The Power of the Preseason Poll

With a relatively short season, a single elimination tournament, and 18-year old athletes, college basketball is one of the hardest sports to measure and predict. Sources like Ken Pomeroy and ESPN’s BPI have been huge improvements in recent years, but the flaws of the RPI and the AP Poll are still extremely visible and accepted far too easily.

For this piece, I wanted to study the AP poll and see just how effective it was at predicting tournament success. In recent years this has been especially strong, as Kentucky this year (#1 preseason, unranked postseason) made a run to the final 4 and knocked off Wichita St. (#16 preseason, #2 postseason) in the second round. So just how strong is the correlation between the first poll of the year, the last poll of the year, and the tournament to end the year?

A lot of the voters are old-timers with poor reasoning and shoddy analysis, and it turns out that the pre-season poll is nearly as effective at predicting March Madness games as the end of season poll is. I went back the last 15 years and tracked the preseason and postseason polls and compared them to tournament wins. Here is the raw poll data:

Note: if a team that went far in the tournament is missing, it’s because they weren’t in the top 25 of the first or last poll of the year.

YearSchoolConfPreFinalTourney Wins
2000Michigan StateBig Ten326
2001DukeACC216
2002MarylandACC206
2003SyracuseBig East136
2004ConnecticutBig East106
2005North CarolinaACC426
2006FloridaSEC116
2007FloridaSEC136
2008KansasBig 12446
2009North CarolinaACC126
2010DukeACC936
2011ConnecticutBig East96
2012KentuckySEC216
2013LouisvilleBig East226
2000FloridaSEC8135
2001ArizonaPac-10155
2002IndianaBig Ten225
2003KansasBig 12265
2004Georgia TechACC05
2005IllinoisBig Ten515
2006UCLAPac-101975
2007Ohio StateBig Ten715
2008MemphisCUSA325
2009Michigan StateBig Ten685
2010ButlerHorizon11115
2011ButlerHorizon175
2012KansasBig 121365
2013MichiganBig Ten5105
2000North CarolinaACC64
2001Michigan StateBig Ten334
2001MarylandACC5114
2002KansasBig 12704
2002OklahomaBig 122504
2003TexasBig 12454
2003MarquetteCUSA1894
2004DukeACC204
2004Oklahoma StateBig 122504
2005Michigan StateBig Ten13154
2005LouisvilleCUSA1444
2006Louisiana StateSEC194
2007UCLAPac-10674
2007GeorgetownBig East884
2008North CarolinaACC114
2008UCLAPac-10234
2009ConnecticutBig East254
2009VillanovaBig East23114
2010Michigan StateBig Ten2134
2010West VirginiaBig East864
2011KentuckySEC11114
2012Ohio StateBig Ten374
2012LouisvilleBig East9174
2013SyracuseBig East9164
2014KentuckySEC14
2014FloridaSEC1014
2014ConnecticutAAC18184
2014WisconsinBig Ten20124
2000Oklahoma StateBig 1222143
2000PurdueBig Ten23253
2000Iowa StateBig 1263
2000TulsaWAC183
2001StanfordPac-10423
2001IllinoisBig Ten843
2001Southern CaliforniaPac-10233
2002MissouriBig 1283
2002ConnecticutBig East03
2002OregonPac-1003
2003ArizonaPac-10123
2003OklahomaBig 12333
2003Michigan StateBig Ten93
2003KentuckySEC1713
2004KansasBig 12603
2004Saint Joseph'sA-101703
2005KentuckySEC973
2005ArizonaPac-101093
2005WisconsinBig Ten21203
2006TexasBig 12293
2006ConnecticutBig East323
2006VillanovaBig East533
2006MemphisCUSA1243
2007North CarolinaACC243
2007KansasBig 12323
2007MemphisCUSA1453
2007OregonPac-10103
2008LouisvilleBig East6133
2008TexasBig 121573
