There is no right or wrong preseason poll, but there is a wrong way of constructing one.
Most online preseason polls—specifically those for college basketball—are guilty of using the same erroneous method. Rather than evaluating teams as they currently stand relative to their peers, these poorly conceived polls vainly attempt to project how teams will stack up by season’s end.
Talk about missing the point.
Note to preseason pollsters, coaches and writers included: The poll is not meant to predict how good teams will be down the line on the grounds of arbitrary projections. It’s intended to serve as a litmus test for how teams stack up heading into the season, emphasis on “heading into.”
Here’s our model: Busting Brackets Preseason Top 25
Preseason polls, naturally and often inadvertently, promote freshman biases. Freshmen are evaluated based upon how good they can be—in other words, banking on their best case scenarios—as opposed to how good they are likely to be during the first weeks of the season.
Programs ushering in deep and talented incoming recruiting classes, therefore, are commonly overvalued in the rankings, while teams returning proven college talent [unaccompanied by stellar freshman classes] tend to be undervalued. There’s no other explanation for ranking Kentucky, minus its top six players from last year’s championship team, No. 3, or Michigan, without its two senior captains from a team that never ranked higher than 13th in last year’s coaches’ poll, No. 5, as both the coaches and writers did.
Given the success of last year’s freshman-laden Kentucky team, you can understand why some pollsters looked at Kentucky’s blueprint as the rule, rather than the exception to it. You can’t, however, apply that presumptive thinking to a preseason poll, which should weigh the known variables more heavily than the unknown.
Only once in the last decade (Kentucky last year) did a team with the consensus, top-ranked freshman class go on to win the championship that same season. And even that Kentucky team was less deserving of a preseason No. 1 ranking than North Carolina, which had returned all key players from its 2011 Elite Eight team and brought in a strong incoming recruiting class.
Bottom line: preseason polls are not about projecting where teams will finish. They shouldn’t rely so much on forecasting unknown variables like how productive a freshman class will be. That’s when the voting gets skewed. Save the empty speculation for the message boards.
The preseason college basketball poll should be about evaluating where teams stand now, judging by, among other factors, their returning talent, coaching and what we can reasonably expect from the incoming freshmen. Teams whose rosters are gutted from the season prior and must rely heavily on newcomers (transfers, recruits or red-shirts) should be ranked accordingly. However talented a program’s incoming freshman class may be, let these unproven paper tigers prove their worth on the court before disrespecting other teams that return players proven at the college level.
There’s no sense in sketching the end-of-season Top 25 five months in advance. Let the preseason poll do simply what the title suggests: rank the teams according to how they compare…in the preseason. Then sit back as the on-court play dictates the rankings for the next 19 weeks.