Breaking Down the Biggest Differences in the AP Poll and Ken Pomeroy's Ranking
Though there are many similarities between the AP Top 25 and the rankings that result from Ken Pomeroy's (subscription required) pythagorean expected winning percentage, it's the differences that are far more intriguing.
Differences are certainly to be expected, as the AP rankings are based on what has happened while KenPom's rankings are based on what is expected to happen. However, some teams are ranked very differently in the two polls.
Pittsburgh received a grand total of six votes in the latest AP poll, but KenPom has the Panthers rated as the ninth-best team in the country. Conversely, Baylor is No. 11 in the AP poll and 36th in KenPom's index.
Perhaps most interesting of all, Louisville is ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, but the Cardinals are No. 1 according to KenPom—and by no small margin, either.
But who is "right" in each of these situations?
Let's take a look at the 12 biggest differences between the two ranking systems—six teams that the AP ranks considerably higher than KenPom, and six vice versa—stating each side's case and deciding which is a more accurate representation of that team's spot in the national totem pole.
AP rankings listed on the following slides were posted on December 23. KenPom rankings listed on the following slides are current through December 24.
The rankings: No. 16 in AP; No. 6 in KenPom
The Jayhawks are the highest-ranked three-loss team, but they do still have three losses—suffered in a span of four games without any noteworthy injuries to boot. The two recent dominating wins over New Mexico and Georgetown were promising, but they still need to do a bit more to get back into the Top 15.
Despite playing one of the most difficult schedules in the entire country, the Jayhawks have an effective field-goal percentage that is 9 percent better than their opponents'. Their interior game is just about the best the sport has to offer this season. Once they figure out how to shoot free throws and three-pointers, they could be the best team in the nation.
Kansas will eventually be one of the 10 best teams in the country, but there's no good reason for it to currently be ranked ahead of eight of the remaining unbeatens or one-loss teams like Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks' rightful place is somewhere in between No. 6 and No. 16, but the AP's evaluation is more rational for the time being.
Duke Blue Devils
The rankings: No. 9 in AP; No. 17 in KenPom
The Blue Devils have lost two games this season. Against the top-ranked team in the country, they held a lead midway through the second half. Against Kansas, it was a tie game with three minutes remaining.
In addition to those "good" neutral-court losses, they have scored convincing wins over UCLA and Michigan.
Schools like Wichita State, Baylor and Oregon need to prove somehow that they are better than Duke before we even consider dropping the Blue Devils out of the Top 10.
The offense has been incredible. Duke is second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency as well as effective field-goal percentage.
The defense isn't anywhere near as impressive.
Over the previous three seasons, only three opponents had scored 90 or more points in a game against Duke. That has already happened twice this season, and one of those games was against a team from the America East Conference that is currently 4-8 on the season.
Duke is currently ranked 22nd in ESPN's BPI and 48th in RPI. Every other team in the AP Top 14 is ranked 16th or better in at least one of those rating systems. Granted, having two losses certainly doesn't help, but Florida has two losses and is ranked in the Top 15 in both indices.
Frankly, both the AP and KenPom might have this team rated a little too highly, and that's coming from a Duke fan. The less optimistic KenPom takes this one.
Saint Louis Billikens
The rankings: No votes in AP; No. 24 in KenPom
The Billikens are 1-2 against the RPI Top 125. The one win was against Oral Roberts, which is only in the Top 125 because it has played seven games against the RPI Top 150—losing six of those seven games.
Wake us up when the Billikens actually have a quality win.
Saint Louis' defensive efficiency is impeccable. Opponents are shooting just 27.2 percent from three-point range and committing a turnover on nearly one out of every four possessions. If and when the offense figures out how to score, the Billikens could be headed for an Atlantic 10 regular-season title for a second straight season.
Games against quality opponents are certainly few and far between, but narrow losses to undefeated Wisconsin and undefeated Wichita State should count for something in conjunction with 10 wins over other D-I opponents by an average margin of 16.5 points per game.
Perhaps they don't quite deserve to be in the consensus Top 25, but it's lunacy that not one of the 65 AP voters considered the Billikens worthy of a single vote despite not yet losing a game to a team outside the Top 10. KenPom wins this battle.
The rankings: No. 12 in AP; No. 22 in KenPom
Before the season even began, we felt that the Ducks were one of the 20 best teams in the nation. They haven't lost a game yet and are one of the nine remaining unbeaten teams this country has to offer. If anything, we're underselling Oregon at No. 12.
Oregon's defensive efficiency ranks 79th in the country and opponents are grabbing too many offensive rebounds against it.
This is obviously a very gifted team on offense, leading the nation at 90.3 points per game and sitting fifth in the nation with an effective field-goal percentage of 57.9. However, those offensive numbers have come against the 193rd-toughest schedule in the country. Can those numbers possibly withstand upcoming games against Colorado and Arizona?
Addition by lack of subtraction is a pretty stupid doctrine for ranking teams. The Ducks are undefeated, but whom have they beaten to warrant climbing in the polls? And why haven't they looked more convincing in the few semi-quality wins that they have?
