Preseason College Basketball Rankings 2016: Hits, Misses from 1st Coaches Poll
Regular season college basketball is just a little over three weeks away, and thanks to the USA Today Coaches Top 25 published Thursday morning, we finally have consensus rankings to consider for the remainder of the preseason.
As expected, Duke is No. 1, followed by Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia. You may disagree with the order, but those are the seven teams most likely to win the national championship.
While those 32 coaches got a lot of things right—such as Wisconsin in the Top 10 and UCLA in the Top 25—there were also quite a few whiffs. We're not sure whether it's more egregious that Kansas State received three votes or that there were eight votes Duke didn't receive, but we've voiced our displeasure over both of those errors.
Preseason polls were invented for knee-jerk reactions, and we've made note of a handful of hits and misses from the Coaches Poll.
The more regularly referenced AP Top 25 will be releasing its preseason rankings on Halloween. Hopefully, those voters learn from these coaches' mistakes.
Hit: Wisconsin as a Top 10 Team
Aside from making sure that Duke, Kansas and Kentucky are all in the Top 10, one of the biggest rules of thumb in making preseason college basketball rankings is that teams who finished strong and return most of their stars should make a big impact.
Few teams fit that description as well as the Wisconsin Badgers, and the coaches did well to put them at No. 10.
After a 9-9 start and a coaching change, Ethan Happ and company finally put it all together, winning 13 of their final 17 games to reach a third consecutive Sweet 16. And with the exception of Riley Dearring and Jordan Smith—who scored a combined six points in 11 games—every single player from last year's roster is back.
It's crowded atop the Big Ten. Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin all open the season ranked in the top 15 with Maryland not far behind at No. 21. However, with so much cohesion from last year, the Badgers are arguably the favorites to win what should be the second-best conference in the country.
Miss: 5 Ballots That Don't Have Duke No. 1
As we all expected, Duke is No. 1 in the country. With Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard among the list of key returning players joining the best recruiting class in the country (per Scout.com), there's no question that the Blue Devils are the team to beat this year.
According to Odds Shark, most sportsbooks have Duke at 4-to-1 or better odds to win the 2017 national championship with Kentucky consistently the closest runner-up in the 7-to-1 range.
And yet, five of the 32 voters somehow managed to begin their ballot with someone other than Duke. Moreover, with only 792 out of a possible 800 points, at least one of those voters failed to rank Duke in the top two, possibly putting the Blue Devils as low as No. 5.
How does that even happen?
In recent years, No. 1 in the country has been a tough call. Kentucky and North Carolina were in a dead heat for the top spot last year, and despite the possibility that Kentucky would go 40-0 in 2014-15, there were still multiple, rational first-place votes awarded to Arizona, Duke and Wisconsin. In fact, in getting 27 of the first-place votes, Duke is the closest thing to a unanimous No. 1 team since North Carolina got 30 of the 31 votes in October 2011.
That's still not enough. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but five voters had wrong opinions in this poll.
Hit: 5 ACC Teams in the Top 17
The coaches may have missed the mark on Duke by eight votes, but they gave the nation's best conference the respect it deserves.
In total, the ACC has five teams in the top 17 with Duke at No. 1, North Carolina at No. 6, Virginia at No. 7, Louisville at No. 14 and Syracuse at No. 17.
There are also six more ACC teams in the "Others Receiving Votes" section. Florida State just missed the Top 25 by 10 votes, followed by Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Pittsburgh.
If anything, there weren't enough ACC teams receiving votes, as North Carolina State should be a top-10 team in this conference if and when Omer Yurtseven is fully cleared for action by the NCAA.
Needless to say, this conference is loaded. We were already discussing the possibility of the ACC sending at least 10 teams to the NCAA tournament before Syracuse hit the late-summer jackpot by landing Nebraska graduate-transfer Andrew White III. The Orange likely would have just missed the Top 25 without that pickup, but they're now one of several teams in the ACC with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
The ACC kind of hogged last year's spotlight by sending six teams to the Sweet 16, but no one would be surprised if it did the same (or more) this year.
Miss: 3 Votes for Kansas State
Once you venture more than two or three spots into the "Others Receiving Votes" section of a preseason poll, you've officially gone too far. But in an effort to leave no stone unturned, we trekked deep into the rabbit hole to find out every team that somebody considered one of the 25 best in the country.
For the most part, we can't complain about the 32 teams on that list. The vast majority of them were either in our projected bracket from June or just missed the cut.
But Kansas State couldn't be more out of place as a team that received votes.
I love Wesley Iwundu as much as the next guy, but are we all looking at the same Kansas State roster?
Over the summer, we posted projected standings for each of the major conferences. In the Big 12, Kansas State was dead last. I wrote, "Maybe the Wildcats won't slip all the way into (10th) place in the Big 12, but it would take a near-lethal dose of optimism to forecast anything better than last year's eighth-place finish."
At least one of the 32 coaches drank way too much purple Kool-Aid this offseason, because the Wildcats somehow received three votes—and head coach Bruce Weber isn't even one of the coaches that votes, so we know it wasn't him.
