The release of the preseason AP Top 25 college basketball poll means the actual season is nearing and that debate season has arrived. The poll surveys media around the country to get a picture of expectations entering a new season. While 62.4% of teams ranked in the preseason poll since 2000 have finished the season ranked, according to the NCAA, the preseason poll can also feature some big misses.
Take last season, for example. Dayton received just a single vote in the preseason poll while San Diego State received no votes. They finished the season ranked Nos. 3 and 6, respectively. Even teams that begin the season ranked in the top 10 finish unranked nearly 18% of the time, according to the NCAA.
So until there are actual games to dissect, critiquing the AP Top 25 will have to suffice. There are teams that end up underrated and overrated every year based on their preseason projection, and we’re going to try and identify a few of them here following Monday’s release of the AP Top 25.
No. 10 Kentucky: Anyone ranking Kentucky in the top-10 is doing so based on blind faith in the Wildcats’ 2020 recruiting class, because the leading returning producer is forward Keion Brooks Jr., who averaged just 4.5 points per game in 15.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season. While the recruiting class is the No. 1 ranked class in the nation, only two of the six players are considered five-star prospects by 247Sports.
In a season truncated by COVID-19, it’s rather bold to assume such a young team will gel into a top-10 unit. The Wildcats should still be solid, but they might be more like the 2017-18 Kentucky team that finished at No. 18 than last season’s team that dominated the SEC.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 19
No. 6 Kansas: Kansas revolved around point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike during a 28-3 season that ended with the Jayhawks ranked No. 1. But both players are gone now, and the group of incoming freshmen is not one of the best classes that Bill Self has recruited. The Jayhawks will likely be a top-15 team, but it feels like their No. 6 preseason ranking is a product of the program’s blue-blood status rather than the product of justifiable confidence in the roster.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 14
No. 5 Iowa: Talking yourself into this Iowa team is not difficult. The Hawkeyes return all five starters, including CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year Luka Garza and get former starters Jordan Bohannon and Jack Nunge back from injury. Offensively, Iowa will be fantastic. But the defense needs to take significant strides if the Hawkeyes are going to compete for a national title. Also, the Big Ten is going to be the most difficult league in college basketball, meaning Iowa is likely to amass enough losses in conference play to keep it out of top-five territory for most voters as the season progresses.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 11
No. 11 Creighton: Creighton finished 24-7 last season — identical to Villanova’s record — and there’s no reason to think Creighton won’t be neck and neck with the Wildcats once again after they split the Big East title with Seton Hall. The Bluejays return five of their top six players from a team that ended the year ranked No. 7. This is Creighton’s best-ever preseason ranking, but it may not be high enough.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 7
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
No. 22 UCLA: AP voters appear hesitant to believe the Pac-12 is actually a decent basketball league again as No. 18 Arizona State is the highest-ranked of the three teams from the league in the poll. You could argue the Sun Devils and No. 20 Oregon are underrated as well. But of the three ranked Pac-12 teams, UCLA returns the highest share of production. The Bruins won seven of their last eight games under first-year coach Mick Cronin last year, and basically everyone is back. The starting lineup is projected to include four former top-100 prospects.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 12
Unranked LSU: The Tigers were the first team out of the preseason poll. Rewarding embattled coach Will Wade by ranking his team in the top-25 may be out of the question for some voters considering the ongoing investigation into Wade’s alleged improprieties. But if you look at the Tigers’ roster, it’s easy to make the case for why they should be ranked entering the season. A trio of top-100 prospects from the nation’s No. 6 recruiting class, plus a couple of transfers, will combine with a returning nucleus of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days to comprise one of the most-talented rosters in the SEC.
— Prediction on final AP ranking: No. 20