Three Thoughts on the Preseason Coaches Poll: Big Ten EditionPosted by Deepak Jayanti on October 19th, 2012
The season tips off in approximately three weeks but the first official rankings have already been released. The USA Today Coaches’ poll was published this week and there are three Big Ten teams ranked in the top five – Indiana (#1), Ohio State (#4) and Michigan (#5) — with Michigan State (#14) and Wisconsin (#21) taking two more spots. What do these rankings really mean? That is a loaded question up for debate but the poll is generally an indication by the coaches around the country about who they believe the top teams are before the season begins. The good news for the B1G is that this poll shines the national spotlight directly on the conference. The bad news is that the same poll will cause hoops fans and the media to dissect the league’s performance especially during the first month of the season. The following are some key thoughts about the Big Ten schools ranked in the USA Today Top 25 poll:
- The Big Ten Is Under Immense Pressure: The good old phrase, “there is nowhere to go but down,” applies in this situation. Nobody is surprised to see Indiana ranked #1 but the Buckeyes and Wolverines’ rankings may raise some eyebrows. Both of those teams return three key starters from last season – Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., for OSU and Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Jordan Morgan for Michigan. Returning starters and potential All-Americans will trigger a high preseason ranking but three teams in the top five is still a big deal for the league. Having said that, if any of the three teams slip during the early non-conference games, they will slide down the rankings fairly quickly which will eventually lead to “the Big Ten is still overrated” claims among many hoops fans. That is the nature of preseason rankings so it is important to understand the selection criteria which is based on some evidence from the past seasons along with the talent on paper. Regardless of the pressure, the conference commissioner is probably breathing a sigh of a relief after this preseason poll considering that the Big Ten’s football teams are not doing very well in the new BCS poll. The only team that could have been in the first BCS Top 25 is currently ineligible – the Ohio State Buckeyes – speaking of whom…
- Is Ohio State Ranked Too High? Michigan’s freshman class may have two eventual starters and key contributors for John Beilein – forward Mitch McGary and guard Glenn Robinson III. The additional firepower from the freshmen is an obvious enhancement to the Wolverines of 2012-13 and justifies their ranking. But Ohio State lost two of its key starters, Jared Sullinger and William Buford, and was still voted into the top five. It can be argued that Ohio State’s initial ranking is too high but there are several intangibles on this team which could have led to the Buckeyes earning a higher spot than Michigan. Lenzelle Smith Jr. got plenty of exposure last season but consistently held back because he was a fourth scoring option at best. He took over certain games offensively during last season (28 points against Indiana and 17 against Michigan) but did not fully utilize his skill set because the offense revolved around Sullinger in the paint. Even though the Buckeyes lost Sullinger, these rankings recognize that Thad Matta will adjust his system to a quicker offense to fit his talent this season, specifically with Smith and center Amir Williams. The Buckeyes’ ranking also indicates the vast amount of respect that Matta has gained over the years since his first Final Four appearance in 2007. Coaches around the league understand that he is one of the best managers of talent in all of college basketball and will quickly adjust his system, not only during the offseason, but also after the games begin.
- Wisconsin Cracks the Top 25: Bo Ryan is used to the routine of consistently replacing seniors in his program. Mike Wilkinson, Alando Tucker, Brian Butch and Trevon Hughes are just some of the key seniors whose departure led everybody to believe that Ryan has to “rebuild” his team again. But coaches know better and won’t underestimate his abilities to quickly hold the next player in line accountable for his performance. Jordan Taylor averaged 14.8 PPG last season and was a significant part of the Badger offense. Even though Ryan Evans (11 PPG) and Jared Berggren (10.5 PPG) won’t necessarily destroy defenses with their offensive skills, Ryan will undoubtedly incorporate younger talent into the offense. The Badgers’ Top 25 ranking also conveys the message that the voters have fairly high expectations from Sam Dekker, the 6’8″ freshman wing who could finish the season as the top scorer for the Badgers. Overall, the Badgers have enough respect throughout the country to be ranked despite losing a former All-American.