Join us as we take a look at the preseason rankings in college basketball and search for teams that might not be able to live up to some lofty NCAA futures odds.
We're just days away from the tip-off for the 2015-16 Men's NCAA Basketball season and the beginning of the race to the Final Four next April in Houston. And naturally, with the advent of the campaign so close, preseason rankings are out.
The early rankings, which will be reworked more than a dozen times between now and the conference tournaments next March, have many of the usual suspects we'd expect to see in such a lineup. North Carolina and Kentucky alternate 1-2 in the AP and Coaches Polls; likewise, Duke and Kansas flip-flop in the 4-5 slots.
Sitting between those four perennial favorites are the Maryland Terrapins at No. 3 in both sets of rankings. In just their second Big Ten season, Mark Turgeon's Terps are expected to rule the roost in one of college basketball's toughest conferences, putting them in elite company on the NCAA basketball odds at 8/1 to cut down the nets at NRG Stadium.
Several factors contribute to the expectations, starting with how Maryland exploded on the Big Ten scene last season en route to a No. 4 seed at the Big Dance. The Terrapins beat Michigan State twice before losing to the Spartans in the conference tourney, and were one of only four teams to hand Wisconsin a loss in 2014-15.
Maryland is also at its best when a couple of Big Ten programs are expected to struggle a bit more than in the past. Wisconsin will definitely go through some growing pains after losing so much talent from a team that went to back-to-back Final Fours, and Ohio State is going to be dependent on a lot of youth advancing quickly on the learning curve.
Talent, of course, is a huge reason why so much is expected of the Terrapins. They did bid farewell to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, so someone has to step into their leadership roles. But Melo Trimble is back after a huge freshman season, and incoming frosh Diamond Stone will be joined by Jake Layman and Michal Cevosky to form a big frontcourt. Turgeon also has Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon at his disposal this year.
Still, I don't see the Terps as a Final Four team, and am not as convinced as others they are going to almost walk away with the Big Ten. They have some tough non-conference games against Georgetown, North Carolina and Connecticut early on, and five of their eight league games against top 25 squads are on the road. Maryland could wind up in the top 10 at the end, but the Terrapins don't belong in the same elite company with the big boys yet.
'Zags Will Once Again Fall Short Of The Title
They've sucked me in several times before, but not this year. My second pick for a team that will not live up to its preseason rankings is the Gonzaga Bulldogs who enter the season ranked 9/11 in the two polls and 20/1 on the college basketball futures odds to finally win a championship after reaching the Elite Eight last spring.
Granted, the 'Zags are still the best team going out in the West Coast Conference where BYU is their toughest challenger with Saint Mary's expected to take a step back this time around. But Mark Few lost a ton of backcourt talent and the Bulldogs are very thin at guard, something that teams from the bigger conferences will exploit once March Madness arrives.
'Zona Overrated In Pac-12
My final NCAA basketball pick to disappoint is Arizona. The Wildcats are the highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 in the two polls, going off 12th according to the writers and 10th by the coaches. Bookmaker has them at 35/1 to win the NCAA Championship, odds that are longer than the California Golden Bears (30/1) who sit 14th in both preseason rankings.
Sean Miller is looking to fill the top four spots in his 8-man rotation from a year ago, the biggest shoes to fill belonging to Stanley Johnson, who left for the NBA after his freshman season, and senior guard TJ McConnell. Miller will have new talent to help plug those holes, like freshman guard Alonzo Trier and senior forward Ryan Anderson, a transfer from Boston College. I'm looking for Cal to ultimately win the Pac-12, not Arizona.