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Coaches Poll Does Lavin No Favors

February 15, 2001|CHRIS DUFRESNE

It's one thing when the sportswriters disrespect you because, well, what do we know?

And you sort of know what you're up against when your athletic director freezes you out for weeks, passing on a vote of confidence when you really need it--hello, I'm at Cal, can you throw me a rope?--then gives you the approval stamp in the afterglow of three consecutive road victories, two over ranked opponents.

But what must UCLA Coach Steve Lavin--battered, bruised, bullied, redeemed?--think when the choir turns against him?

This week, an esteemed panel of 31 Division I-A coaches surveyed the national landscape, examined their consciences and left UCLA out of top 25 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

Confounding?

You bet.

Even the Associated Press poll voters, not all Phi Beta Kappas, grasped the significance of UCLA's road sweep and pushed the Bruins into the No. 24 position in the rankings.

Either the voting coaches are not paying attention or, worse, they are paying attention.

"It is certainly troubling to me," said Arizona State Coach Rob Evans, the Pacific 10 Conference's only voting coach.

"I would hope coaches look at things in a serious light and understand that when teams are playing well, especially like UCLA, that they deserve to be in the top 25."

Evans, for the record, said he voted UCLA "very high."

You be the judge. Here's what UCLA did last week:

Coming off a victory over then-No. 1 Stanford at Maples Pavilion, UCLA whipped archrival USC at the Sports Arena, then hopped on a red-eye to Chicago and defeated DePaul two days later.

The sweep lifted UCLA's record to 15-6. Of the schools ranked in the coaches' poll, the Bruins have defeated Stanford, Kentucky and USC (twice).

Nine schools in the coaches' top 25 have as many or more losses than UCLA.

Hmmm. Very curious.

My argument to Evans was that polls don't mean anything in college basketball because the NCAA tournament decides the champion.

UCLA's poll ranking will have almost no bearing on its tournament seeding. The more important figures for the Bruins are how well they finish the season and their power rating. This week, UCLA is a heady No. 8 in the Ratings Percentage Index.

Evans said I was wrong.

"I take it seriously," he said of his voting role. "I think even though it's ceremonial, it is important because recruits look at it. A lot of people look at it and see that you're in the top 15, 20, 25 and that's important. When guys work hard, they deserve it."

Maybe the coaches' snub of UCLA was mere oversight.

My guess is many voting coaches still don't trust the Bruin brand as a top-25 product.

We trust it isn't anything more sinister.

MORE POLLS

UCLA isn't the only school getting shafted. St. Joseph's has yet to crack either poll despite a 20-4 record and top billing in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Hawk Coach Phil Martelli said top-25 teams are like baseball managers.

"It's all recycled," he said. "If you've been a baseball manager once, you're pretty sure you're going to get a second crack."

He notes that only eight schools that started the year in the AP top 25 aren't ranked in this week's poll.

"The best part about college basketball is they call names in March and say, 'You play them,' and you find out who's good enough to be around," he said. "So those numbers in front of teams don't mean anything."

Martelli said he doesn't take the snub personally.

He said there are generally 10 teams with a legitimate shot at the national championship . . . and everyone else.

"From 11 to 35-40, there are a bunch of the rest of us who are fighting, scratching, clawing, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle," he said. "You know what? Some days we're 13th. And some days we're 40th. And no one out there could possibly know. There aren't enough hours in the day for a person to study."

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

No sport is more picked over than college basketball, with its scores of Internet experts, recruiting reports and talent evaluators.

Yet, the beauty of the game is that no one knows everything.

Kids are kids, and mysteries often abound after center jump.

We dedicate time and space to a category called "Did Not See This Coming" in recognition of hoop that has thrown us for a loop.

1. BOSTON COLLEGE

The Eagles (18-3) are this season's biggest out-of-nowhere story, Tuesday night's loss at Connecticut notwithstanding, rising from 13th in the Big East last season to No. 9 in this week's AP poll.

No, we did not see this coming.

Boston College, 11-19 a year ago, opened the season with an exhibition loss to an alumni squad from the Boston Amateur Basketball Club.

It's been a different story since.

"Yeah, I'd say," Boston College Coach Al Skinner said this week from Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Four years removed from the last days of coach Jim O'Brien, who left the program in disgust for Ohio State--and took star guard Scoonie Penn with him--Boston College is off to its best start since 1966-67.

The school replaced O'Brien with Skinner, who led Rhode Island to 20-win seasons.

But that still doesn't explain it.

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