Maybe Louisville Should be the Preseason No. 1

June 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

PressDay20034 copy

PressDay20034 copy (Photo credit: Adam Glanzman)

Preseason polls are silly.  Each voter uses his own biased opinion or personal criteria to determine who he thinks is the best team.  Some voters do it based on who they think will win the championship.  Some vote based on what team has the most proven talent returning.  Some voters combine several factors.  Some voters just vote for Duke because they went to Duke.

The 2013 preseason college basketball poll has some interesting elements to it.  The vastly popular #1 pick is Kentucky, which is totally reasonable.  On paper, they have the most talented team we’ve seen in a long time.  Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are 2 projected lottery picks returning.  John Calipari brought in a recruiting class that’s widely considered the greatest of all time.  This team will have possibly 10 future NBA players, all in the rotation.  UK has a combination of experience, young talent and depth, and it’s swimming in talent.  Who in this country would be surprised to see this team win the 2014 championship?

Many see Michigan State as the #2 team, just behind Kentucky.  The Spartans have just as much reason to be ranked 1st preseason.  They’re experienced, in returning its best players from last season: Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are both potential 1st Team All-Americans.  They’ve got a senior point guard, which is always a strength for Tom Izzo’s successful MSU teams.  They’ve got a deep bench, per usual.  If it was the first game of the year, Michigan State would likely beat any team in America.  They have definite reasons to be ranked 1st.

But then there’s Louisville, ranked 3rd on the Sporting News poll.  Of course, being rated ahead of most teams is a pretty solid distinction, but why not higher?  See, Louisville did something last year that neither Kentucky nor Michigan State did.  Louisville won the last game of the season.  Usually that counts for something, as the defending national champs each year are given a generous preseason ranking.  And it’s not like Louisville doesn’t have talent or experience; they’re returning Russ Smith and all but 2 key players from last year’s title team (if you remember, that team had like 10 key players).

Each team has its weaknesses.  Kentucky’s is uncertainty.  While Calipari’s first 3 teams at UK had top-ranked recruiting classes and harvested high success (Elite Eight, Final Four, National Champion), last year’s Nerlens Noel injury and NIT appearance showed that it can also go bad.  Michigan State is always solid, but never has the best team.  They’re not going to beat other good teams based strictly on talent, like several North Carolina, UConn and UK teams of the last decade.  The ability to play any team evenly makes Michigan State a favorite, but lacking the capability to blow teams away gives a reason to believe they may not last through 6 tough games in the tournament.

Louisville has its own weaknesses, too.  Their point guard will be skilled, but he’s a small-college transfer who hasn’t faced ACC competition.  And speaking of the ACC, Louisville may need to modify its style of play.  The backbone of UL’s success last year was its full-court press.  This press was smothering and nearly impossible to get past, and the outcome of the tournament suggests that to be true.  In ACC play, the officiating doesn’t allow for such a physical defense that can include inadvertent slapping and nudging.  Well, not unless Duke is doing it.

Everywhere you look, credit will be given to highly ranked teams like UL, but it seems only Kentucky and Michigan State are in consideration to be the top-ranked team.

Horses and Hoops asks “Can the Cardinals keep up the program’s momentum and give the Wildcats a run for their money in an effort to possibly repeat as champions?”  With Russ Smith returning and a skilled, experienced supporting cast, the answer is an obvious “Yes.”

The preseason poll doesn’t decide the championship; otherwise, why even play?  It’s just a determination of what most people think is the best team, and more importantly just gives us stuff to talk about during the off-season.  Louisville doesn’t have the most talent in college basketball, but they’re still really good and just won the championship.  With all due respect to Michigan State and Kentucky, Louisville is just as deserving to be ranked 1st when the season begins.  For what it’s worth, they’ve got my vote.

-Nate Dillon

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