College basketball: First impressions from the USA Today Coaches Poll
As media days roll on, college basketball season is inching closer and closer. On Thursday, USA Today released its preseason Coaches Poll.
Some fan bases are probably angry at the rankings, others are jubilant while a few are cultivating their ‘us against the world’ face. Whatever gets you through the day, I suppose.
Say what you will about the USA Today Coaches Poll, but it provides a look into what some of the greatest minds in the sport are thinking about the college basketball landscape.
|PRESEASON USA TODAY COACHES POLL|
|• Complete Poll|
Coaches think Kentucky’s losses are overstated
Conventional wisdom would say any team losing four lottery picks (Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker) to the NBA would have a tough time being ranked to start the next season, let alone come out of the gate tied with North Carolina as the No. 1 team in the country.
But most teams aren’t the Kentucky Wildcats, and John Calipari is certainly one of a kind. Coach Cal welcomes in another heralded freshman class, led by do-it-all combo guard Jamal Murray, but the Wildcats have more key contributors returning than in years past.
Tyler Ulis averaged better than six assists per 40 minutes last season on almost 43 percent shooting from deep, and he could develop into one of the best point guards in the nation as a sophomore. Alex Poythress is talented, and looks to have a big senior year after injuries have plagued his entire career. Marcus Lee also averaged a double-double if you extrapolate his statistics over 40 minutes per game.
It shouldn’t be a huge shock to see Kentucky ranked atop the polls, but given the circumstances, it was a bit surprising to see the Wildcats ranked No. 1 over teams like Maryland, Kansas and Virginia that return so many veterans.
Folks are sleeping on the Big East
Only two schools, Villanova and Butler, are ranked in the Coaches Poll. This despite the fact that the Big East sent six teams to the dance last year, and Marquette (who adds Henry Ellenson) and Creighton should be much improved. St. John’s is losing plenty, but the league still looks to be strong.
At first glance, Georgetown seems to be the biggest omission from the Top 25. They went 22-11 last season and finished second in the conference. The Hoyas lose Jabril Trawick and low-post behemoth Joshua Smith from last year’s team, but almost everyone else returns.
Sophomores L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland and Paul White were all raw as freshman, but Copeland seems like a candidate to break out in 2015-16. He looks to be in the Otto Porter Jr. mold. John Thompson III will also welcome highly-touted freshman big man Jessie Govan into the mix, who may be a better all-around player than Smith from the moment he sets foot on campus.
Coaches believe in Indiana
The potential is obvious with the Hoosiers, who are ranked No. 15 in the Coaches Poll. Tom Crean’s offense was one of the most potent in college basketball last season, ranking 12th in the nation in efficiency.
The defensive side of the ball, though, was a different story. IU finished 300th out of 351 schools in defensive efficiency, and the roster from last year remains intact. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams and Robert Johnson should be better with another year of seasoning, but freshman big man Thomas Bryant is the biggest reason behind the generous ranking.
If Bryant can provide solid rim protection – which is vastly underselling the freshman’s talent, by the way, because he has the potential to be a plus interior defender – this spot will be warranted. But that’s still an awful lot to bank on a freshman, and the Hoosiers severely lack depth at the center position.
Indiana has the potential to be a top-10 team, but with all factors considered, the No. 15 ranking in the preseason Coaches Poll might prove to be a tad aggressive.
But with that said, basketball in the state of Indiana is back
The Hoosier State has four teams ranked inside the Top 25 – Indiana at No. 15, Notre Dame at No. 18, Butler at No. 22 and Purdue at No. 24. Those four teams all made the NCAA tournament last season, as did Valparaiso. Each program has had its share of down years in the last half decade, but it looks like they’re all headed in the right direction.
In that spirit, a few days ago I wrote about seven things every college basketball fan should do before the season starts. But the truth is, that should have been ‘eight.’
Watch ‘Hoosiers’ between now and opening tip-off. Even if you’ve seen the flick 100 times, you won’t regret it.
Duke-North Carolina is going to be awesome once again
The best rivalry in college basketball is going to be as fun as ever in 2015-16. The reigning national champions come in at No. 4 in the Coaches Poll, while North Carolina is tied with Kentucky for the No. 1 spot.
The Tar Heels return multiple great players, such as Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. It’s no surprise that coaches are high on their 2015-16 prospects.
Duke, meanwhile, is essentially starting from scratch. But like Calipari, Coach K has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how he won the national title with a freshman-heavy attack in 2015. So, yeah, while last year’s Duke-UNC showdown in Durham was epic on many levels, expect more of the same this season.
Let the games begin.