College basketball season tips off Friday night with every Top 25 team in action. To celebrate the end of the offseason, here are 68 fearless predictions for the new season.
1. Last season was the year of the senior in college basketball. This season will be the year of the freshman. Of the 14 lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft, DraftExpress projects 12 of them will be college freshmen. What’s more, almost all of the marquee players in the 2016 class landed with name-brand programs.
2. Freshmen who will have the biggest impact this season: Kansas’ Josh Jackson, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and Duke’s Jayson Tatum.
3. Freshmen ranked outside the top 10 who will have the biggest impact this season: Arizona’s Rawle Alkins, St. John’s Shamorie Ponds and Syracuse’s Tyus Battle
4. Freshmen ranked outside the top 40 who will have the biggest impact this season: Maryland’s Anthony Cowan and Iowa’s Tyler Cook
5. National title favorite Duke has comparable talent to 2014-15 Kentucky if its freshman standouts recover from preseason injuries, but let’s halt all talk of the Blue Devils making a run at an unbeaten season. The ACC is way too loaded this season for any team to emerge with fewer than three league losses, let alone unscathed.
6. Bill Walton will remain college basketball’s most polarizing TV analyst. Walton’s irreverence can keep a dull matchup entertaining, however, his outlandish opinions and off-topic anecdotes will make you want to throw a brick through your TV if it’s your team playing and you’re emotionally invested.
7. First-team All-Americans: G Monte Morris (Iowa State), G Grayson Allen (Duke), G Josh Hart (Villanova), G/F Josh Jackson (Kansas), F Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
8. Exhibition loss that will be long forgotten by Thanksgiving: Queens College 75, VCU 73. The Rams will clean up their turnover and shot selection issues in time to contend in the Atlantic 10.
9. Exhibition loss that’s a sign of things to come: Mansfield 79, Duquesne 74. With Micah Mason and Derrick Colter both having graduated, the Dukes are headed for a bottom-three finish in the Atlantic 10.
10. The sight of Lonzo Ball hitting an unsuspecting teammate in the nose with a pass will be a regular occurrence in November and December. The highly touted UCLA freshman has passing ability and court vision that draw comparisons to Jason Kidd, however, it will be an adjustment for the rest of the Bruins to learn how to play with him.
11. Whether UCLA can stop anyone will determine how big a jump it can take this year. The Bruins lost their most versatile defender, combo forward Jonah Bolden, from a team that finished 119th in points per possession allowed last season. Offensive talent abounds on this year’s roster, but elite freshmen Ball and T.J. Leaf are much more polished scorers and passers than defenders at this point.
12. Football schools that will have more success on the hardwood than the gridiron this school year: Oregon, Texas and Notre Dame
13. Basketball schools which will have more success on the gridiron than the hardwood this school year: Temple and Tulsa
14. Injury-plagued Michigan State will have at least three losses by the end of November. The Spartans play the nation’s toughest November schedule, a 20-day gauntlet that includes the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and single games against preseason top 10 teams Arizona, Kentucky and Duke, all away from home.
15. But in the long run Tom Izzo’s team will be fine. As Michigan State’s injured frontcourt players get healthy and its freshman class becomes more comfortable, the Spartans will blossom into one of the Big Ten’s top teams and an opponent nobody wants to see in March.
16. Remember Kentucky’s reputation for being too soft and timid around the basket last season? Bam Adebayo will be a one-man solution to that problem. The long-armed, powerfully built freshman is a powerful dunker, energetic defender and ferocious rebounder
17. ACC breakout star: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
18. American Athletic Conference breakout star: Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
19. Atlantic 10 breakout star: James Demery, Saint Joseph’s.
20. Big East breakout star: Jalen Lindsey, Providence
21. Ben Ten breakout star: O.G. Anunoby, Indiana
22. Big 12 breakout star: Carlton Bragg, Kansas
23. Mountain West breakout star: Jalen Poyser, UNLV
24. Pac-12 breakout star: Chimezie Metu, USC
25. SEC breakout star: Admon Gilder, Texas A&M
26. The big question in the SEC used to be who the third-best team behind Kentucky and Florida would be. Now there’s not even a clear-cut No. 2 anymore. Texas A&M is my choice to emerge from the pack, but there’s little separation between the Aggies, Florida, Georgia and Arkansas.
