College basketball season tips off Friday night with 23 AP top 25 teams in action. To celebrate the end of the offseason, here are 68 fearless predictions for the new season.
1. This may be the year of the whistle in college basketball. Expect new rules cracking down on hand-checking and physical contact to lead to a barrage of fouls, especially early in the season as players and coaches adjust to the changes.
2. And unlike two years ago when the rule changes faded away by midseason, expect referees to stick with them this time. College basketball's rules committee has made it clear that changes are needed to increase scoring in the sport.
3. First-team All-Americans: G Kris Dunn (Providence), G Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), G Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), F Ben Simmons (LSU), F Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)
4. Exhibition loss that's a sign of things to come: St. Thomas Aquinas 90, St. John's 58. It's going to be a looooooong debut season for Chris Mullin.
5. Football schools which will have more success on the hardwood than the gridiron this school year: Miami and Texas
6. Basketball schools which will have more success on the gridiron than the hardwood this school year: Memphis and Temple
7. LSU's schedule will frustrate fans, media and most of all NBA scouts. You'll have to wait until January to see potential No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons face marquee competition.
8. Best ESPN broadcasting decision, part I: Pairing analyst Doris Burke with veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough for ACC Big Monday games. Not only is Burke a massive improvement over former Duke star Shane Battier, she's also one of the most well-prepared and insightful analysts in the business.
9. Best ESPN broadcasting decision, part II: Parting ways with Bob Knight. The network had buried Knight in a three-man booth calling American Athletic Conference games last season after several years in a prominent role on Big 12 telecasts.
10. Bill Walton will continue to be college basketball's most polarizing analyst. Nobody is more entertaining than Walton if you're not emotionally invested in the game he's calling, however, nobody is more insufferable and off-topic if your team is playing.
11. Harvard's era of dominance in the Ivy League will take a one-year hiatus. With all the talent the Crimson lost from last season, they could finish behind Columbia, Princeton and Yale.
12. ACC breakout star: Grayson Allen, Duke
13. American Athletic Conference breakout star: Obi Enechionyia, Temple
14. Atlantic 10 breakout star: Scoochie Smith, Dayton
15. Big East breakout star: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
16. Ben Ten breakout star: Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
17. Big 12 breakout star: Johnathan Motley, Baylor
18. Mountain West breakout star: Malik Pope, San Diego State
19. Pac-12 breakout star: Reid Travis, Stanford
20. SEC breakout star: Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt
21. Gonzaga will scrap its supersized starting lineup by Christmas. It's understandable Mark Few wants to get his best three players on the floor at the same time, but I'm skeptical a lineup that includes Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer can be effective on defense. Neither Wiltjer nor Sabonis are comfortable guarding high-major wings who can attack off the dribble.
22. Steve Prohm (Iowa State) will have the most success of any new coach next season, but the hire I like best longterm is Ben Howland at Mississippi State. Howland seemed genuinely happy in Starkville when I caught up with him this summer and he's already recruiting at a level previously unimaginable for the school.
I've said I'll never project Wisconsin lower than fourth in the Big Ten under Bo Ryan until it happens, and I'm not going to break that pledge. While Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue and Michigan each have Top 25-caliber rosters, look for the Badgers to remain in the mix with Zak Showalter, Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown emerging in support of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
24. I've said I'll never project Kansas anywhere besides first in the Big 12 until it happens, and I'm not going to break that pledge either. While Iowa State and Oklahoma are worthy challengers, the Jayhawks will win the league for the 12th straight year.
25. Wait 'til next year, Northwestern. Tre Demps, Alex Olah and Bryant McIntosh will get the Wildcats off to a strong start against a cupcake-heavy non-conference schedule, but the Wildcats will finish below .500 in the Big Ten and settle for an NIT bid.
26. Coach who will be in demand next spring: Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin. Underwood has led the Lumberjacks to three straight league titles and back-to-back NCAA tournament bids. They have an excellent chance to extend both those streaks this season with four starters back from last season.
27. Coach who will be out of work next spring: Georgia Tech's Brian Gregory. An influx of transfers could help the Yellowjackets ascend a couple rungs in the ACC, but Gregory enters the season with a 19-51 record in league play and a buyout that diminishes this spring.
28. Coach on the hot seat who will keep his job: Indiana's Tom Crean. Not only will the Hoosiers make the NCAA tournament, they'll do so with ease this year. That ought to be enough to quiet Crean's critics ... for now.
29. The ACC will produce more NCAA tournament teams than any other league next season. North Carolina, Virginia, Duke are locks. Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State, N.C. State, Louisville and Syracuse have the potential to join them.
30. As if Louisville hasn't given hecklers enough material already with its scandal-tainted offseason, opposing fans should have a field day poking fun at Cardinals center Chinanu Onuaku attempting all his free throws underhanded.
31. You know what though? Onuaku won't care at all. He'll shoot far better from the foul line than the 47 percent he managed a year ago.
32. Common sense will prevail and the NCAA will clear 7-foot-6 UCF freshman Tacko Fall, an engineering major who grew up in poverty. Not even the NCAA will want to take this PR hit all season.
33. Preseason Top 25 team that could disappoint: Baylor. The frontcourt is a major strength but will an unproven backcourt be steady enough to keep the Bears in the Top 25? Lester Medford's play at point guard will be key.
34. Team outside the preseason Top 25 that could surprise: Cincinnati. All five starters and most of the bench return from last year's 23-win defensive juggernaut that lost to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament's round of 32.
