The preseason polls are out, the Top 25 is set, and one team is missing.
Enter the Iowa Hawkeyes.
First of all, let me clarify my position in saying that Iowa basketball merely being mentioned among teams in the running for a spot in the preseason Top 25 is a monumental improvement over years past. The program has come such a long way towards returning to prominence under fourth year head coach Fran McCaffery, and Iowa fans should be more than proud of the progress achieved thus far.
That being said, the Hawkeyes should be ranked entering the 2013-14 season. Notice I didn’t say “deserve to be ranked”, but rather should be. This distinction is important based largely on the fact that it has become customary to give traditionally successful programs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to both preseason and in-season rankings. The bluebloods and “it” programs tend to be looked more favorably upon by the media and coaches alike who partake in voting for these polls.
Based on this tendency throughout history, Iowa doesn’t necessarily have great reason to argue with the prognosticators that have assembled the current rankings. However, I feel no such constraints or ties to traditional methods and therefore shall make the case as to why the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll are so incredibly wrong to omit the Hawkeyes from their top 25 teams in the country.
To start, let’s examine the reasons a number of teams are ranked incorrectly ahead of Iowa. (Note: The Hawkeyes are currently receiving the 29th most votes in both the AP and USA Today Coaches preseason polls.)
Wisconsin is a team that lost three players from its frontcourt that each started two or more years, and another of its biggest expected contributors this season sat out last year with a knee injury. Not to mention the Badgers have lost three of their last four games against the Hawkeyes, with the only victory coming after Iowa blew a late lead in Madison a year ago. However, due to its consistent past success, Wisconsin is a team that unsurprisingly received a Top 25 berth.
Another Big Ten squad reaping the benefits of its tradition is Indiana. The Hoosiers lost four multiyear starters including two NBA Lottery picks, and yet garnered more national poll respect than the Hawkeyes. Indiana brings in merely a good-but-not-great recruiting class, lacking the sheer depth of star power that elevated programs like Kentucky and Kansas to high rankings in this year’s first poll. (Also note: The Hoosiers were picked by Big Ten media to finish behind Iowa in conference play this season.)
Moving on to a more national scale, Virginia is an ACC squad getting more respect in the polls than Iowa. This in spite of the fact that the Hawkeyes went into Charlottesville during last year’s postseason NIT and decisively defeated the Cavaliers.
Next up is UCLA, a program that epitomizes the idea of brand recognition and its effect on poll rankings. For the past 4-5 years the Bruins have lived off of the hype surrounding recruiting classes and its once well respected head coach Ben Howland. This season Steve Alford (a name Iowa fans are all too familiar with) takes over as new head coach of a team that has become notorious as of late for failing to meet any and all expectations.
I could make an argument against a few other teams, but these four in particular stood out as the most unworthy of Top 25 consideration over the Hawkeyes. In particular UCLA and Indiana go to show that poll status has increasingly become a program achievement award, apparently based on the thought that such bluebloods always have, always are, and always will be upper echelon teams.
The second and maybe even more important reason why Iowa should be a member in any of the preseason T0p 25 polls is that the Hawkeyes simply are a good team. As plain as that may sound, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify multiple factors that make Iowa a very dangerous squad for any team in the country to play against.
The Hawkeyes have improved their win total in each of the past three seasons under head coach Fran McCaffery, and narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth last year after a sixth place finish in the Big Ten. Iowa returns nine of its top ten contributors from a year ago plus the addition of two newcomers expected to make an immediate impact. This team possesses the depth, talent, and experience to make deep runs in both conference and postseason tournament play.
In saying all of this, I firmly believe that Iowa should be ranked in this year’s preseason Top 25. However, given the current situation I think the Hawkeyes will find their way into the rankings sooner rather than later.
By the end of Thanksgiving break if Iowa can pile up what should be five home blowout victories and an impressive showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament the Hawkeyes will almost assuredly be ranked. If for some reason they are not, early December provides two more opportunities for resume building wins against Notre Dame and Iowa State before Big Ten play loaded with ranked opponents begins following the holidays.
In my opinion, expect to see Iowa in the Top 25 where they belong by early to mid-December at the very latest.
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