Teams on the outside looking in at Way-Too-Early Top 25
Preseason polls are always filled with missteps.
Arizona entered last season ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25. By Week 4, after losing three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Wildcats were unranked.
Loyola-Chicago, a Final Four team, didn't earn a vote in the preseason poll, but Minnesota (15th), Louisville (16th) and Northwestern (19th) -- three teams that missed the NCAA tournament -- were all ranked. It's a fluid process.
The Way-Too-Early Top 25 features most of the contenders mentioned in other men's basketball polls. We all have Kansas, Kentucky and Duke in the top five. Tennessee, Gonzaga and Nevada aren't far behind.
There's disagreement after the top 10, however, in a year filled with promising programs. Maybe we've nailed it. Maybe there's another Loyola-Chicago we've missed.
Here are some of the teams that didn't make the cut in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, and the reasons they were not included:
Maryland: Too much talent gone
Bruno Fernando (10.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.2 BPG) could develop into a first-team All-Big Ten selection if he continues to improve after a tremendous freshman season. Leading scorer Anthony Cowan (15.8 PPG) returns as well. The Terps also will add a top-15 recruiting class backed by five-star forward Jalen Smith.
The Terrapins lost Justin Jackson, who missed 21 games last season with a shoulder injury, as well as Kevin Huerter (14.8 PPG) to the NBA draft. The additions don't trump the losses from what was an ordinary squad that finished 7-9 in the Big Ten and 67th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
UCLA: No reason to trust Steve Alford
Since his arrival in 2013, coach Steve Alford has assembled multiple ranked recruiting classes. His 2018 class is ranked third by ESPN, the third consecutive top-five class for UCLA.
Seven Bruins have been drafted in the first round under Alford, yet UCLA has never won a Pac-12 regular-season title or advanced past the Sweet 16. That's why we're hesitant to include UCLA in our early top-25.
Five-star center Moses Brown promises another strong pool of young talent for Alford. But the Bruins couldn't topple a lukewarm Pac-12 (they finished third) with first-round pick Aaron Holiday (20.3 PPG, 43 percent from beyond the arc) and serviceable big man Thomas Welsh (12.6 PPG, 53 percent inside the arc).
Considering UCLA's recent history of falling short of expectations, it's unclear how it has matured into a squad that warrants inclusion.
The Gators, blessed with a diverse and capable recruiting class, can replace Egor Koulechov's production, but Chiozza's departure generates more concerns.
There are candidates to replace the valuable point guard, but he was a veteran leader who willed that program to big victories throughout his career.
The Gators were a different team whenever he stepped off the floor. They collected 1.11 points per possession when he was available and 1.05 PPP when he was on the bench, per hooplens.com. They also held opponents to 0.99 PPP and made 38 percent of their 3-pointers with Chiozza on the floor.
That's a void the Gators might struggle to fill next season, despite the return of leading scorer Hudson (15.5 PPG). Until they prove they've found a responsible replacement, they'll remain slightly outside our top 25.
Cincinnati: The offense will take a major hit
The Bearcats have been a perennial defensive power under Mick Cronin, and that track record matters. The Bearcats haven't finished outside the top 25 in KenPom.com's defensive efficiency rankings since 2010.
But Cincinnati lost key players in Jacob Evans, Gary Clark and Kyle Washington off a team that won the American last season. And in the past two seasons, the Bearcats made more than 50 percent of their shots inside the arc for the first time during Cronin's tenure.
So while the defense will reset and probably maintain a spot among the nation's best, that trio of players was the key to Cincinnati's offensive improvement and consistency. Their departure could lead to a significant step back.
We all know Archie Miller can coach. In 2014, he led Dayton, a blue-collar squad, to the Elite Eight. Langford's arrival closes the talent gap and changes expectations about the Hoosiers. Now, Miller has a squad that will be led by a player who might vie for the No. 1 slot in next summer's NBA draft.
Is a team that lost to Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten tournament worthy of a top-25 spot after adding a five-star phenom? Maybe. But the Hoosiers made just 32 percent of their 3-pointers and 66 percent of their free throws, major problems for an offensive unit that finished in the 90s in efficiency.
Langford is a star. He changes the dynamic of this program. The Hoosiers, however, might need some time to develop chemistry and commence the critical work on some of their glaring offensive challenges.
Louisville: Chris Mack is good, but he's in a tough spot
Chris Mack to Louisville was the most significant coaching move of the offseason. The former Xavier coach inherits a Louisville program with the fan support, resources and exposure to regain the prestige it lost after last season.
But it will take time. Mack is a good coach, but he had stars like Trevon Bluiett on his Xavier squad. This Louisville team lost 45.9 PPG and four starters from last season's squad.
Louisville fans understand the value of a coach. David Padgett was a solid coach, but he wasn't Rick Pitino, who won a national title in 2013. Mack is among the elite coaches within the game. And that's a significant upgrade for the Cardinals.
But he needs more playmakers. Perhaps he'll overachieve this season, but he'll probably need more time to assemble the talent necessary to help him compete in the ACC.