PODCAST: Preview the NCAA season with Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg:
35. He'll be on SportsCenter as often as Scott Van Pelt: UNLV's Derrick Jones II. The high-flying freshman is already one of college basketball's premier dunkers.
36. Expect a two-bid Missouri Valley Conference this March. My pick to join Wichita State is Evansville, but Northern Iowa and Illinois State both have a realistic shot.
37. Freshmen who will have the biggest impact this season: LSU's Ben Simmons, Kentucky's Skal Labissiere and Mississippi State's Malik Newman
38. Freshmen ranked outside the top 10 who will have the biggest impact this season: Marquette's Henry Ellenson and Villanova's Jalen Brunson.
39. Freshmen ranked outside the top 40 who will have the biggest impact this season: Washington's Dejounte Murray and UCLA's Aaron Holiday
40. This is the year Florida's Kasey Hill will finally look more like a former McDonald's All-American point guard. Mike White's up-tempo system is a good fit for his skill set, and three years of maturity should help improve his shot selection and decision making with the ball in his hands.
41. Normally I'm a firm believer that two years is way too quick to evaluate a coaching hire, however, I'm not certain Missouri's Kim Anderson will get a third season. The Tigers went 9-23 in his debut season, lost two of their top players via offseason transfers and are projected dead last in the 14-team SEC this year. Worse yet, there's minimal recruiting momentum to offer hope for the future either.
42. Maui Invitational prediction: Kansas over Vanderbilt
43. Wooden Legacy prediction: Michigan State over Arizona
44. 2KSports Classic prediction: Duke over Wisconsin
45. Orlando Classic prediction: Notre Dame over Xavier
46. Puerto Rico Tip-Off prediction: Utah over Butler
47. NIT Season Tip-Off prediction: Villanova over Georgia Tech
48. Battle 4 Atlantis prediction: Gonzaga over UConn
Mid-major star whose name you'll know by March if you don't already: Louisiana-Lafayette's Shawn Long. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 16.4 points and 10.4 rebounds as a junior, upping his career total to 52 double-doubles.
50. The Big Ten hasn't lost its challenge with the ACC since 2008, but I think that changes this year. Give me ACC 8, Big Ten 6.
51. The combination of Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson will render Virginia's loss of NBA draft pick Justin Anderson less significant than many expect. Shayok, in particular, has breakout potential.
52. Louisville will enter ACC play without a single notable victory, putting pressure on the Cardinals to perform well in ACC play. Aside from two very difficult games against Kentucky and Michigan State, Louisville does not play a single non-conference opponent who finished in the top 100 in the RPI last season.
53. Team that will make the biggest jump from last year to this year: Cal. Can the Bears go from eighth-place in the Pac-12 standings to winning the league? It's certainly a possibility thanks to the return of a formidable backcourt and the arrival of a pair of McDonald's All-Americans.
54. Team that will take the biggest fall from last year to this year: Arkansas. Early-entry defections and off-court trouble have left the Razorbacks without all five starters from last year's 27-win team, relegating them to rebuilding mode.
55. Kansas can win the Big 12 and spend most of the season in the top 10 without Cheick Diallo, but the Jayhawks need the highly touted freshman big man to win a national championship. His ability to alter shots and finish above the rim makes him an ideal complement to highly skilled but modestly athletic Perry Ellis in the Kansas frontcourt.
56. The Mountain West could struggle to get more than two teams into the NCAA tournament this season. San Diego State and Boise State appear to be good bets, but the league really needs UNLV to navigate a daunting early schedule and play to its potential in league play in order to have a third viable candidate.
57. Small-conference team that will win a game in March: Valparaiso. With every rotation player back from a team that went 28-6 last year and pushed Maryland to the final possession in the NCAA tournament, the Crusaders will be a team nobody will want to draw.
58. Marcus Paige will play up to his potential this season once he recovers from a broken finger in his non-shooting hand. A lingering foot injury hampered Paige all last season, but the North Carolina guard will return to his sophomore year form this season.
59. The Ron Baker-Fred Van Vleet era at Wichita State will end a win or two shy of a second Final Four. Wichita State's backcourt is as formidable as any in the nation, but the Shockers will eventually run into an NCAA tournament team long and athletic enough in the frontcourt to hurt them on the glass.
60. Most compelling conference title race: the ACC. Virginia returns enough talent to potentially capture its third straight ACC regular season title, but North Carolina and Duke will again pose a formidable challenge.
61. Second most compelling conference title race: the Pac-12. The gap between reigning champ Arizona and other contenders has closed considerably. Cal has its most talented roster since the Jason Kidd era, Utah returns 9 of its 11 top scorers from a Sweet 16 team and Oregon is loaded too.
62: Conference championship predictions: Virginia (ACC), UConn (AAC), Rhode Island (A-10), Villanova (Big East), Maryland (Big Ten), Kansas (Big 12), San Diego State (Mountain West), Arizona (Pac-12), Kentucky (SEC), Gonzaga (WCC)
63. Team that will bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor year and return to the NCAA tournament: UConn. The addition of freshman Jalen Adams and graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs will solidify the Huskies' backcourt in spite of the loss of Ryan Boatright.
64. Team that will struggle again this year: Memphis. The loss of Austin Nichols and Kedren Johnson's injury woes may doom the Tigers to another frustrating season.
65. Four transfers who will make the biggest impact this season: Damion Lee (Louisville), Sterling Gibbs (UConn), Ryan Anderson (Arizona), Eron Harris (Michigan State).
66. Early men's Final Four projection: Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia, Villanova
67. Early women's Final Four projection: UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Baylor
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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