Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Preseason Polls

Data Compilation & Other Busy Work
Like the foreign tours, the first classes of the fall semester, the supervised small squad practices, and Midnight Madness, Conference Media Day has become the latest mile marker passed on our journey to the first games of the 2010-11 season. Months of individual "polls" and rankings, both D1 and Big East Conference, begin to give way to the informal consensus approach to ranking the best teams in Division 1 and the members of the Big East Conference. Pico Dulce has kicked off his second cycle of conference bloggers Round Table posts with the compiled results of ranking the conference, one of the questions/requests Pico made of the bloggers. 15 bloggers, associated with 12 of the conference's teams participated. Get over to East Coach Bias and read the results (and comments).

5West VirginiaWest VirginiaWest VirginiaWest Virginia
6St. John’sMarquetteConnecticut?
7Notre DameSt. John'sMarquette?
8LouisvilleLouisvilleSt. John'sLouisville
9MarquetteNotre DameLouisville?
10ConnecticutConnecticutSeton HallConnecticut
11Seton HallSeton HallNotre DameSeton Hall
13South FloridaSouth FloridaSouth FloridaSouth Florida

The rankings for the Coaches, Writers and Bloggers are reported elsewhere, linked at various points in this post (and at the bottom). The Consensus ranking is a "look test" -- the team listed at that rank by two (or more) of the polling groups is named the consensus pick. I made no attempt to reconcile those rankings where there was no consensus, simply annoting those with a question mark (?). Note that St. John's, Marquette and Notre Dame are not assigned a Consensus rank. Unanimous rankings were highlighted in green. Results of the writers' poll, an annual tradition, were compiled sometime in the last month and released by the Syracuse Post Standard yesterday in advance of the conference-wide Media Day. 16 sports writers (only several identified in the Post Standard 10/19 story, ranked the teams and used a cumulative point system (1st place = 16 points, 2nd place = 15 points, 3rd place = 14 points, etc.) to sort out the rankings. The Post Standard reported that Pitt received 10, Villanova 3, Syracuse 2 and West Virginia 1, first place votes from the writers.

About the Big East Coaches
The Big Each released the Coaches' preseason poll earlier today, and off season rumors, kicking around since last May, that Coach Pitino picked St. John's to finish first were confirmed. That poll has been used by the Big East front office to match teams with mirror opponents as the conference works to develop the conference schedule for the upcoming season. Interesting to know the conference does not "repoll" closer to the beginning of the season to allow the poll to reflect recent developments. The coaches were instructed to exclude their own team from their ballot, so in theory the highest point total should be 240 (# of coaches * 1st place points and so on...). The results, St. John's surprisingly strong fan-base in northern Kentucky aside, contained few surprises.

Forming a Consensus
The coaches and writers agreed on the ranks for 11 of the conference's 16 members. I have not checked previous seasons to see if that agreement is unusually high or unusually low. I suspect however, that it is typical and probably consistent with historical data. For the writers and coaches is it a case of great minds thinking alike? Or a case of very heavy cross-pollination? The bloggers agreed with four of the 11, making 25% of the conference rankings unanimous. Oddly, those unanimous picks were over where West Virginia (#5), Cincinnati (#12!), South Florida (#13) and DePaul (#16) would finish. In the other seven cases, the bloggers' ranking differed, in most cases, by no more than a rank or two with the coaches and writers. The Big East coaches ranked Louisville and Marquette as a tie for #8 (and #9), making the Cardinals' rank and either/or. All three groups agree Coach Pitino's squad will finish on the boundary of the upper and lower division of the conference. The bloggers' had a similar tie with respect to Providence and Rutgers for #14 (and #15), again affirming a consensus those two teams, along with DePaul (as a unanimous choice for #16) will finish as the last three in conference in 2010-11. Affirming a commonly understood notion, first articulated by Justice Potter Stewart in his concurrent opinion for Jacobellis v. Ohio, coaches, bloggers and writers are confident they about who who will excel (#1 - #5) and who will struggle (#10 - #16) in conference this season. Who will finish in the four spots that straddle the middle of conference -- #6 through #9 -- (Louisville excepted) is where the consensus falters. Significantly, all agree that St. John's will be there...somewhere, as will Marquette. The last spot in among those four is in dispute. Notre Dame? Connecticut? A trivial disagreement perhaps, especially since conference play will provide an absolute solution. But consider that if past is prologue, all four of those spots will be filled with NCAA bubble (and top-seeded NIT) teams.

Caveat Emptor!
Note Pico Dulce's recent post that the coaches do not always get it right however. In the preseason 2009-10 poll the coaches' consensus accurately placed only two teams, while projecting five other teams +- one position of their actual finish. Those seven constitute 43.8% of the conference. Dulce's analysis also affirmed an observation I (and many, many others) have made in numerous posts, that in every season one or more teams will finish much higher than anticipated, while one or two others will finish much lower than predicted. The "good" surprise teams in 2010 were Marquette and Pittsburgh, both of which finished seven positions higher than the coaches projected. The disappointment was Connecticut. The Huskies finished eight positions lower than predicted, and judging from this preseason poll, the conference coaches and beat writers believe Coach Calhoun will not turn it around this season.

Sources/Further Reading
The Coaches Poll -- official press release
The Writers Poll -- the Post Standard story
The Bloggers Poll -- east coast bias post.
Rob Dauster's preview in Ballin is a Habit. Includes a thumbnail on each each team, Rob's projected OYs, "All Teams" & conference storylines.

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