I've been looking at and thinking about the high rankings that West Virginia is getting in some of the way-too-early picks for next year's men's basketball Top 25. Why too early? Because, in my opinion, such things can hurt a team.
Before we get into the specifics of WVU's ranking, I don't think any of the media that publicize such offerings are trying to do any damage. Such picks, however are a staple in our microwave society -- as soon as a championship is won or an event is concluded, there's always a rush to move on to the next one. The 2009 NFL draft wasn't even over before Mel Kiper was being prodded for his top players in the 2010 selection meeting. It's a lock that within a couple of days of the season's end for any team, preview and pick articles for the next season will appear.
By themselves, those prognostications don't do any harm. What does hurt, however, is when teams don't meet those preseason rankings. Inevitably, a percentage of the fan base, as well as many media members, start labeling that team as "disappointing" or "a bust". And that's simply not fair, and not right, because it's a long way to go until the next season, and all of the ups, downs and intangibles that go into making a team haven't been played out yet.
So, with that in mind, I look at those high rankings for WVU's hoops team with some trepidation. Could the Mountaineers fight for the Big East title and be in the Top Ten? Yes, if everything falls into place. That means no injuries, continued improvement from all the returnees, immediate productive help from at least three of the freshmen, and a resolution to the Joe Mazzulla case that doesn't cause any rifts on the team. That's a long list, and it's not often that so many questions get answered positively.
That said, I don't mind WVU being picked so high. It does breed some excitement, and I am sure that Bob Huggins doesn't mind. It gives him another spur to use during practices, and there's nothing that he would like more than to be playing for a league title come March. I just hope, that if WVU is, say 10-4 with four games to go and ranked around the 25th spot, that the team isn't being tagged as underachieving. Judging from the way last year's football team was treated, however, I'm not holding my breath.
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Speaking of that, the preseason rankings for football have started coming out as well. Losing Pat White will no doubt have many people overlooking WVU -- again, that's o.k. with me. I would guess that the Mountaineers will be picked no higher than third, and probably fourth, in the league. (O.K., if you have to know, I think that USF, Cincinnati and Pitt will all be picked higher. Those aren't my picks, just where I think the league's beat writers' selections will fall out.)
Do I think that's good for WVU? Well, just like the labeling we talked about before, I don't buy the common wisdom I don't think being ranked low means good things for WVU, or that the Mountaineers can't play well when more is expected of them. Yes, WVU bounced out of the Top 25 just about every time it worked its way in last year, but I think that was more a reflection of the team. West Virginia was a Top 25 team -- and probably belonged right in the 20-25 range. I know that didn't stack up to the preseason prognostications, but again, why are those so inarguably set in stone? They are opinions -- hopefully ones with some basis in fact -- but let's face it: national writers and those making those picks don't know the details about each squad. They know the number of starters returning, whether the QB is back, and the names of a few stars. And that's it. So those picks, while entertaining and providing fodder discussion, certainly shouldn't be used as part of the criteria in judging a team. And if they are, and those picks are way off, then maybe we should use those columns as judgments on how good those writers are. But that wouldn't be fair either, would it?
As for a pick of WVU's chances this fall, I'm not ready to do so yet. Let's see if all the freshmen show, and if any are truly ready to help. Let's see if everyone is healthy and ready to play, and what things look like through a couple of weeks of fall practice first.
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I don't think it's any secret now that Michigan is jumping on many of the same offensive recruits that WVU is trying to woo. With the Mountaineers still trying to unveil diamonds in the rough, and with the offensive philosophy shifting toward a more balanced and varied attack, you would think that the number of players both schools are recruiting would be lessening, but that doesn't appear to be happening. Are the Wolverines doing so intentionally? I have to wonder.
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When head coach Bill Stewart released the post-spring football depth chart last week, I was certainly surprised to see some freshmen on it. Not because I don't think that some of the freshmen will be able to help, because that could be the case. It's simply the fact that, having not yet lifted one pound or showed one thing on a college field, most coaches don't publicly acknowledge players that have yet to set foot on campus as a collegian.
Whether or not those freshmen, or a handful of others, make an impact will certainly be watched this fall. I'll also be watching the safety spots -- I thought that the move of Robert Sands to bandit was a keeper -- so it will be interesting to see how those three positions shake out.
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