When Dave Skretta of the Associated Press asked if I’d like to be an AP college basketball voter this season, here was my exact email response to him:
Oh man. That sounds fun (and terrifying).
Coming up with my preseason ballot certainly lived up to expectations.
Let’s start with how I voted, then go backward from there.
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4. Michigan State
5. Wichita State
10. Southern California
11. West Virginia
12. North Carolina
14. Miami (Fla.)
15. Notre Dame
19. Texas A&M
23. Saint Mary’s (Calif.)
24. Seton Hall
The first task was figuring how I wanted to approach having a ballot. Those familiar with me know I tend to lean toward analytics when evaluating teams, but having said that, this is a human ranking, so I wanted some wiggle room with the final vote to make up for any blind spots the computers might have.
I took to Google Sheets for a super-basic start. I compiled a few human rankings and also took into account the best computer ones I could find based on research — from last year, the Torvik rankings were most accurate, and Ken Pomeroy has a solid track record as well.
I wanted to include Dan Hanner/SI’s preseason ranking — it has finished second and first in terms of accuracy the last two years — but it hadn’t been released yet.
In the end, after tweaking, I came up with an average ranking from humans and computer polls where analytics made up 40 percent of the formula. This gave me a foundation for my ballot, and I only moved teams slightly from this starting point.
Now, to some of the specifics:
KU was third on my spreadsheet number, sitting between third and fifth in each preseason ranking I considered. I kept the Jayhawks here because of their ceiling, though with their depth, a costly injury certainly could move them down quickly.
Arizona No. 1
This actually wasn’t a difficult choice based on the data available, with Arizona ranking the best among both humans and computers. Duke, meanwhile, isn’t quite as high in non-human polls, which dropped the Blue Devils down to No. 2 for me.
Shockers at 5
I’m the only voter representing the state of Kansas, so I’m sure at some point I will be accused of bias in favor of the home-state teams. In all honesty, though, Wichita State’s returning talent makes the team an advanced-stat darling and exactly the type of squad that I will likely be ranking higher than some of my colleagues each week. Cincinnati (No. 9 for me, 12 overall) falls in this category as well.
Toughest to rank
The most difficult teams to slot were ones that were loved by computers and not humans (Purdue, TCU, Virginia) or the opposite of that (Minnesota, Seton Hall). I typically gave the nod to analytics when I needed a tiebreaker, but in the end, I couldn’t fit TCU onto my ballot, which is probably my biggest regret. The Horned Frogs would have been 26th if I had been able to tack one more team onto my list.
The Tigers will likely be a top 25 team at some point, but with a new coach and so much inexperience, they aren’t there yet in my eyes. Mizzou was 38th on my unofficial spreadsheet, meaning there’s work to be done before they are considered above others for a spot on my ballot.