The college basketball season is right around the corner, but all we have to amuse ourselves until tip-off this Friday night are the myriad published projections and preseason polls. I am a big fan of preseason polls, and have written extensively in the past about both their predictive power and their biases. This year I decided to focus on the preseason and postseason top 10s (note that only the USA Today/Coaches Poll publishes its final poll after the NCAA Tournament has completed). I was curious if there was any continuity between the two and the corresponding likelihood of a team finishing in the postseason top 10 given their inclusion in the preseason top 10.
First, a quick note about each poll. A natural first instinct is to dismiss the preseason Top 25 as little more than idle speculation, but it has proven over time to be a useful predictive tool. In a sport with relatively little year-to-year continuity, the projections of the preseason polls are useful proxies for the objective talent of a team, which is notoriously difficult to quantify. The postseason poll (i.e., the poll taken after the conclusion of NCAA Tournament) is functionally irrelevant in college basketball, but it is a good metric of holistic season success. The Tournament exerts its weighty influence on the judgment of those teams, but it seems harsh to factor the entire perception of teams on a few games in March. The postseason Top 25 represents a season-long assessment. For example, Michigan State, a strong #2 seed that many pundits and fans alike projected into the Final Four, shockingly lost to #15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the First Round. The Spartans were therefore ranked seventh in the postseason poll, which ultimately felt about right.