November 29, 2009

What did we miss in the preseason rankings?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: It's early in the season, but based on our preseason rankings, what does it look like we got right and what does it look like we got wrong?

In our preseason rankings, we felt more strongly about Kentucky than other pollsters. We ranked the Wildcats second, and they haven't done much to dispel that. The rest of the SEC hasn't done much to make me think it is going to be able to keep up, either. Freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins haven't played against a top-tier opponent (that comes later against North Carolina and Connecticut), but they've been dominant through the first two weeks. No. 4 Villanova has justified our ranking, too, by winning a competitive Puerto Rico Tip-Off. We were wrong about Syracuse, but wasn't everyone? Syracuse started at No. 42 in our rankings. The Orange would not be there if we could rerank at the start of December. Syracuse demolished Cal and North Carolina, giving the Orange the look of a Big East favorite. The Pac-10 was expected to be down this season, but we gave the league too much credit. UCLA may recover from losing to Cal State Fullerton, but bubble candidate Oregon State racked up three bad losses in just more than a week. If Cal or Washington gets into the top 10 (where we placed Cal in the preseason), it will get there in the same way Gonzaga or Butler does - racking up wins against inferior teams in conference play.


I'm not ready to throw any of our preseason top 25 picks under the bus yet, and in fact I would argue that the teams in the top 25 all will finish somewhere in the top 40. It's outside the top 25 where you go, "Man, I hope people don't remember that pick." We obviously underrated Syracuse. The Orange lost a lot of talent, but outside of guard Jonny Flynn, it appears as if it was eminently replaceable talent - as in talent that wasn't as good as what's there now. That means the Orange are a legit Big East title contender. It appears we underrated Gonzaga. We figured the Zags still would win the West Coast Conference, but I didn't think they'd have much success in the non-conference portion of their schedule. But a lot of young guys, most notably freshman forward Elias Harris, have come through. As for who we overrated, hands down it's Oregon State at 47th. The Beavers look like a team that will be about 247th in the RPI. I thought they could be a sleeper Pac-10 contender and at least challenge for third place. If the first month is any indication, they'll be challenging USC to avoid last place.


I definitely think we were a little too nice to California and Oklahoma. The Golden Bears have some good guards, but no inside game. That was the case last season, too, and Cal didn't get very far. Not sure why we thought they were going to be great all of a sudden. I still think Cal is a good team. But should it be ranked in the top 10 - or even the top 25? Heck no. Same goes for Oklahoma, a team with virtually no depth on the inside and an overrated point guard who is hurting his team with selfish play and ill-advised shots. The Sooners will struggle to make the NCAA tournament this season. Obviously, we also whiffed big on Syracuse. I'll be shocked if the Orange aren't a mainstay in the top 10-15 all season. For the most part, I think we did a good job of ranking the top 10, although Kentucky may take a little longer then expected to live up to its No. 2 ranking. Right now I'd probably put the Wildcats between No. 5 and No. 8. Seriously, though, if you replace Cal with Syracuse, I don't think anyone could argue with our top 10 selections, although some folks may arrange them differently.


We ranked Syracuse at No. 42 and Oregon State at No. 47, which suggested that they were evenly matched programs that would head into Selection Sunday as borderline NCAA tournament picks. A couple of weeks into the season, Oregon State looks like it has reverted to its 2007-08 form after a surprising season last year, while Syracuse looks like it could be ready to make a Final Four run. Syracuse proved its worth by dismantling defending national champion North Carolina in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine have done a solid job replacing NBA lottery pick Jonny Flynn at point guard, while Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson is a star in the making at forward. Oregon State looks like a mess. The Beavers have dropped three of their first four games and have suffered puzzling losses to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sacramento State. Yes, that's the same Sacramento State team that went 2-27 last season. The Pac-10 clearly is the worst of the six major conferences, but it's tough to imagine the Beavers finishing higher than eighth or ninth in the conference standings unless they show dramatic improvement over the next few months.


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