While America is engrossed in all sorts of sports this time of year (NFL, college football, MLB playoffs and even the NHL), it’s easy to forget is that we are just a few weeks away from the start of college hoops season. Frankly, it can’t come a moment too soon.
The latest reminder that the season is right around the corner came on Thursday, when the first USA Today/Coaches Poll was released. You can see the full list here, but to the surprise of no one, the pollsters got a few teams wrong. Duke at No. 1 seems on point, but it gets a little dicey from there.
Who’s overrated and who’s underrated? Here are 10 teams:
Overrated: No. 3 Villanova
Call me crazy, but I don't understand understand what everyone sees in ‘Nova. Do I like the returning pieces (Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson) from last year’s championship team? Sure. But I also worry about the void in leadership after the departure of seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, and the lack of size up front with Ochefu’s departure and freshman Omari Spellman ruled ineligible for the season.
The Wildcats should fall somewhere in the eight to 10 range. But not top three in the country.
Underrated: No. 4 Kentucky
There aren’t many teams that would have a legitimate gripe with being ranked only No. 4 in the country, but the Wildcats are undoubtedly one of them. Kentucky is stacked from top to bottom with no obvious, overwhelming weakness. The Wildcats have three star guards (Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk), shooting on the perimeter (Derek Willis) and -- unlike last year -- size down low (with freshman Bam Adebayo and sophomore Isaac Humphries). They also have the overall depth that the team sorely lacked in 2016.
A case could be made for the Wildcats at No. 1, and looking at their combination of skilled freshman and experienced veterans, they should be no worse than No. 2 in this poll.
Underrated: No. 5 Oregon
The last time we saw the Ducks, they were making waves nationally both for beating up Duke in the Sweet 16 and then for hurting Coach K’s feelings in the postgame handshake line. The Ducks lost in the Elite Eight to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma, but the question must be asked: After winning the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament titles, earning a No. 1 seed, advancing to the Elite Eight and returning four starters, couldn’t you make the case this is the No. 1 team in the country?
Yes, I know Dillon Brooks will miss the start of the season with a foot injury. But Oregon is a legitimate national championship contender.
Overrated: No. 9 Michigan State
I’m a believer in Tom Izzo, but not in Izzo with this specific team. Not only did Michigan State lose three key seniors (including National Player of the Year Denzel Valentine), but it replaced them with a bunch of freshmen, a couple of whom believe they’re “one-and-done” guys.
Izzo is a brilliant coach, but he doesn’t always get along with guys who’ve been in his program for two or three years, let alone two or three months. Michigan State might figure things out by March. But the Spartans will struggle at the beginning of the season.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY SportsMike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Underrated: No. 10 Wisconsin
Now this is a Big Ten team I can get behind! The Badgers won 11 of their last 13 regular season games last season (including three against Top 10 teams), advanced to the Sweet 16 and return all five starters. I'm surprised Wisconsin isn't in the Top 5.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Overrated: No. 12 Indiana
Here's how I’ve described the Hoosiers this offseason: Taking the individual pieces on this team and trying to put them together is like handing a five-star chef a strip of salmon, pasta, hamburger meat and a box of Lucky Charms and asking him to make a meal out of it. Individually, those food items are great (especially the Lucky Charms). Together, they don’t fit.
I like Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon, OG Anunoby and the rest of this roster as individual pieces; I just don’t know how they all fit together. Especially with Yogi Ferrell off to the pros.
AJ Mast/Associated PressAJ Mast
Overrated: No. 14 Louisville
At the Final Four last year, a buddy asked me who I thought would be the best teams in 2016-17 and I listed off the usual suspects (Duke, Kentucky, Oregon, Wisconsin). He stopped me and said "Wait, where’s Louisville?’ It was a question I didn’t totally understand, and eight months later, I’m still not.
Forget the news from the NCAA on Thursday and the possibility that the Cardinals could again choose to sit out the NCAA Tournament. Instead, let’s focus on the court, where Louisville lost its top top three scorers, its best interior post presence (by far) in Chinanu Onuaku. Does that sound like a Top 15 team in the country to you? Me neither.
Take one of the nation’s top recruiting classes -- led by McDonald’s All-Americans Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf -- and add it to an experienced core that includes the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer Isaac Hamilton, and there’s reason for so much optimism in Westwood.
Underrated: (Unranked) NC State
I’m the last guy to heap praise upon Mark Gottfried, and there’s at least a 94 percent chance that I’ll regret writing this three months from now. But after spending time around freshman Dennis Smith Jr. this past summer, I was blown away by both his talent and demeanor.
I just don’t see any way this guy lets the Wolfpack fail, especially when you surround his with veterans like Maverick Rowan. Plus, most people believe fellow freshman superstar Omer Yurtseven eventually will be eligible. This feels like a Top 25 team to me.