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Bold Predictions: 12 things that are guaranteed to happen this season

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A new basketball season is upon us, and with that in mind, it is time for us to start making predictions that we are going to regret.

Below, you will find 12 bold predictions that are all guaranteed to happen.

Try and tell us where we’re wrong? You can’t.



VIRGINIA WILL MAKE THE FINAL FOUR

Virginia is Villanova circa November of 2015. The Wildcats at that point in time were a powerhouse in the Big East, having coasted to back-to-back Big East titles before getting dumped in the NCAA tournament during the first weekend. No one thought Villanova was good enough to be a national title team, not with the way that they relied on developing four-year players in the era of one-and-done superstars. Then lo-and-behold, it turns out that those four-year stars actually were NBA players and that it was the randomness of a lose-and-go-home tournament combined with an ill-timed off-night that was the cause of Villanova’s postseason struggles.

Does that sound like the Wahoos to you?

Virginia is coming off of their third ACC regular season title in the last five years. They’ve consistently churned out NBA role players and have two or three more on their roster this season, including a potential lottery pick in De’Andre Hunter. Their tournament losses have been fluky … ish; UMBC whooped their behinds. This is the year UVA gets it done. (Rob Dauster)

GONZAGA WILL WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Sure, it’s probably not all that bold to declare that a consensus top-five team will win the national title, but Gonzaga seems to be the team that so many people love to not believe in, even after their title game appearance in 2017. The Bulldogs have been knocking on the door for years now, and they’ve got a talented and experienced roster that, to my mind, is built to win at the absolute highest level. Unless they get through their non-conference schedule undefeated, we probably won’t talk that much about them in January and February, but Gonzaga is the best team in the country. They’re cutting nets in Minneapolis. (Travis Hines)

BOL BOL BECOMES THE NATION’S MUST-SEE FRESHMAN

Watching freshman stars has become an annual tradition in college basketball. Since the sport is often dominated by newcomers, who double as the best NBA prospects, it creates a natural curiosity for both hardcore college hoops fans, and casual sports watchers.

Duke’s freshman class is going to draw the majority of the freshmen headlines this season with its star-studded group composed of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. It’s one of the most talented recruiting classes of all-time — and I’ve argued the most famous of any incoming recruiting class.

Bol Bol (by Jon Lopez, Nike)

But Oregon center Bol Bol is going to be the freshman that draws the most interest from fans outside of the Duke group. Bol checks two key boxes when it comes to sensationalized national interest: he’s the son of a former NBA player and he possesses a freakish skill level (especially for someone his size). The son of Manute Bol — the tallest player in NBA history — the younger Bol checks in at only 7-foot-3. But Bol has a beautiful perimeter jumper that helps him stretch the floor out to NBA range. In fact, he could be one of the best three-point shooters in the country this season. Bol was 26-for-59 (44 percent) from three-point range in 19 Nike EYBL games his final grassroots season.

Between the blocked shots at the rim, and the ridiculous perimeter shots Bol can make with a defender on him, he’s going to be a ton of fun to watch this season in an otherwise underwhelming Pac-12.

FLORIDA IS THE TEAM RANKED OUTSIDE THE TOP 25 THAT GOES TO THE FINAL FOUR

There are some good possibilities from which to choose, with Marquette, Indiana and last season’s darlings Loyola-Chicago just missing out. But here’s a team to keep an eye on: Florida. The Gators did lose Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov from last year’s squad, but KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson both return as do front court contributors Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone. Also there’s that talented freshman class, led by point guard Andrew Nembhard and off-guard Keyontae Johnson. The Gators may endure some growing pains as Nembhard adjusts to the college level, especially in an SEC that should be really good. But this could very well be a team that, once it gets out of league play and into the NCAA tournament, winds up going on a deep run. (Raphielle Johnson)

TYLER HERRO WILL BE KENTUCKY’S LEADING SCORER

I’ve made this point over and over again during the offseason: Kentucky has a lot of really good basketball players and prospects on their roster, but if there is something they are lacking it is a go-to guy. I’m not convinced P.J. Washington is ready for that role. It’s hard to run offense through a barrel-chested low-post scorer like Reid Travis. Quade Green isn’t the guy, and I’m not ready to say Ashton Hagans or Immanuel Quickley is, either. Keldon Johnson is at his best in a complimentary role.

Enter Herro, a four-star recruit from Wisconsin that is definitively the best shooter on the team. He led the program in scoring during their trip to the Bahamas, and he did so while playing the role in Kentucky’s offense that was played by Jamal Murray, Malik Monk and Kevin Knox before him. It’s not a coincidence his last name is pronounced ‘hero’. (Rob Dauster)

Tyler Herro; Chet White/UK Athletics

NEVADA WILL BE A STAPLE OF HOOPS AFTER DARK AND A #CBBTWITTER DARLING

I’m really high on Eric Musselman’s team. The Wolf Pack’s offense is going to be awesome — they’ve got the preseason top spot in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings — with a group of mostly transfers with something to prove after last season’s run. There are nine scholarship players in their 4th or 5th season in college. Eight of those nine averaged double-figure points the last season they played, either at Nevada or at their previous school. The one who didn’t started at PG last season. And then there’s Jordan Brown, their McDonald’s All-American center.

