68 predictions for the new men’s college basketball season
Men's college basketball tips off Monday night with every AP Top 25 team in action. To celebrate the start of the new season, here are 68 predictions that are sure to come true (unless they don’t).
1. With visions of sweet, sweet TV money in their eyes, college athletics administrators will continue to float the idea of expanding the NCAA tournament from 68 teams to 80 (cringes), 96 (winces) or even 128 (vomits).
2. Many coaches will be in favor of it. In their eyes, lowering the bar to earn an NCAA bid means greater job security and more opportunities for players.
3. No one — absolutely no one else — will support NCAA tournament expansion. College basketball’s showcase event is like French wine, Swiss chocolate or Texas BBQ. It’s perfect the way it is.
4. This will be the year of the big man across college basketball. The best returning players in the sport are centers, from former national players of the year Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky) and Drew Timme (Gonzaga), to North Carolina star Armando Bacot, to Big Ten standouts Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan) and Zach Edey (Purdue).
5. Don’t expect that trend to halt anytime soon. The nation’s best big men have more reason to return to school than ever with the NBA devaluing the center position and rise of the NIL making it possible to earn more money in college than in the G-League or overseas.
6. Freshmen who will make the biggest impact this season: Keyonte George (Baylor), Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas), Dereck Lively II (Duke).
7. Freshmen ranked outside the Rivals top 10 who will make the biggest impact this season: Brandon Miller (Alabama), Adem Bona (UCLA), Gradey Dick (Kansas).
8. Freshmen ranked outside the top 40 who will make the biggest impact this season: Jett Howard (Michigan), Mark Armstrong (Villanova), Tre White (USC).
9. College basketball will suffer a little bit this season from not having Victor Wembanyama and fellow elite prospects Scoot Henderson and the Thompson twins, but the college model still has plenty to offer future lottery picks. There’s no better platform than the NCAA tournament for talented prospects to introduce themselves to corporate America or the casual fan.
10. Kentucky will win enough to ease the pressure on John Calipari. With the reigning national player of the year and other key players returning and another decorated recruiting class set to contribute, the Wildcats are poised to contend in the SEC and nationally.
11. But … if Kentucky falls short of expectations or stumbles early again in March, the outcry will be inescapable. Calipari’s buyout is too massive for him to get fired, yet segments of that fan base are growing tired of sending lottery picks to the NBA without any banners to show for it.
12. Team outside the preseason Top 25 who could surprise: Florida State. The Seminoles are poised to bounce back from last year’s rare down season. This is a top-four ACC team that could make a run in March if sophomores Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley blossom.
13. Preseason Top 25 team who could disappoint: Indiana. Are the 13th-ranked Hoosiers this much better than the team that went 9-11 in the Big Ten last season and barely made the NCAA tournament? Jackson-Davis scores, rebounds and defends and there’s talent around him, but outside shooting is a glaring concern.
14. ACC breakout star: Darius Maddox, Virginia Tech
15. American Athletic Conference breakout star: Craig Porter Jr., Wichita State
16. Atlantic 10 breakout star: Jayden Nunn, VCU
17. Big East breakout star: Jordan Hawkins, UConn
18. Big Ten breakout star: Kris Murray, Iowa
19. Big 12 breakout star: Daniel Batcho, Texas Tech
20. Mountain West breakout star: Tyson Degenhart, Boise State
21. Pac-12 breakout star: Pelle Larsson, Arizona
22. SEC breakout star: Jacob Toppin, Kentucky
23. Dick Vitale will be back to his loud, enthusiastic self this season — and hearing him will be heartwarming. A battle with cancer forced the legendary ESPN analyst not to call games for much of last season in order to rest his vocal chords.
24. You won’t see Mike Krzyzewski hold impromptu news conferences before NCAA tournament games like newly retired Jim Calhoun did during UConn’s 2016 title run. Nor will Krzyzewski shout out suggestions during practices the way Big John Thompson did in retirement at Georgetown. For Krzyzewski, retirement will mean butting out and allowing heir apparent Jon Scheyer to coach without interference.
25. What won’t change at Duke under Scheyer: The expectation that Duke will compete for elite recruits, Final Fours and national titles.
