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Auburn #11 in AP Poll, and That’s Okay

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NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Auburn Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off two big ranked wins for the Auburn Tigers basketball team, it would be easy to expect a top 10 ranking this week in the AP Poll. At 21-2 on the season and first place in the SEC, the Tigers have one of the best resumes in the country. Nobody but the most elite teams go undefeated in the regular season, and two road losses to KenPom top 100 teams can be forgiven, right?

Apparently not.

Auburn still sits at #11 in the AP Poll, same as last week. If the AP Poll picked the bracket, and they don’t, Auburn would be in line for a #3 seed. Does Auburn deserve to be behind an 18-5 Seton Hall team, or a 20-3 Duke team that stole an OT win away from a pretty bad UNC team?

If you ask AP voter Jesse Newell, the answer is yes, and it’s not all that close.

Yikes. I’m sure the Auburn internet handled that well. Let’s check in.

Here’s the thing, though. If I were to have an AP ballot, I would probably have Auburn in a similar spot. Especially if I had no bias towards Auburn.

The AP Poll isn’t the comittee trying to build a bracket, and it has no rules regarding how voters are supposed to vote. If someone wants to rank teams based on quality instead of resume, they’re more than welcome to do so, and I’d argue that’s probably the best way to do a “power ranking” of sorts.

I’ll let Mr. Newell explain his process in his own words:

“I look at five predictive rankings for my poll each week while trying to rank the “best” teams. Auburn is 30th KenPom, 36th Torvik, 14th Sagarin, 20th BPI and 24th Team Rankings. Tigers this week were great example of how these systems work. Then, AU was expected to beat LSU at home by 4. It won by one. So was worse than expectations … and the team moved down to 30th.

The way the advanced numbers look at it, it was a good week for Auburn, but the team didn’t necessarily perform much better than a team in the mid-20s would be expected to do. Every game is a chance to move up/down, based on expectations. Auburn is liked more by Sagarin, BPI and Team Rankings. It’s the reason I look at multiple systems … just to make sure I’m not missing outliers. Only one of those has Tigers in top 15. So 24 feels about right.

The bottom line: I’m working on the belief that teams don’t have complete control in close games. Eventually, a bad call or unfortunate roll of the ball will go against teams. Best teams, then, are ones who dominate on per-possession basis to avoid those close games altogether. AU has a spectacular resume. It’s a big reason why the Tigers were a 3 seed in the first bracket release. Team deserves credit for winning every close game. The way I do it, though, is by ranking best teams not best resumes. Thus, the difference between me and many others.”

He’s right. Most of the advanced metric systems have Auburn in the 20’s or 30’s despite the resume, largely because Auburn has played so many close games. If you ignored the final win/loss result and just looked at the stats that trend closely with winning and losing, you would think Auburn went 2-2 the past two weeks at best. If Auburn were playing like an elite, top 10 team, they wouldn’t have had to complete double digit comebacks in the second haves of each of the last four games.

Auburn is #1 in the country in luck, per KenPom, where luck is an attempt to measure the deviation in winning percentage via the team’s predictive stats versus its actual win percentage. Auburn is a whopping +16.4%. This means that KenPom would expect Auburn to have a winning percentage 16.4% lower than they currently due, judged solely on their offensive and defensive performance in the “Four Factors” stats (eFG%, Turnover%, OR%, and FTA/FGA). To flesh that out, KenPom would expect Auburn to have a winning percentage of 74.9% (roughly a 17-6 record) instead of its current 91.3%.

I’d also like to point that Jesse should be commended for his openness regarding his process. Too often, we as fans see a crazy ballot from a media member who is under no obligation to tell anyone why they voted the way they did, leaving us to speculate if they even pay attention to any teams besides their own.

Here’s the dirty little (pretty obvious) secret - they don’t.

Beat reporters in spend all of their working hours (and then some) watching, reporting, interviewing, investigating (and on and on) ONE team, and possibly some of the opponents on their team’s schedule.

Using multiple other methods to inform yourself on the quality of other teams is, in my view, the most responsible way to vote. So cheers to you Mr. Newell.

And good luck with Twitter.