Voting for college basketball's preseason All-American team has become a tricky enterprise. In the one-and-done era, at least one or two highly touted freshmen live up to their billing and dominate the scene every year. That trend led the nation's writers to pick last year's most highly touted freshman, North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes, as the first freshman on the team since its inception. Though he eventually came through, he struggled mightily early in the year, and those struggles made the roar of preseason consensus seem silly.
In that way, maybe no freshman was ever going to be on this year's preseason All-American team. It's just easier to pick upperclassmen, you know? Still, thanks to the large number of talented sophomores in the game this season, the 2011-12 preseason All-American selections feel easier and more obvious than most. Thank the lockout, I guess.
The team was announced Monday afternoon, and there are few surprises in the offing. If there's any trend worth noticing, it's the one the Associated Press picked up on with the quickness: Four of the five preseason All-Americans are in fact sophomores. Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger led the way with a unanimous selection, he was joined by classmates Terrence Jones (Kentucky), Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut) and Barnes. The only non-sophomore on the list? Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, as deserving a selection as any of the five.
There isn't much to dispute there, but if any pick feels slightly optimistic, it might be Lamb. Then again, when you're an insanely long 6-foot-5 guard with silky shooting touch, and you spent your freshman year morphing into Kemba Walker's most reliable No. 2 option on a national championship team, the expectations are naturally going to be high. (When the list was first announced, I thought: "Wait, four sophomores? Is Perry Jones really a preseason All-American?" Jones may get there by the end of the year, but this foursome makes much more sense.)
Of course, the preseason All-American team doesn't "matter" in any real sense of the word. It's a national educated guess. Still, these selections do fit the theme of the upcoming season. Last year, we had grown used to the one-and-done era. Everyone assumed at least one freshman would compete for national player of the year. Folks voted accordingly. But 2011-12 feels like a more vintage college hoops year, one defined more by the players who stayed than those who left or arrived. This group of sophomores is the reason.
In a month's time, the team may look silly; we may see a freshman or two use sheer talent to wrest the narrative yet again. But for now, this is the year of the sophomore. Prepare accordingly.