Winners and Losers of College Basketball's 2016-17 Preseason AP Top 25 Poll
College basketball's preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll arrived Monday, and with it, we have cleared the final remaining hurdle between the end of the 2015-16 season and the glorious beginning of 2016-17.
After nearly seven months of hemming, hawing and arguing over which teams deserved to be ranked where, we now know it'll be No. 1 Duke opening the season against Marist next Friday. Joining the Blue Devils will be No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 12 Michigan State and No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 11 Indiana.
Do those teams deserve to be ranked where they are?
Based on a combination of differences from the preseason USA Today men's basketball coaches poll, differences from where each team finished the 2015-16 season or differences in perception, we've come up with the biggest winners and losers from the first AP poll of the season.
Winner: No. 24 Iowa State Cyclones
As far as where teams ranked in the AP poll compared to the coaches poll, there were plenty of differences. However, only one team made it into the AP Top 25 without getting that same designation from the coaches: Iowa State.
The Cyclones were close in the other poll, finishing in 27th place—just 19 votes behind No. 25 Cincinnati, the team that didn't appear in the AP poll to make room for the Cyclones. In the rankings that 99 percent of us use, though, Iowa State will be ranked for a 57th consecutive week.
It's one heck of a vote of confidence in the staying power of a team that lost three frontcourt starters from last year. The Cyclones are still loaded in the backcourt with Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton, but they're a bit of a mystery up front. Transfers Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie will be expected to play major roles as rebounders and defenders.
They'll get two extra weeks to figure things out, opening the season with home games against Savannah State, Mount St. Mary's and The Citadel before diving into the Advocare Invitational.
Somewhat fittingly, Iowa State will face Cincinnati on the first day of December, determining which team was most deserving of being ranked in the first poll of the season.
Loser: No. 25 Maryland Terrapins
Several teams were two rungs lower in the AP poll than they were in the coaches poll. Michigan State "fell" three spots to No. 12, compared to No. 9 among coaches, but the AP voters had the added information of Gavin Schilling's injury, so that was an understandable shift.
The only team at least four spots lower is Maryland.
Even though there are more than twice as many votes to go around—65 voters in the AP as opposed to 32 coaches—the Terrapins got fewer total votes (144) Monday afternoon than they did in the other poll (153).
It has to be considered an honor that they're ranked at all after losing four starters from last year's team, but it's apparent the AP voters aren't entirely buying what Melo Trimble and Co. are selling.
However, a litmus test will be administered just five days into the regular season when the Terps head to Georgetown. The Hoyas are loaded with big men, and the frontcourt is the big question for Maryland. If the Terrapins can win that one, it'll be a statement that they mean business once again this year.
Winner: No. 16 UCLA Bruins
The inverse of the previous slide, UCLA was the one major riser from the previous poll, jumping from No. 20 to No. 16 with almost three times as many total votes.
Despite stumbling to a 15-17 record during the 2015-16 season, big things are expected from the Bruins with the addition of stud freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. A 6'6" triple-double threat, Ball has already drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd. That's a significant standard to meet, but if he's even half as good as advertised, UCLA's offense will be almost unstoppable.
With Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday all coming back, the Bruins already have three guards who averaged more than 10 points per game last season. They also have a returning big man (Thomas Welsh) who can fill up the box score with points and rebounds and an incoming power forward (T.J. Leaf) who is expected to do the same.
They might not lead the nation in points per game, but it's not a stretch to think UCLA could have the most efficient offense in 2016-17.
The Bruins defense falls somewhere between a question mark and a humongous red flag, but the ability to put points on the board in bunches is good enough for the AP to rule this a preseason Sweet 16 team.
Loser: American Athletic Conference
Reinforcing a long-held belief from this offseason, there's not much to see in the AAC this year.
Connecticut figures to be the cream of the crop and was voted as such. Led by Jalen Adams, Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah, the Huskies will open the season at No. 18—down two spots from the coaches poll but still comfortably ranked.
As previously mentioned, Cincinnati was one of the biggest losers of the AP poll, sitting just outside at No. 26 after appearing at No. 25 in the coaches poll.
It may not seem like much of a difference, but preseason No. 26 might as well be preseason No. 50. Without showing up on the default list of games involving Top 25 teams, team No. 26 has to make quite the impression to get noticed while voters and fans scroll through the full list of D-I games on any given day.
At least Cincinnati plays Rhode Island and potentially Duke in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off during the second weekend of the regular season. Were this a repeat of last year's opening slate—Western Carolina, Robert Morris, Bowling Green, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southeastern Louisiana—even the voters who had Cincinnati in their preseason ballots would have long forgotten about the Bearcats by the time the next round of voting came along.
