On Tuesdays, Missouri women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein has a responsibility.
After some research and careful thought, she picks up a telephone, dials an 800 number and gives her opinions. On Wednesdays, those opinions are then read and digested by countless people across the country.
Each week, Stein casts her votes for the top 25 teams in NCAA Division I women’s basketball for the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. Stein represents the Big 12 Conference on a 31-member polling board sponsored by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
The unranked Tigers, now 8-1 with their only loss coming from then-No. 11 Stanford, are receiving votes in the Associated Press poll, but have yet to receive votes in the coaches’ poll.
That’s because Stein has not voted for her team. And she won’t until she thinks her team is top-25 caliber. Wins in today’s 2 p.m. game at Northwestern (6-2) and upcoming games against talented South Dakota State and Prairie View A&M, according to Stein, would validate votes for the Tigers.
“I’m probably a little more hesitant to vote for us, because I obviously am biased and I want a very unbiased poll,” Stein said. “I probably hurt ourselves more by holding back. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it.”
As a coach, Stein says she has certain responsibilities to give back to her sport and to her profession. She said she hasn’t talked about her position on the poll board to her team and doubts her players are even aware of her duties. And that’s OK with her. She is busy coaching her team and will gladly let someone else have the role of judging them.
“I think you also need to be very humble,” she said, “let someone else do your voting for you.”
Stein said she is always looking at scores and footage of other teams to discern how her team stacks up against the competition. Now with her new role, she said she might catch an extra game on TV or just spend a little extra time gauging why a team does or does not deserve to be in the top 25.
“Those are things I did anyway,” Stein said. “It’s just more of putting it down on paper and letting everyone judge what you think, I guess.”
Each conference in Division I women’s basketball has a representative on the board to gain the most accurate measure of the top 25 teams. Although Stein said she had served on other committees during her coaching tenure, this is her first of two years on the coaches’ poll board after being asked to serve by Dru Hancock, the associate commissioner for women’s basketball in the Big 12.
“Coach Stein has always been very passionate and willing to serve on committees to help promote the growth of women’s basketball in the Big 12, as well as nationally,” Hancock said in an e-mail. “We thought she would be an excellent representative of the conference as a member of the voting panel for the coaches’ poll.”
Within the top-25 rankings, Stein finds her job varying on levels of difficulty. It isn’t hard to judge the top 10 teams because of what they bring to the court at this stage in the season.
“Well, Maryland to me is a no-brainer until they lose,” Stein said, “because they’re the defending national champion and they returned everybody, so I don’t see how you don’t vote for them No. 1.”
But Nos. 16 through 25 get a little harder, Stein said. Those are often the teams that have imperfect records, so Stein and the other poll judges have to look at deeper factors such as the quality of that team’s opponents. She said ranking college teams at this point in the semester gets a little rough, as well.
“Sometimes at this time of year, it sometimes is tough to play because finals are going on and so many other things are going on,” Stein said. “This is usually when you see a little more upsets.”
Stein’s position on the board can both help and hinder her team. Stein has more reason to look at and analyze another team’s rosters, noticing trends in recruiting which can carry over into Missouri’s recruiting strategy.
“I think for the most part, when you’re looking at the top teams,” Stein said, “you’re always trying to emulate certain things they do whether it’s the different ways they recruit, the different types of players they recruit.”
With Stein on a polling board, she said she and her team can automatically become a target when playing opponents.
“If someone knows you are on the poll and they want their team to be ranked, what are they going to try to do? They’re going to try their best,” Stein explained. “If they impress me, they impress somebody in the committee.”