Emptying the Notebook: What do preseason polls really mean for Lobo hoops? - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: What do preseason polls really mean for Lobo hoops?

Wednesday was Day 1 of 2 of the preseason Mountain West hoops media day event, this year done virtually over Zoom.

Though I don’t anticipate doing the same on Thursday for Day 2 of the media day, I figured I’d try to shake off some offseason rust and throw together an “Emptying the Notebook” style column of odds & ends from media day and related to the preseason poll release by the league:

That darn media!

The media never knows what they’re talking about.

Except when they do.

When it comes to preseason media polls for college sports, coaches like letting the media know the obvious: It really only matters where a team finishes.

Some coaches like reminding you they never pay attention to the polls while leaving out the fact that they’ve already taped the polls above every player’s locker for motivation. Others are a little more open about their knowledge of the polls, reminding all of exactly where they were picked that one season they actually finished really well while it slips their mind about all those times the media was right about them or, even worse, when they finished way worse that even the evil media predicted them to finish.

Of course, most coaches are in on the joke, even if they don’t come right out and acknowledge it. They know the media — evil as it may be — is a necessary cog in the big business machine that is college athletics.

UNM Lobos coach Richard Pitino, for instance, was asked on Wednesday what he thought about his team being picked to finish fifth in the preseason Mountain West media poll.

“Well, picked by the media doesn’t mean anything because the media has no clue what they’re talking about,” he said with a grin.

(NOTE: The article detailing the full preseason poll and all-conference team selections can be read HERE)

So, what do the numbers actually tell us about the Lobos and their place in the preseason Mountain West media poll?

Glad you asked. I happen to have the numbers right here…

In 23 preseason Mountain West media polls for men’s basketball reviewed by the Journal, the media seems to at least be pretty balanced with its ineptitude.

• 8X – Times the Lobos finished better than predicted

• 10X – Times the Lobos finished worse than predicted

• 5X – Times the media picked the Lobos right
(NOTE: Ties count on this “right” stat. For example, last season the Lobos were picked tied for 8th/9th and finished 9th. This media member counts that as a win for the Fourth Estate.)

• 6 – The biggest jump the Lobos made upward from a preseason poll to their regular season finish when they were picked 9th ahead of the 2017-18 season, the first under head coach Paul Weir, and finished 3rd.

• 5 – The biggest drop the Lobos made from a preseason poll to their regular season finish when they were picked 3rd ahead of the 2014-15 season, the second under head coach Craig Neal, and finished 8th.

• 3rd – The Lobos have been picked 3rd seven times, their most common preseason pick in the Mountain West era.

• 5th – The Lobos were last picked 5th in the preseason ahead of the 2009-10 season. All they did that year was win 30 games, win the league and earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The whole list…

OK, here’s the whole list. This reflects the season, where the Lobos were picked in the preseason Mountain West media poll and where they finished the regular season:

• 2022-23: 5th – TBD
• 2021-22: tied 8th/9th – 9th
• 2020-21: 7th – 11th
• 2019-20: 3rd – tied 7th/8th
• 2018-19: 3rd – tied 7th/8th/9th
• 2017-18: 9th – 3rd
• 2016-17: 3rd – 5th
• 2015-16: 6th – tied 4th/5th
• 2014-15: 3rd – 8th
• 2013-14: 1st – 2nd
• 2012-13: 3rd – 1st
• 2011-12: 1st – ties 1st/2nd
• 2010-11: 3rd – 5th
• 2009-10: 5th – 1st
• 2008-09: 5th – tied 1st/2nd/3rd
• 2007-08: tied 4th/5th – 3rd
• 2006-07: 5th – tied 8th/9th
• 2005-06: 5th – 5th
• 2004-05: 4th – 2nd
• 2003-04: 7th – tied 5th/6th
• 2002-03: 7th – 7th
• 2001-02: 3rd – 6th
• 2000-01: 5th – tied 5th/6th
• 1999-00: 2nd – 3rd

Halfway home…

Wednesday was Day 1 of 2 for the Mountain West’s virtual media days.

Six of the league’s 11 hoops members participated with the head coach talking for about 20 minutes followed by two players talking for about 10.

The Lobos were hitting leadoff this year with Pitino talking first followed by returning all-Mountain West guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn, Jr., who an hour earlier learned he had been voted to the preseason All-Mountain West team.

The last time a Lobo was voted to the preseason All-MWC team was ahead of the 2016-17 season when teammates Elijah Brown and Tim Williams were each preseason all-league picks.

Remember him?

This year’s MWC preseason player of the year pick by the media is Wyoming forward Graham Ike.

