Early basketball rankings analyzed heavily, mean little

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Early basketball rankings analyzed heavily, mean little

By Alex Wise / Staff Writer

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The Associated Press released its (meaningless) preseason Top-25 poll on Friday. Top to bottom, the poll seems logically ordered, but there are a number of things that stand out at the top of the rankings.

Once again, Kentucky’s No. 1 ranking indicates that America believes in the John Calipari method: Promise each of the nation’s top recruits pre-conditional acceptance to NBA superstardom in exchange for one year of service in the college ranks, and pray to God that the kids can ride their collective talent to the Final Four in April. Sadly, this has worked three of the last four years. Hilariously, it didn’t work in 2013, when the Wildcats lost to Robert Morris in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.

If it wasn’t evident, I don’t like Calipari’s coaching style. I prefer watching teams that know how to work as a unit and watching players that can operate within a system. The next two teams in the AP’s rankings, Arizona and Wisconsin, fit that description.

Arizona coach Sean Miller, known in western Pennsylvania as the guy who made the pass to Jerome Lane a second before his backboard-shattering dunk, won’t give a recruit the light of day if he can’t defend and get out in transition. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan won’t extend a scholarship offer to a recruit unless he grew up baling hay on a Midwest farm and learned to play the game by shooting a tetherball into an old milk bucket nailed to a barn wall.

Just kidding … I think.

Both Arizona and Wisconsin have had consistent success in recent years, due in large part to players believing in a system rather than believing they’ve acquired a one-way ticket to a substantial paycheck. For this reason — and because they’ll be flat-out good — I think Arizona and Wisconsin will both appear in the Final Four this year, while Kentucky will be left out. And now that I’ve made my prediction, Murphy’s Law kicks into effect, meaning Kentucky will go undefeated en route to a national championship while Arizona and Wisconsin finish below .500 or something awful like that.

Next in the preseason AP poll is Duke, college basketball’s equivalent to the flu — everyone hates it, but it comes around every year. Duke’s resilience is aided by the fact — “fact,” aka embellishment — that Mike Krzyzewski could turn a group of unathletic third graders into a formidable squad. There’s no doubt that the Blue Devils will compete in the new-look ACC, but a stiff conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Louisville will make things difficult.

Kansas rounds out the top five in the AP poll. But nobody really cares about Kansas until February, so I’ll leave them as they are.

Finally, for the sake of relevance, I feel obligated to address Pitt fans, especially the faction that’s been whining about the Panthers’ exclusion from the top 25 since the poll’s release. I know it stings. It’s truly a prestigious honor to be named a top-25 team before anybody plays a single game, which is why it’s probably best that we as fans just throw in the towel now. It’s an unavoidable fact that, at the end of the season, good records and quality wins don’t mean anything compared to preseason poll position.

As the old saying goes: “It’s not about whether you win or lose, but about what people think of you before you play the game.”

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