2008XavierA-10123
2008DavidsonSouthern233
2009LouisvilleBig East313
2009PittsburghBig East543
2009OklahomaBig 121273
2009MissouriBig 1293
2010KentuckySEC423
2010TennesseeSEC10153
2010Kansas StateBig 1273
2010BaylorBig 12193
2011KansasBig 12723
2011North CarolinaACC873
2011FloridaSEC9153
2011ArizonaPac-10173
2012North CarolinaACC143
2012SyracuseBig East523
2012FloridaSEC8253
2012BaylorBig 121293
2013Ohio StateBig Ten473
2013DukeACC863
2013FloridaSEC10143
2013MarquetteBig East153
2014Michigan StateBig Ten2113
2014ArizonaPac-12643
2014MichiganBig Ten773
2000DukeACC1012
2000UCLAPac-10122
2000SyracuseBig East17162
2000TennesseeSEC19112
2000GonzagaWCC242
2000Miami (FL)Big East25232
2000Louisiana StateSEC102
2001KansasBig 127122
2001KentuckySEC1292
2001UCLAPac-1017152
2001CincinnatiCUSA182
2001MississippiSEC142
2001GeorgetownBig East212
2002DukeACC102
2002IllinoisBig Ten302
2002KentuckySEC402
2002UCLAPac-1052
2002TexasBig 12232
2002ArizonaPac-1002
2002PittsburghBig East02
2003PittsburghBig East542
2003DukeACC672
2003MarylandACC13172
2003ConnecticutBig East15232
2003WisconsinBig Ten212
2003Notre DameBig East222
2004SyracuseBig East702
2004TexasBig 121202
2004IllinoisBig Ten1302
2004Wake ForestACC2002
2004PittsburghBig East2202
2005Oklahoma StateBig 12762
2005DukeACC1132
2005North Carolina StateACC192
2005WashingtonPac-102282
2005UtahMWC182
2005VillanovaBig East192
2005Texas TechBig 12242
2006DukeACC112
2006GonzagaWCC852
2006Boston CollegeACC1172
2006West VirginiaBig East14222
2006WashingtonPac-10172
2006GeorgetownBig East232
2007PittsburghBig East4122
2007Texas A&MBig 121392
2007TennesseeSEC25252
2007Southern IllinoisMVC142
2007Nevada-Las VegasMWC192
2007ButlerHorizon212
2007Southern CaliforniaPac-10232
2008TennesseeSEC752
2008Michigan StateBig Ten8182
2008Washington StatePac-1010212
2008StanfordPac-1023102
2008WisconsinBig Ten62
2009DukeACC862
2009GonzagaWCC10102
2009PurdueBig Ten11172
2009MemphisCUSA1332
2009KansasBig 1224142
2009SyracuseBig East132
2009XavierA-10202
2010PurdueBig Ten7102
2010WashingtonPac-10142
2010Ohio StateBig Ten1652
2010SyracuseBig East42
2010XavierA-10252
2011DukeACC132
2011Ohio StateBig Ten412
2011Brigham YoungMWC24102
2011San Diego StateMWC2562
2011WisconsinBig Ten162
2012XavierA-10142
2012WisconsinBig Ten15142
2012CincinnatiBig East212
2012MarquetteBig East22112
2012Michigan StateBig Ten52
2012IndianaBig Ten162
2013IndianaBig Ten142
2013KansasBig 12732
2013ArizonaPac-1212212
2013Michigan StateBig Ten1492
2013Miami (FL)ACC52
2013OregonPac-12252
2014LouisvilleAAC352
2014UCLAPac-1222202
2014VirginiaACC2432
2014BaylorBig 1225232
2014Iowa StateBig 1292
2014San Diego StateMWC132
2000ConnecticutBig East1201
2000CincinnatiCUSA271
2000AuburnSEC4241
2000Ohio StateBig Ten581
2000TempleA-10751
2000ArizonaPac-10941
2000KansasBig 12111
2000StanfordPac-101331
2000KentuckySEC14191
2000UtahMWC151
2000IllinoisBig Ten16211
2000St. John's (NY)Big East1891
2000TexasBig 1221151
2000OklahomaBig 12121
2000MarylandACC171
2001North CarolinaACC661
2001FloridaSEC1181
2001Notre DameBig East15191
2001Boston CollegeBig East71
2001SyracuseBig East171
2001Saint Joseph'sA-10221
2001IowaBig Ten241
2002StanfordPac-101301
2002AlabamaSEC2401
2002CincinnatiCUSA01
2002Ohio StateBig Ten01
2002Mississippi StateSEC01
2002XavierA-1001
2002GeorgiaSEC01
2003FloridaSEC7101
