5 Problems with Rankings on Big East Preseason Poll
Big East Preseason Poll: 5 Problems with Rankings
The Big East held its media day on Wednesday, doling out preseason accolades as well as the preseason poll. Peyton Siva collected Preseason Player of the Year honors, and his Louisville Cardinals were essentially the unanimous alpha dog — only Rick Pitino, who couldn’t pick his own team team, tabbed someone else at No. 1.
In the science that is basketball, returning players from a successful team generally creates a formula for expected improvement — or at least similar production. The Cardinals fit the bill, with almost every key player from last year’s Final Four team back for another season. But should they have been the unanimous choice?
That’s just one question sparked by the Big East preseason poll, but other rankings are also thought provoking. For whom do the coaches have lofty expectations? Who is pitted too low?
Generally, preseason rankings don’t even come to fruition. Why else would the game be played?
For proof, look no further than last year’s Big East poll. Syracuse and UConn tied for the top slot, but the Huskies finished at No. 10. Marquette and Notre Dame finished No. 2 and No. 3 but were tabbed at No. 6 and No. 9, respectively. And don’t forget about USF, which finished at No. 6 — but really held the same record as No. 4 Georgetown, which was tabbed at No. 10 — after having a preseason rank of No. 14.
Here are the rankings: 1. Louisville, 2. Syracuse, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Cincinnati, 5. Georgetown, 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Marquette, 8. USF, 9. UConn, 10. St. John’s, 11. Rutgers, 12. Villanova, 13. DePaul, 14. Seton Hall, 15. Providence
Despite losing Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi — not to mention Jim Calhoun — from last year’s disappointing squad, UConn came in at No. 9. Ahead of St. John’s and Rutgers, ranked Nos. 10 and 11, respectively.
Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun will comprise a very solid backcourt, but Napier and Boatright each have their flaws and Calhoun enters as a freshman. And though DeAndre Daniels could break out, the Huskies lack depth and a formidable frontcourt presence.
Don’t forget: they lost a bunch of talent and a Hall of Fame coach from a team that went 20-14 last year.
Rutgers and St. John’s finished right behind UConn in 2011-12. In other words, neither team found much success.
However, both the Scarlet Knights and Red Storm established promising foundations. After posting 13.8 points per game as a freshman, Eli Carter could earn all-conference honors this year for Rutgers. Almost every other rotation player — save Gilvydas Biruta — is back, and Kansas State transfer Wally Judge will bolster the lineup.
As for the Johnnies, Moe Harkless left for the NBA but D’Angelo Harrison leads a core group of returnees and Christopher Obekpa and Jakarr Sampson headline a deep recruiting class. And Steve Lavin is back on the sidelines.
So while UConn could surprise, Rutgers and St. John’s should have been slated ahead of the Huskies.
Losing Augustus Gilchrist to graduation and Waverly Austin to ineligibility certainly hurt South Florida, but the Bulls should rank ahead of Marquette if not Pittsburgh and Georgetown as well.
South Florida did not have a solid 2011-12 by fluke. Stan Heath’s Bulls shut down opponents on defense and used a balanced attack on the other end.
Even with Vander Blue and Todd Mayo, Marquette cannot replace Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson Odom without missing a beat. That’s why the Golden Eagles fell to No. 7 in the preseason poll. But really should be No. 8, behind South Florida.
Last year, Big East coaches slated Georgetown at No. 10 in the preseason poll. The Hoyas finished the season at No. 4.
So, perhaps, coaches hesitated at pitting Georgetown low again. But last year’s team had seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims as well as Hollis Thompson, who left early for the NBA.
Even though John Thompson III brought in a pair of ESPNU Top 100 recruits — D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Stephen Domingo — and Otto Porter should break out, the Hoyas would also need a productive year from Markel Starks and some other former role players to finish No. 5.
Pittsburgh underachieved in 2011-12, and now Jamie Dixon can no longer count on Ashton Gibbs. But Tray Woodall and a solid core of returning rotation players would put Pittsburgh close to Georgetown’s level.
Add transfer Trey Zeigler and ESPNU Top 100 recruits Steven Adams and James Robinson to the mix, and the Panthers should definitely be ranked ahead of the Hoyas at No. 5. Pitt boasts more depth and talent, but the coaches slated the Panthers one spot too low.
In all fairness, Pitt fell just four points shy of Georgetown, 136-132.
Without a doubt, Louisville has the most promise. The Cardinals, fresh off their trip to the 2012 Final Four, return almost every key player from 2011-12 and add Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell.
But one could argue that Louisville’s tournament run was largely attributable to a streaky team being hot at the right time. That makes sense, given that Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are two of the most talented but erratic players in the country.
So despite this and the Cardinals’ 30-10 record from last year, why do Big East coaches all agree that Louisville is No. 1? The Cardinals are definitely the team to beat — any team returning so many players from a Final Four team would be.
But Notre Dame also returns every key player from last season. If the Fighting Irish found Louisville’s rhythm in March and reached the final weekend, would they be the unanimous No. 1? Notre Dame overcame its early season struggles to finish 23-12 — it just lacks the tournament run.
Think about it. The Fighting Irish definitely don’t have as much talent on their roster, but they are certainly more than capable of edging Louisville at the top. It’s surprising that only Rick Pitino, who couldn’t vote for his Cardinals, slated Notre Dame at No. 1.
It’s also hard to believe Syracuse didn’t receive a single first place vote.