27. New coach who will have the most success this season: Robert Ehsan, UAB. Ehsan, Jerod Haase’s associate head coach the past two seasons, inherited a loaded roster when his boss left for Stanford last spring. Four starters from a 26-7 squad return including juniors Chris Cokley and William Lee, both of whom were selected to the 10-man C-USA All-Preseason Team.
28. New coach who will have the most longterm success at his school: Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State. He’s comfortable in the Big 12, he knows the recruiting territory and he has a track record of success. In three years at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood won a pair of NCAA tournament games and went 89-14 overall and 53-1 in league play.
29. While a step backward is inevitable in year one without Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, don’t expect Wichita State to fade from national relevance. This is still the Valley’s best team because sophomore Markis McDuffie is poised to blossom into a star and Landry Shamet, Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown and Shaq Morris form a very capable supporting cast.
30. This will be the 16th straight season Wisconsin will finish fourth or higher in the Big Ten. If the Badgers could start 1-4 in league play last year and still manage to tie for third, then there’s no reason to doubt them when they return their entire starting five from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last March.
31. Villanova will come closer to repeating as national champs than any team has since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007. The Wildcats have one of the strongest perimeter corps in the nation, however, a lack of size and rim protection could be an issue with Daniel Ochefu having graduated and top freshman Omari Spellman failing to gain eligibility this season.
32. In a year when every upper-echelon Big 12 program lost a couple of senior stalwarts, Kansas did the most impressive job of reloading on the fly. The Jayhawks will comfortably win their 13th straight Big 12 title, tying the all-time record for consecutive conference championships set by UCLA from 1967-1979.
33. Wait ’til next year yet again, Northwestern. The departures of Tre Demps and Alex Olah are enough of a blow to the Wildcats offensively that the program’s first-ever NCAA bid is a major long shot. They’ll get off to a strong start against a cupcake-heavy non-conference schedule but finish below .500 in the always-tough Big Ten.
34. Coach who will be in demand next spring: Dan Hurley, Rhode Island. Hurley spurned Rutgers last spring because he didn’t want to begin a third rebuilding job just as Rhode Island was poised for a breakthrough. But if the Rams contend in the Atlantic 10 this season and end their 18-year NCAA tournament drought as expected, Hurley may receive some offers he can’t refuse.
35. Coach who will be out of work next spring: Missouri’s Kim Anderson. The Tigers are 19-44 in Anderson’s first two seasons, projected to finish last in the SEC again this year and losing key in-state recruiting battles to mid-major Saint Louis. If that’s not the recipe for the coach at a once-proud program getting fired after three seasons, what is?
36. Coach on the hot seat who will keep his job: Washington’s Lorenzo Romar. Whether Washington ends its NCAA tournament drought or not this March, Romar is recruiting too voraciously for the Huskies to give up on him and jeopardize their loaded 2017 class.
37. The ACC will make a run at the record the Big East set in 2011 when it sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament. Not all 12 of the ACC’s NCAA tournament contenders will make it, but anything fewer than nine would be a surprise.
38. Player most likely to make a Buddy Hield-esque leap as a senior: Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, who will have to take on a bigger scoring load this season after excelling as a distributor in years past. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame and Illinois’ Malcolm Hill could also have huge senior seasons for teams further off the radar.
39. Virginia’s Austin Nichols will contend for all-ACC honors and make the biggest contributions of any transfer this season. Creighton’s Marcus Foster, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss and Syracuse’s Andrew White III will also emerge as impact transfers.
40. Preseason Top 25 team that could disappoint: Arizona. With Allonzo Trier’s eligibility in question, Ray Smith sidelined by a torn ACL and Chance Comanche suspended indefinitely for academic reasons, the Wildcats simply aren’t a top 10 team right now. Enough talent remains for Arizona to reach the NCAA tournament, but the Wildcats need Trier in particular to live up to preseason expectations.
41. Team outside the preseason Top 25 that could surprise: NC State. Despite the departure of the ACC’s leading scorer Cat Barber, the Wolfpack have the potential to finish in the upper half of the loaded ACC. They’re unproven but talented thanks to the addition of five-star point guard Dennis Smith, heralded Turkish center Omer Yurtseven, Charlotte transfer Torin Dorn and previously injured wing Terry Henderson.
42. You’ll see an entirely new version of Edmond Sumner this season. Xavier’s rapidly blossoming point guard will be a more vocal leader, a better decision maker in the lane and a more consistent outside shooter.
