By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
I tried. Trust me I really did. I just couldn’t resist reading the article from ESPN explaining how – based on ESPN’s BPI for college basketball – the University of Kentucky earned the highly coveted pre-season spot of No. 24 in the nation. You have to really respect the editors at ESPN for actually publishing that article. After all, if you know anything about college basketball would you put UK as the No. 24 team in the country no matter what your computer program tells you.
Think about it. This is how it might have sounded at ESPN while that article was being developed. You are at ESPN and you overhear one side of this phone conversation between one of the writers and his editor. It goes something like this. Writer, “Hey, we just cranked up the College Basketball BPI machine and it says that these four teams will be in the Final Four – Kansas, Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette.” Silence. Writer then says, “yes I know Vegas has picked UK and Duke as the early favorites to win it all but this is the BPI.” Silence.
Writer again, “yes the BPI did rate Iowa and Illinois above UK”. More silence. Writer, “No I didn’t know that Illinois and Iowa both finished 4-14 in the Big Ten last year”. Writer again, “no I wouldn’t want to put any of my personal money on a bet that Iowa or Illinois will finish the season rated higher than UK.” Silence. Writer again,” well, when you put that way it does seem ridiculous to think that UK, with three returning starters plus two time All-Pac 12 player Reid Travis and the second best recruiting class in the nation will finish lower than two teams that could only win four games each in their conference last year.” Silence. Writer, “Ok I’ll have someone look at the logic of the BPI system because it does seem to be out of whack.”
That’s the conversation that should have taken place. But instead what we as college basket fans actually received was an article that says ESPN believes that two teams – Iowa and Illinois – that finished in a tie for 11th place in the Big Ten last season will perform better than UK in the 2017-2018 basketball season. It says that UK will finish sixth in the SEC – in a fourteen team league. The SEC team that finished last year in seventh place (there was no sixth place team in the SEC last year due to a three way tie for fourth) had a record of 9-9 in the SEC. That was Mississippi State and they did not make the NCAA Tournament field.
So the next time ESPN trots out one of their whiz-bang rating systems just remember that their current state-of-the-art BPI system picked this year’s Kentucky Wildcats to finish the season at No. 24 in the country. The same Wildcats that are picked by most other analysts and Las Vegas Sports Book Rooms to finish at least in the Final Four and possibly win it all. Some have gone so far as to say that this year’s team may be the best John Calipari has had at UK since the 2012 National Championship Team. But not the BPI. ESPN says, “Based on its great emphasis in quantitative and qualitative measures of returning players and it’s consideration of recruiting class ranking and head coach’s previous history of success” the BPI sees UK as a team that could not beat Iowa or Illinois on a neutral floor. Incredible.
So as you watch ESPN this year during college basketball season – and you watch the Kentucky Wildcats annihilate most of the teams on their schedule – remember that the ESPN BPI predicted it all. Well almost. They at least did include them in the Top 25. For what that’s worth.