26. What will change at Duke under Scheyer: The head coach will do his own halftime interviews.
27. You think Bill Walton was hard on Ben Howland or Steve Alford late in their UCLA tenures? Wait until you hear the venom the Big Redhead unleashes on UCLA administrators for leaving his beloved Pac-12 for the Big Ten’s TV revenue.
28. Louisville’s 57-47 exhibition loss to Division II Lenoir-Rhyne on Nov. 1 is a sign of things to come. Kenny Payne’s squad is going to pile up losses in his debut season. Lenoir-Rhyne went 10-18 last year and was missing its top two scorers from that squad. Duke, North Carolina or Virginia, they are not.
29. Coach who will be in demand next year: Loyola Chicago’s Drew Valentine. The 31-year-old went 25-8 in his first year as a head coach and now steps up in weight class with the Ramblers joining the Atlantic 10. If Loyola handles that jump smoothly, it won’t be long before high-major athletic directors start trying to pry Valentine away.
30. Coach who will be out of work next year: Northwestern’s Chris Collins. Since Collins guided Northwestern to the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in 2017, the Wildcats have staggered their way to a 26-71 record in Big Ten games. Last March, Northwestern’s new athletic director tasked Collins with "making necessary changes to build towards success in the 2022-23 campaign,” but the Wildcats are again projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten.
31. Initiating offense against Kansas will be a nightmare for opponents this season, but where are the Jayhawks’ points going to come from? The reigning champs have less offensive talent than previous Bill Self teams and could struggle to live up to their preseason No. 5 ranking as a result.
32. Calls for Jim Boeheim to retire will grow louder as Syracuse misses a second straight NCAA tournament. This is a deeper, more athletic roster than last year’s defensively deficient 17-loss team, but the offense could regress significantly without Buddy Buckets and Cole Swider.
33. Football schools that will have more success on the basketball court than the gridiron this year: Auburn, Texas A&M, Miami.
34. Basketball schools that will have more success on the gridiron than the hardwood this year: Syracuse, NC State, Cincinnati.
35. Is North Carolina the team that underwhelmed for much of the 2021-22 regular season? Or the one that caught fire late, vanquished Duke twice and came within a bucket or two of winning the national title? The guess here is the latter. Something clicked with the backcourt of Caleb Love and R.J. Davis late in the season, and Northwestern transfer Pete Nance is ready to step into Brady Manek’s stretch forward role.
36. At some point very soon, Gonzaga will leave the WCC for a stronger conference. The Zags have the most in common with the schools in the Big East, but a Power Five football conference like the Big 12 might be more profitable given what drives revenue these days.
37. Aside from Gonzaga, the two best non-power-conference teams this season will be Dayton and San Diego State, two programs forever linked by heartbreak. The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament prematurely halted historic seasons from the Flyers and Aztecs and left both with more what-ifs than anyone else.
38. “Goodbye, friends” will be America’s most overused headline this April as Jim Nantz lends his voice to the Final Four for the last time. Ian Eagle will replace Nantz on play-by-play beginning in 2024.
39. Team that will make the biggest jump from last year to this year: Virginia. It’s a testament to what Tony Bennett has built that winning 21 games, including two in the NIT, was undeniably a down season for Virginia. This season, the Cavaliers will be back in the mix near the top of the ACC and back in the NCAA tournament.
40. Team that will take the biggest fall from last year to this year: Murray State. One year after Murray State piled up 31 victories, won a game in the NCAA tournament and rose as high as No. 19 in the AP Top 25, the Racers are poised to recede from relevance. They’re projected to finish eighth in the Valley after losing head coach Matt McMahon and many of their top players.
41. There won’t be a “next Saint Peter’s” this season. What the Peacocks accomplished going from a No. 15 seed to the Elite Eight won’t be duplicated for a long, long time.
42. But if there’s a small-conference minnow who will put a scare into someone this March, it might be Big West favorite UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos boast a Pac-12-caliber frontcourt and a dynamic lead guard in last year’s Big West newcomer of the year Ajay Mitchell.
43. At least once this season, Caleb Love will miss 10 consecutive 3-pointers. It will not affect his confidence. The notoriously self-assured North Carolina streak shooter will let his next deep ball fly like he was Steph Curry playing pop-a-shot.
