Polls, Perfection, and Playing at Another Level | The Boneyard

Polls, Perfection, and Playing at Another Level

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UConn on the one hand, and the remainder of women's college basketball teams on the other hand, play the game at different levels. Everyone knows that despite ESPN trying its repeated best to insist that Notre Dame had closed the gap and maybe even -- gasp! -- pulled ahead. The evidence? The Irish had won X out of Y games against the Huskies. And because X was almost as big as Y, and because X and Y were unusually large numbers, ESPN was only happy to perpetrate the fraud that the Irish had dominated the Huskies over an extended period. Ah, the statistician's lament: figures don't lie but ...

All because at a time when the Irish and the Huskies were facing each other FOUR times a year, they went on a lucky streak. That's right, I said lucky, like some giddy shooter at the craps table. One point win, two point win, even Steven over regulation. Those aren't signs of domination, and they especially don't signal some paradigm shift when the games the Irish didn't win were twenty point blowouts.

Sorry, ND fans, my purpose wasn't to trash the Irish. They just happened to be in my line of fire as I built up a head of steam. No, my real purpose is to laud the polls. Ah, the statistician's revenge: he'll tell us what we think.

Too often, for sports sponsoring championship tournaments, in-season polls are dismissed as unnecessary, irrelevant distractions at best. A champion will be crowned on the playing surface. Why waste energy fretting over something that, ultimately, doesn't matter anyway?

I'm a statistician, I'll tell you why. For one thing, polls are incredibly an effective (and free) source of publicity. I've heard it said the most effective advertising is word-of-mouth. What is a poll if it isn't a form of word-of-mouth advertising? One advantage of polling is the longevity of the endorsement. Polls keep a program in the national conversation for months while a championship victory is more a short burst jolt, a tortoise vs. hare comparison.

A second benefit of polls is the role they play in recruiting. Young athletes become aware of sports and teams first through the influence of family and friends. Later, they may become curious about how their personal standard bearer compares to other teams. Enter polls. Later, when the finest of those young athletes begin considering competing at the collegiate level, they, at the very least, give a thought to those schools regularly listed in the polls. The polls, in some form or other, become part of the decision making process.

My particular polling sub-interest is 1st place votes and, in particular, something I'll call the perfect poll. A 1st place vote means that some voter, somewhere thinks that team is the best. The perfect poll is where every voter thinks that team is the best. Think about that for a second. Unanimity is difficult to achieve. Even our justice system requires the unanimous agreement of only twelve. But a perfect poll needs the agreement of 30 to 40 opinionated, probably cantankerous, individuals. While those polled are likely compensated for their endorsements, they are nonetheless esteemed individuals whose opinions are worthy of consideration. Any team getting a 1st place vote is special. One that pulls off the perfect poll is special indeed.

So who are those special teams? First of all, my data comes from ESPN and their data only goes back to 2003. It represents nearly 8000 1st place votes cast in the ESPN Coaches Poll and almost 10,000 votes from the AP. Only 22 teams have ever received a first place vote. Those teams, in order of combined 1st place votes received, are:

UConn -- 7,702 combined, 4,164 AP, 3,538 ESPN
Baylor -- 2,564 combined, 1431 AP, 1,133 ESPN
Duke -- 2,323 combined, 1,384 AP, 939 ESPN
Tennessee -- 1,654 combined, 898 AP, 756 ESPN
LSU -- 1,164 combined, 629 AP, 535 ESPN
Maryland -- 789 combined, 464 AP, 325 ESPN
Stanford -- 412 combined, 209 AP, 203 ESPN
North Carolina -- 411 combined, 262 AP, 149 ESPN
Texas -- 143 combined, 104 AP, 39 ESPN
Texas Tech -- 93 combined, 37 AP, 56 ESPN
Notre Dame -- 42 combined, 11 AP, 31 ESPN
Texas A&M -- 33 combined, 2 AP, 31 ESPN
Rutgers -- 30 combined, 28 AP, 2 ESPN
Oklahoma -- 19 combined, 18 AP, 1 ESPN
Ohio State -- 11 combined, 2 AP, 9 ESPN
Louisiana Tech -- 8 combined, 3 AP, 5 ESPN
Penn State -- 5 combined, 5 AP, 0 ESPN
Purdue -- 2 combined, 2 AP, 0 ESPN
Georgia -- 1 combined, 1 AP, 0 ESPN
Iowa State -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN
Kansas State -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN
Vanderbilt -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN

