas can't do anything to help, but the Irish then host Baylor on Dec. 5. A win over the Bears, and Notre Dame could make a case to be at the top of these rankings too.

6/7. Penn State (5-0): The Nittany Lions’ proper ranking depends on your view of Texas A&M. If the Aggies are actually pretty good, which might be the case despite despite that 3-3 record and their 31-point loss to UConn, given that all three losses came to Top 10 teams, then Penn State’s a legit No. 6. On the other hand, PSU only beat A&M by five, thanks to an Aggie scoring drought in the game's final six minutes, which would suggest that this ranking may be too high and that the disparity between the top five and the rest of the pack may be greater than ever.

7/6. Louisville(6-0): So Louisville beat Texas A&M by two, which could lead to the conclusion that Penn State is slightly better, depending on what weight you give to point spreads. Personally, I think the Cardinals' win over Gonzaga is a lot more impressive than anything Penn State has done to date, and apparently the Coaches' Poll voters agree, as this is the first point where the two polls' rankings diverge this week. The Cardinals host No. 9 Kentucky Sunday, in what should be the game of the week, so we’ll know more then.

8/9. Georgia (7-0):Here again, the two polls have Kentucky and Georgia flip-flopped. True, the Bulldogs haven't tested themselves against a ranked team yet. By the numbers, the toughest game on their schedule to date was their Nov. 16 match with South Carolina State (also called the Bulldogs), which ranks No. 21 in early-season RPI -- simply because of their loss to the Georgia Dawgs. But the 30-point win over previously unbeaten New Mexico (which beat Texas Tech) and the season-opening victory over Rutgers give Andy Landers’ team a bit more credibility. Then again, from here on out, Georgia doesn’t really play anyone good until SEC play gets underway.

9/8. Kentucky (4-1): Losing to Baylor by 34 doesn’t say much for the Wildcats, who were expected to do much better than that. Though in general, margin of victory doesn’t mean as much as many think (a 10-point loss might have been a two-point loss until the losing team started fouling in the last minutes), but there’s no way to work around a 34-point shellacking. Still, that game may have more to say about just how good Baylor is than it did about the caliber of the Wildcats. We'll know more on Sunday, when the 'Cats head up the freeway to No. 7 Louisville.

10/11. California (5-0): The computer likes the Golden Bears, because the computer has gone ga-ga over Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Of course, this weekend's 72-56 blowout of once-ranked Georgetown didn't hurt a bit either. (The Hoyas made a curtsey in the early-season rankings two weeks ago at No. 25). But observers are a little more skeptical until Cal hits perimeter shots against quality opposition. The visit to No. 4 Duke Sunday will most likely tell us more than either the 87-61 win over Cal Poly or Saturday's 72-56 rout of the Hoyas.

11/10. Maryland (3-1): The RPI No. 100 Terps have played no one, and lost by a point a week ago at 3-2 Saint Joseph’s, who lost to unranked Syracuse by 41. No. 11? I don’t think so. No. 10? All the worse.

12/12. Oklahoma (5-1): As noted in our introduction, logic would suggest that since Oklahoma lost to UCLA, in Norman, that the Bruins should be ranked higher than the Sooners. A three-point win over Arkansas does add luster to OU's early-season resume, but still …. The scoreboard doesn’t lie.

13/18. Texas (4-0): If you believe in St. John’s (then No. 14), then you believe in Texas, because after that 70-60 opening win, the Longhorns have lined up powers such as Jackson State and Central Connecticut State, and bowled them over with ease. Up next? Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (0-6). New head coach Karen Aston has certain got off on the right footing, as has 6-7  freshman center Imani McGee-Stafford, who took Big 12 newcomer honors last week, and the Texas defense is looking better than it has in some time, but the 'Horns won't get another real test until UCLA comes to town on Dec. 8.

14/13. Purdue (5-1): Marist isn’t quite Gonzaga, but the Red Foxes are still a quality mid-major, so that 21-point win is nice. But, by the UConn standard (34-point thumping), the Boilermakers still have a ways to go. (It's curious to note in passing how much more their Husky horsewhipping hurt the Aggies than the Boilers.) Nothing further is likely to be revealed, however, until after Christmas when Purdue makes the short trip to South Bend on Dec. 29.