44. Maui Invitational prediction: Creighton over Ohio State
45. Battle 4 Atlantis prediction: Tennessee over Kansas
46. Phil Knight Invitational prediction: North Carolina over UConn
47. Phil Knight Legacy prediction: Duke over Gonzaga
48. Continental Tire Main Event: Baylor over UCLA
49. ESPN Events Invitational prediction: Oklahoma over Florida State
50. Hall of Fame Tip-Off prediction: Miami over Maryland
51. The Big Ten will produce more NCAA tournament teams than any other league this season. An eight-bid season is realistic with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State likely to secure NCAA bids and Rutgers foremost among the teams capable of joining them.
52. No Big Ten team will finish league play with fewer than five losses in league play. This is by far the most wide-open power conference.
53. New head coach who will have the most success this season: Todd Golden, Florida. What Golden achieved at San Francisco is remarkable. He’s the first coach in two decades to earn an at-large NCAA bid at a WCC school not named Gonzaga, BYU or Saint Mary’s. Golden still must prove he can recruit at the SEC level, but he’s a good bet to mold Colin Castleton and an assortment of promising transfers into an NCAA tournament-caliber team.
54. New coach who will have the most success long-term: Sean Miller, Xavier. This is a great job with a rabid fan base, strong administrative support and a winning track record. Miller is well positioned to capitalize on that, barring an unexpectedly harsh punishment from the NCAA for his recruiting violations at Arizona. He knows Xavier from his previous stint and his one year away from basketball seems to have rejuvenated his joy for coaching.
55. Emoni Bates will be a forgotten man nationally even while producing big numbers at Eastern Michigan. The once-decorated prospect is scheduled to play just two games against high-major opponents all season, Nov. 11 against Michigan (ESPNU) and Dec. 30 against South Carolina (SEC Network).
56. G.G. Jackson might be a very good pro one day, but the potential NBA lottery pick is ill-suited to the task of elevating South Carolina men’s basketball to prominence as a one-and-done. Not even yet 18, Jackson is ready to be a complementary player as a freshman. The Gamecocks need a go-to threat to ascend in the SEC.
57. Transfers who will make the biggest impact this season: Kendric Davis (SMU to Memphis), Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State to Texas), Kevin McCullar (Texas Tech to Kansas)
58. Don’t expect a sequel to last February’s Greg Gard-Juwan Howard spat. The two coaches say they’ve moved on and even posed for a photo together at Big Ten media day.
59. Injury-plagued Villanova will be much better in conference play than it will be in November. The Wildcats may struggle in non-league play with veteran Justin Moore recovering from his Achilles tear, lauded freshman Cam Whitmore working his way back from a thumb injury and Caleb Daniels wearing a mask after breaking his nose.
60. Memphis will be … dare we say it? ... drama-free. With Emoni Bates banished, no projected NBA lottery picks on the roster and the investigation into James Wiseman’s eligibility behind them at last, the Tigers should be a solid team that for once flies under the national radar.
61. Mid-major star whose name you’ll know by March: Jordan “Jelly” Walker, UAB. The dynamic combo guard averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists last season and scored a school-record 42 points in a game against Middle Tennessee. He’s the face of a UAB program expected to finish atop C-USA this season.
62. This will be Creighton’s best basketball season since … maybe ever? The Bluejays will win the Big East crown and show that pushing eventual champion Kansas to the brink last March was no accident. Three players who weren’t available against the Jayhawks will play a key role this season: Ryan Nembhard, Ryan Kalkbrenner and sharpshooting South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman.
63. Tennessee’s 99-80 exhibition dismantling of Gonzaga will prove to be no fluke. The Vols might be Kentucky’s most formidable challenger in a loaded SEC.
64. The Pac-12 was the only power conference not to have a single coaching change this past offseason. Expect that to change in a big way this spring. Jerod Haase (Stanford), Mike Hopkins (Washington) and Bobby Hurley (Arizona State) each face pressure to win.
65. And yet the Pac-12 should also be deeper this season than a year ago. Five NCAA bids are a realistic goal — UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, USC and one from a middle tier of Washington State, Stanford, Arizona State or Washington.
66. Early first-team All-American projections: Marcus Sasser, G, Houston; Jaime Jaquez, G/F, UCLA; Oscar Tschiebwe, F, Kentucky, Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga; Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina
67. Early Final Four projections: North Carolina, Kentucky, Baylor, UCLA
68. Most of these preseason predictions will probably be wrong. The most fun part of college basketball is that it always defies expectation.