What about the perfect poll, the poll where one team garners all the 1st place votes? How difficult is that to achieve? Surprisingly, to me at least, not as difficult as one might expect. Of the 224 AP Polls for which I have results, more than half, 115, have been unanimous. ESPN has been slightly less agreeable, though still yielding 106 perfect polls in 234 taken. Who or what is to blame for all those pollsters playing so nice together? Say it with me: UConn.

Seven teams, UConn, Baylor, LSU, Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland have recorded perfect polls. Ignoring the 8 ton Husky in the living room for the nonce, there have been 41 perfect AP Polls (18%) and 27 perfect ESPN Polls (12%). Including the Huskies raises those percentages to 53% in the AP (115 of 224) and 45% in the ESPN (106 of 234).

What's better than perfection? How about double perfection? That is, sweeping all the 1st place votes in both polls in the same week. Baylor has done that 11 times, LSU seven times, Duke twice. That's it, three teams. Well, except for UConn that is. They've done it 68 times.

Anything tougher than double perfection? How about a perfect season? Sweeping every 1st place ballot in both polls every week for an entire season. Impossible you say? That would mean you'd forgotten 2010. Every week, preseason till the end, every voter in the AP Poll and every voter in the ESPN Poll voted UConn #1. Come to think of it, that does sound impossible.

Besides UConn, nobody but nobody is playing at UConn's level. And the polls reflect that.
 
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I don't think I've ever heard anyone say ND has pulled ahead or dominated UConn. It does irritate me when they mention Muffet McGraw with Geno Auriemma as the best coaches, because Muffet is nowhere near the coach that Geno is.
 

Tonyc

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With what some of the power teams have lost such as Stanford Baylor Louisville it makes for a healthy UConn team to dominate even more then they have in the past. Barring injuries I dont see a team coming even close to UConn this season. Opponents this season dont have the experience, continuity or the chemistry to challenge UConn. This is something we need to pause and think about. How tuff is it really to go undefeated? Really think about that for minute. To run over good teams that are competitive with other good teams. To maintain their dominance season after season. This season should be even uglier for opponents. To many teams have lost to much, while UConn continues to develop players who following in the footsteps of upper classman who are graduating and replacing them with new recruits. Geno is like a farmer harvesting his crops. He recruits them, develops them and nurses them along until theyre ready to play while continuing recruiting the right players to replace those he's already starting. He's got his system down to a science and this season he separates his team even future from every other team in WCBB. When was the last time Geno didnt have enough players developed to step into the lineup when others graduated? Its been a while. Geno isnt lucky, he's smart. He knows how to build a team and keep in running at the highest level.
 
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RegisteredUConn is right. Announcers were saying that Notre Dame had dominated UConn recently based solely on wins and losses. When it mattered most, they couldn't win. Isn't it three straight Final Fours for ND? Or is it four? And not a championship in sight.
 
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I don't think I've ever heard anyone say ND has pulled ahead or dominated UConn. It does irritate me when they mention Muffet McGraw with Geno Auriemma as the best coaches, because Muffet is nowhere near the coach that Geno is.
I totally agree with this statement.
 

KnightBridgeAZ

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I don't think I've ever heard anyone say ND has pulled ahead or dominated UConn. It does irritate me when they mention Muffet McGraw with Geno Auriemma as the best coaches, because Muffet is nowhere near the coach that Geno is.
As with another poster, I agree with this, although mostly the first and last part. I haven't heard Muffet promoted as a "best coach" with Geno much either. Too many other candidates, Tara comes most especially to mind, none of them in Geno's league.

As to the OP, fascinating information about the polls.

