Don’t put stock into early basketball rankings

The UConn mens' basketball team defeated New Haven Sunday afternoon Oct. 30, 2016 in an exhibition matchup at the XL Center. (Jason Haigis/ This Daily Campus)

In the sports world, rankings are perhaps more important than any other type of content. They make it turn. Each week, media members and fans alike clamor over rankings for all sports, looking to see if their team rose, fell or even made the cut at all. Although they are not really important, people love them.

Full disclosure: I’m guilty of this too. Especially with collegiate sports, where a team’s AP ranking sometimes feels like it’s the law of the land when it comes to tournament time, I find myself checking the football and basketball rankings weekly. So when the AP preseason men’s basketball rankings came out last week, I made a beeline down the list to find UConn, where I found that the Huskies were ranked as the No. 18 team in the country.

Most other polls also have the Huskies around there, with Sports Illustrated putting UConn at No. 20 and the USA Today Coaches Poll placing the Huskies at No. 16. ESPN’s power rankings have UConn at No. 11.

Like I said earlier, I love rankings. It’s fun to talk about them, and which teams are where and why. But in general, rankings are pretty dumb, and this year’s Huskies are a perfect example of why.

Ranking a team No. 18 after losing three of the team’s top four scorers in Daniel Hamilton, Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs is hard to comprehend. Add in the fact that Hamilton and Miller were the team’s top two rebounders and will be replaced by an unproven (but talented) freshman class and a young Terry Larrier, and it’s ridiculous to assume that this UConn team will immediately perform as well, or better than, a team that has never been ranked higher than No. 18.

This doesn’t mean that UConn won’t do well this season. Barring some crazy circumstances, they should have a good shot at the second weekend of the tournament. I understand that rankings certainly have to factor in potential - and make no mistake, UConn has a lot of it - but that does not mean that only 17 teams are better than them right now. This UConn team, like so many young college teams, will take some time to grow and figure out what works and what doesn’t. To think that they will be among the country’s best right away is a little too optimistic.

This logic doesn’t just apply to UConn. Just as it overvalues teams such as the Huskies, other teams are inexplicably left out. UConn’s American Athletic Conference rival Cincinnati is a prime example of this. The Bearcats should be a solid team this season, and were predicted by coaches in the American to win the conference. For some reason, the Bearcats are left out of the AP poll and ranked No. 25 in the coaches’ poll, at least eight spots behind the Huskies in either poll.

Does that make any sense? How are the Bearcats, voted to be at least somewhat better team than UConn by the coaches that watch and play against them the most, not even close to UConn’s ranking on the AP poll?

It’s not just the American coaches that side with the Bearcats being a stronger team to start the season. KenPom, an online basketball site specializing in advanced statistics, has Cincinnati ranked No. 28. The Huskies come in at No. 41. Unlike the AP and USA Today polls, KenPom uses actual statistics to compile its rankings. It’s a lot easier to put weight in that than in opinions and eye tests of basketball writers and even some college coaches.

This logic that feeds into these eye-test-based rankings are ridiculous and outdated, but likely won’t change anytime soon. It isn’t easy to evaluate teams week in and week out, especially during the preseason. As the weekly rankings roll out for this season, don’t get too wrapped up in a team’s number. If you are a big college basketball fan and love your fair share of rankings, use KenPom, RPI and other rankings and statistics to help better evaluate your favorite team. They’re more than just a number.


Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering football and women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.