College basketball is back and fans are beyond thrilled

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NBCSports.com

John Teske plays in a home game for Michigan against Oregon on Dec. 14. Oregon went on to win 71-70.

Aidan Spizz, Sports Editor

Between the months of April and November, every college basketball fan feels unrivaled enthusiasm for the new season.  For many fans, the season officially starts when the preseason AP Poll comes out a few weeks before the season begins.  However, these polls are often inaccurate and, because of poll inertia, the inability for writers to change their previous opinions, it takes many impressive wins for teams to overcome low pre-season projections.  This was especially evident this season.
In the preseason poll, Dayton received one vote.  Now they are ranked 14th after a trio of impressive games at the Maui Invitational.  This highlighted the sensational play of forward Obi Toppin, who is averaging 21.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.  Dayton humiliated both Georgia and Virginia Tech, a team coming off a win against third ranked Michigan State.
“I’m still very surprised that Dayton was ranked so low coming into the season.  Outside of Obi Toppin, they have four other major contributors.  Jalen Crutcher, Trey Landers, Ryan Mikesell, and Ibi Watson are all averaging double digits so far this season.  They also have nine guys averaging at least ten minutes per game, which shows the depth on this team,” said junior Isaac Goldstein.
Then, the squad fell just short in an overtime loss in the championship game to fourth ranked Kansas.  This game was arguably the best game of the season so far.  Dayton took a one point lead into the half, but they were down by three points with just seconds left.  Guard Jalen Crutcher, who played 41 minutes, made a three pointer with three seconds left in order to send the game to overtime.  Kansas pulled away in overtime and prevailed 90 to 84.  However, many came away from this game wondering how Dayton was not ranked pre-season.  And then, even after the tournament, Dayton was still only ranked 19th.  It is commonly thought that this is because many voters for the polls are embarrassed to be proven wrong in their preseason predictions, which contributes to poll inertia.
Many believed that Florida was good enough to be playing in April coming into the season.  However, on Nov. 11, sixth ranked Florida lost 63-51 to Florida State.  Florida was completely exposed in this game as they shot 28% from the field, including 18.2% from three, turned the ball over 16 times, and committed 19 turnovers.
“Star transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. has failed to make Florida into a good team in the Southeastern Conference.  After three seasons at Virginia Tech, I expected Blackshear to have a breakout season.  However, he is only averaging 13.3 points per game, and the team doesn’t have enough contributors to make up for his lackluster start,” said junior Max Bogensberger.
Great teams are able to change bad habits.  However, a week later, 15th ranked Florida committed 21 fouls while turning the ball over 13 times in a loss to unranked UConn.  Similar issues arose once again in a 14 point loss against Butler in early December.  Currently, the team sits at 6-3, and they are unranked.  This is not close to where they were expected to be coming into the season, and it’s not yet clear when the team will reach their full potential.  This is definitely an instance where the preseason polls were very wrong about a team.
Coming into the season, nobody expected much from Michigan.  Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Michigan is tied for the most NCAA tournament wins, including two championship game runs.  However, after last season, Michigan lost their top three scorers: Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, and Ignas Braezdeikis.  The team also lost head coach John Beilein to the NBA, while top assistant coach Luke Yaklich left for Texas.  Juwan Howard, a member of Michigan’s Fab Five, took over the job even though he has never had head coaching experience at any level.
Even with all of these question marks, Michigan beat Iowa State, sixth ranked North Carolina, and eighth ranked Gonzaga in three consecutive days at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the deepest Thanksgiving tournament this season.  Michigan tied the biggest jump in AP Poll history by going from unranked to the fourth team in the country.  Michigan has now lost two games, but they were on the road to top ranked Louisville and to a solid Illinois team led by Kofi Cockburn, who the commentators were comparing to Shaquille O’Neal.
The team’s hot start should not come as a surprise, though.  The starting lineup includes center Jon Teske, forward Isiah Livers, point guard Zavier Simpson, and guard Eli Brooks.  These upperclassmen have all played meaningful minutes in the Final Four and National Championship.  They have combined for 52.8 points per game and have led the team so far.
The fifth starter is six-foot-eight guard Franz Wagner, whose older brother Mo Wagner was a star for the Michigan Final Four team in 2018.  He started the season with a broken wrist and is still becoming accustomed to the team.  However, he has shown flashes of potential during the few games he has played in.  Wagner is very promising because he played at a very high level before when he played professional basketball in Germany.
Many pointed to Michigan’s lack of depth as one of the reasons for their low expectations coming into the season.  However, point guard David DeJulius, power forward Colin Castleton, and small forward Brandon Johns Jr. have all played valuable minutes off the bench.  Even if Michigan cools off, preseason polls and experts were very wrong about this team.
Michigan and Dayton are greatly exceeding preseason expectations, while Florida is falling way short.  These teams epitomize why preseason polls are pointless because of how wrong they often are.