A year ago at this time, it was Nevada’s Grant Sherfield.

Sherfield didn’t earn the postseason version of that honor after the implosion of a season Nevada had that ended with a postseason exodus of multiple starters, including Sherfield. But a year later, he’s still earning preseason all-conference honors, just now with the Big 12.

Still in the name…

After two Mountain West Conference employees moderating the virtual media day event asked a couple questions of Pitino on Wednesday, the very first question he was asked by the panel of media on the teleconference was, in fact, about his dad.

More specifically, Pitino was asked what emotions he’ll have on Dec. 18 when the Lobos host in the Pit the Iona Gaels, coached by his father, Rick Pitino.

“More than anything, I’ll be excited that my dad can get a feel for why I took the job,” Pitino said. “I want him to experience the Pit. Now, do I want to beat him? Of course. But, you know, I took this job and kind of went to a place that I didn’t know very well because of our fan base and because of our arena.”

He went on to say the game will likely be a Top 100 level game in the computer rankings and, while he hopes to get more “name” programs in the Pit in the future, he is committed to trying to get quality nonconference teams in the arena when he can.

Iona, for the record, was picked on Tuesday as the preseason favorite to win the MAAC.

“I have a sense of pride every time I walked down that tunnel when I’m coaching in the Pit,” Richard Pitino said. “And it’d be really cool for my dad to be a part of it.”

He’s not alone…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Kevin Kruger, another second-year Mountain West coach with a famous coaching father, was asked about his dad on Wednesday, too. This time, it was at least the second reporter who asked the question.

Kruger was asked about his father, former UNLV and Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger, being inducted this past summer into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Oh, it was really a special honor to hear it,” Kevin Kruger said. “Just being in a family (that has spent) a lifetime of being in the game and being in the business, to be rewarded in the Hall of Fame — just incredibly proud of him and happy for him.”

Say what?

“Let’s talk about this court. It’s so when we shoot the lights out, we can still see stuff, man.” — San Jose State coach Tim Miles when asked about the Spartans’ new basketball court that, among other design features, glows in the dark.

Hitting out of the 8/9 hole…

The team picked to finish 8th or 9th in the preseason Mountain West poll has a pretty good history of outperforming preseason predictions over the past decade.

Just ask Wyoming’s Jeff Linder, who was picked a year ago tied in the 8th/9th spot in the preseason poll only to find his team later in the season in the AP Top 25 for the first time since Fennis Dembo was playing in Laramie and earn the program’s first at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament in more than 20 years.

This year, Linder’s Cowboys were picked No. 2 in the poll.

“We’re definitely gonna have a bull’s eye on our back and there’s a different pressure that comes with that,” Linder said. “If you don’t prepare each day like you were the team was picked eighth or ninth like we were last year, then (you’re in trouble).”

This season’s No. 8 and 9 teams in the preseason poll who hope the trend continues are Utah State and Nevada, respectively.

Here’s a list of those pretty good seasons coming out of that preseason No. 8 or No. 9 spot in the Mountain West over the past decade:

• 2021-22: Wyoming was picked tied for the 8th/9th place team in the preseason and went on to be nationally-ranked at one point and earn an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

• 2019-20: Colorado State was picked 9th and had a couple freshmen who turned out to be pretty good in Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy. The Rams finished tied for fifth and won 20 games.

• 2018-19: Utah State was picked 9th with a new head coach in Craig Smith and had just lost to a transfer its star guard Koby McEwan. The Aggies were co-champions in the regular season, won the MWC Tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament.

• 2017-18: UNM was picked 9th and finished third and held a lead at the under 8 media timeout in the MWC Championship game before falling to San Diego State, just missing out on an NCAA Tournament appearance in the first season under former coach Paul Weir.

• 2015-16: Nevada was picked 9th in Eric Musselman’s first season as head coach. The Wolf Pack finished tied for fourth, won 24 games and kickstarted one of the best four-year runs in the league’s history.

• 2013-14: Nevada was picked 9th and finished tied for third with UNLV with a 10-8 league record, though did finish with a losing overall record (15-17).

• 2012-13: Boise State was picked 8th in a nine-team Mountain West and finished tied for fourth and earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Coming up…

Thursday’s Day 2 of 2 Mountain West virtual media day event features the following schedule (times MT):

• 10:30 a.m.: Utah State
• 11 a.m.: San Diego State
• 11:30 a.m.: Nevada
• 12 p.m.: Colorado State
• 12:30 p.m.: Air Force

You can see the action on the Mountain West’s website at TheMW.com.

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