Pass Tha Ball Prep Polls in Review #3 – Final (week of April 2, 2017): St. John’s emerges from a crowded field; narrowly wins Pass Tha Ball National High School Team Champions title
By Bob Corwin
Many years picking the mythical national champion comes down to one or two teams by early March. Rarely do four or five teams have a strong case as March ends. This has been one of those unusual years in this pursuit. Well, the votes of all four polls have all been counted and by the narrowest (one point out of one hundred possible) of margins, St. John’s College High School of Washington, DC, has taken the title.
Final state of affairs
Over the last month, the biggest uptick in the pursuit of #1 was by Clovis West, winners of California’s Open Division (where the best 16 in the state do battle in spite of school size) thanks to a jump to number 1 in the espnW Power Rankings. In spite of being first in two polls, Riverdale fell from third to fourth in this final composite. Miami Country Day stood alone in the fifth spot here and first in the Blue Star Media poll after a convincing victory in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Nationals. Yet when the points are tallied (25 for first down to 1 for twenty-fifth), St. John’s (finishing with two seconds, a third and a fourth) emerged as the top vote getter in this consensus approach!
So what are the credential of each of the top five?
MaxPreps and USA Today went with Riverdale of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Its claim is based on being undefeated (only one of these five) with Tennessee 3A (largest class) title plus wins over several strong out-of- state teams (Hoover – won an Alabama state title; Norcross – Georgia state finalist; Murray – Kentucky state semi-finalist). As to strength of team, it was able to put five likely future D1 players on the court including one or more of the Power 5 variety.
Blue Star has Miami Country Day #1. The team has one loss. Credentials include a state title in Florida’s 4A plus wins over Florida’s 5A, 6A, 7A, 8A, 9A (largest school class) state champions. They finished second in Nike TOC (beating Grandview, the best team in Colorado, and Long Beach Poly ranked below) won by Clovis West and won the top section of the Naples Holiday Shootout. The team probably had the best three guards on one team in the nation this year. Miami Country Day concluded the season by winning The Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament in early April. There they defeated two more teams (Seton Catholic and Hamilton Heights) which finished in this final consensus ranking. The negative was that Clovis West decisively beat them in December at the Nike TOC.
Before the final ranking, ESPN had two-loss Centennial of Nevada at #1. The team split two games with ranked Clovis West and lost to ranked Paul VI. It won the Nevada large school title in dominating fashion. Centennial defeated several other strong teams with its win over Seton Catholic of Arizona, a team ranked in all four polls, another signature win. On the court, the team started a line-up of likely future D1 players including at least one of the Power 5 variety.
In its final ranking, ESPN switched to two-loss Clovis West of California, which concluded the season by winning the California Open Division (defeating Long Beach Poly for a second time and avenging its early season loss to Archbishop Mitty in the final two games). In December at Nike TOC, Clovis West defeat three consensus ranked teams (St. John’s, Centennial [but lost to them in January] and Miami Country Day). Strength-wise, Clovis West started a senior-laden Division 1 line-up with a couple of likely future Power 5 players.
St. John’s had the most difficult local/league competition of any of the candidates being in the WCAC where at least five teams started Division 1 prospects of some level at each position. It won two out of three with Paul VI (which started the year #1 in all four polls), defeated Archbishop Mitty (also ranked below) and several teams that won a state title (Baldwin – NY; McEachern – GA; Mercer County – KY) but lost badly to Clovis West at Nike TOC. Strength-wise, St. John’s started a Division 1 line-up with at least a couple of likely future Power 5 players.
The yin, the yang and the bottom line
You get first crack at winning the mythical national title by being perceived as talented and then playing high quality opposition with some games on the road. If the teams with stronger strength of schedule lose, that opens the door to the title to a team which scheduled less but did not lose (Riverdale in this case).
Each poll had to decide whether strength of schedule outweighed one or more losses. Two polls said “no” (going with undefeated Riverdale which won out in an above average Tennessee) while two others felt strength of schedule outweighed being undefeated with Clovis West and Miami Country Day each getting a crown. Yet when the methodology here is applied, St. John’s College High School carried the day by a razor-thin margin.