2003XavierA-1010121
2003MissouriBig 1219241
2003IndianaBig Ten211
2003GonzagaWCC221
2003TulsaWAC251
2003Wake ForestACC81
2003IllinoisBig Ten111
2003LouisvilleCUSA141
2003StanfordPac-10181
2004North CarolinaACC901
2004GonzagaWCC1001
2004KentuckySEC1101
2004WisconsinBig Ten1501
2004CincinnatiCUSA1801
2004StanfordPac-101901
2004North Carolina StateACC2401
2004Mississippi StateSEC01
2004MarylandACC01
2004MemphisCUSA01
2005Wake ForestACC251
2005Georgia TechACC3251
2005ConnecticutBig East8131
2005FloridaSEC23161
2005GonzagaWCC25101
2005Boston CollegeBig East141
2005OklahomaBig 12171
2005PacificBig West221
2005CincinnatiCUSA231
2006KentuckySEC91
2006ArizonaPac-10101
2006AlabamaSEC151
2006IllinoisBig Ten17131
2006IowaBig Ten20151
2006George WashingtonA-1021141
2006Ohio StateBig Ten61
2006North CarolinaACC101
2006PittsburghBig East161
2006TennesseeSEC181
2007WisconsinBig Ten961
2007Boston CollegeACC151
2007TexasBig 1221111
2007KentuckySEC221
2007NevadaWAC24151
2007Washington StatePac-10131
2007LouisvilleBig East161
2007MarylandACC181
2007WinthropBig South221
2008GeorgetownBig East581
2008MarquetteBig East11251
2008DukeACC1391
2008ArkansasSEC191
2008PittsburghBig East22171
2008Kansas StateBig 12251
2008ButlerHorizon111
2008Notre DameBig East151
2008PurdueBig Ten201
2009UCLAPac-104181
2009TexasBig 1271
2009Arizona StatePac-1015191
2009MarquetteBig East16231
2009Southern CaliforniaPac-10181
2009WisconsinBig Ten251
2009WashingtonPac-10151
2009Louisiana StateSEC211
2010KansasBig 12111
2010VillanovaBig East591
2010CaliforniaPac-10131
2010Georgia TechACC221
2010New MexicoMWC81
2010WisconsinBig Ten161
2010Brigham YoungMWC171
2010PittsburghBig East181
2010MarylandACC201
2010GonzagaWCC221
2010Texas A&MBig 12231
2011Kansas StateBig 123211
2011PittsburghBig East541
2011SyracuseBig East10121
2011GonzagaWCC121
2011IllinoisBig Ten131
2011PurdueBig Ten14131
2011WashingtonPac-1018231
2011Notre DameBig East51
2011TexasBig 1281
2011West VirginiaBig East221
2012VanderbiltSEC7201
2012GonzagaWCC231
2012Florida StateACC101
2012Murray StateOVC121
2012GeorgetownBig East151
2012CreightonMVC191
2012New MexicoMWC211
2013North CarolinaACC111
2013CreightonMVC16221
2013MemphisCUSA17191
2013San Diego StateMWC201
2013GonzagaWCC2111
2013Saint LouisA-10131
2014KansasBig 125101
2014SyracuseACC8141
2014North CarolinaACC12191
2014MemphisAAC131
2014GonzagaWCC151
2014Wichita StateMVC1621
2014OregonPac-12191
2014VillanovaBig East61
2014CreightonBig East161
2014Saint LouisA-10251
2000DePaulCUSA200
2000IndianaBig Ten220
2001TennesseeSEC90
2001Seton HallBig East100
2001UtahMWC130
2001ConnecticutBig East140
2001ArkansasSEC150
2001WisconsinBig Ten19250
2001Wake ForestACC20230
2001DePaulCUSA210
2001OklahomaBig 1222130
2001VirginiaACC24160
2001Iowa StateBig 1225100
2001TexasBig 12180
2001IndianaBig Ten200
2002FloridaSEC600
2002IowaBig Ten90
2002Saint Joseph'sA-10100
2002VirginiaACC110
2002MemphisCUSA120
2002GeorgetownBig East140
2002Michigan StateBig Ten150
2002TempleA-10160
2002Boston CollegeBig East170
2002Oklahoma StateBig 121800
2002North CarolinaACC190
2002Southern CaliforniaPac-102000
2002SyracuseBig East210
2002GonzagaWCC00
2002MarquetteCUSA00
2002Western KentuckySun Belt00
2002Miami (FL)Big East00
2002HawaiiWAC00
2003AlabamaSEC80
2003OregonPac-10110
2003Mississippi StateSEC12200
2003UCLAPac-10140
