PREVIEW SZN is over.
We’ve given you the Preseason Top 25. We’ve given you the Preseason All-American teams. We’ve told you who can actually win a national title, and why there are a handful of teams who you need to bet on to do exactly that.
We ranked the top 100 players and then broke it all down by position – guards, wings, bigs and the mid-majors. We looked at this year’s breakout stars, as well as the x-factors and fatal flaws for every team in the top 25.
We’ve given you more content than you can handle.
So it’s time to double-down.
Here are 14 bold predictions that are guaranteed to happen.
KANSAS WINS THE NATIONAL TITLE
I know this isn’t exactly bold, but I wanted to get this on the record before the season begins. Given the injuries that Michigan State is currently dealing with, the youth movements on the rosters of Duke and Kentucky and the point guard question marks that exist on Louisville’s roster, I think that Kansas is probably the best team in the country right now. I think that after the Champions Classic comes to an end on Tuesday night, that will become the national consensus.
So let’s get out in front of it.
The Jayhawks win it all.
And Bill Self lives to coach another day.
NO ACC TEAMS GET TO THE FINAL FOUR
The ACC is weird this year. I think there is a very clear-cut top four in the league – Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. But all four of those teams are dealing with some serious question marks. Virginia is replacing three NBA players and integrating a number of new pieces into their system. (More on them in a minute.) North Carolina lost their top five players from last season and is heading into this season built around Cole Anthony. Recent high-volume one-and-done guards have not had all that much success at the collegiate level. I’ve spent too much time talking about Duke and some of their flaws this season, so I’ll leave it at this: I find it hard to see how they are going to be able to field a team that can simultaneously be good defensively and capable of being elite offensively.
That leaves Louisville, and while I love Jordan Nwora and Chris Mack, I tend to err on the side of caution when dealing with teams that have question marks at the point guard spot. Last week, Louisville started Darius Perry – not Fresh Kimble – at the point guard spot while David Johnson continues rehabbing a shoulder injury. That’s not ideal.
TEXAS FINISHES SECOND IN THE BIG 12
Kansas is very clearly the best team in the Big 12, but after that, things open up. Baylor and Iowa State are good but not great. I’m not sold on Texas Tech. (See below.) After that, the next team in the league that’s worth talking about is … Oklahoma State? I think?
Put another way, this is does not shaping up like a season where there are going to be many contenders to the Big 12 crown. That brings me to Texas. When it comes to on-the-court stuff, I think we can safely assume that the Longhorns are going to end up being one of the best defensive teams in the country. That has been their strength since Day 1 of the Shaka Smart era, and this offseason they hired Luke Yaklich, the mastermind behind Michigan’s emergence as one of college basketball’s elite defensive forces. They are going to guard the hell out of you.
Where Texas has struggled is with offensive efficiency, and I think they are going to be better this year. For starters, they have some shooting on the roster. Jase Febres shot 37.2 percent from three last season. Courtney Ramey shot 38.6 percent from three. Matt Coleman is at least dangerous enough that he has to be guarded out to the three-point line, while Kamaka Hepa should be in like for a big bump in minutes as a sophomore. Throw in the fact that Andrew Jones is back and looks to be in line for some significant minutes. Throw in bigs Jericho Sims, Kai Jones and Will Baker, and there is a lot to like.
But I think there’s a narrative here that needs to be discussed. Smart built a culture at VCU. He took over a program that ran itself and turned it into something special. He had guys that stayed for four years, that loved the university, that loved their teammates and that were 22 year old men by the time that they left. This will be the first time at Texas that he has had this many players with this much sweat equity in his program. I don’t think that’s something we can overlook.
BOTH TEXAS TECH AND VIRGINIA FALL SHORT OF SWEET 16
Virginia’s issues are obvious. This is a program that lost three NBA players off of last year’s roster. That can be mitigated at a place that churns out one-and-done talent. That’s not easy to navigate at a place that has to develop pros, that relies on roster continuity to win. Ask Villanova. They entered last NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, and I think that Virginia might end up in that same boat this year.
The problems at Texas Tech are a bit different. Chris Beard is no stranger to turning over a roster and building from scratch, but the key to making that happen is buy-in. The word out of Lubbock is that has not been as easy this season as it was last season. The key, beyond vets like Davide Moretti and Chris Clarke taking control of the locker room, is Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is the big, versatile combo-guard that Beard loves. He, in theory, should be this year’s Keenan Evans or Jarrett Culver. As of today, I’m not convinced that will become a reality.
THERE ARE AT LEAST TWO FINAL FOUR TEAMS THAT ARE FIVE SEEDS OR LOWER
The teams at the top of the polls this season just aren’t all that intimidating. Michigan State is supposed to be the veteran-laden team, but without Josh Langford, just three scholarship players are upper-classmen, and one of them – Kyle Ahrens – is already banged up. Kentucky’s frontcourt consists of E.J. Montgomery, Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina and the already-injured Nick Richards. Duke’s fit is a concern, so is Louisville’s point guard play. Virginia is young. Villanova is younger. Gonzaga has two guards on the roster and their best big, Killian Tillie, is perpetually hurt. Florida’s rise to prominence is built around a 23-year old from Virginia Tech. Maryland is Maryland.