Being ranked on the back end of the Top 25 is one thing, but putting a team in the Top 12 is a declaration that it belongs in the Sweet 16. For a team that needed overtime to beat Ole Miss and BYU, that's a pretty bold declaration.
KenPom's ranking makes more sense for Oregon.
The rankings: No votes in AP; No. 23 in KenPom
Save for a couple of wins over Missouri State and Southern Methodist—neither of which figures to get much better with time—the Cavaliers have done nothing in the first two months of the season. In fact, they've done less than nothing, losing to a VCU team that hasn't been anywhere near as good as we once thought, scoring 38 points in a loss to Wisconsin and getting upset by Green Bay.
This is hardly a surprise for a Tony Bennett-coached team, but Virginia has the third-most efficient defense in the country. Much like Saint Louis, the offense is nothing to write home about at the moment, but you're crazy if you think that Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will continue to average only a combined 17.7 points per game all season—after combining for close to 30 points per game last year.
I want to believe in the power of their defense, but the Cavaliers are just 4-3 against the RPI Top 200. Fortunately, they don't play another game this season against a team currently outside the Top 160, so they'll have plenty of opportunities to prove how good they are.
For now, though, this team doesn't belong anywhere near the Top 25. Chalk up another victory for the AP.
The rankings: No. 15 in AP; No. 25 in KenPom
The Huskies are 6-1 against the RPI Top 150 and 4-1 in games decided by fewer than three points. Outside of good three-point shooting and Shabazz Napier's ongoing campaign for the Wooden Award, there's nothing statistically outstanding about this team. But it keeps finding ways to win, and sometimes that's all that matters.
Save for a fair number of blocks by Amida Brimah, the Huskies' interior game is pretty dreadful. Their two-point shooting percentage is marginally better than the national average, while their rebounding on both ends of the court is considerably worse than average.
If not for Napier's unsustainable late-game heroics, this team might have five losses.
Prior to the two-point loss to Stanford, Connecticut was widely regarded as one of the 10 best teams in the country.
If you view Stanford as the team that narrowly lost on a neutral court to a Michigan team that seems to be gradually turning its season around, that loss doesn't much bother you. However, if you view Stanford as the team that lost by 21 points to a Pittsburgh team that only scored 43 points against Cincinnati, then Connecticut's home loss to Stanford seems pretty inexcusable.
I'm in the camp that believes Connecticut ran into a good-rebounding, tournament-caliber team on a night when neither Napier nor Ryan Boatright could buy a bucket.
This team will compete with Louisville and Memphis for the American regular-season title and definitely belongs in the Top 20 until further notice. The AP wins this one.
The rankings: No. 6 in AP; No. 1 in KenPom
The Cardinals have looked very, very good in most of their games, but they are 0-1 against the RPI Top 50. The defending champions certainly belong in the Top 10, but they don't have anywhere near the caliber of wins that Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin or Michigan State has.
Louisville is the best team in the country by a comfortable amount. The pythagorean margin between Louisville and No. 2 Ohio State is larger than the gap between the Buckeyes and No. 6 Kansas.
The Cardinals are No. 1 in offensive efficiency and No. 5 in defensive efficiency. They rank second in the nation in turnovers on each end of the court, creating more than twice as many turnovers on defense as they commit on offense.
The strength of schedule is certainly nothing to write home about, but their 11 wins are by an average margin of 29.2 points per game.
Say what you will about the intrinsic value of rankings in college basketball, but it's very difficult to say that—even though there are nine undefeated teams left in the country—the best team lost to a bipolar team like North Carolina.
Whether Louisville should actually be No. 3, No. 6 or No. 10 is up for debate, but No. 1 hardly seems rational.
The rankings: No. 2 in AP; No. 8 in KenPom
Baylor, Indiana, Minnesota and St. John's have a combined record of 38-9 this season, but four of those losses have been at the hands of Syracuse. Of the Orange's 11 wins this season, eight have come against teams that are currently at least two games over .500.
Their defense simply suffocates the life out of their opponents. In their last five games, they have had multiple 10-0 runs, an 18-0 run against Binghamton, a 23-3 run against Indiana and a 28-3 run against High Point.
The best teams are the ones that can take a close game and turn it into a blowout while you're watching the final few seconds of a different game on another channel.
Despite the combined records of their opponents, their strength of schedule still ranks 247th in the country. Granted, KenPom has Louisville at No. 1 overall despite one of the worst strengths of schedule, but Louisville is simply killing teams while Syracuse is often just barely getting by.
Even with the aforementioned incredible runs that this team can go on, the Orange have won five of their 11 games by fewer than a dozen points. Cornell is 0-11, but it held a six-point lead at halftime of its game against Syracuse.
Simply put, when you have the "ability" to be trailing St. Francis (NY) at the final media timeout of a home game, you aren't one of the five best teams in the country.
I had Syracuse at No. 5 in the latest B/R Power Rankings, so I fall smack dab in the middle of these rankings. However, I'm inclined to side with the AP on this one.