2003GeorgiaSEC16250
2003Western KentuckySun Belt200
2003CincinnatiCUSA230
2003MinnesotaBig Ten240
2003CreightonMVC150
2003DaytonA-10160
2003MemphisCUSA190
2004Michigan StateBig Ten30
2004ArizonaPac-10400
2004MissouriBig 1250
2004FloridaSEC80
2004OklahomaBig 12140
2004LouisvilleCUSA160
2004Notre DameBig East210
2004MarquetteCUSA230
2004ProvidenceBig East00
2004South CarolinaSEC00
2004Utah StateBig West00
2005KansasBig 121120
2005SyracuseBig East6110
2005Mississippi StateSEC120
2005MarylandACC150
2005TexasBig 12160
2005PittsburghBig East170
2005AlabamaSEC18210
2005Notre DameBig East200
2005MemphisCUSA240
2006Michigan StateBig Ten40
2006OklahomaBig 126240
2006LouisvilleBig East70
2006StanfordPac-10130
2006SyracuseBig East16210
2006Wake ForestACC180
2006NevadaWAC22200
2006MarylandACC230
2006IndianaBig Ten240
2006Iowa StateBig 12250
2006KansasBig 12120
2006Alabama-BirminghamCUSA250
2007Louisiana StateSEC50
2007ArizonaPac-10100
2007AlabamaSEC110
2007DukeACC120
2007MarquetteBig East16200
2007WashingtonPac-10170
2007ConnecticutBig East180
2007CreightonMVC190
2007SyracuseBig East200
2007Georgia TechACC230
2007Notre DameBig East170
2007Brigham YoungMWC240
2008IndianaBig Ten90
2008OregonPac-10120
2008GonzagaWCC14240
2008Texas A&MBig 12160
2008ArizonaPac-10170
2008Southern CaliforniaPac-10180
2008KentuckySEC200
2008North Carolina StateACC210
2008Southern IllinoisMVC240
2008DrakeMVC140
2008ConnecticutBig East160
2008VanderbiltSEC190
2008ClemsonACC220
2009Notre DameBig East90
2009TennesseeSEC140
2009Miami (FL)ACC170
2009FloridaSEC190
2009DavidsonSouthern200
2009Wake ForestACC21120
2009GeorgetownBig East220
2009Florida StateACC160
2009ButlerHorizon220
2009ClemsonACC240
2009UtahMWC250
2010TexasBig 1230
2010North CarolinaACC60
2010ConnecticutBig East120
2010MichiganBig Ten150
2010OklahomaBig 12170
2010Mississippi StateSEC180
2010LouisvilleBig East190
2010GeorgetownBig East20140
2010DaytonA-10210
2010IllinoisBig Ten230
2010ClemsonACC240
2010MinnesotaBig Ten250
2010TempleA-10120
2010VanderbiltSEC210
2010RichmondA-10240
2011Michigan StateBig Ten20
2011VillanovaBig East60
2011MissouriBig 12150
2011BaylorBig 12160
2011MemphisCUSA190
2011GeorgetownBig East200
2011Virginia TechACC210
2011TempleA-10220
2011TennesseeSEC230
2011LouisvilleBig East140
2011St. John's (NY)Big East180
2011Utah StateWAC190
2011XavierA-10200
2011Texas A&MBig 12240
2011VanderbiltSEC250
2012ConnecticutBig East40
2012DukeACC680
2012PittsburghBig East100
2012MemphisCUSA110
2012ArizonaPac-12160
2012UCLAPac-12170
2012MichiganBig Ten18130
2012AlabamaSEC190
2012Texas A&MBig 12200
2012CaliforniaPac-12240
2012MissouriBig 122530
2012Wichita StateMVC180
2012San Diego StateMWC220
2012Nevada-Las VegasMWC230
2012Saint Mary's (CA)WCC240
2013KentuckySEC30
2013North Carolina StateACC60
2013UCLAPac-1213240
2013MissouriSEC150
2013Nevada-Las VegasMWC180
2013BaylorBig 12190
2013Notre DameBig East22230
2013WisconsinBig Ten23180
2013CincinnatiBig East240
2013Florida StateACC250
2013GeorgetownBig East80
2013New MexicoMWC100
2013Kansas StateBig 12120
2013Oklahoma StateBig 12170
2013PittsburghBig East200
2014DukeACC480
2014Oklahoma StateBig 1290
2014Ohio StateBig Ten11220
2014Virginia CommonwealthA-1014240
2014MarquetteBig East170
2014Notre DameACC210
2014New MexicoMWC23170
2014CincinnatiAAC150
2014OklahomaBig 12210