15/16. Ohio State (4-1): Every year, Buckeye fans are ready to bury Jim Foster for his tournament collapses, but every year, the regular season is full of victory. The only loss of the season was a narrow one (57-51) to then-No. 7  Notre Dame, and the Irish are only looking better as the season progresses, so one could certainly make the case that the Buckeyes should be slotted in higher than any of 4-1 Kentucky, 3-1 Maryland, 5-1 Oklahoma, or 5-1 Purdue. A road win over No. 22 North Carolina Wednesday could move the Buckeyes up a few notches, one would think –- but that would require the AP voters to all be paying attention.

16/14. Tennessee (4-1): So the Vols open the season with an 80-71 loss to UT-Chattanooga, which has since lost to St. Mary’s. One would think that might have tarnished the Volunteers a little more. Especially since of Tennessee's four Ws only two have come against ranked teams and both were to programs ranked well beneath them -- Georgia Tech, then-No. 22, and, last week, Miami, then No. 23. Both have since dropped out of the rankings entirely, while the Lady Vols have steadily crept back up the rankings.  Still, in this case, I'm not sure the poll voters got it wrong -- I agree the Volunteers are really good. They’re young, granted, but Georgia Tech and Miami (FL) -- and you can throw in the win over Rice -- is a lot tougher gauntlet than many of the teams above them have tried to run and Warlick's charges have navigated it successfully, with the exception of that one early slip.

17/15. St. John’s (4-1): So Hartford beat Marist, and St. John’s beat Hartford. That makes it pretty clear the Red Storm are better than two of the top mid-majors in the Northeast. It is still unclear, however, whether they belong in the Top 25, much less the Top 20. Hosting Duke Dec. 9 will sharpen the focus.

18/17. Oklahoma State (4-0): You have to take into account the vagaries of early-season RPI to make sense of this. The computer tells us Cal Poly is No. 9 and Missouri State is No. 40 in RPI, and the Cowgirls pounded the Mustangs by 31 and edged Missouri State by three. Unless you count those two, Oklahoma State has played no one, and will play no one until next year, when the Big 12 season gets rolling. True, the Cowgirls far exceeded expectations last season, and under unimaginably difficult circumstances, but at the moment, they have done nothing to justify their ranking. Expect voters to inflate their ranking for weeks to come.

19/21. UCLA (3-1): The Bruins lost to No. 5 Notre Dame by 12. They beat No. 12 Oklahoma, in Oklahoma, by six. On most planets that should put them at No. 12 or higher, but using AP (Associated Press) calculus, it doesn’t work out that way. It shouldn’t take AP (Advanced Placement) calculus to figure out that this makes no sense at all. Either UCLA is too low or Oklahoma is too high, but there’s no justification for the two teams being in this order.

20/20. Kansas (5-0): The RPI says the Jayhawks’ toughest opponent has been Idaho State, though reality would suggest it’s actually 2-3 Wake Forest. Still, for Kansas to be within hailing distance of UCLA is yet another indication of the voters’ lack of interest in their women's college basketball ballots. The biggest question is whether that ought to be a greater embarrassment to the sports journalists voting in the AP poll or the college basketball coaches voting in USA Today poll, who somehow managed to rank UCLA beneath Kansas.

21/19. Nebraska (5-1): Nebraska lost to South Dakota State and its big win is over Temple. So why are the Huskers here? Because Nebraska’s in the Big 10 and South Dakota State isn’t.

22/RV-47. North Carolina (6-0): Sylvia Hatchell has a well-earned reputation of playing a creampuff schedule, and last season, the disrespect that's been shown the Tar Heels in both polls might have been justified. But not this year. Despite being unranked to start the season, North Carolina finally clawed it's way into at least one of the polls at No. 25/RV-29 last week, and this week rose to No. 22in the AP poll, though the Heels still "can't get no respect," as Rodney Dangerfield would put it, from the coaches. Hatchell boasts wins over Duquesne, Georgetown and Iowa and hasn’t lost -- and the Heels won the preseason WNIT, leapfrogging past (a concededly then-No. 16 but Delle-Donne-less Delaware) in the process. Yet the Heels are behind once-beaten Nebraska in the AP poll and are completely unranked by USA Today. You know, why bother to publish these rankings if even whoever votes doesn’t look at or think about the game results?