Put another way, there is a way to poke holes in seemingly every single team in the top 25. No one is all that good, which means that the teams at the top of the bracket are not going to be all that much better than the teams at the bottom of the bracket. Upsets and Cinderellas will shine this March.
AT LEAST SEVEN BIG EAST TEAMS GET TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The Big East is the most interesting league in the country this season. There are three teams that can legitimately be called the favorite to win the regular season title today – Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The best player in the conference, Markus Howard, isn’t on any of those three teams, and while Marquette lost the Hausers, they could realistically win the league title. Providence has Alpha Diallo, a talented sophomore class and a grad transfer to take over the point guard spot. Gerogetown brings back their backcourt of Mac McClung and James Akinjo and pairs them with Omer Yurtseven. Creighton has arguably the best overall backcourt in a league that has Howard and Myles Powell.
Put another way, there are seven teams in this conference that deserve top 25 consideration, and there’s no clear-cut answer to who is the best. I think all seven will get a bid to the tournament.
OREGON EARNS A NO. 2 SEED
I’m very high on Oregon this season. I think they are going to win the Pac-12, and given how strong their non-conference schedule is, winning the Pac-12 should be enough to get them at least into the discussion for a No. 1 seed. They play Memphis in Portland. They get Houston at home. They open up with Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis and, if they win, draw Gonzaga in the semifinals. They play at Michigan. They’ll be battle-tested for league play.
LSU WINS A SHARE OF THE SEC TITLE.
On paper, I think LSU is one of the most underrated teams in the country. Much of it depends on how well Trendon Watford adapts to the collegiate level and whether or not Will Wade can navigate this roster through the rough waters of an NCAA investigation, but in terms of talent on a roster, the Tigers can more or less match Florida and Kentucky. The difference is in their league schedule. The Tigers play Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama and Arkansas twice. They do get Florida twice as well, but they only play Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee once each. That’s a favorable schedule for the reigning SEC regular season champions.
MARYLAND FINISHES OUTSIDE THE TOP FIVE IN THE BIG TEN
On paper, Maryland should be a top ten team. But when has a Maryland team lived up to or exceeded expectations under Mark Turgeon? If Anthony Cowan avoids a six-week swoon like he had last season, if he can go an entire season playing like an All-American, and if the Terps’ sophomore class – Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo – all take a step forward, Maryland will be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ for one roster.
MEMPHIS ENTERS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT AS A SIX SEED OR LOWER
I’ve said for months that we should have some real concerns about whether or not this Memphis team is among the nation’s elite. That’s what happens when you put seven freshmen on a roster and none of those freshmen are Zion Williams or R.J. Barrett.
To be clear, I think the Tigers will be good. I can see them winning 23 or 24 games before the postseason starts. I think that they have the talent to make a run in March possible. Hell, I’m holding a 50-1 ticket on their national title odds. But with this much youth and a schedule that includes just one top 25 opponent on KenPom (No. 19 Tennessee) and five sub-250 opponents, I think getting a top four seed is going to be tough.
Oh, and should I mention that we haven’t actually seen James Wiseman play for the Tigers yet? He missed their overseas tour and both exhibition games.
HOUSTON WINS THE AMERICAN
Everything is lining up for the Cougars to be the best team in the AAC once again. Memphis is young. Cincinnati is undergoing a coaching change. South Florida’s best big man just had his season come to an end. Wichita State and UConn both look like they’re a year away from hitting their peak.
They just found out they’re going to have Quentin Grimes, a former top ten recruit and McDonald’s All-American, eligible for this season. That’ll do.
HARVARD FINISHES THE SEASON WITH NO MORE THAN THREE LOSSES
The Crimson look like they’re going to be the runaway favorites in the Ivy League this year. They bring back basically everything from a team that went 10-4 in the Ivy and came a loss at Yale away from getting to the NCAA tournament. They also will, potentially, add a healthy Seth Towns, an Ivy Player of the Year candidate that missed all of last season with an injury. Their non-conference schedule, frankly, sucks, and given the fact that Fairfield is on the opposite side of their bracket in the Orlando Invitational, it seems very unlikely that they will lose more than two games in that event.
SAINT MARY’S WINS THE WCC
Gonzaga is a bit of a mess right now. Their backcourt is, essentially, a pair of grad transfers – Admon Gilder and Ryan Wooldrige – now that Brock Ravet has taken a leave of absence. Killian Tillie seems to always be banged up, and beyond that, they are young. Saint Mary’s has the best player in the WCC in Jordan Ford. They have size (Aaron Menzies), athleticism (Malik Fitts) and plenty of shooting. They are coached by Randy Bennett, the only man since Mark Few’s first season as a head coach in 1999-2000 to beat Gonzaga to a WCC regular season title. It all adds up.
THREE ATLANTIC 10 TEAMS WIN A TOURNAMENT GAME
The Atlantic 10 is loaded this year, particularly at the top of the league. I think there’s an argument to be made that three different teams can be put into the preseason top 25 — VCU, Davidson and Dayton. It’s going to take some work in the non-conference from the league as a whole to ensure that all three are in a position to get at-large bids, but I do think that all three are good enough to win at least one game