UConn men's coach Kevin Ollie was talking about the team's American Athletic Conference preseason No. 2 ranking but he could have just as easily been referring to the team cracking the top-25 preseason national poll.
"That's respect, but it doesn't mean anything," he said Wednesday, "because everybody starts the season zero and zero. I want to be first at the end of the American Conference tournament. It's just a number right now. … You can talk all you want to, but if you don't have actions to back it up, it's irrelevant."
Ollie has to say that -- and we have no doubt that he believes it -- but let's not just gloss over the fact that UConn is nationally ranked heading into the 2013-14 season, a year after they had Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun retire, lost five players to either the NBA or transfer, and was banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions.
Twenty wins later, and with virtually the same team as a year ago, the Huskies find themselves right back in the national conversation. The USA Today/Coaches poll came out Thursday and the Huskies were 19th.
A year ago, the team was unranked. It's a testament to what Ollie has meant to this program, as well as the maturity of his players, who never gave up on a season that was already lost, at least in terms of the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
Still, Ollie's right when he says preseason rankings don't "mean anything." Remember the 2011-12 season? The Huskies were coming off a national title, returned Jeremy Lamb, added Andre Drummond, and were a preseason top-10 team. By the time it was over, UConn was an average team, at best, and was eventually ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Two other AAC teams cracked the national rankings: Louisville is No. 3, and Memphis is No. 13.