One of these 12 teams will very likely win it all


Congratulations, Zags, you still have a shot. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

I love the week six AP poll. Historically speaking, week six has been measurably more accurate in predicting that season’s national champion than its predecessors in prior weeks.

Indeed, we’ve already arrived at the point in the calendar where the added value of new information appears to evaporate. Week six is just as good at ranking the eventual champion as any future poll all the way to the one that comes out the day after Selection Sunday. Not surprisingly, that poll is the most accurate one of all.

Average AP ranking of eventual national champion by week (1999 to 2017)

the poll chart

As it happens, the eventual national champion has been ranked no lower than No. 12 in the week six poll every season but one since 1999.

Here’s the current AP top 12:

1. Villanova
2. Michigan State
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga

Why are the AP’s pollsters so much smarter, annually, in week six than they were before? Call it the Arizona State effect. There is very often a team that fills the role the Sun Devils are enacting this season. Last year it was Baylor. The profile goes like this….

A team is unranked in the preseason, but then achieves spectacular success in November and early December. There’s no guarantee, of course, that said team will go on to make a deep run in the tournament (though Scott Drew’s guys did make the Sweet 16). But what is true is that we tend to rank said team far more accurately in week six — Baylor really was good last season — than we did prior to this point.

Bobby Hurley’s team this season and the Bears from a year ago are good examples of this dynamic, but the Platonic ideal in this category is still Connecticut in 2011. That year the Huskies were unranked in the preseason. Then Jim Calhoun’s guys won the Maui Classic, came back to the mainland ranked No. 4 in week six, recorded a so-so Big East campaign just to confuse us further, and the rest is history.

By this point in any given season, we’ve already seen about 25 percent of all the basketball we’re going to get. That’s a pretty fair sample size, and it makes us much more discerning in our evaluations than we were in the preseason.

And to this week’s No. 13 team, Kansas, I say this: Syracuse 2003 is your model and your inspiration. (O, the irony!) In that year’s week six AP poll, the Orange were ranked No. 41.

This week six business is no iron law. (There are no iron laws in college basketball, except for the one stating that there are no iron laws.) Just a really robust tendency.