Geno's ability to recruit is, to my mind, just as important to UConn's over-all success as his player development and X&O skills; however, I don't think UConn's specific place on the polls (or #1 rankings) particularly factored into his recruiting. Now, if you want to count how many times he has been #1 on the last poll of the season . . .
 
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As with another poster, I agree with this, although mostly the first and last part. I haven't heard Muffet promoted as a "best coach" with Geno much either. Too many other candidates, Tara comes most especially to mind, none of them in Geno's league.

As to the OP, fascinating information about the polls.

Geno's ability to recruit is, to my mind, just as important to UConn's over-all success as his player development and X&O skills; however, I don't think UConn's specific place on the polls (or #1 rankings) particularly factored into his recruiting. Now, if you want to count how many times he has been #1 on the last poll of the season . . .
Geno is certainly in a league of his own, but amongst active coaches (not factoring in recruiting ability), I would say that McGraw and Vanderveer are a step above everyone else, except for maybe Walz.
 
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UConn on the one hand, and the remainder of women's college basketball teams on the other hand, play the game at different levels. Everyone knows that despite ESPN trying its repeated best to insist that Notre Dame had closed the gap and maybe even -- gasp! -- pulled ahead. The evidence? The Irish had won X out of Y games against the Huskies. And because X was almost as big as Y, and because X and Y were unusually large numbers, ESPN was only happy to perpetrate the fraud that the Irish had dominated the Huskies over an extended period. Ah, the statistician's lament: figures don't lie but ...

All because at a time when the Irish and the Huskies were facing each other FOUR times a year, they went on a lucky streak. That's right, I said lucky, like some giddy shooter at the craps table. One point win, two point win, even Steven over regulation. Those aren't signs of domination, and they especially don't signal some paradigm shift when the games the Irish didn't win were twenty point blowouts.

Sorry, ND fans, my purpose wasn't to trash the Irish. They just happened to be in my line of fire as I built up a head of steam. No, my real purpose is to laud the polls. Ah, the statistician's revenge: he'll tell us what we think.

Too often, for sports sponsoring championship tournaments, in-season polls are dismissed as unnecessary, irrelevant distractions at best. A champion will be crowned on the playing surface. Why waste energy fretting over something that, ultimately, doesn't matter anyway?

I'm a statistician, I'll tell you why. For one thing, polls are incredibly an effective (and free) source of publicity. I've heard it said the most effective advertising is word-of-mouth. What is a poll if it isn't a form of word-of-mouth advertising? One advantage of polling is the longevity of the endorsement. Polls keep a program in the national conversation for months while a championship victory is more a short burst jolt, a tortoise vs. hare comparison.

A second benefit of polls is the role they play in recruiting. Young athletes become aware of sports and teams first through the influence of family and friends. Later, they may become curious about how their personal standard bearer compares to other teams. Enter polls. Later, when the finest of those young athletes begin considering competing at the collegiate level, they, at the very least, give a thought to those schools regularly listed in the polls. The polls, in some form or other, become part of the decision making process.

My particular polling sub-interest is 1st place votes and, in particular, something I'll call the perfect poll. A 1st place vote means that some voter, somewhere thinks that team is the best. The perfect poll is where every voter thinks that team is the best. Think about that for a second. Unanimity is difficult to achieve. Even our justice system requires the unanimous agreement of only twelve. But a perfect poll needs the agreement of 30 to 40 opinionated, probably cantankerous, individuals. While those polled are likely compensated for their endorsements, they are nonetheless esteemed individuals whose opinions are worthy of consideration. Any team getting a 1st place vote is special. One that pulls off the perfect poll is special indeed.

