Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beware the Overhype of Preseason Picks

If you've kept tabs on this blog, you'll know that yours truly loves opinions. Like elbows, everybody has some. Nothing wrong with them.

But, on occasion, some are just so far out there that your humble blogger can do nothing but shake his head ... and take some exception in this space.

For instance, the preseason hype about where Siena ranks in the hierarchy of college basketball.

The preseason Associated Press poll came out early this week and ranked Siena No. 27 nationally, based on votes received. The ESPN poll ranks Siena at No. 28.

The opinion here is that both might be a little high. Siena, after a terrific season a year ago, was a No. 9 seed in one of four 16-team brackets for the NCAA tournament. That means the NCAA's selection committee rated at least 32 teams higher than the Saints.

Let's see ... mid-30 range nationally. That sounds a little more like it. It sounds like about where Siena should be rated right now.

Still, 27th, or 28th ... not that far off. Maybe a little high, but I won't take particular exception, particularly since the polls are the compilation of voting results, the result of many opinions.

And, then ...

Basketball Times, a publication that has been around for 30 years and claims to be "The Real Voice of College Basketball," recently initiated an on-line presence.

One of its first offerings was its list of the nation's preseason top 15.

Siena checked in at No. 15.

Say, what?

Hard to believe that anyone with any realistic perspective of the nation's best teams would rank Siena as 15th best nationally.

Of course, it's all great publicity for the small, private school in Loudonville, N.Y. Head coach Fran McCaffery has embraced all the preseason recognition, as well he should. Basketball does much to help any school's identity, and for Siena to get mentioned with the big boys of the sport doesn't hurt at all.

But 15th nationally? C'mon, let's get realistic.

My strong opinion on this (and it's based on more than an educated guess) is that Basketball Times' best work is done at the major college level (and, it is very good work, indeed, at the high-major level), but that it doesn't have an insider's working knowledge about leagues like the MAAC and its teams.

To this blogger, that makes its opinion about Siena being the 15th-best team nationally something less than credible.

This blogger's advice? If you want credibility when it comes to opinions/insight related to mid-major level teams, find soures that use writers who regularly attend games of teams at that level and who have regular contact with league administrators, coaches, players and sports information staffs.

Of course, I'd hope that you would recognize this blog as a credible source for MAAC information.

If you want a good preseason overview about the MAAC, then rush out and buy The Sporting News' preseason College Basketball magazine that can be currently found on newsstands around the country. Of course, yours truly wrote the MAAC preview.

There are other credible sources out there, ones with someone involved who has strong connections with the conference, who sees a great deal of games annually. Obviously, my good friend Pete Iorizzo at the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union is one of the best. Most daily newspapers in the towns of the respective MAAC programs do a respectable job covering their home-area conference teams. Some are better than others, but all at least provide work based on first-hand information, strong connections within the league and, mostly, respectful and responsible insight. You can find them easily on the website. If you want credible information, those are the best sources.

Clearly, it has become almost desireable these days for those in the media to rush to identify the next mid-major program capable of challenging the big boys and making a run similar to George Mason's a few years ago when that program advanced to the NCAA tournament's Final Four.

Siena, based on its first-round NCAA tournament victories the past two seasons and the return of a strong cast of standouts, is easy to identify as this year's "sexy" choice as one of the better mid-major programs for the coming season.

But, the 15th best team nationally at any level?

"The Real Voice of College Basketball" isn't sounding real good when it voices that opinion.

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