Plus, it’s west coast hoops, which mean those of us east of the Rockies are going to have super entertaining basketball to watch late at night, which ups the cool factor significantly, in my opinion. I’m all-in on watching Nevada roll all season long. (Travis Hines)

SEC BASKETBALL RETURNS TO BRAZEN MEDIOCRITY

Last year was memorable for SEC basketball. While the league has been inconsistent outside of Kentucky and Florida over the past decade, the rest of the conference stepped up in a major way last season. A record eight SEC teams made the NCAA tournament as the league was one of the toughest top-to-bottom basketball conferences in the country. Instead of another dominant John Calipari-led Kentucky team, the Wildcats faltered enough where Auburn and Tennessee tied atop the regular-season standings.

That likely won’t be the case again this season.

Kentucky has a loaded roster that once again makes them the favorites. Auburn and Tennessee bring back a lot of last season’s rosters — but they’ll also be the hunted now instead of the surprising upstarts. And the rest of the league has been gutted with big losses and injuries. Collin Sexton is gone from Alabama. Missouri has to continue without Michael (NBA) or Jontay Porter (injury). Arkansas and Texas A&M suffered significant roster turnover. The SEC still has a chance to have a significant presence in the NCAA tournament once again. But everything would have to go right with young teams like Vanderbilt and LSU stepping up. I just don’t see eight NCAA tournament bids happening again.

BY FEBRUARY, PROVIDENCE’S ALPHA DIALLO WILL BE LEADING THE BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE

There are some really good preseason candidates, with St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds being the preseason pick and players such as Villanova’s Eric Paschall and Marquette’s Markus Howard meriting serious discussion as well. But here’s a name that may not be discussed enough: Alpha Diallo, a 6-foot-7 guard who last season was one of the Big East’s most improved players. After averaging 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game as a freshman, Diallo averaged 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just over 30 minutes per game last season. Look for him to take a significant step forward in 2018-19, with the addition of some talented freshmen and the return of Emmitt Holt helping Diallo lead a team that’s expected to contend in the Big East. (Raphielle Johnson)

MARQUETTE FINISHES NO WORSE THAT SECOND IN THE BIG EAST AND MAKES THE FINAL FOUR

Anyone that reads this space knows how I feel about Marquette this season. They are a team with unlimited potential on the offensive end of the floor — if Markus Howard isn’t the best shooter in the Big East, Sam Hauser is — that couldn’t defend the men’s league team that I play on last season. Well, it just so happens that Steve Wojciechowski brought in two transfers that should help solve some of their defensive problems in Joseph Chartouny and Ed Morrow. Chartouny provides the added bonus of being precisely the kind of point guard that will be able to get Markus Howard off the ball, where he is more effective.

Marquette is one of my favorite picks to win the national title. I may or may not already have some money invested in their eventual march in March. This isn’t even a bold take for me. It’s lukewarm. (Rob Dauster)

Markus Howard (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

WE’RE NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE END OF THE DRAMA FROM THE FBI INVESTIGATION

The three guilty verdicts last month in the federal government’s case of college basketball corruption didn’t resonate too much, but I just can’t help but feel like there is more here. Whether it’s cooperation or more evidence — i.e. wiretaps, or the fallout from another trial — that come to light, I think we’re going to see something significant that will make the sport rumble. (Travis Hines)

BUFFALO TURNS INTO THE MID-MAJOR DARLING OF THIS SEASON

Everyone is searching for the new Loyola. After the Ramblers made a shocking run to the Final Four out of the Missouri Valley Conference last season, everyone seems to believe that another mid-major will rise and compete with the big boys once again.

A Final Four run for a mid-major isn’t a likely feat. But if I were to bet on one mid-major team having a chance, it would be Buffalo out of the MAC.

Making a national statement with a blowout win over Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, the Bulls return most of their core group. The senior trio of guard CJ Massinburg, wing Jeremy Harris and big man Nick Perkins is back. All three could be all-league players.

Replacing point guard Wes Clark will be the major question mark for the Bulls. Thankfully for Buffalo, the roster is restocked with a recruiting class that rivals many high-major programs. Shooting guard JeeNathan Williams is a legitimate consensus four-star prospect while point guard Ronald Segu received plenty of national praise. And Buffalo has a lot of chances to pick off the big boys with its stacked non-conference schedule. Don’t be surprised if Buffalo earns some big early-season wins and vaults itself into the bubble conversation.

SAINT JOSEPH’S WILL WIN AT LEAST ONE NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

Given the fact that Saint Joseph’s lost its top two scorers from a season ago in Shavar Newkirk and James Demery, this certainly qualifies as a bold prediction. While those are two key personnel losses for the Hawks, both Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble and Charlie Brown Jr. are back after missing all of last season due to injury. In 2016-17 Kimble and Brown combined to average 28.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, with Kimble also dishing out 4.5 assists per game. Add those two to three returning starters, and Phil Martelli’s team is considered to be a contender in the Atlantic 10 for good reason. Among the other returnees is sophomore forward Taylor Funk, who was one of the A-10’s best newcomers last season. So I’m going “all in” on Saint Joseph’s…and with just two seniors on the roster the Hawks could be even better in 2019-20. (Raphielle Johnson)

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.