Poll Positions: Top 25 Chatter

    
November 21st, 2006
In this, the 2006 inaugural edition of Poll Positions, I have to confess right upfront that I simply hate preseason polls. 

 

In 2003-04, no less than 3 teams ranked in the preseason Top 10 found themselves out of the Top 25 at the end of the season.  In 2004-05, 5 of the preseason Top 20 were not among the nation’s 25 best teams by the time North Carolina cut down the nets. 

 

Last season, over half the entire preseason Top 25 - 13 in all - were unranked by season’s end, including 5 of the preseason Top 10.  Who were not deemed to be among the 25 best teams in America at the start of last season?  No less than 3 out of the 4 teams who reached Indianapolis, including national champion Florida. 

 

I mention this not to embarrass anyone, or claim I could have done better (I couldn’t – just check my bracket from last year).  I’m just making the point that as much as sportswriters know (or think we know, depending on your point of view) about any sport, no one can accurately and knowingly predict how an entire season will play out. 

 

There will always be the sleepers, the upsets and surprises.  But more importantly, there will always be the busts and the outright overrated.

 

The latter is why I hate preseason polls.  Just about every year a highly ranked, yet overrated, team inevitably gets beaten by a mediocre team early in the season.  Sportswriters and coaches are then forced to ask themselves a very important question before they derive the following week’s Top 25 rankings:

 

Were we wrong about said overrated team? Should they never have been ranked that high in the first place? Or is said mediocre team actually just underrated? Answer: We are never wrong! 

 

So of course said mediocre team BECOMES said overrated team by virtue of the fact that they are now too ranked in the Top 25.  Then down the road they get beat by another mediocre team, and, well, you get the idea.

 

This is why it seems to take a lifetime for a clearly overrated team to mercifully leave the Top 25.  Or why some NIT-bound teams use the “but we were ranked in December” excuse to try to squeeze their way into the NCAA Tournament.  It usually takes until about the end of January for the process to work itself out and the truly deserving are ranked among the 25 best teams in America. 

 

It has already begun this year.  Vermont is now widely considered the favorite to win the America East this year, thanks to their huge win over ACC power Boston College (#23 AP).  But the Catamounts are not as dominant as they looked against BC, who is simply not the same right now without Craig Smith and is still learning to play without his presence down low.  The Eagles should not have been ranked in the Top 15 as they were in the preseason.

 

Oral Roberts – who lost to Loyola Marymount less than two weeks ago – is now among the schools “also receiving votes” in the weekly rankings - receiving 3 votes in the AP and 7 votes from the coaches (the same number of votes awarded to truly underrated Virginia).  All for beating a young Kansas (#10 AP/ Coaches) team that missed countless lay-ups and foul shots.  More on that later.

 

Texas (#25 Coaches) lost their entire starting five from last year and has all freshmen taking their place this season with the exception of sophomore AJ Abrams.  UConn (#18 AP/Coaches) doesn’t have a junior or senior in the starting lineup.

 

Ohio State (#3 AP/Coaches) is ranked in the Top 5 mostly due to freshman Daequan Cook and the imminent arrival of Greg Oden.  Georgia Tech (#19 AP/Coaches) Coach Paul Hewitt flatly stated during a press conference for the EA Sports Maui Invitational that his Yellow Jackets should not be ranked as high as they are, a rating they earned at least in part because of their outstanding freshman class.

 

All these teams are simply too young and inexperienced at this point to merit such high rankings.  Once they play an entire season and develop their young players, these schools may well be among the Top 20, or even Top 10, come March.  But not right now.  No way. 

 

Look for at least one of these teams to suffer an upset early on and give a few surprising, albeit undeserving, schools their day in the sun.

 

 

Self-examination

 

Kansas (#10 AP/ Coaches) Coach Bill Self has proven himself to be one of the best recruiters in America.  He has taken his team to consecutive Big 12 titles in the past two seasons.  In his first full 3 seasons coaching in front of some of the most demanding fans in college basketball, Self has compiled a very respectable 72-24 record.   

 

But there’s one thing that fans of any team have a very low tolerance for: bad losses.

 

In Self’s first season, Kansas lost a heartbreaker to the Richmond Spiders.  The following year, the team fell to Iowa State.  Then came losses to Nevada and Kansas State.  And just last week, the aforementioned Oral Roberts stunned the Jayhawks 78-71.

 

Sure enough, upset losses happen to every team, even national championship teams.  The problem though, is that all of those losses happened at Allen Fieldhouse, once considered one of the most impossible places to win in the country.  That is something Jayhawk fans are having a tough time swallowing, especially now after the shocking loss to the Golden Eagles. 

 

It still says here that Coach Self will prove the naysayers wrong and establish himself as among the greats in KU coaching history.  However, a few more losses like he had last week, or another early NCAA Tournament exit, and he may not have the chance.