The first “official” preseason college basketball rankings are out: The first edition of the 2017-2018 USA Today Coaches Poll was revealed on Thursday. Although the UNC Tar Heels are the reigning national champions, that team’s frontcourt production is almost entirely gone with just Luke Maye remaining, and questions about how the Heels will replace the departed Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley have not, apparently, been satisfactorily answered. Due to one of the strongest backcourts in the nation led by Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry, though, UNC couldn’t fall too far, and hence were ranked #9 in the Coaches Poll with no first-place votes.
Predictably, Duke is ranked #1, with 20 out of 32 first-place votes. The Blue Devils’ influx of freshman talent and the tantalizing potential of a Grayson Allen without attitude problems make Duke an obvious upside pick. Potential UNC non-conference opponent Michigan State will start the year at #2 with 9 first-place votes. Most of the rest of the top 10 is comprised mostly of college basketball’s perennial powers: following MSU, we have Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona (2), Villanova, Florida, and Wichita State before UNC. Rounding out the Top 10 is Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team, which has been quietly rising up the ranks of college basketball for the last couple of years despite underachieving in the past two postseasons.
The ACC continues its stranglehold on college basketball, with five teams in the top 25 of this list, most of any conference: After Duke and UNC, Miami comes in at 12, Notre Dame follows closely at 14, and Louisville rounds out the ACC’s representatives at 16. Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State all received votes but did not make the top 25. Between its nonconference schedule and playing in the ACC, UNC will play at least 11 games against an opponent that received votes for the preseason Coaches Poll Top 25.
One notable aspect of this poll is how it illustrates the volatility of college basketball today. The 2016-17 NCAA Tournament’s Final Four consisted of UNC, Gonzaga, Oregon, and South Carolina. To start this season, UNC is ranked 9th, Gonzaga 19th, South Carolina received just one voting point, and Oregon is absent from the poll entirely. Then again, those weren’t the teams that last year’s preseason poll had at the top, either: Duke started last year at the top as well, and UNC started 6th. That’s why, as they say, they play the game. Preseason rankings might have their uses, but there is a lot of basketball to be played and a lot of things are going to change across the board.
The entire Coaches Poll can be found here. The first AP poll will be released on October 30th.