Two separate discussions follow el salto.
First, I present the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll rankings for the 2009-2010 season and discuss what they mean. (There was no final AP poll following the NCAA Tournament — presumably because we really don't need one, now do we?)
Second, I'll present my final SBNation Power 16 ballot as though I still was voting in it — even though I'm not, because we're done with all that noise for the year.
Here's how the coaches sorted 'em all out in the end:
- Duke Blue Devils
- Butler Bulldogs
- West Virginia Mountaineers
- Michigan St. Spartans
- Kentucky Wildcats
- Kansas Jayhawks
- Kansas St. Wildcats
- Syracuse Orange
- Tennessee Volunteers
- Baylor Bears
- Ohio St. Buckeyes
- Purdue Boilermakers
- Northern Iowa Panthers
- Xavier Musketeers
- Villanova Wildcats
- New Mexico Lobos
- Cornell Big Red
- Maryland Terrapins
- Saint Mary's Gaels
- Pittsburgh Panthers
- Washington Huskies
- BYU Cougars
- Gonzaga Bulldogs
- Wisconsin Badgers
- Texas A&M Aggies
While you can argue endlessly about the merits of such a poll, considering the true champion already was determined on the hardwood, I can't really argue with the results too much.
I thought the poll did a nice job of balancing performance in the NCAA Tournament with a team's overall season performance, which you shouldn't throw out just because of an early exit in the Big Dance. (Yes, even for Kansas.)
The criteria were pretty clear. The top four teams all made Final Four appearances, and I thought they were appropriately ranked in order of how good they were, respectively.
While you can argue a bit about Michigan State's inclusion ahead of Kentucky and Kansas teams that it lost three times as many games as, it's worth remembering that many of those losses came with Kalin Lucas either out or somewhat less than 100 percent. If he stays healthy all year, Sparty probably has a similar record to the other two.
An Elite Eight appearance got you into the Top 10, which is where I though Baylor should have been for weeks before this. If there's any indictment here, it's not of the final poll — instead, it's of the polls preceding it, which had Baylor down at No. 21, causing a sharp, one-week jump to No. 10 that should have been more gradual.
Getting to the Sweet Sixteen was good enough to get you ranked, and rightfully so. That helps account for the high number of mid-majors in the final poll — two wins apiece by Cornell, Xavier, Saint Mary's and Washington propelled those four teams into the final rankings.
Of the remaining teams, I don't think most would argue that BYU, Gonzaga, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Wisconsin accomplished enough in the regular season to merit retention, despite disappointing (and sometimes embarrassing) second-round performances by each team.
You might be able to argue Texas A&M's inclusion one way or the other, but since the Aggies lost on the final possession in overtime of the final game during the first week, I'm inclined to agree with the coaches on this one.
Besides, who else would you have in there? Georgetown, Temple and Vanderbilt each lost a first-round game to a significantly lower-seeded team, and while UTEP lost to the eventual No. 2 team, the Miners always were a Top 25 fraud. All four teams deserved to fall out, and I really can't think of any other team that deserved to be in.
As meaningless as this final poll is, the coaches pretty much got it right.
So who am I to argue with them? Here's my final Power 16 ballot of the season (and no, it's not just the Sweet Sixteen — Cornell, Saint Mary's and Washington weren't nearly good enough in their final NCAA Tournament games to merit inclusion; in fact, they all were blown out).
- Duke Blue Devils (+4)
- Kentucky Wildcats (+1)
- Kansas Jayhawks (-2)
- Butler Bulldogs (+10)
- West Virginia Mountaineers (+4)
- Syracuse Orange (-4)
- Kansas St. Wildcats (-1)
- Ohio St. Buckeyes (+4)
- Purdue Boilermakers (-5)
- Baylor Bears (+1)
- Tennessee Volunteers (NR)
- Michigan St. Spartans (NR)
- BYU Cougars
- Northern Iowa Panthers (NR)
- New Mexico Lobos (-7)
- Xavier Musketeers (NR)
Despite neither team reaching the Final Four, you'll never convince me Kansas and Kentucky wouldn't blow Butler off the court if they ever met up. It's all about match-ups, and Butler got some favorable ones to get as far as it did.
K-State didn't drop as much as more deserving teams jumped the Wildcats. Had the Butler game been a little closer, I might not have done that.
As you can see, despite making the devil's advocate argument for Michigan State above, I'm not really buying into the feel-good story. The Spartans didn't face a single team seeded higher than fourth in the tournament, and they barely beat that team (Maryland). For a team that wasn't even ranked on my last ballot, 12th is appropriate.
And as far as me ranking them just below Tennessee — look, I know Michigan State won, but I thought Tennessee was the better team for most of that game. Tennessee's wins against Kansas and Kentucky are way better than any of Michigan State's.
For that matter, Tennessee's defeat of Ohio State to reach the Elite Eight was more impressive than Michigan State's victory over UNI. And so on. This isn't a head-to-head ranking, in other words. It's a power poll, and I think Tennessee would win at least seven out of 10 rematches with Michigan State.
Finally, I round the thing out with what I thought were the four best mid-majors not named Butler this season.
I might be a bit biased regarding BYU and Xavier, considering I'm weighing their performances against the Cats pretty heavily, but can you really tell me Cornell and Saint Mary's, which beat very flawed teams to reach the Sweet Sixteen, were any better?