College Hoops Fascinates Me

Recently, I blogged about my inability to figure out fundamental things about college hoops. Judging by the comments to my posting, people either didn’t read it, didn’t care, or didn’t think I said anything worth spending any time discussing; only one person commented, and he thought my posting was dumb — he told me I was “making it much more complicated than it really is.”

Well, my motto has always been: If at first you say something that people aren’t at all interested in, ELABORATE, and then ELABORATE SOME MORE. So, I’m back to tell you that, as the college hoops season unfolds, I continue to be amazed and confused by the sport.

To put my thoughts into context, consider two sets of Top 25 rankings. The first is from week 1 of the season. Here is a link. The second is from this week. Here is a link.

Two things jump out at me:
The essence of what makes a college basketball team good befuddles even the people who decide which teams are good for a living. To illustrate, Syracuse was not even ranked in the Top 25 during week 1. Now, the Orange are #5 in the country. (Also consider Kansas State, who is now a top-10 team, but was not ranked in week 1.) On the flip side, California was ranked #11 in week 1. Now, the Golden Bears are not ranked. (Also consider Michigan, who opened at #15 and now isn’t ranked.) Apparently, I’m not the only person who doesn’t understand how a college team becomes good; the people WHOSE JOB IT IS TO RANK THE TEAMS have lots of trouble figuring out who is good and who is not, even after spending months learning about all of the teams.

Look at some of the schools that are ranked, and some of the schools that are not. UCLA and Indiana, two traditional powerhouses, are nowhere to be seen. Northern Iowa, though, is climbing the charts. Yup, Northern Iowa. You know, the Panthers. (What, you didn’t know?)

The factors that are generally thought of as making teams good (tradition and coaching, among others) apparently aren’t helping UCLA or Indiana become better than Northern Iowa. Amazing.

The best explanation I can think of is that, because players only stay with their college teams for a maximum of 4 years, we should expect teams to go from good to bad and back again more frequently than professional teams do. That’s fair enough, except that there are almost as many exceptions to the rule as there are teams that prove it: Pittsburgh lost most of its talent, and the Panthers are now a top-10 team (for what it’s worth, they were not ranked in week 1). Syracuse, too — they lost Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf, and, again, were not picked to even be a top 25 team. Yet, at this point of the season, they seem to be better than last year’s team. How does this happen? (And please don’t tell me it’s the coaching, unless you’re ready to say that Rick Pitino and Ben Howland can’t coach.)

I’ve all but given up trying to figure out how a college team gets to be good. At this point, I’m happy to just accept that it’s the nature of the sport to be unpredictable, and enjoy it for what it is.

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