Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Top 25 Poll Out: Texas Is Underrated

The first AP poll of the year isn't out yet, but the USA Today/ESPN poll is, and the full rankings are here. You can compare what those voters thought to what I am thinking, with my most recent BP68 posted here. For the most part, those voters almost entirely agree with me, which is actually a little disconcerting. In past years I've found a bunch of teams that were very under- or over-ranked, and the official preseason polls tend to be fairly awful. So having so many teams ranked so similarly bothers me. That said, I do see one team that is way off, and that's Texas.

Look, I understand why people are down on Texas. Texas finished last year with an RPI of 35th, and they earned an 8 seed in the Tournament and were dispatched in the first round by 9 seed Wake Forest. They then lost Dexter Pittman, Damion James and Justin Mason to graduation, plus Avery Bradley to the NBA. And they only brought in two freshmen, meaning that by my calculation they're actually short two scholarship players. So I understand many people ranking them in the 20s. But here's why I disagree:

First of all, Texas was way better last year than people realize. At the end of the season, even after that loss to Wake Forest, they were ranked the 18th best team in the country by Pomeroy, and were ranked 9th by Sagarin. They started the season 17-0 and were ranked #1 in the country, before they lost two very close road games in hostile environments against good teams (Kansas State and UConn), and they just seemed to lose every close game the rest of the season.

The biggest reason last season fell apart was injuries. The Dogus Balbay injury was the toughest. He is a tremendous offensive creator and distributor, and he was their lockdown perimeter defender. He's totally unknown to casual fans because he's a foreign player with a funny name, but in my opinion he's one of the best players in the Big 12. They lost that Tournament game because Wake Forest guard Ishmael Smith absolutely torched them, including the game winning shot with two seconds remaining - that wouldn't have happened with Balbay out there. Guard Varez Ward was also knocked out with injury. Those two losses turned Texas into a very thin backcourt, and forced J'Covan Brown to play point guard, a position that he looked very unnatural playing at first. By the end of the season Brown was actually a pretty decent point guard, and that experience will really help him this season when he is playing alongside Balbay. The loss of Avery Bradley is overrated because he was drafted high, but he was drafted high on potential. He was actually a fairly inefficient player as a freshman at Texas.

With Balbay, Brown, Jai Lucas and star recruit Cory Joseph, Texas will have a very strong backcourt - much stronger than they had last year. The loss of Dexter Pittman and Damion James hurts, but those two were always a bit overrated. Their size is going to be missed, but they weren't very efficient ball players. They were poor defensive rebounders for their size, and it showed up in Texas's stats. The Longhorns were the 80th ranked defensive rebounding team last season according to Pomeroy, which is shocking. They gave up 19 offensive rebounds in that loss to Wake Forest, while collecting only 23 defensive rebounds. It was only the scoring of J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton off the bench that even kept Texas in that game.

Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson and Alexis Wangmene are all athletic forwards that return, and they are actually more sound defensive rebounders than the two outgoing stars. And don't forget super-frosh Tristan Thompson, who at 6'9" has the height to play in the paint. They will miss the behemoth size of Dexter Pittman, but they will be quicker, more athletic and better with the ball.

I think Texas is a Top Ten team, and they actually have fewer questions than the other three teams contending for the Big 12 title. Kansas still has to get Josh Selby eligible and probably lost even more talent from last season than Texas, Baylor has to deal with the LaceDarius Dunn mess, and Kansas State is going to have to prove that they can handle the sky high expectations in Manhattan. It's a big mistake to underestimate to the Longhorns


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

Since our discussion last week, a few teams popped onto the radar for this season. Can I get your thoughts on possible wins? Wofford, New Mexico State, St. Mary's, Oakland, Cleveland State and Ohio U. Any of these really stand out?

Jeff said...

Well, I'd definitely lay off New Mexico State, St. Mary's and Cleveland State. I don't expect any of those teams to win their conference - so there's no reason to take them over Utah State, Gonzaga or Butler, respectively. Also, New Mexico State has particular problems with Jahmar Young leaving school and Wendell McKines out until January or so with a foot injury.

Wofford is good, but I think their competition will be far improved (particularly Davidson and Charleston), so even if they're as good as last season they won't win as many games.

Ohio might be a decent pick. I did pick them to win the MAC.

Oakland has a good shot of winning their conference (I did choose Oral Roberts), but like last year they have a brutal out-of-conference schedule that limits how many wins they can collect. Last year they went 17-1 in conference, so they really have nowhere to go but down. Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia are all on the schedule. Not a lot of wins there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. That brings up a good point in Oral Roberts. What are your thoughts with them? I looked at them as well and they seem intriguing. Any others that jump out at you that I may have missed (i.e. Weber State, Fairfield)? I won't bug you anymore and let you get down to business. I do enjoy your blog and look forward to reading (and contributing as a guest) throughout the year.

Jeff said...

I see the Summit as being a three way battle between Oral Roberts, IUPUI and Oakland. I picked Oral Roberts, but it will be close. Same for the Big Sky, where I took Weber State but think it will be close. And in the MAAC I picked Iona, although Fairfield has a shot.

The thing is, with conferences like that, the only way a team is getting you 25-27 wins is if they dominate. It's a huge risk, because if the team only ends up being second best in the conference then you're looking at 18-21 wins and you're out of the contest.

I think you've got to take teams that you know are going to win their conference (i.e. Duke, Utah State, Butler, Gonzaga, Murray State...).

With all this thought you're putting into this, you'd better win this contest!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I know, I know. I'm looking for the next Siena or BYU, I guess. Paralysis by analysis. I will keep you posted on my progress along the way. It really is a good contest. Plus, I really like following the next "break-out" team. Those are the ones who can do some damage in March (i.e. Northern Iowa, Butler, ODU, etc.). Will let you know how it goes.