23/22. Dayton (6-0): Here’s another victim of mid-major discrimination. The Flyers have wins over then No. 25 DePaul (at DePaul) and then No. 13 Vanderbilt (at home), which is a lot better than Oklahoma State, to cite just one example, can say. So ... since both teams are unbeaten, why is Dayton ranked significantly lower?

24/RV-43. Iowa State (4-0): I’ve always been a big Bill Fennelly fan, and the Cyclones are unbeaten -– but please! Take a look at the opponents: Illinois is awful (one win), Loyola Marymount is at best mediocre, and the other two teams Iowa State beat are a combined 0-8. Even if you weigh in the Cyclones' RPI -- and concededly RPI this early in the season may not mean a lot -- 123 is a long way from 24. The only conceivable explanation for this one is that some voters thought the green ND logo on the Iowa State schedule meant a 73-34 Cyclone victory over Notre Dame, not North Dakota!

25/23. West Virginia (3-2): The Mountaineers have two losses, no wins over any team with a winning record, and an RPI of 197. Hello, hello – is anybody home?

Okay, it’s easy to complain, you may say. It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have to do the hard work of making meaning out of the early-season mash of results.

Fair enough. Bypassing the more subjective discussion of whether there are some teams -- take, for example, RV-72/No. 25 Texas A&M -- who have been punished too harshly for ambitious early-season scheduling, while others protect their rankings by racking up powerder-puff wins, here are some unbeaten teams who deserve their moment in the Top 25 –- at least a lot more than several of the teams that made this week's lists do:

RV-30/RV-38 Syracuse (6-0) True, Quentin HIllsman has never been known for ambitious nonconference scheduling. But the Orange are unbeaten, and this year's slate is somewhat better than most.  Syracuse gave Virginia its only loss (74-73), and also beat once-ranked Georgia Tech (75-72) in Puerto Rico last weekend.

RV-49/RV-36 Florida State (5-0):The Seminoles beat Florida by 31 in FSU's biggest win over its in-state rival since 1980, and once-lofty Vanderbilt by 14 (73-59), while giving thanks last weekend in Puerto Rico.

RV-15/24 South Carolina (7-0): While Dawn Staley's Gamecocks have finally snuck into the bottom of the Coaches' Poll, they're still not getting any love from the AP voters. Their seven Ws include an 82-58 road win over Louisiana Tech, and while this might be an off year for the Techsters, they're never a squad to be trifled with. South Carolina earned a look, going 3-0 in St. Thomas last week with their best win comig over once-ranked DePaul.

RV-1/NR Utah (5-0): True, the schedule lacks allure. Still, the Utes beat Michigan, 59-40, and have lost to no one.

For the sake of discussion, we can also toss out a few once-beaten teams worthy of consideration:

RV-2/RV-20 Gonzaga (6-1): Kelly Graves is one of those coaches who consistently finds talent others have overlooked and makes it better. The 'Zags' early-season RPI is a lofty 12, and in seven games they have lost just once -- to No. 7/6 Louisville, last week on a neutral floor in Puerto Vallarta.

RV-15/RV-6 Rutgers (3-1): The Scarlet Knights own a respectable win over Temple (66-50), boast an early-season RPI of 15, and have lost only to No. 8 Georgia (57-51) on the Dawgs' home court.

NR/NR Hartford (5-1): The Hawks' five victories include a schooling of a perennially good Marist team (64-53); Hartford's 48 RPi isn't earth-shattering but is better than that of several teams who did make the cut; and they have lost only to No. 17/15 St. John’s.

Maybe when football ends, the folks doing the women's basketball rankings will do a bit better. Of course, they’d really have to work at it to do much worse, and it's a shame to have to wait until mid-January.