Examining the Accuracy of “Way-Too-Early” Preseason Top 25 Rankings

    The "way-too-early" preseason Top 25 rankings have value even though the 2019-20 college basketball season won't tip off for five more months.

    June 4, 2019

    Now that the NBA Draft’s early entry withdrawal deadline has passed, we have a clearer understanding of what college basketball rosters across the country will look like next season.

    That means that the updated versions of the “way-too-early” preseason Top 25 rankings are probably just “early” at this point, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value even though the 2019-20 college basketball season won’t tip off for five more months.

    Because if you use last year as a guide, there’s a strong likelihood that Michigan State, Kansas, Louisville, Duke and Kentucky – the top five teams in Stadium Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman’s 2019-20 preseason rankings – will be nationally elite teams next season, barring a season-changing injury.

    We reached this conclusion after analyzing the early preseason Top 25 rankings published by five major outlets last June – Athlon Sports, CBS Sports, ESPN, NBC’s College Basketball Talk and SB Nation – and taking the aggregate of those rankings, which are outlined below.

    Sure, there were misfires like West Virginia and UCLA, who were widely believed to be top-20 teams — the Bruins fired Steve Alford before the calendar flipped to 2019, while West Virginia finished last in the Big 12.

    [RELATED: Winners and Losers After the NBA Draft Deadline]

    But four of the top five teams in the aggregate rankings earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and advanced to the Elite Eight or further in the NCAA Tournament, most notably defending national champion Virginia.

    Kansas, a consensus top-two team in the preseason rankings and the No. 1 team in the aggregate rankings below, started 10-0, but the Jayhawks’ trajectory changed after center Udoka Azubuike suffered a season-ending injury, guard Lagerald Vick left the team and forward Silvio De Sousa was suspended for the year.

    Here are the complete aggregate preseason rankings published by the five media outlets last June.

    Aggregate 2018-19 Preseason Ranking School Final KenPom.com Ranking Final AP Poll Ranking NCAA Tournament Seed NCAA Tournament Finish
    1 Kansas 17 17 No. 4 Second Round
    2 Gonzaga 2 4 No. 1 Elite Eight
    3 Kentucky 8 7 No. 2 Elite Eight
    4 Virginia 1 2 No. 1 Won National Championship
    5 Duke 4 1 No. 1 Elite Eight
    6 Nevada 27 20 No. 7 First Round
    7 Tennessee 10 6 No. 2 Sweet 16
    8 North Carolina 7 3 No. 1 Sweet 16
    9 Villanova 30 23 No. 6 Second Round
    10 Michigan State 3 5 No. 2 Final Four
    11 Auburn 11 14 No. 5 Final Four
    12 Kansas State 20 18 No. 4 First Round
    13 Virginia Tech 13 16 No. 4 Sweet 16
    14 West Virginia 95 NR N/A N/A
    15 Oregon 28 NR No. 12 Sweet 16
    16 UCLA 102 NR N/A N/A
    17 Syracuse 39 NR No. 8 First Round
    18 Florida State 14 10 No. 4 Sweet 16
    19 Michigan 6 8 No. 2 Sweet 16
    20 Mississippi State 21 NR No. 5 First Round
    21 TCU 40 NR N/A N/A
    22 LSU 19 12 No. 3 Sweet 16
    23 Clemson 36 NR N/A N/A
    24 Indiana 52 NR N/A N/A
    25 Loyola Chicago 131 NR N/A N/A


    As you can see, early preseason Top 25 rankings are most accurate for the teams at the top of the rankings.

    Six of the top eight teams in the aggregate rankings earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Besides Kansas falling short of that seeding criteria (for the reasons outlined above), Nevada earned a No. 7 seed after going 29-4 against a schedule that provided limited opportunities for quality wins.

    The top 13 teams in the aggregate rankings made the NCAA Tournament, as did 19 of the top 25.

    Two of the six teams from the table above that missed the tournament – TCU and Indiana – were among the First Four Out and earned No. 1 seeds in the NIT, while Clemson earned a No. 2 seed, so 22 of the 25 were firmly in the NCAA Tournament discussion.

    Fifteen of the teams finished in the top 25 on kenpom.com and 18 finished in the top 30.

    Last summer’s preseason Top 25 rankings tell us it can be tough to accurately project which teams will finish in the back end of the Top 25. There’s no guarantee that teams in the 20s will finish the season ranked in the Top 25, let alone make the tournament, but for as inaccurate as the final five to eight teams in a preseason Top 25 might be, the elite programs in the top five (or so) are generally a good indicator of which teams will establish themselves as leading national title contenders.

    That’s a good sign for the Spartans, Jayhawks, Cardinals, Blue Devils and Wildcats in 2020.

    MORE: An Inside Look at Kentucky’s Financial and Travel Commitment to Recruiting


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