The Human vs. Computer Rankings Disconnect

Right now, West Virginia remains unrated in both human polls. In fact, we received one lowly vote in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll, and if not for a selected few high placements in the AP (check Shoneys gift certificate is in the mail, Lindsey Willhite), we would be significantly lower there, too.

If you stopped your analysis there, you might come away with the impression that WVU is a bubble team -- not great, not bad -- probably in the discussion come tournament time, though certainly not a shoo-in for the field. In my opinion, that's what the poll's voters want us to think of WVU's talent level. But if you dig further, things get a lot more interesting.

Let's look at both Pomeroy and Sagarin, two of the more respected computer rankings. (Of course, RPI is the end-all of the tournament formula, but these give us a good look inside why our RPI might be high or low.) Both rankings have us way above of even the neighborhood where the pollsters consider us living this season. Pomery ranks us 10th, Sagarin 13th. A little better than 33rd (AP) and 40th (ESPN/USA Today). Why, though, why? Voters are smart too, right?

(Stop laughing.)

(Seriously, stop laughing.)

As of today, we stand 14-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big EAST, tying us for seventh in the conference with Villanova. In the latest round of polls, Georgetown is the only team with five or more losses that appears in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today rankings (Notre Dame just missed the AP field). A quick check of the computer rankings show Georgetown a top-twenty squad in both. Certainly, no one will get too upset with their inclusion, though a loss to Seton Hall (barely in the top-100) certainly doesn't help.

But look at West Virginia's resume vs. Georgetown's. WVU ranks above the Hoyas in both computer tallies. West Virginia's schedule, ranked ninth by both computers, is comparable to Georgetown's top-five rated schedule. And while we have less quality wins (one to three), we still have one less loss (five to six). So why not us? Why, after a week where they lose two games does Georgetown remain ranked while West Virginia, a team with a convincing road win over that same team, barely move at all?

The problem is not with Georgetown remaining ranked, its with us not moving. And the problem beyond that is perception. Georgetown is the "name" squad that started the season perceived highly. At least this year, WVU is the underdog picked to finish ninth in our own conference. We have taken the right steps so far, however, to ensure that doesn't impede us come March. By playing an extremely tough schedule, made up of highly rated mid-major schools (Davidson, especially, but also Miami (OH) and Cleveland State), we seriously beefed up our tournament resume.

That was one scheduling piece missing from the Beilein regime. Sure, we still play our fair share of cupcake games. But this staff has fought to schedule the upper-echelon teams in lower conferences, knowing that months down the road, we will be reaping those benefits.

And so, unless we start rolling off win after win after win, we're likely to hover around the "also receiving votes" section of the polls. Luckily, in college basketball, there is a defined system that allows us to know that the RPI and the tournament committee will decide our fate, not anything having to do with Jon Wilner.

PS: Thanks for the #18 vote this week, Jon. You're a crazy son-of-a-bitch, but you managed to get it right this time.

[photo courtesy of The Future of Things]

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