By Lenn Robbins
By now you have learned certain things in life are meaningless.
The fortune inside the cookie. Meaningless.
The LCD boards in every subway station. Meaningless.
ToyotaThon…You get it.
Such is the case with preseason college basketball rankings. Pathetically, utterly meaningless.
Michigan State, one of the nation’s premier programs, came into the season with its first-ever preseason No.1 ranking under coach Tom Izzo. That lasted all of one game.
The Spartans were upended by No.2 Kentucky, 69-62, Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in The Garden. No. 4 Duke technically upset No.3 Kansas, 68-66, in the other game.
“There’s a chance we could be ranked No. 1 for the first time in the history of our school to start out the season, which means — unfortunately — nothing,” Izzo said at the team’s media day.
Why the sport continues this tradition isn’t a mystery. The angst of the rankings makes for a lot of headlines and handwringing. A lot of diehard college hoop fans don’t start paying attention until January so this is good for the sport – theoretically.
The coach of the team picked No.1 usually reacts in one of two ways:
Exasperated indignation: “Obviously no one has seen us practice. If they did, we might not be in the Top 25.”
Or, outright dismissal: “Doesn’t mean a thing. If we’re No.1 at the end of the season, then I’ll be excited.”
The early rankings are more meaningless than ever, fortunately, because they don’t matter when it comes time to select the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA, masters of making the simple complicated, introduced the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) last season. Although it relies too much on analytics for my taste, it is as objective as an IRS accountant.
The NET is comprised of five valuations – team value index, net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin.
The team value index rewards teams that beat good teams. It takes into account the opponent, location and outcome.
Net efficiency is a team’s offensive efficiency minus its defensive efficiency. Waaay to nerdy for me.
Winning percentage is just that.
Adjusted win percentage factors in location of games and result. A road win is worth 1.4. A home loss is -1.4. A neutral site loss, such as the Champions Classic, is +1 or -1
Scoring margin is a team’s total points minus its opponent’s points. The winning margin was capped at 10 points per game so it doesn’t matter if the Spartans beat Binghamton by 12 or 50 in its next game. (Disclaimer: author is a Stony Brook grad).
So what did we learn about the nation’s top four ranked teams. Oops, those rankings.
Izzo has decided to challenge the best player on what might be his best team. After guard Cassius Winston scored a game-high 21 points (1-of-7 on 3’s) and had just four assists, Izzo had this to say to ESPN.
“Cassius was a little tired tonight,” he said. “I was surprised because he’s in really good shape.”
Calipari said he didn’t start freshman Tyrese Maxey because he wanted his five-star recruit to come off the bench firing. Maxey had a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting. More impressive is that the freshman got to the line 10 times in his first college game, making nine.
His 3 with a minute left proved to be the game winner. Don’t expect Maxey to be coming off the bench for long.
“What I saw today is what I saw in high school,” Calipari said. “I [had] not seen it to this point. I’m in practice, where’s the sniper that I recruited? … But the two days prior to this, all I talked about was you be that sniper — play. We need you to get baskets for us.”
Duke has been a perennial power under Coach K because of one word – defense. Yes, teams usually look bad on offense this early in the season but that doesn’t excuse the 28 turnovers Kansas committed.
If the Dukies, who shot 35.9 percent from the field (Kansas shot 46-percent0 weren’t this relentless on defense, they don’t eke out the two-point win. Which means Duke’s offense has a loooong way to go. Freshman Cassius Stanley was the only Duke player to shoot 50-percent or better from the field.
‘Overall, we were able to stay fairly fresh defensively,’’ said Krzyzewski. “And that’s gonna have to be a key for our basketball team.”
Bill Self certainly wasn’t laughing on the inside after those 28 turnovers. When asked if it was a positive sign that his Jayhawks only lost by two, he quipped, “I guess if you are Tony Robbins you could look at it that way.”
Kansas has NBA-type height in the 7-foot Uduke Azubike, 6-10 David McCormack, 6-9
Silvio De Soussa, 6-8 Tristain Enaruna and 6-5 Marcus Garrett. The Jayhawks outrebounded Duke, 40-30.
But if the Jayhawks don’t get better point guard play, that height gets negated. Devon Dotson (six turnovers, one assist) was outplayed by Duke’s Tre Jones (seven assists, three turnovers).