Why Duke, Kansas and Tennessee aren’t on my AP college basketball top 25 ballot

In college basketball, so much is revealed about the character of a team on the road. So many road losses are better showings than celebrated home wins. 

In no other sport is the home court worth so much to momentum, to confidence. In no other sport does a road team, so smooth and high a few nights earlier in its own building, so often look like a befuddled, haphazard mess. The contrast between home and road in college hoops is so severe, to not play on the road is to take advantage of a system that creates the appearance of a larger chasm than really exists between the haves and have-nots. 

Kentucky, for example, is still ranked firmly in the top 25 and no one is batting an eye, even though the Wildcats have done nothing to deserve it — because they’d played seven home games against mid-and low-major competition, not a single true road game, and coasted on their brand and the inattentive eyes of voters. Meanwhile, a team like San Francisco isn’t ranked, even though if you watched San Francisco play Buffalo in Belfast, Ireland last week (I mean, who didn’t?), you’d know the Dons are a stronger team than Kentucky right now. 

RANKINGS: USA TODAY Sports top 25 coaches poll

To avoid playing on another team’s campus altogether is a sin of cowardice and ego that eventually can’t be ignored — like when we’re more than a month into the college basketball season. So this week I removed Duke, Kansas, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas Tech, Kentucky, Villanova and Texas from my Associated Press top 25 ballot. That’s No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Tennessee, as other voters deemed them this week, so clearly I had an impact. I didn’t even put them through the paces of an evaluation. Because, while in some cases they have impressive neutral-site wins, they aren’t playing the same game as the rest of college basketball. They haven’t yet been tested in a true road game.

It’s a standard of fairness I’ve chosen to set. I did so last year, too, removing a couple of these same teams. As soon as they play a true road game, they’ll be back on my ballot. No penalty. No need to climb over other teams. It should never be that way. Every week should be a fresh analysis of everyone. Tennessee, after it plays at Memphis on Saturday, might be my No. 1 next week. When Kansas rejoins the rest of society in two weeks, the Jayhawks could be deserving of No. 1. They might be now. But you don’t really know that when they’re busy dodging true road games. So, for this week, they’re out.

If you’re just discovering my AP ballot — I’m just one of 65 voters — you probably haven’t had an issue before. Your team might have been one to benefit from some basic principles I’ve put in place. Like Duke did last year, ironically. The Blue Devils’ road results then, including a tough road defeat at Boston College for which most voters naively and unfairly dinged them, is part of what prompted me to add this hard-line standard to my rankings. 

Teams know their neutral-site scheduling commitments and their mandated home games in events like the ACC-Big Ten challenge. These schools who aren’t going on the road, they’re behemoths of the sport. Take your butts on the road for a game. Find out about your kids in an unfriendly atmosphere, when things start to go wrong. It’s entirely your choice. For a lot of schools, it isn’t. And so when you don’t and the rest do, how do you evaluate everyone on the same plane, when there’s one large element of the evaluation that certain schools aren’t taking part in?

I don’t want to hear the argument that the NCAA tournament is played on neutral courts, so the road doesn’t matter. The Super Bowl is played on a neutral field, too. But if the New England Patriots got to play their first 8 games at home and the Kansas City Chiefs played three of their first eight on the road, we’d all cry foul.

Yet in college basketball, folks congratulate coaches on wins that mean nothing. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is deservedly a legend. But if you gave my mother Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, the Cameron Crazies and an undeniable home whistle, she might go unbeaten, too.

Duke doesn’t play a road game until Jan. 8 at Wake Forest — more than two months after opening the season in the Champions Classic. Kentucky, Texas Tech and Texas don’t step foot on another campus until the new year, either. At the very least, that’s as absurd as me removing them from my rankings. 

If you disagree, feel free to email me ([email protected]) or tweet at me (@Graham_Couch), but do so only after you email or tweet at your spineless coach, whose fear of the road makes my point. Or whose arrogance deserves to be admonished.

Here’s my AP top 25 ballot for this week: 

1. Gonzaga 
2. Michigan
3. Nevada
4. Virginia
5. Buffalo
6. Michigan State
7. Wisconsin
8. North Carolina
9. Florida State
10. Ohio State
11. Nebraska
12. Virginia Tech
13. Iowa
14. Arizona State
15. Mississippi State
16. Maryland
17. Houston
18. Cincinnati
19. Furman
20. Marquette
21. San Francisco
22. Syracuse
23. Oklahoma
24. Indiana
25. St. John’s

Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

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