Last year, I correctly labeled North Carolina — then preseason No. 1, and later the first preseason No. 1 in history to miss the NCAA Tournament — a team that on paper was overrated after sifting through the preseason polls. The year before, UCLA earned that same label from yours truly before parlaying a preseason No. 2 ranking into a finish outside the top 10.
So which team’s dreams am I here to dash today, you ask?
Well, as part of my annual overrated/underrated analysis of the preseason AP Top 25 and Coaches Polls, I come bearing good news and bad news. The good news: only three teams landed as overrated by the voters in the polls. But the same number of teams also landed in my underrated bucket, meaning by my estimation that the general consensus around them relative to how I view them is not giving them their proper due.
- AP Top 25 ranking: 5
- Coaches Poll ranking: 7
Marquette had a 29-win season last year under then-second year coach Shaka Smart led by one of the most high octane offenses in college basketball. And while Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones are both back, two key pieces from a roster that almost is entirely the same, I think we may be underestimating how significant a loss O-Max Prosper is when you remove him from the equation. The term “overrated” might be doing a little too much heavy lifting here — I’d rank Marquette somewhere between 8 and 10 — but I can’t spare the Golden Eagles, even if it’s only a marginal qualification.
- AP Top 25 ranking: 9
- Coaches Poll ranking: 10
Have we not learned our lesson here with Tennessee? This Vols team led by coach Rick Barnes is almost certain to have one of the most lethal defensive units in the sport. It is also inevitably going to struggle scoring the basketball. With Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua gone, among others, even the returning pieces of Zakai Zeigler, Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi probably won’t be enough to help prevent this team from being one of the least entertaining watches in college hoops. My bet here is the defense is good, the offense is not so good, and the team falls somewhere in between as a mid-to-upper-tier SEC squad.
- AP Top 25 ranking: 11
- Coaches Poll ranking: 12
Gary Parrish has Gonzaga ranked No. 19 in his latest Top 25 (and one) and I tend to fall closer to his side of things with Gonzaga than the side of voters in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Polls who had the Zags as a borderline top 10 team. People in WCC land view Saint Mary’s as the top dog in the land this season, not Gonzaga, and while the addition of Ryan Nembhard combined with the return of Anton Watson should help, losing the likes of Julian Strawther and Drew Timme will undoubtedly provide a bigger challenge than voters seem to be taking into account for coach Mark Few.
- AP Top 25 ranking: 16
- Coaches Poll ranking: 16
Kentucky is one of the most polarizing teams perennially, and that is especially true this year when you consider how wide the gap is between how voters view this team and how the betting markets view this team. UK landed at No. 16 in both the preseason polls, but in betting markets, its odds to win the 2024 NCAA championship is 12-1 — tied for the second-best odds among all college hoops teams.
Yes, losing to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago was a disappointment impossible to overstate for a proud program like Kentucky, and yes, 22 wins and failing to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament last season is underperforming, but John Calipari with his back to the wall has assembled one of the most electric rosters of his tenure in Lexington led by the potential No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft in Justin Edwards. I think we may be factoring recent failures too much into projecting this UK team. On paper this is a clear top-10 roster from a talent perspective, and I’m not ready to write Calipari off. … yet.
- AP Top 25 ranking: 10
- Coaches Poll ranking: 9
If Florida Atlantic was named instead, say, Indiana, then I think you could make a case that the Hootin’ Owls could be preseason No. 1. After advancing all the way to the 2023 Final Four and finishing with 35 (!!) wins, FAU locked its coach down to a long-term deal and then managed to secure all five starters from its team back for another run. That should be enough to warrant top-five respect. Instead, it’s barely in the top-10 in both polls. Shame, shame!
- AP Top 25 ranking: 21
- Coaches Poll ranking: 22
The team best-equipped to give Arizona fits at the top of the Pac-12 this season is likely USC, which enrolls No. 2 overall recruit Isaiah Collier and a top-three recruiting class to add to a roster that brings back All-Pac-12 performer Boogie Ellis as well as Vincent Iwuchukwu, Kobe Johnson and Joshua Morgan. Even with heralded prospect Bronny James still in limbo as he works his way back from a cardiac arrest this summer, the Trojans have the goods inside and out to be dangerous on both ends of the floor.