So who are those special teams? First of all, my data comes from ESPN and their data only goes back to 2003. It represents nearly 8000 1st place votes cast in the ESPN Coaches Poll and almost 10,000 votes from the AP. Only 22 teams have ever received a first place vote. Those teams, in order of combined 1st place votes received, are:

UConn -- 7,702 combined, 4,164 AP, 3,538 ESPN
Baylor -- 2,564 combined, 1431 AP, 1,133 ESPN
Duke -- 2,323 combined, 1,384 AP, 939 ESPN
Tennessee -- 1,654 combined, 898 AP, 756 ESPN
LSU -- 1,164 combined, 629 AP, 535 ESPN
Maryland -- 789 combined, 464 AP, 325 ESPN
Stanford -- 412 combined, 209 AP, 203 ESPN
North Carolina -- 411 combined, 262 AP, 149 ESPN
Texas -- 143 combined, 104 AP, 39 ESPN
Texas Tech -- 93 combined, 37 AP, 56 ESPN
Notre Dame -- 42 combined, 11 AP, 31 ESPN
Texas A&M -- 33 combined, 2 AP, 31 ESPN
Rutgers -- 30 combined, 28 AP, 2 ESPN
Oklahoma -- 19 combined, 18 AP, 1 ESPN
Ohio State -- 11 combined, 2 AP, 9 ESPN
Louisiana Tech -- 8 combined, 3 AP, 5 ESPN
Penn State -- 5 combined, 5 AP, 0 ESPN
Purdue -- 2 combined, 2 AP, 0 ESPN
Georgia -- 1 combined, 1 AP, 0 ESPN
Iowa State -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN
Kansas State -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN
Vanderbilt -- 1 combined, 0 AP, 1 ESPN

What about the perfect poll, the poll where one team garners all the 1st place votes? How difficult is that to achieve? Surprisingly, to me at least, not as difficult as one might expect. Of the 224 AP Polls for which I have results, more than half, 115, have been unanimous. ESPN has been slightly less agreeable, though still yielding 106 perfect polls in 234 taken. Who or what is to blame for all those pollsters playing so nice together? Say it with me: UConn.

Seven teams, UConn, Baylor, LSU, Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland have recorded perfect polls. Ignoring the 8 ton Husky in the living room for the nonce, there have been 41 perfect AP Polls (18%) and 27 perfect ESPN Polls (12%). Including the Huskies raises those percentages to 53% in the AP (115 of 224) and 45% in the ESPN (106 of 234).

What's better than perfection? How about double perfection? That is, sweeping all the 1st place votes in both polls in the same week. Baylor has done that 11 times, LSU seven times, Duke twice. That's it, three teams. Well, except for UConn that is. They've done it 68 times.

Anything tougher than double perfection? How about a perfect season? Sweeping every 1st place ballot in both polls every week for an entire season. Impossible you say? That would mean you'd forgotten 2010. Every week, preseason till the end, every voter in the AP Poll and every voter in the ESPN Poll voted UConn #1. Come to think of it, that does sound impossible.

Besides UConn, nobody but nobody is playing at UConn's level. And the polls reflect that.
UCONN #1's about equal to all others combined.
 

UcMiami

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With what some of the power teams have lost such as Stanford Baylor Louisville it makes for a healthy UConn team to dominate even more then they have in the past. Barring injuries I dont see a team coming even close to UConn this season. Opponents this season dont have the experience, continuity or the chemistry to challenge UConn. This is something we need to pause and think about. How tuff is it really to go undefeated? Really think about that for minute. To run over good teams that are competitive with other good teams. To maintain their dominance season after season. This season should be even uglier for opponents. To many teams have lost to much, while UConn continues to develop players who following in the footsteps of upper classman who are graduating and replacing them with new recruits. Geno is like a farmer harvesting his crops. He recruits them, develops them and nurses them along until theyre ready to play while continuing recruiting the right players to replace those he's already starting. He's got his system down to a science and this season he separates his team even future from every other team in WCBB. When was the last time Geno didnt have enough players developed to step into the lineup when others graduated? Its been a while. Geno isnt lucky, he's smart. He knows how to build a team and keep in running at the highest level.
I agree about many teams losing some quality players. Many of those teams are reloading with impressive freshman, but not many freshman make a significant difference in the FF (I know Stewart is an exception.) I final SC an interesting exception to this in that they return just about everyone from a very good team, and I expect them to make more noise this year.
 
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REG: that was one of the great thread-heads of all time. A lot of good work and thought went into that for sure. YOU were "playing at another level" on that one. A tip o' the cap.
 
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