And that's it for the AAC. No other team received a single vote.
Were it up to KenPom, the American wouldn't have any teams in the preseason Top 25. His numbers have Cincinnati at No. 28, Connecticut at No. 41, SMU at No. 49 and no one else in the Top 80.
The Huskies and Bearcats might want to make significant impacts during the nonconference portions of their seasons, as they don't appear likely to pick up many marquee wins in January or February.
Winner: North Carolina State Wolfpack
Much has been said and written about the absurd depth of this year's ACC. A dozen teams enter the season with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations, and 11 of those 12 teams received votes in the coaches poll.
The one exception to the rule was North Carolina State, which didn't get a single vote from the coaches despite being picked to finish in sixth place at ACC media day.
A few AP voters attempted to correct the coaches' mistakes by awarding the Wolfpack 29 votes—good for 32nd place in the poll.
Aside from the new rankings, N.C. State was the biggest winner of the day, learning that Turkish import Omer Yurtseven will only miss nine games, as Scout.com's Evan Daniels first reported.
Questions about the 7-footer's eligibility existed long before he committed to N.C. State, but he'll be able to join the team on Dec. 15. He'll miss little more than a couple of nonconference games against Illinois, as well as potential games against Creighton and Ole Miss in the Paradise Jam.
Given how weak the Wolfpack's nonconference schedule is, they may even be ranked by the time they add their presumed starting center for the rest of the year. Regardless of where they are when the day arrives, it'll be fun watching Yurtseven and Dennis Smith Jr. coexist in this offense.
Loser: Southeastern Conference
If you thought Kentucky was a lock to go undefeated in conference play two years ago, there's significantly less competition standing in the Wildcats' way this season.
Big Blue Nation was one of the bigger winners of the AP poll. Kentucky was No. 4 in the coaches poll, but it will open the season at No. 2 in the AP poll, narrowly edging out Kansas and Villanova.
But where is the rest of the SEC?
Not only is the conference devoid of other teams in the Top 25, but you could also extend it to a Top 35, and it would still only have Kentucky and Florida as representation.
There are a handful of SEC teams in the "others receiving votes" portion of the poll—Florida, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt—but not one of them received more than 18 votes.
Heck, Wichita State lost nearly its entire team and still got 21 votes.
Some team will eventually rise up to play second fiddle to the Wildcats. In addition to the four aforementioned schools, Arkansas and Georgia are on the list of candidates for the job. But if the ACC does get 10 or more teams into the 2017 NCAA tournament, it will likely thank the SEC for only being a two- or three-bid league.
Winner: No. 23 Rhode Island Rams
Expectations for Rhode Island are officially almost as high as they have ever been.
In school history, the Rams have never been ranked higher than No. 20 in the AP Top 25 and have only twice appeared in the preseason poll—in 1997 and 1998.
Coincidentally, those are the last two times this team made the NCAA tournament, hoping to turn this preseason No. 23 ranking into the end of a 17-year tourney drought.
Rhode Island was supposed to be good last year. It received 17 preseason votes before losing E.C. Matthews for the season with a torn ACL in the season opener. The Rams tread water the best they could without the preseason A-10 Player of the Year, but they only managed to win 17 games.
They're getting a second chance, though. If the starting five can stay healthy this year, this unit can win a ton of games, possibly ending a 35-year drought without a conference regular-season title.
Loser: Craig Handel
The wonderful thing about a democracy is that every vote counts.
That doesn't mean that every vote is a good one.
Seven of the 65 AP voters saw fit to rank someone other than Duke at No. 1. Four of those seven folks—Doug Doughty, Elton Alexander, Hugh Kellenberger and John Feinstein—had the Blue Devils at No. 2, just barely behind either Kentucky or Villanova.
Two of the voters—Mark Berman and Scott Wolf—were so bold that they have Grayson Allen and Co. at No. 3 behind some pairing of Kansas, Oregon and Villanova.
But Craig Handel went a little crazy, ranking Duke No. 6 behind Kentucky, Oregon, Villanova, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
Equally egregious is that Handel has Kansas at No. 7.
The Duke part didn't matter. It affected the total vote count for the Blue Devils, but they were No. 1 by a margin of 133 votes. However, by putting the Jayhawks six spots behind Kentucky, Handel made enough of an impact to drop Kansas to No. 3. If we remove his ballot, the Jayhawks are three votes ahead of the Wildcats. Instead, they're three votes behind.
Moreover, Handel did not rank No. 13 Louisville nor No. 15 Purdue, but he has No. 17 Saint Mary's and No. 19 Syracuse in his Top 10.
To each his own, but this ballot is pure madness.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.