Some of the more interesting trends I found:

  • Of the last 14 champions, 3 have been the preseason #1 team and 2 have been the postseason #1 team.
  • Of the last 14 champions, 3 weren’t ranked in the preseason (2003 Syracuse, 2006 Florida, & 2011 Connecticut).
  • Of the four teams to start AND end the year at #1 in the poll (2002 Duke, 2006 Duke, 2008 UNC, & 2010 Kansas), only one made it past the Sweet 16.
  • The preseason #1 teams average 3.13 tournament wins. None have missed the tournament, and only 2005 Kansas lost in the first round.
  • The postseason #1 teams average (you guessed it) 3.13 tournament wins. All of them have won their first round game.
  • Preseason top 5 teams average 2.73 tournament teams, while postseason top 5 teams average 3.01 tournament wins.

When you account for the fact that postseason ranked teams have higher seeds and easier games, it’s pretty impressive that the preseason ranked teams are able to come close to matching their win totals. A major flaw in the polls is the lack of respect for strength of schedule and rewarding non-conference teams that run through their schedules. By the end of the year, the likes of Wichita St. and Gonzaga often shoot up farther than they should while the 3rd and 4th best teams in power conferences are downgraded too much. In recent years this has been even more apparent with the raw talent of teams like Kentucky getting under-seeded and teams like Saint Louis riding an easier schedule and worse underlying numbers to a high seed.

As a whole, the preseason data had a .402 correlation to march madness wins, and postseason data had a .503 correlation coefficient. Below is a chart of how the two have compared from year to year.

NCAA data

Looking into next season and whenever evaluating college basketball, remember to look at the right metrics and know what to value. And going into next year, don’t downplay the power of the preseason poll.

Connect:

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

, ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply