Assessing the Preseason College Basketball Top 25

Story posted March 9, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Preseason polls are supposed to be a prediction of how the top teams will finish when the regular season comes to a close, and are a way to measure expectations for contenders before any of the top teams even take the court.

Many sports enthusiasts and historians dismiss preseason polls because the voters are ranking the top 25 teams in the country, despite not seeing them play a single game prior to voting them among the games elite.

The Associated Press (AP) Poll is arguably the most documented and analyzed in the college basketball world.

Like all major polls, the AP voters compile a preseason ranking of the top 25 teams in the country.

The 2012-2013 AP preseason poll was an interesting one in that actually 26 teams were ranked in the AP “Top 25” with Connecticut and Wisconsin each ranked No. 23 in the preseason poll.

Fast-forwarding to today, week 18 on the college basketball schedule is the final week of the regular season, just before conference tournaments and the “big dance” kick off.

The AP Poll in week 18 is an accurate representation of how the top teams in the country have done throughout the entire course of the regular season, as opposed to how they “performed” before play began.

Here’s a look at how the two polls compare and contrast. 

AP Preseason Poll:                                       AP Poll Week 18:

1. Indiana (43)                                                          1. Gonzaga (51)

2. Louisville (20)                                                      2. Indiana (7)

3. Kentucky (2)                                                        3. Duke (5)

4. Ohio State                                                            4. Kansas

5. Michigan                                                              5. Georgetown

6. NC State                                                               6. Miami (FL)

7. Kansas                                                                  7. Michigan

8. Duke                                                                     8. Louisville

9. Syracuse                                                               9. Kansas State

10. Florida                                                                10. Michigan State

11. North Carolina                                                   11. Florida

12. Arizona                                                               12. New Mexico

13. UCLA                                                                 13. Oklahoma State

14. Michigan State                                                    14. Ohio State

15. Missouri                                                              15. Marquette

16. Creighton                                                            16. Saint Louis

17. Memphis                                                             17. Syracuse

18. UNLV                                                                  18. Arizona

19. Baylor                                                                  19. Oregon

20. San Diego State                                                   20. Pittsburgh

21. Gonzaga                                                              21. Virginia Commonwealth

22. Notre Dame                                                        22. Wisconsin

23. Wisconsin                                                            23. UCLA

23. Connecticut                                                         24. Notre Dame

24. Cincinnati                                                            25. Memphis

25. Florida State

For this article, let’s take a trip down memory lane to examine the biggest risers and fallers from the preseason poll until now, and analyze each team’s chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. 

Kentucky: AP Preseason Poll Ranking: 3  Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: Unranked

Without question the biggest disappointment in college basketball this season has been the play of the defending national champions. Coach Cal’s Wildcats once again look the part of a contender on paper, and the roster is loaded from top to bottom with potential NBA Draft lottery picks. Following Kentucky’s March 7 loss to SEC rival Georgia, Calipari admitted that the team’s inability to develop cohesiveness rests fully on him.

Kentucky’s loss to Georgia certainly doesn’t bode well for its at-large chances as the Wildcats are firmly entrenched on the bubble at the current moment. Its resume doesn’t look the part of a tournament team either, as it is 1-4 against RPI top 50 teams with the lone victory coming against SEC rival Missouri.

Kentucky can still save its season if it can take care of business against SEC leader Florida in each team’s season finale, and make a deep run in the SEC tournament.

North Carolina: AP Preseason Poll Ranking: 11  Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: Unranked

While the Tar Heels currently sit outside the AP Top 25, they do find themselves in comfortable position to make the NCAA Tournament field. Its win-loss resume isn’t overly enticing with a 2-6 record against the RPI top 50, but it also doesn’t have many bad losses either, with an 85-67 loss to Texas as the only real smudge on the resume.

North Carolina, who was the leading voter-getter among teams who did not qualify for the AP Poll in week 18, can certainly make a push to enter it if they can defeat arch-rival Duke in each team’s season finale.

Roy Williams’ stable of youngsters have won six in a row and look to be an NCAA Tournament lock in the ACC, despite being one of the biggest droppers from the preseason poll.

Georgetown: AP Preseason Poll Ranking: Unranked  Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: 5

Where in the world did this come from? After being a preseason afterthought, the Hoyas have legitimized themselves as serious players in the NCAA Tournament.

In what has been a Big East season fueled by upheaval and unpredictability, Georgetown has added to that by compiling victories against conference rivals Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette, among others.

Its 7-3 record against RPI top 50 teams is also the best mark in the conference. Led by national player of the year candidate Otto Porter (16.6 points per game), the Hoyas have been one of the season’s biggest surprises and coach John Thompson III is in serious contention to claim his first Big East Coach of the Year Award.

NC State: AP Preseason Poll Ranking: 6  Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: Unranked

Another one of the biggest droppers from the preseason poll is the Wolf Pack of NC State. Coming into the season with the loftiest of expectations, coach Mark Gottfried hasn’t been able to get his team back into the national title discussion that surrounded the team during the preseason.

At 22-8 on the year, NC State should still qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but its inconsistency could cost them once the tournament begins. The Wolfpack have traded wins and losses with ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina and defeated Connecticut, but losses to Maryland and Wake Forest left basketball experts scratching their heads.

NC State is a dangerous team, only losing to Miami (FL) by one point and to Michigan by seven, but serious question marks remain for a team that was picked to win the ACC this season.

Miami (FL): AP Preseason Poll Ranking: Unranked  Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: 6

Speaking of Miami, arguably no other team has improved its reputation and tournament stock since the preseason more than the Hurricanes. Boasting a 4-2 record against the RPI top 25, the Canes have transferred the swagger from the gridiron to the parquet, with basketball pundits the world over taking notice.

Even Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade sat courtside to watch the Canes this season.

With victories over Duke, Michigan State, NC State and twice over North Carolina, Miami finds itself in serious consideration for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

However, with three head-scratching losses to teams currently outside the RPI top 100 – Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast – Miami will probably have to flash its swag in the ACC Tournament to lock down a No. 1 seed. 

Kansas State: AP Preseason Poll Ranking: Unranked; Week 18 AP Poll Ranking: 9

Since being ousted at Illinois after missing out on the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years, new Kansas State coach Bruce Weber took over for the departing Frank Martin and has brought college basketball hope to Manhattan.

The Wildcats, led by senior guard Rodney McGruder (14.8 points per game), have taken a bite out of Big 12 competition this season as they climbed up the AP rankings. Currently tied atop the Big 12 standings at 25-5 (14-3), Kansas State has claimed wins over Florida, Oklahoma State and twice over Oklahoma.

Despite the Wildcats inability to beat in-state rival Kansas in both meetings, they haven’t suffered any “bad” losses. Of the team’s five defeats this season, all of them came against RPI top 50 opponents.

After getting the pink slip from Illinois last season, Weber has redeemed himself and should challenge for the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award while his team proves to be a menacing challenge in the NCAA Tournament.

Aaron Carr is a junior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu