College basketball season tips off Friday with 14 members of the AP Preseason Top 25 in action. To celebrate the end of the offseason, here are 64 65 ... wait ... 68 fearless predictions for the new season.
1. A team from outside the six power conferences will make the Final Four. Five of those teams are ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25, with VCU, Butler, Saint Louis and a handful of others lurking on the fringes.
2. Whichever No. 5 or 6 seed draws Davidson in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament will be a popular upset pick. The Wildcats have their best chance to make a deep run since Stephen Curry graduated with five starters back from last year's 25-win team.
3. Kentucky's season will more closely resemble its turbulent 2010-11 campaign than last year's dominant title run. The youthful Wildcats will sustain some early losses — especially on the road — but they'll improve over conference play and emerge as a Final Four threat come March.
4. Coach who needs to make the NCAA tournament to keep his job: Oklahoma State's Travis Ford. With promising freshman Marcus Smart joining Le'Bryan Nash, the Cowboys need to bounce back from last year's 15-18 flop.
5. Coach who could parlay an NCAA tournament bid into a better job: Steve Masiello, Manhattan. The ex-Louisville assistant inherited a 6-25 team and turned the Jaspers into instant contenders in the MAAC last season.
6. You'll spend 15 minutes between Selection Sunday and the start of NCAA tournament play desperately trying to find Tru-TV on your cable system. Three weeks later, you'll forget the channel exists again for another 11 1/2 months.
7. Despite only being under contract for one season and coaching an undermanned team ineligible for the postseason, Kevin Ollie will win enough games to earn a longterm deal at UConn. He has overcome the odds many times as a player, and too many shrewd coaches and executives swear by him for him to fail.
8. Team that will improve the most: USC. Add a healthy Jio Fontan and transfers J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise and Omar Oraby, and the Trojans could easily go from 6-26 to an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA tournament bid.
9. Team that will decline the most: Xavier. Chris Mack will have the Musketeers in contention in the Atlantic 10 again before too long, but the loss of Tu Holloway, Dez Wells, Mark Lyons and two members of the freshman class is too much for Xavier to overcome.
10. ACC breakout star: James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina. He waited his turn behind Tyler Zeller and John Henson last season, but now it's the highly touted sophomore's turn to shine.
11. Atlantic 10 breakout star: Treveon Graham, VCU. The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 7.0 points in 16.7 minutes as a freshman and showed an ability to get to the foul line. Expect his production to rise this season with Bradford Burgess having graduated.
12. Big East breakout star: Otto Porter, Georgetown. With Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and Jason Clark gone, Porter inherits the role of go-to threat for the Hoyas as a sophomore.
13. Big Ten breakout star: Branden Dawson, Michigan State. His knee has healed, his explosiveness has returned and he's ready to emerge as one of the Spartans' top weapons this season.
14. Big 12 breakout star: Elijah Johnson, Kansas. A role player his first two seasons in Lawrence and a shooting guard last year alongside Tyshawn Taylor, Johnson will finally have the chance to start at lead guard as a senior. Expect the former top 50 recruit to take full advantage.
15. Mountain West breakout star: Alex Kirk, New Mexico. The former top 100 recruit missed all of last season due to back surgery. Now with Drew Gordon having graduated, Kirk has a chance to be the Lobos' top interior player.
[More NCAA hoops: UK's freshmen highlight opening weekend slate in college hoops]
16. Pac-12 breakout star: J.T. Terrell, USC. Of the many newcomers who will play a big role for the Trojans this season, the former Wake Forest transfer is the most gifted scorer. He has deep range from behind the arc and an ability to get to the rim.
17. SEC breakout star: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee. Stokes joined the Vols in January and averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. Imagine what the mammoth 6-foot-8 sophomore can do with a full offseason to prepare.
18. At least one of the four host schools in the NIT Season Tip-Off will fail to advance to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals. Most likely upsets: North Texas over Kansas State, Delaware over Virginia or Lehigh over Pittsburgh.
19. Storyline you'll be sick of by Thanksgiving, Part I: Indiana's back!
20. Storyline you'll be sick of by Thanksgiving, Part II: Will the NCAA clear Shabazz Muhammad?
21. How desperate are UCLA fans for their first glimpse of Muhammad in uniform? The first entrepreneur in Westwood to hawk "Free Shabazz" T-Shirts outside Pauley Pavilion will sell a couple hundred within a week.
22. Trevor Mbakwe won't have to take out a loan this spring. The Minnesota big man who vowed to pay back his scholarship money if the team failed to make the NCAA tournament will lead the Gophers to March Madness this year.
23. Oregon's basketball team will fail to match the 70 points its football team hung on Colorado in at least one of the Ducks' two matchup with the defensive-minded Buffs.
24. This will finally be the year Memphis' talent translates into an NCAA tournament victory for Josh Pastner. In fact, two wins and a Sweet 16 appearance is very possible if Adonis Thomas has the breakout season expected from him.
25. NCAA tournament drought that will end this season: Drexel, which hasn't earned a bid in 16 years. The Dragons have four starters and several key reserves back from a team that won 29 games and the CAA championship last season but was one of the final at-large snubs.
26. NCAA tournament drought that won't end this season: Northwestern, which hasn't earned a bid, well, ever. The Wildcats have more size and frontcourt depth this season, but they'll miss John Shurna's shooting and leadership. Plus the Big Ten is simply too tough this year.
27. In a deep Atlantic 10 with six teams capable of finishing first, VCU will emerge from the pack. The Rams have the talent, depth and experience to seamlessly handle the step up in competition from the CAA.
28. Harvard will temporarily cede control of the Ivy League to Princeton this year as a result of the season-long suspension of co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. If Kasey and Curry return, however, the Crimson will be absolutely loaded for the 2013-14 season.
29. This picture of North Carolina's freshmen in ballet slippers and tutus will pop up in opposing ACC student sections when the Tar Heels visit.
30. Top 25 team which could disappoint: UCLA. In addition to questions about Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility and Joshua Smith's stamina, the Bruins have defensive issues. Ben Howland hates zone defense, but too many UCLA players lack the quickness or athleticism to play extended man-to-man.
31. Team outside the Top 25 which could surprise: Pittsburgh. With Tray Woodall healthy, Trey Zeigler eligible and Steven Adams arriving, the Panthers have the talent to bounce back from last year's disappointing season.
32. Outside shooting will no longer be a problem for Butler with the addition of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham, but the Bulldogs will miss Chrishawn Hopkins. No other Bulldogs guard has the quickness and athleticism to create off the dribble the way Hopkins could.
33. Football schools which will have more success on the hardwood than the gridiron this school year: Michigan, Tennessee, South Florida
34. Kentucky's first loss of the season: Nov. 29 at Notre Dame. Not only is it the first true road game for the young Cats, the Irish's slow-paced "Burn" offense could neutralize Kentucky's transition game.
35. Battle 4 Atlantis prediction: Louisville over Duke
36. Maui Invitational prediction: North Carolina over USC.
37. Charleston Classic prediction: Baylor over Murray State
38. NIT Season Tip-Off prediction: Michigan over Kansas State
39. Old Spice Classic prediction: West Virginia over Gonzaga
40. The Pac-12 will still be the weakest of the the power conferences, but there will be no one-bid chatter this year. Expect the league to land four or five teams in the NCAA tournament this March.
[Also: Watch: Can Kentucky win again?]
41. Of the handful of Pac-12 coaches on the hot seat entering the season, look for USC's Kevin O'Neill to survive another season. The return of Jio Fontan and an influx of new talent has the Trojans poised to contend for an NCAA bid this March.
42. A Pac-12 coach who won't make it? Washington State's Ken Bone. There's not enough talent around Brock Motum for the Cougars to amass enough conference wins to save Bone's job.
43. Gonzaga will wrest control of the WCC back from Saint Mary's after the Gaels swept the regular season and tournament titles last year. No WCC team can match the Zags' depth or talent, especially in the frontcourt.
44. Unless someone upsets Creighton during Arch Madness, the Valley will go back to being a one-bid league. Illinois State and Northern Iowa aren't quite strong enough to contend for at-large bids this year.
45. You'll miss Gus Johnson's enthusiasm in March. Again. Thanks a lot, CBS.
46. The Big Ten will win its fourth straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge ... but not in dominant fashion. Call it Big Ten 7, ACC 5.
47. Murray State will return to the NCAA tournament behind All-American candidate Isaiah Canaan but the Racers won't be the nation's last undefeated again. Their first loss: Nov. 18 against Baylor in the Charleston Classic title game.
48. Three most impactful high-major transfers: 1. Mark Lyons (Xavier to Arizona), 2. Rotnei Clarke (Arkansas to Butler) 3. Dez Wells (Xavier to Maryland)
49. Three most impactful low-major transfers: 1. Keala King (Arizona State to Long Beach State) 2. Dwaun Anderson (Michigan State to Wagner) 3. Taran Buie (Penn State to Hofstra)
50. Of the eight ESPN "College GameDay" games this season, North Carolina's visit to NC State will be the best atmosphere. The Wolfpack and their fans desperately want to beat the Tar Heels.
51. And you know what? They will. This is the year the Wolfpack emerge from the shadow of their Tobacco Road rivals and win the ACC title. With C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown back and a talented freshman class set to make an impact, NC State is worthy of its hype.
52. Who's the biggest challenger to Louisville in the Big East? Give me Notre Dame. The Irish have an all-conference big man in Jack Cooley and a pair of playmaking guards in Jerian Grant and Erik Atkins, both of whom can create late in the shot clock.
53. Who's the biggest challenger to Indiana in the Big Ten? Give me Michigan State. Tom Izzo likes his team, and with good reason. The Spartans have an experienced frontcourt, an elite point guard in Keith Appling and a promising freshman wing in Gary Harris.
54. Who's the biggest challenger to Kentucky in the SEC? Give me Missouri by a nose over Florida and Tennessee. The Gators and Vols both have formidable frontcourts, but the Tigers are the more complete team if their transfers mesh with returners Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon and Laurence Bowers.
55. Arizona's highly touted freshmen big men received the most preseason attention, but the Wildcats' two best players will be seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill. If the freshman-heavy frontcourt plays with enough consistency by March to complement those two, the Wildcats will be capable of a deep NCAA tournament run.
56. What will determine whether Indiana emerges as a national title favorite or merely remains one of many contenders is how much its defense improves. It probably gets a bit better because of an increased emphasis and more athleticism on the roster, but the Hoosiers are still going to beat teams by outscoring them.
57. Whether it's UNLV or San Diego State, the Mountain West champion will have at least four losses. Winning on the road at New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State or Nevada is too difficult for the Rebels or Aztecs to dominate.
58. Jay Wright will be a guest analyst for CBS or Turner Sports during the NCAA tournament. A.) He's really good at it. B.) Villanova's going to be bad again this year, so he'll have plenty of free time.
59. College basketball's most beloved walk-on this season: Adria Gasol. The 6-foot-10 UCLA freshman is the younger brother of NBA big men Pau and Marc Gasol.
60. Decision to stay in school that will look smart: Tony Mitchell, North Texas. He'd have been a fringe first-round pick last June, but a full season to showcase his athleticism, versatility and rebounding skills will propel him into the lottery.
61. Decision to stay in school that will be questioned: Trey Burke, Michigan. He lacks elite athleticism and scouts will have another year to pick apart his game and come up with reasons why he shouldn't be a first-round pick.
62. Forget Cody Zeller, Christian Watford or Victor Oladipo. The Indiana player who will receive the loudest ovations at Assembly Hall this year is Maurice Creek, who is attempting to come back from his third major leg injury.
63. Kansas will extend its streak of Big 12 regular-season titles to nine. Even without Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks are once again loaded.
64. Clemson won't lose in Chapel Hill this year. However, that's only because this year's lone matchup with the Tar Heels is at home.
65. Early men's Final Four projection: Indiana, Louisville, Kansas and Michigan State.
66. Early women's Final Four projection: Baylor, UConn, Duke, Kentucky.
67. Bonus women's prediction: With all five starters back from last year's 40-0 team, Baylor again goes undefeated and wins its second straight national title.
68. At least half of these preseason predictions will probably be wrong. The most fun part of college basketball is that it always defies expectation.
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