It'd be one thing if people were just throwing all of the Big 12 teams on their ballots, but Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State all received zero votes.
Because of their laughably weak nonconference schedule (schools like Washburn and Hampton are on the slate), the Wildcats may win 10 or 11 nonconference games and trick the voters into letting them spend some time in the Top 25 this season, but I would be completely shocked if this team makes the NCAA tournament.
Hit: UCLA at No. 20
Teams that finish below .500 before also losing a primary player to graduation aren't supposed to appear in the preseason Top 25. Case in point, Georgetown and NC State didn't receive a single vote, even though most have identified the Hoyas and the Wolfpack as potential breakout teams to watch.
UCLA is the exception to that rule, thanks in large part to the addition of an exceptional freshman point guard.
Lonzo Ball is enough for the formerly 15-17 Bruins to open the season at No. 20 in the coaches poll. The court vision extraordinaire gives this team arguably the most absurdly stacked backcourt in the country, as Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday all return as players 6'4" or shorter who averaged at least 10.0 PPG last season.
The Bruins also added offensively gifted power forward T.J. Leaf, who should immediately play at least 20 minutes per game.
All in all, it's not hard to envision a scenario where UCLA finishes the season with the most efficient offense in the country. Who knows if the Bruins will actually play any defense this year, but the potential to put this many points on the board makes them worthy of a preseason ranking.
Miss: Michigan State at No. 9
I don't know when the deadline is for filling out ballots for the preseason poll. Chances are the coaches had already submitted their votes before Wednesday afternoon's news that Michigan State's Gavin Schilling is out indefinitely following a non-contact injury that led to knee surgery.
Without Schilling and with UNLV transfer Ben Carter still on the mend following his second knee injury of the calendar year, Michigan State's frontcourt is in shambles. At 6'6", redshirt sophomore Kenny Goins is now the tallest active returning player on the roster, and he barely logged 10 minutes per game last season. Ready or not, it'll be up to freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward to shoulder the load.
Let's be honest, though. Even before that story broke, there were concerns about the Spartans that we were ignoring because head coach Tom Izzo always figures things out by March.
Bridges should be a star and we expect Eron Harris to rise to the occasion as a senior leader, but how was a projected starting five with Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. and Schilling ever going to be a preseason Top 10 team? Did we forget that the Spartans lost their Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 scorers to either graduation, transfer or early NBA draft declaration?
Moreover, Michigan State has an absolutely brutal start to the season, playing in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis (featuring Top 25 Louisville, Wichita State and LSU among others) in between games away from home against Arizona, Kentucky and Duke. It was already going to take a near-miracle for this team to make it through November without suffering at least three losses.
On the bright side, at least now we know which team will fulfill the annual rite of passage of going from preseason Top 10 to unranked in less than a month.
Hit: Creighton and Rhode Island in the Top 25
As disappointed as we were with several of the spots in the poll, Creighton and Rhode Island were pleasant surprises at No. 23 and No. 24, respectively.
We've had both the Bluejays and Rams in our Top 25 for the entire summer, so they are deserving of the honor. It's just surprising that the coaches were able to pluck out the proper 15-loss teams from last season that didn't even sniff the NCAA tournament field.
Coincidentally, both schools are major case studies on the increasing impact of transfers in college hoops.
Creighton already had Maurice Watson Jr. (formerly of Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada) on last year's roster. Now the Bluejays are adding Marcus Foster (Kansas State) to a presumed starting five that is comprised primarily of players who didn't begin their college careers with Greg McDermott. Creighton also has former Syracuse point guard Kaleb Joseph sitting out this season, ready to join next year's rotation.
For Rhode Island, head coach Dan Hurley's crew isn't quite that full of transplants, but he does have Kuran Iverson (Memphis) and Stanford Robinson (Indiana) as two key members of the primary six-man rotation.
Regardless of where those players began their careers, they'll be starting out the 2016-17 season just inside the Coaches Top 25.
Miss: 6 Votes for Yale; None for Princeton or Monmouth
Yale had an excellent 2015-16 season. The Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1962 and won at least 23 games for the first time in more than a century. They shocked the world by upsetting Baylor and nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback against Duke in an effort to reach the Sweet 16.
But that team lost four of its five leading scorers and has been whittled down to little more than Makai Mason. A third-place finish in the Ivy League is probably the best-case scenario for Yale this year, yet it was the only Ivy League team to receive any votes.
Normally if the Ivy League is completely absent from preseason polls, it's no big deal. However, Princeton deserved to be on some ballots. The Tigers return all 13 of their leading scorers from a team that won 22 games. They also get back Hans Brase, who averaged better than 11 points per game in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 before missing this past season due to injury.
While we're here, one other minor-conference team curiously missing from the list is Monmouth. The Hawks won 28 games last year and get back all of their key contributors other than Deon Jones.
Monmouth and Princeton are two of the primary teams who will open the season on our Cinderella watch list, but apparently these 32 coaches disagree.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.