The release of the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll Friday means two things: We’re this close to the start of the 2012-13 season and it’s time to argue.
Not that the poll’s 65 voters missed the mark. For the most part, there is consensus with the top 10. Indiana and Louisville at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, can’t be disputed. Kentucky, Michigan, Kansas and North Carolina State belong in the top 10 too.
But I can’t say I agree with all of it. And that’s the beauty of these subjective attempts to gauge the landscape before any team has actually stepped onto a basketball court and competed. We can debate all day. We won’t have any definitive answers, however, until tipoff.
Here are a few thoughts on the first AP poll of the season:
Ohio State at No. 4 -- I just don’t see it. Yes, Ohio State is a good team, and Thad Matta has recovered from significant losses in the past. But the Buckeyes must make a dramatic shift on both ends of the floor without Jared Sullinger, arguably the top interior player in college basketball the past two seasons. They know they might need time to blend. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Aaron Craft said during Thursday’s Big Ten media day in Chicago. Matta compared losing Sullinger to a tough season at Xavier the year after former All-American and Indiana Pacers forward David West left for the NBA. The 2003-04 Musketeers reached the Elite Eight, but they started 10-9. The Buckeyes will have similar struggles in November and December as they try to solidify an identity with Deshaun Thomas, not Sullinger, at the center of everything. Top 10? I can get with that. But it will take some time before I’m willing to call the Buckeyes one of America’s five best teams, given the transition.
Missouri at No. 15 -- Frank Haith’s squad overachieved throughout the 2011-12 season. The Tigers lacked depth. They had limited size. Yet they entered the NCAA tournament as a Final Four team in a lot of office pools. They lost to Norfolk State in the opening round of the Big Dance, but that hasn’t tempered expectations for the 2012-13 season. But Haith’s success this season will be based on chemistry with a roster that adds several transfers and freshmen. Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey are proven. Laurence Bowers returns too. But this team’s move to the SEC could be hindered by the time it might take for this roster to click with Ricardo Ratliffe, Kim English, Matt Pressey and Marcus Denmon gone and a multitude of new players in the mix. This feels a little high for the Tigers.
UCLA at No. 13 -- Good call. I pegged UCLA as a top-10 team in ESPN’s poll because I figured ShabazzGate would be resolved by now. It’s not. There are no guarantees that Kyle Anderson or Shabazz Muhammad will be available for Ben Howland this season. And that changes every projection. So No. 13 is a solid projection. Maybe the Bruins should be a little higher if there’s an eligibility miracle in the coming days (and Muhammad’s shoulder heals quicker than anticipated) or perhaps a little lower if the mess drags on. But I think the voters were right on this one.
Michigan State at No. 14 -- Nah. Too low. I get it. No Draymond Green. He did everything for this program last season. And his contributions off the floor were just as important as his minutes on it. But the Spartans are more athletic now. And they’re deeper. Freshman Gary Harris is an NBA prospect. Adriean Payne, if he plays smarter this season, could evolve into one of the better bigs in the Big Ten. Keith Appling is capable of running the show for an elite team. A healthy Branden Dawson will expand Michigan State’s versatility on defense. I think the Spartans are a top-10 team, especially if Ohio State is ranked fourth. You know they’re going to be a force on defense. That’s typical. And now they have more options on offense.