Men's College Basketball USA Today Coaches' Preseason Rankings a Joke
Sportswriters generally are supposed to remove personal emotion and bias from the task at hand. After browsing the recently released preseason coaches' Top 25, I can't promise that will be the case with this piece.
If you've read my writing before, it's no secret I am an unabashed Cincinnati Bearcat fan. So you can imagine the quick burst of expletives that machine gunned from my mouth as soon as I realized UC was unranked.
Unranked, huh? Cincinnati, who last season beat TEN ranked teams, made it to the finals of the Big East tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 (after knocking off everyone's slurp pick, Florida State), is not a Top 25 team?
Now, look, I understand that preseason polls don't determine anything. And I understand that the poll is voted on by 31 coaches, all of which are overwhelmingly swamped preparing their own teams for the season.
Here's the problem. High school kids see these rankings. High level recruits see these rankings. If you're a recruit finalizing your choice between two schools, say Florida State and Cincinnati, and you see FSU ranked and Cincinnati unranked, you might be inclined to go with the Seminoles.
Ask a college coach. He'll verify this.
So, if these coaches don't have the time to give a good look to all of these teams and choose the rankings fairly, then something needs to be done. Yes, I am a big Cincinnati fan, but you cannot tell me that the Bearcats are not a Top 15 team, let alone Top 25.
Is Cincinnati a Top 25 team?
I mentioned above what the Bearcats did last season. Mick Cronin lost two seniors, big man Yancy Gates and wing Dion Dixon. Guess what? Those are not big losses considering what Cronin has on his roster. UC is led by a top-tier, experienced backcourt (you win in college basketball with guards) trio of Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick (first-team preseason All-Big East) and Jaquon Parker.
Big East coaches know how good this Cincinnati team should be. UC was picked to finish fourth in the rugged, cutthroat Big East. Ask the other 14 Big East coaches if Cronin has a Top 25 team. I guarantee you not a one will say no.
But, the usual overhyping of certain "hot right now" teams litters this preseason Top 25. Indiana and Louisville are 1-2 in the rankings. Indiana had a great season in 2011-12, but No. 1? Get the (four or five expletives) out of here. Yes, Louisville reached the Final Four last year, but it also lost in the first round to Morehead State the year before. Rick Pitino has a very solid, experienced starting five with a legit defensive anchor in Gorgui Dieng to go along with a great defense, which is nice, but let's be honest: Since the coach is Rick Pitino, Louisville gets the benefit of the doubt.
Who should be preseason #1?
(Not that I don't think IU and U of L will have great seasons and very well could be the two best teams in the nation. I just feel like certain programs are quick to be anointed, while other programs are overlooked.)
Then we have NC State at No. 6. Luke Winn of SI went a step further and placed Mark Gottfried's late-blooming team at No. 3! Yes, I saw the Wolfpack do just barely enough to get into the Dance last season and make it all the way to the Sweet 16* as an 11 seed. And yes, I see those three highly ranked incoming freshmen. Still, I say, "Come on, buddy." This will be a good team, but Top Five level? I don't buy it.
(By the way, Luke Winn selected his Top 32 teams. Cincinnati was not one of them. That, my friends, is outrageous.)
Besides NC State, the Top 14 is basically all of the usual suspects. Duke, UNC, Michigan State, Kansas, bla bla puke-inducing bla. Same expletive, different day. Ohio State loses two players (Jared Sullinger, William Buford) to the NBA from a team with zero depth, but hey, let's rank 'em fourth, because well, it's Ohio State—they'll be good, right?
Finally, look at the rest of the bunch. Memphis is at 15—a team who underachieved mightily in 2011-12 and was bounced in the first round by a slow, unathletic Saint Louis team. So what exactly warrants a Top 15 ranking for Josh Pastner's squad? And, of course, the funniest part of this sham would be the last two teams in the rankings: Florida State and Texas. Cincinnati beat both of those teams in the NCAA Tournament last year!
Yes, I know, this article appears to be jealous whining from a biased Cincinnati fan. And if that's how you want to categorize it, you're welcome to do so.
But here's the thing. Mick Cronin has more than proven himself capable as a high-level college basketball coach. His teams have improved every single year since he accepted the job in 2006. His team was incredible last season, beating double digit ranked teams and making it to the Sweet 16. Cronin returns his core, a deep, athletic bench, and he even added a 7'1" transfer named David Nyarsuk to man the paint.
To exclude a program like Mick's from the Top 25 is egregious, it affects recruiting, and frankly, it's ridiculous. But hey, coaches, if you wanna add another chip to this team's shoulder, you're going to have to deal with the retaliation—and it won't be any fun for you, your kids or your fans.
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