43. Theo Pinson’s fractured foot is a bigger blow to North Carolina than many realize. Nobody else on the roster — not senior Nate Britt, sophomore Kenny Williams or freshman Brandon Robinson — can replace Pinson’s defensive energy, passing ability or contagious enthusiasm.
44. Skin will be in this college basketball season. Nike has introduced new trimmer jerseys with thinner shoulder straps at some of its flagship programs, exposing far more skin when viewed from the back. Another unfortunate jersey trend to watch out for this season: More gray alternates. Ugh.
45. He’ll be on SportsCenter as often as Scott Van Pelt: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. The high-flying freshman is already one of college basketball’s premier dunkers.
46. Harvard is the only threat to Princeton in the Ivy League now that Yale’s Makai Mason will miss the season with a foot injury. Whether the Tigers or the Crimson earn the league’s automatic bid, that team will be a threat to win an NCAA tournament game in March.
47. Jim Boeheim has said repeatedly that this is the best team he’s had in awhile, which is scary considering that in the past five years, Syracuse has produced two Final Fours and a 34-win Elite Eight team. Nonetheless, this Orange team has a chance to be the best from the program’s ACC era if either Franklin Howard or John Gillon solidify the point guard position.
48. Maui Invitational prediction: Wisconsin over North Carolina
49. Wooden Legacy prediction: UCLA over Texas A&M
50. 2KSports Classic prediction: SMU over Michigan
51. Advocare Invitational prediction: Gonzaga over Iowa State
52. Puerto Rico Tip-Off prediction: Xavier over Oklahoma
53. NIT Season Tip-Off prediction: West Virginia over Florida State
54. Battle 4 Atlantis prediction: Louisville over Michigan State
55. UConn’s best lineup will essentially be a four-guard look with Jalen Adams, Alterique Gilbert, Rodney Purvis and Terry Larrier playing together. Pair that quartet with Amida Brimah at center, and that’s an explosive lineup that can generate stops, get out and run and turn defense into offense in a hurry.
56. Mid-major star whose name you’ll know by March: Alec Peters, Valparaiso. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds this past season. He could have transferred to one of many power-conference suitors last spring, but he chose to remain loyal to Valparaiso and new coach Matt Lottich.
57. The Big Ten hasn’t lost its challenge with the ACC since 2008, and I don’t think that changes this year. Give me a 7-7 tie.
58. Few teams will be in the headlines more frequently than Wisconsin, which boasts both top 15 talent, recognizable faces and socially conscious stars. Bronson Koenig, the sport’s most prominent Native American player, participated in the Dakota Pipeline Protest in September. Nigel Hayes has repeatedly spoken out against the NCAA’s antiquated philosophy of amateurism as well as the need to eliminate racial injustice.
59. Team that will make the biggest jump from last year to this year: Rhode Island. With E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin healthy and Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett back, the Rams are poised for a breakthrough. Could they go from 9-9 in the Atlantic 10 last season to league champs this year? Don’t count them out.
60. Team that will take the biggest fall from last year to this year: Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks won 28 games last season, but their narrow NCAA tournament loss to Oregon was the finale for many of their stars. Do-it-all wing DeAndre Bembry entered the NBA draft last spring and co-stars Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown graduated, making Saint Joseph’s the lone Atlantic 10 team not to return at least one double-digit scorer..
61. With UNLV rebuilding, another one- or two-bid campaign for the Mountain West isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The league really needs New Mexico and Nevada to perform well out of conference and emerge as legitimate challengers to favorite San Diego State.
62. Oregon won’t have the offensive firepower to contend for a Final Four unless versatile forward Dillon Brooks returns from offseason foot surgery 100 percent healthy. Defense will keep the Ducks competitive in Brooks’ absence, but his ability to exploit a mismatch and score in multiple ways will be missed.
63. Small-conference program that could be a March giant killer: Monmouth. Four starters and numerous key reserves are back from a 27-win team that upset Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown yet settled for an NIT bid last year.
64. Most compelling conference title race: the Big Ten. Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue are each viable contenders and Ohio State has enough returning talent to be a dark horse.
65: Conference championship predictions: Duke (ACC), UConn (AAC), Dayton (A-10), Villanova (Big East), Indiana (Big Ten), Kansas (Big 12), San Diego State (Mountain West), Oregon (Pac-12), Kentucky (SEC), Gonzaga (WCC)
66. Early men’s Final Four projection: Duke, Kansas, Villanova, Syracuse
67. Early women’s Final Four projection: UConn, Notre Dame, Baylor, Maryland
68. Most 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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