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Do Polls Matter?

If you want to panic a Xavier fan right now, all you have to do is say the number 30, 30 you see is where the good people at the Associated Press have the Musketeers ranked currently. This marks a 22 spot plunge down the polls that started after XU tanked against ORU. With the insanely pessimistic already complaining about being NIT bound, it's time to delve into the meaning of polls.

For starters, don't think of the polls as a ranking. Despite what they say, they aren't. A simple scan of the polls reveals that if that were the case, some people need to watch the occasional game. For example, Wagner got a vote in the AP poll this week, This would be the same Wagner team that Ken Pomeroy lists at 73rd in the nation. What that means is that the AP voters, if this were a ranking, think that Wagner would beat LBSU, Oklahoma, UC, or a host of other teams that, in reality, would run the Seahawks off the floor.

So if the polls aren't a ranking, what are they? To answer that question, look to college football. The same polls that are the major moving factor in the BCS rankings are the same ones that are currently have less circumspect Xavier fans panicking. In short, they are a compilation of the opinions of an extremely fallible group of people with agendas, opinions, and bones to pick. What the vote for homecoming queen was to high school, polls are to college basketball. A popularity contest filled with hormonal girls is roughly as accurate as the AP poll. Further, come tournament time, the polls have no impact.

When the selection committee sits down to put together the 68 team field, neither major poll plays even an insignificant part in the process. According to Greg Shaheen, the man in charge of putting together the selection committee the last several years, things like RPI, strength of schedule, non-conference record, record, record in last ten, record on the road, injuries, good wins and bad losses, record vs other potential tournament teams, and a litany of other things are considered in selecting a team. Never in the list do polls appear, never in the process are they even considered.

So why bother even having polls? Because there is nothing people love more than qualifying things. Being number one in something is an accomplishment, a goal to strive for. The fact that in this case being number one means winning a popularity contest in which most of the voters never saw you doesn't matter to most teams. If you think Elton Alexander of the Cleveland Plain Dealer spends a lot of time breaking down the differences between #24 Harvard and #25 SDSU, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Despite the fact that most voters probably can't name a starter from every team they rank, millions fret over their every vote.

What I am trying to tell you is this: polls are a waste of your time. If you want to know which teams are better, watch them, read kenpom and the Massey ratings, and then watch some more. Look at this AP poll and then decide which teams Las Vegas would favor against a full strength Xavier on a neutral court. (I get the top six before I start really questioning things). That's what is really going to matter, not the fact that all Ryan Thorburn of the Daily Camera out in Colorado knows about the Musketeers is what he saw in a poorly timed press conference.

So take a deep breath, XU isn't really the 30th best team in the nation and no, they aren't going to the NIT, regardless of what that message board hero is telling you. Polls are a waste of time. Use them, if you must, to trumpet your fandom, but don't lend them any real credence.