Preseason All-America Teams Are All Fine and Well Except For Being RightPosted by Bennet Hayes on November 7th, 2013
There is no more optimistic time on the college basketball calendar than the final days leading up to the season. Players feel confident in their readiness for the five-month grind ahead, coaches are left to dream only of best-case scenarios (and often, better), and fans and media are fully entitled to the prognostications of their choosing. It is an undeniably exciting week for a number of reasons, but one item that always adds to the enthusiasm of the days leading up to the year is the unveiling of the Preseason All-America teams. Recognizing the individuals most likely to influence the season ahead not only makes for great banter as we begin the year, but also energizes the players and programs included on the lists. But for all the attention paid to these preseason All-American lists, how much do they really matter come January, let alone March? If the precedent of the past 10 years means anything, we should be compiling these teams with the firm knowledge that they are very much subject to change.
Most major media outlets generate a preseason All-American team (including us here at Rush the Court), but the Associated Press selections are typically considered to hold the most prestige. In the last 10 seasons, exactly one in three (17 of 51) AP preseason All-American First Teamers found themselves on the postseason team five months later. If we include only the last seven seasons, that percentage drops to just 25 percent, and twice in that span have the AP postseason squads gone without even one of their preseason members. Furthermore, half of the preseason teams in those two chaotic years (2006-07 and 2009-10) failed to make an appearance on either the second or third teams at the end of the two seasons. So yes, there is a simple lesson here: Inclusion on the preseason All-America team does little to ensure a spot on the more informed March iteration of the squad. Why is the preseason/postseason double such a difficult feat? Could the preseason honor actually make the ultimate recognition harder to receive? One reason for the inconsistency between the two teams is the blatant reticence of voters to anoint freshman in the preseason. Andrew Wiggins became just the second freshman to appear on the preseason First Team in the last 28 years of voting (the first, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, didn’t even come close to delivering on the hype in 2010-11), but in the last seven years alone, there have been eight freshmen who earned All-American First Team accolades in March. While accurately selecting impact freshmen is admittedly a more difficult chore than identifying returning stars, the inclusion of Wiggins and near-insertion of Kentucky freshman Julius Randle (an AP Second Teamer, but First Teamer for RTC and many other outlets) shows some awareness of the changing – or, already-changed – times.
Determining whether the preseason accolade makes the player a tougher March selection is a more difficult proposition. It’s hard to imagine the award adding too much extra pressure – any preseason All-American will already be battling the burden of expectation, but the alternate narrative of an off-the-radar player could ultimately prove more seductive than the story of the player that possessed the spotlight all along. For an example, let’s take a look at last year’s Indiana team. Cody Zeller began the year as a preseason All-American and National Player of the Year favorite, while teammate Victor Oladipo was an afterthought in November, failing to garner even honorable mention status on the preseason teams. Of course, we all know how the script was flipped come March, when it was Oladipo earning National Player of the Year consideration and Zeller finding himself shut out from All-American first teams.
Oladipo was far from undeserving of all the hardware he received, but could the pull of that “emerging star” narrative have blinded voters a bit? Ken Pomeroy’s metrics rated Zeller third in the NPOY race – a fairly significant escalation from Oladipo’s ninth place finish. His numbers fail to fully account for Oladipo’s lockdown defense and contagious energy, however, and look, Zeller didn’t dominate the way many had imagined but the overall metrics have to bring at least a little pause. How many preseason features have you seen on “the best player that nobody knows about?” Everyone is looking for the story that nobody is talking about, so it only stands to reason that the buzz around the players that everyone has been talking about from day one could grow at least a little stale by March.
So Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Russ Smith, Doug McDermott and Mitch McGary – congratulations on the early hype. Hope to see all you guys in March, too. Just don’t mind me in the interim, because I won’t be holding my breath.