Polls never really mean much. The games still have to be played, and no trophies are given out for poll rankings. That being said, the release of the preseason basketball Coaches Poll signifies that the season is right around the bend and sparks some excitement, especially if you are a fan of a school such as the Oregon Ducks that is having a dismal football season.
This year’s poll shows just three Pac-12 teams in the Top 25, suggesting no change to the recent disappointing trend of a lack of competitive depth in the conference. A top-heavy conference, whether in reality or perception, often equals fewer NCAA tournament bids. It almost goes without saying that the winner of the ACC will get a No. 1 seed no matter how many conference losses they end up with. Last year when Oregon won both the regular season Pac-12 title and the tournament championship there was a spate of claims that the Ducks were “overrated.”
This season, Oregon was voted fifth and received one first-place vote. The four teams that placed higher than Oregon are the typical blueblood programs that always have preseason hype. While the rankings are not unreasonable there is no reason to think that the Ducks are out of place.
1. Duke: The last time Duke was on a basketball court they were beaten badly by the Ducks for a spot in the Elite Eight. (How quickly that has been forgotten.) The Ducks put on a shooting spectacle. They were faster and more physical. They overwhelmed the Blue Devils on defense and seemed unstoppable on offense. The Ducks won by 14, all while missing nine free throws. In that game Brandon Ingram was the high scorer for Duke, while starting guards Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen combined for a dismal 10-25 shooting night.
Ingram was a one-and-done, while Duke’s best bench player has transferred. Kennard and Grayson are returning this year. Most likely the two prized recruits Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum will join them in the starting lineup along with Matt Jones. However, Giles recently had knee surgery and is out an unknown amount of time. When he comes back there will be some chemistry issues, as he is used to an offense that funnels through him. The team will have spent a fair amount of the season learning how to play together in his absence.
2. Kansas: It won’t be too long a wait to find out just how good this team is; the Jayhawks will match up in consecutive games against No. 12 Indiana and Duke. It’s already known that the Kansas backcourt is the best in the country. Frank Mason III is a senior who averaged 12 points and nearly five assists per game last season. Devonte Graham is a junior who averaged 11 points and almost four assists per game. Both averaged more than 30 minutes a game. Their ability to take care of the ball also sets them apart. Both averaged fewer than two turnovers a game and defensively averaged more than a steal each.
Kansas also has two newcomers who will make an immediate impact. At 6’11 and 270 pounds, Udoka Asubuike represents an inside presence that will be tough for a lot of teams to overcome. Josh Jackson is a clear one-and-done superstar. During a prolific high school career, he averaged 28 points per game as a sophomore before becoming an all-American and choosing Kansas as his next stop on his path to the NBA. The only question with this team is whether the front court can stay out of foul trouble and who their primary bench players will be.
3. Villanova: When last year’s Coaches Poll was released the Wildcats were ranked ninth. When the season ended they were cutting down the nets. The last time Kris Jenkins shot the ball in a collegiate game, it was a three-pointer to win the National Championship.
He returns, along with leading scorer Josh Hart. They will have to replace four-year point guard Ryan Arcidiacono but Big East all-Freshman team selection Jalen Brunson appears capable of filling that void. Brunson is generally viewed as a pass-first point guard but still averaged more than nine points per game last season, including a 25-point game against Temple. If Villanova is able to replace the rebounding and defensive contributions of Daniel Ochefu, they could be well on their way to winning everything again.
4. Kentucky: Kentucky returns only one starter from last year, yet they reloaded in the way only they can. Three of the top-10 freshman recruits are joining the team. Before even playing a game, some are calling it the best recruiting class John Calipari has ever had. How long will it take a lineup of 5-star recruits to become a competitive unit? That’s the National Championship question in Lexington. Freshmen, no matter how good, are still freshmen. LSU had the number one recruit on their team last year and did not even make the NCAA tournament.
Given Calipari’s track record with highly talented recruiting classes, one would have to think that with 30 games before the post season tournaments, he will have the team running on all cylinders when it matters.
Although Oregon won’t be matching up in the regular season with any of the above teams, a potential matchup with No. 11 Wisconsin in the second round of the Maui Jim Invitational and with No. 6 North Carolina in the championship could take place.
Last year when this poll was released the Ducks were unranked, and five months later they earned a No. 1 seed. This year, they were voted into the top five with a first place vote. No longer a true spoiler, it is time for the Oregon Ducks basketball team to play up to expectations.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove
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