CLEVELAND - Buffalo men's basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon was as shocked as the next guy when he saw the results of the pre-season Mid-American Conference basketball poll.
“Have these picks ever been right?” Witherspoon asked, noting that his team had pulled the unusual double of being picked last in the six-team East Division, yet getting one first-place vote from the 48 members of the MAC News Media Association that voted.
“It's free entertainment and a fun thing to do, but I don't see it having any meaning at all. And then picking the tournament champion? You'd have to be geniuses to get it right.”
Be that as it may, the prognosticators narrowly tabbed Miami to claim the East Division crown over Akron and Kent State, while Northern Illinois was the choice to win the West Division. Bowling Green was picked second and Toledo fifth.
BG coach Dan Dakich might be one of the few coaches in the country who is disappointed his team wasn't picked to wear the bull's-eye this winter.
“When you look at the ACC, Duke always is picked first. In the Big Ten, it's Indiana. I would like to be picked first just like those schools,” Dakich said. “I want our kids to feel like they are as good as anyone and that they belong [at the top].”
The Falcons earned their spot thanks to the return of all five starters from last season's 13-16 squad, plus the return of several injured players and the addition of sophomore Steven Wright and four freshmen. But Dakich said the attention, while nice, won't help his team win.
“The poll doesn't win you any games and it doesn't lose you any games,” he said. “It's just fun to talk about. I don't think our kids will pay any attention after today's paper comes out.”
Toledo coach Stan Joplin also dismissed the poll's validity.
“I don't think they [the voters] know what we have back and no one has seen our freshmen or the other players who sat out last season,” he said. “We feel we've addressed some of our problems from last year.”
The Rockets return all but one starter from a season ago, when they were 14-15 and 7-11 in the MAC. Double-figure scorers Keith Triplett (16.8) and Sammy Villegas (10.8) should receive help from a freshman class that features point guard Rashay Russell.
Joplin thought that the voting reflects more what each team did last season, as well as who returns for each club, more than the potential a particular team might have.
“Teams like Akron and Bowling Green have a lot of players back, so that [voting them high in the poll] makes sense,” he said. “But take, for example, Kent State. They have three players back, but the main player they lost was Antonio Gates, who may have been the best player they've ever had.
“Gates made everyone on the floor better, and he single-handedly beat us [last year]. That is hard to replace.”
Dakich agreed, adding that a more valuable poll might be the one taken later in the season.
“Late last year we thought we would have competed for the league title had we stayed healthy,” he said. “At this point in the year, we didn't think that. In our league, right now at least, you don't really know.”