P5 Ranking Bias in College Basketball

p5_ranking_smWith the preseason college basketball rankings coming out this week I was a little surprised to see that the runnin’ Utes were ranked 25th in the AP with 98 votes (#30 coaches with 26) while BYU came in ranked at 48 with 2 votes (no votes in coaches poll).  This makes no sense.  Logically, you would look at past performance, current players, and incoming players to determine rankings.

If you judge by recent past performance BYU absolutely owns the Utes.  Consider

  • BYU is 12-4 vs. the Utes since Dave Rose took the reins in 2005
  • BYU has 7 NCAA tournament appearances (in 9 seasons) with four tournament wins, Utah has one appearance and no wins
  • BYU has advanced further than the Utes in EVERY postseason since 2005
  • BYU has won more games EVERY season since 2005
  • BYU has finished the season ranked higher in EVERY season since 2005

Clearly BYU owns both the head-to-head as well as final results as voted on by the national media.  By all objective measures BYU was a better team last season, despite losing on the road to the Utes.  They won more games, finished ranked higher, and went further in the post-season.

So if it isn’t past performance, why are the Utes ranked higher?  BYU did lose two starters from last season (Mika and Carlino) but Mika was replaced with several capable bigs as well as a more experienced Austin and Worthington.  Carlino transferred but was replaced with a starter from the AAC in transfer and team captain Chase Fischer.  BYU also returns WCC player of the year in Haws, WCC preseason 1st teamer Collingsworth, and several other potential stars.  Meanwhile Utah lost Lenz to graduation (11.3 min/game), Kovacevic for personal reasons  (4.9 mpg), Van Dyke to a mission (9.8 mpg), and Onwas (17.9 mpg), Brocklin (2.6 mpg), and Fields (7.5 mpg) all transferred to other schools.  So the Utes lost a lot of valuable minutes, yet only one player transferred in–Reyes (an untested JC transfer).

So the only logical explanation is that the Utes deserve to start the season ranked higher due to a better recruiting class.  The Utes did have one of their best recruiting classes in some time signing 4-star recruit Brekkott Chapman, and 3-star recruits Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Wright.  However, BYU’s class of 4-star T.J. Haws and 3-star recruits Payton Dastrup, Dalton Nixon, Jake Toolson, and NR Ryan Andrus still ranks higher than the Utes.  True, their two best recruits (Haws and Dastrup) are off on missions, but returned missionaries Isaac Neilson, Jordan Chatman, and Corban Kaufusi are worthy replacements.  BYU also has three quality D1 transfers in Chase Fischer (Wake Forest), Jamal Aytes (UNLV), and Kyle Davis (USU) while the Utes have a lone JC transfer.

  • Head-to-head edge: BYU
  • Past performance edge: BYU
  • Incoming players edge: BYU

So there is no logical explanation for why Utah is starting the 2014-15 season ranked higher.  With logic defied, it must come down to perception.  The PAC12 is certainly a stronger basketball conference than the WCC.  Also, despite BYU’s recent track record of sending several players to the professional ranks while Utah has not sent any, Delon Wright is viewed by most as a stronger pro prospect than Haws.  Utah has a stronger résumé than the Cougs if you’re willing to go back several decades and that name value must count for something.  Are the Utes still viewed as a stronger basketball program than the Cougars?  What else might explain the Utes preseason ranking in comparison to the Cougs?  Please use the comments section below to post your ideas.

Whatever the case, the 2014-15 season will be a good opportunity for the Cougars to prove voters wrong.