The AP Top 25 remains a college basketball mainstay after 75 years of evolution

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FILE - Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrates making the game-winning basket against UCLA during overtime in a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Gonzaga won 93-90. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

When he first moved from coaching into broadcasting in the early 1980s, Dick Vitale would keep track of what was happening across the college basketball landscape by picking up the newspaper every morning.

Just about every score would be listed there. Important games might have box scores, giving Vitale a little more information. And the biggest games of the day might have full stories, providing a more rounded picture of what had transpired.

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“People stayed up late to publish that stuff for the next morning,” Vitale recalled.

These days, just about every Division I men's college basketball game is available to watch somewhere, whether broadcast on television or streamed on an app. Highlights rip across social media the minute they happen, and forums provide fans a chance to not only rehash what happened but discuss the finer points of their favorite teams.

All of which makes voting for the AP men's college basketball poll easier. And at times harder.

The Top 25 is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The initial poll sent in January 1939 installed Saint Louis at No. 1, but it would not be long before Kentucky took over the top spot, the first of 125 weeks it has spent there over the years.

And much like the way college basketball has evolved, so has the poll. What began with 20 teams and contracted to 10 in the 1960s expanded to its now-familiar Top 25 for the 1989-90 season. The panel of voters has become more inclusive, adding more women and minorities to help rank the best teams in the nation every Monday.

But the biggest evolution might be in the way those voters formulate their opinions.

“In the early years, the eye test was more of a factor,” said Jerry Tipton, who spent more than four decades covering the Wildcats for the Lexington Herald-Leader, and who was a regular AP voter. "I hate to say that because there's many more games now. But as time went on, it was more word-of-mouth. I got to know people and other writers covering teams, and there was conversation on who was good and that sort of things. And now we see many more games.

“It's amazing to me,” added Tipton, who retired as a full-time beat writer in 2022, “to see how many games are on TV, and I tried to watch as many as I could, just to have a sense of what was going on.”

That's fairly easy for AP voters such as Seth Davis of CBS, who has an entire command center at his disposal.

“If I'm putting in a long day in the studio,” he said, “I'll be able to keep an eye on probably two dozen games. I have access to reams of research material, and very capable researchers who are in my ear, passing along stat nuggets and important info. I'd actually argue it's more important to know what happened than watch games, although I try to do both.”

Voters know that fans are watching, too. They hear about their ballots on social media, or in emails and direct messages. There are entire websites that are devoted to tracking what teams they are voting for each week.

That's something else that voters never had to worry about in the early days of the AP Top 25.

“I love the way technology has progressed,” said Vitale, a longtime ESPN color analyst who remains one of the 63 media members that submit ballots each week. “It’s great for the sport to see all the games on TV, from small mid-majors to the classic top-10 matchups. I like being able to watch as many games as I can. It makes me a better analyst.

“The AP voters take it seriously,” he added, “and they try to make sure the most deserving teams are ranked.”


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