Gonzaga is No. 1 in the college basketball preseason AP Top 25 rankings released Monday. Virginia is No. 25. In between, there are 23 teams that comprise the full poll, and I won’t sugarcoat it: I’ve got some bones to pick with it.
It’s not all bad. Voters got it right on Gonzaga, for starters, which is important. The Bulldogs were outclassed in the title game by Baylor in April, but return a star in Drew Timme and one of the most electric players in basketball, Chet Holmgren, is on the way. A year after a 31-1 campaign, they could be — dare I say! — better this season. Mark Few has a confluence of young talent and experience that any college coach would covet. Preseason No. 1 well-deserved.
Voters nailed Baylor down, too. Despite winning the championship six months ago, this team turns over quite a bit after losing Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. It would’ve been easy to put the Bears top five but No. 8 shows both appropriate respect for the reigning champs and also gives a subtle nod to the retool Scott Drew has ahead.
Voters missed on a number of other teams, though, both by ranking teams too high and too low. So, in our annual preseason exercise, I’ve sorted out where I think they most got it wrong into two categories below — overrated and underrated teams.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 2
It’s easy to remember UCLA’s run to the Final Four and its near-upset of No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga in a thrilling overtime. What’s forgotten, it seems, is what made it so memorable: The Bruins did it as a No. 11 seed, tying as the lowest-seeded team to ever make it to the Final Four. Entering the NCAA Tournament they were 17-9. You can expect this team to be better this year than it was last year — every player who participated in that run is back, and five star Peyton Watson is being added to the mix — but there’s really no way to justify a No. 2 preseason ranking for this team. Recency bias is one heckuva drug.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 10
Let me preface by saying I’m as bullish on BBN’s prospects this season as the next guy. What John Calipari and his staff did this offseason in filling the roster with transfers is both a veer from the normal routine and a ploy that should get the WIldcats back on track as a tourney team. That said, No. 10 in the country is brand bias if I’ve seen it. This team went 9-16 last season and doesn’t by Kentucky standards have near the same talent level it typically does. The roster is experienced, and should be competent, but there’s far more questions than answers for a team that’s getting major preseason respect as a top-10 team.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 13
Dana Altman’s Ducks figure to be the biggest challenger to UCLA in the Pac-12 this season, but we might be underestimating the roster overhaul of the offseason in Eugene. Gone is superstar Chris Duarte, sidekick Eugene Omoruyi and veteran LJ Figueroa is in the pro ranks now, too. That’s the team’s top three scorers last season. You can expect Will Richardson to take a step forward this season and transfers De’Vion Harmon, Jacob Young and Quincy Guerrier are early-impact additions, but this is a team with a lot of new faces that’s getting a lot of love despite significant losses.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 9
There’s no chance on paper that I could rank eight teams of this one. C’mon, people, Coach K’s farewell tour should commence on a better foot! This team has a potential POY in the fold with frosh Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams is back after a big end to his season, and AJ Griffin and Jeremy Roach should be in the mix to play big roles on a team with real potential to win it all. Love the mix of experience and talent on this roster. If healthy I’d wager it’ll be a top-five team for the majority of the year.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 12
Penny Hardaway has the No. 1 recruiting class enrolled led by No. 4 recruit Emoni Bates and No. 5 recruit Jalen Duren. That, in itself, is a duo good enough to warrant top-10 consideration. The kicker is that this team looks far more balanced than just these two young stars. DeAndre Williams was a huge factor for the Tigers late in the season after becoming eligible for the second semester and Landers Nolley II led the team in scoring and minutes per game. Then, once you factor in transfers Earl Timberlake, Chandler Lawson, and Tyler Harris you can see why the top of the AAC with Memphis and Houston should be considered preseason Final Four contenders. So good, so balanced, so much potential — too much to rank as low as No. 12.
AP Top 25 preseason ranking: No. 16
Devo Davis is a rising star who will be one of this season’s best defensive players. Au’Diese Toney and Chris Lykes are scoring savants who perfectly fit the system Eric Musselman runs. Together, they should form a team primed to challenge Kentucky and Alabama for the SEC crown. This program has a way of scoring big on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal and if it clicks again then 25+ wins and finishing in the top 10 should be on the table.