There's simply no way that Syracuse's schedule doesn't rank in the top 200 in the country. San Jose State hasn't played a single game against a team in the RPI Top 100, but according to KenPom, its schedule ranks 40 spots ahead of Syracuse's.
In actuality, Syracuse has zero losses and four very impressive road/neutral wins. Save for perhaps Arizona and Wisconsin, no team is more deserving of being in the top spot.
The rankings: No. 37 in AP; No. 16 in KenPom
On Thanksgiving Day, Creighton looked like one of the most dominant teams in the country, throttling Arizona State by 28 points. Less than 24 hours later, the Bluejays had no clue how to play defense against San Diego State. Two days after that, they couldn't figure out how to play offense when Doug McDermott was stifled against George Washington.
We'll reconsider Creighton after we see how well it does in a real conference for a change, but this team doesn't belong anywhere near the Top 25 at the moment.
Creighton's offensive efficiency is off the charts.
Yes, the Bluejays struggled to do anything on offense against George Washington, but they have scored at least 78 points in regulation in nine of their 11 games this season while playing at a tempo which is very close to the nation's average.
They get 39.8 percent of their points from three-pointers, which is the seventh-highest rate in the country. Even the greatest three-point shooting team will occasionally struggle. But when they're shooting better than 40 percent from long range, there aren't many teams capable of beating them.
Right now, Creighton is probably the second-best team in the Big East. Unfortunately, that isn't anywhere close to the high praise it would have been a year ago.
Creighton is good, but you have to beat someone better than Nebraska to belong in the Top 25. The AP wins this debate.
The rankings: No. 26 in AP; No. 56 in KenPom
The Sooners are 11-1, with that singular loss coming on a neutral court against Michigan State—and they were within four points of the Spartans multiple times in the final four minutes. They play at the eighth-fastest pace in the country, and that uptempo game has been giving opponents fits all season.
In order for Oklahoma's defense to get any worse, the Sooners would need to start shooting the ball at the wrong basket.
OK, it isn't quite that bad, but they do rank 130th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Gonzaga (122) is the only team in KenPom's Top 50 that ranks outside the top 90 in defensive efficiency, but at least the Zags rank fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency to make up for it.
Worse yet, the Sooners have played this terrible defense against the 249th-most difficult (or 103rd least difficult) schedule.
Oklahoma has been a good bit better than expected, but there's no way this team should be one Missouri or Gonzaga loss away from cracking the Top 25. The upcoming home game against Louisiana Tech will likely expose the Sooners as a team that struggles against an opponent that is willing and able to play at their pace.
The rankings: No. 36 in AP; No. 9 in KenPom
We're still trying to clean up the vomit that was spewed all over our living rooms while watching Pittsburgh score just 43 points in a loss to Cincinnati.
It doesn't matter that Cincinnati has one of the best defenses in the country and has held each of its 12 opponents to 67 or fewer points this season. Even if goaltending was legal and you were facing five Manute Bols on defense, there's no excuse for having two separate stretches of more than 11 minutes without a single field goal.
It'd be one thing if the rest of Pittsburgh's schedule was riddled with quality wins and the ugly game against Cincinnati was just an anomaly, but the Panthers haven't really played anyone worth mentioning—and they haven't played even one true road game yet.
Regardless of the caliber of opponents on their schedule thus far, the Panthers rank in the Top 20 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Only six other teams match that description, and we think quite highly of each of them—Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin.
Why shouldn't Pittsburgh be given near the same amount of respect?
Believe it or not, we're siding with KenPom on this one. Top 10 is a bit crazy, but Pittsburgh certainly belongs in the Top 25.
The one loss to Cincinnati was ugly, but the 11 wins were even uglier—in a good way.
When they win, the Panthers are winning by an average of 26.7 points per game. Aside from the loss to Cincinnati, their nine-point win over Penn State was the only game decided by fewer than 17 points.
Compare this to a team like Gonzaga, which is 7-2 in its last nine games against D-I opponents, beating just one of them by more than 16 points—a blowout win at home against Coppin State. And yet, Gonzaga is ranked while Pittsburgh can barely get any votes? That hardly seems right.
The rankings: No. 11 in AP; No. 36 in KenPom
The Bears have wins over Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky—all at neutral sites. Their one loss was by single digits on a neutral court against the second-best team in the country.
Sure, they inexplicably struggled in home games against South Carolina, Charleston Southern and Northwestern State, but wins are wins no matter the margin.
They commit way too many turnovers (21.2 percent of possessions) and don't create nearly enough of them on the defensive end (15.4 percent of possessions). Any advantage they gain from being among the best in the country in offensive rebounds is immediately offset by the likelihood that they'll just turn the ball over anyway. Terrible free-throw shooting (66.0 percent) doesn't help matters either.
Ranking Baylor as the 11th-best team this season might be a wee bit optimistic, but saying the Bears aren't in the top 10 percent of the country is just downright offensive. The AP wins this one by a landslide.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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