Having seen 24 of the 36 final poll-ranked (all four polls) teams live and another 11 online, my personal conclusion was that there was no “super-best” team in 2016-2017 but as the numbers indicated, five teams that could make a very good case for themselves and a couple below that could put up some argument for the title.
Where is there agreement?
All polls rank each of the first fifteen listed below. Then opinions differed significantly, some emphasizing winning a state title in spite of six (McEachern) or seven (Franklin) losses while others were more into the body of work particularly MaxPreps If you look at all four polls, thirty-six different schools received mention in at least one of the four lists. Congratulations to each on a fine season!
The approach used
An approach which has been used in football is the basis for what is done here. The four national polls (links below) were reviewed and 25 points assigned to the team ranked first down to one point for a team ranked 25th. Then the points were added up (maximum score 100) to create the ranking order.
Looking briefly at the four individual polls
MaxPreps tends to be the most result oriented and least forgiving for losses to unranked teams. On the flip side, MaxPreps rewards the quality teams perceived to have the most difficult schedules with the highest rankings to start the season.
ESPN refers to its poll as “Power Rankings” It is the most forgiving of losses, looking at what would be expected of teams if they met in the future (who’s better in a theoretical future meeting which may never occur).
USA Today (oldest poll) and Blue Star (run by a former USA Today pollster) use similar methodology, tending to be more record oriented than ESPN, but more willing to forgive losses by perceived “good teams” than MaxPreps. Individuals who run the Blue Star and USA Today polls also simultaneously conduct polls for other sports. Thus, due to more limited time availability, these tend to have less actual personal viewing input of teams than the other two polls include (ESPN probably highest here in its ranked teams seen in person).
Here are the links to the individual polls:
Pass Tha Ball Prep Polls in Review (from polls released week of April 2, 2017)
1 St. John’s College High School (Washington, DC) 93 (1)
2 Centennial High School (Las Vegas, Nevada) 92 (2)
3 Clovis West High School (Fresno, California) 90 (6-7) (one first place vote)
4 Riverdale High School (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) 89 (3) (two first place votes)
5 Miami Country Day School (Miami, Florida) 87 (5-6) (one first place vote)
6 Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, Virginia) 84 (4-5)
7 Grandview High School (Aurora, Colorado) 75 (8-9)
8 Monacan High School (North Chesterfield, Virginia) 73 (6-7)
9 Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, California) 69 (8-9)
10 Duncanville High School (Duncanville, Texas) 65 (11)
11 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tennessee) 53 (10)
12 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, California) 52 (12)
13 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Maryland) 41 (14)
14-15 Fayetteville High School (Fayetteville, Arkansas) 40 (19-20)
14-15 Seton Catholic Prep (Chandler, Arizona) 40 (19-20)
16 Canyon High School (Canyon, Texas) 33 (18)
17 Destrehan High School (Destrehan, Louisiana) 30 (17)
18 Mesquite High School (Gilbert, Arizona) 23 (21)
19-20 Olive Branch High School (Olive Branch, Mississippi) 21
19-20 Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Delaware) 21 (NR)
21-22 Mansfield Timberview High School (Arlington, Texas) 16 (25)
21-22 McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia) 16 (NR)
23-24 Elk River High School (Elk River, Minnesota) 14 (NR)
23-24 Franklin High School (Somerset, New Jersey) 14 (NR)
25-26 Detroit Country Day School (Beverly Hills, Michigan) 11 (NR)
25-26 Homestead High School (Fort Wayne, Indiana) 11 (NR)
Butler High School (Louisville, Kentucky) (#15)
Hopkins High School (Minnetonka, Minnesota) (#23-24)
Norcross High School (Norcross, Georgia) (#13)
Rufus King High School (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) (#22)
Rutgers Prep (Somerset, New Jersey) (#16)
Southeast Raleigh High School (Raleigh, North Carolina) (#23-24)
Teams with location are listed according to total number of points garnered 25 for first down to one for 25th place. Where there are ties, teams are listed alphabetically. Prior ranking is listed in parenthesis. NR indicates not ranked in prior update. Again, for more details on each team, see the four polls individually.