College basketball is always one of the tougher sports to predict typically because it is ALWAYS experiencing turnover, with all the one-and-dones that enter and leave the league before we really get a chance to see what they can do. It’s hard to blame them, with how messy the NCAA can get it’s no wonder these players jump to the NBA first chance they get. So that being said, I’m anticipating a fun year of college basketball. In this preview, I will try and project who will win each of the Power 5 conferences as well as putting in my own Top 25 and my preseason All Americans. I will not be predicting who I think will be the champs, as March Madness is so insane every year that I feel like trying to predict how it’s going to go in November doesn’t give the tournament its full due. I will, however, give who I think will be the number 1 overall seed, if that helps. Let’s get to the conference champs.
ACC: Duke Blue Devils
The ACC is probably the best conference in college hoops right now. You’ve got the blue bloods such as Duke and reigning champs North Carolina, but the second tier of this conference is typically super competitive as well, such as Notre Dame, Miami (FL), and Louisville (though with the whole Rick Pitino situation, Louisville may be removing themselves from this discussion). I’m going with Duke to win the ACC this year for two main reasons: Coach K and the recruiting class. Mike Krzyzewski is arguably the best college basketball coach on the planet right now and he always turns out a plethora of NBA talent, whether that be from one-and-dones or guys who stay all four years. This year he has a particularly talented group to go with Grayson Allen. Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval, and Gary Trent Jr are all in the TOP EIGHT of ESPN’s Top 100 Recruits for the class of 2021 (whether these guys are here that long is another story). Bagley is the highlight here as he is a big time recruit who was able to reclassify in order to be a part of this Duke roster. He’s 6’11 with all the tools you can look for in a player: athleticism, shooting, and post moves being major positives with this kid. The one thing that may hold this team back is Grayson Allen. Yes he is a supremely talented point guard, but his emotional outbursts are more renowned than his game is and that can become a distraction. He’s got to be the leader of this young team, being a senior this year, and if he’s having hissy fits on the bench then it could do a lot of damage to this team.
SEC: Kentucky Wildcats
Was there really any other choice here? While the SEC may be a dominant conference in football, they are essentially a one-man race in basketball, with Kentucky having won the conference each of the last 3 years (feels like it should be more than that). John Calipari rivals Coach K as the best coach in the game but the main challenge Kentucky deals with every year is the one-and-done. Kentucky goes through these types of players more often than seemingly any team in the country, but Cal also encourages it. He feels that his guys should take the opportunity to go to the NBA as soon as they feel they’re ready, but has all his guys declare for the NBA Draft anyway so they can all get a sense of their draft stock before deciding whether they want to go forward or return to school. And with his coaching prowess and skills as a recruiter, he has no problem finding replacements for the guys he lost the year prior. This season, Kentucky’s top players are Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Nick Richardson, Hamidou Diallo, and Jarred Vanderbilt, joining a roster that returns very little from last year’s SEC champs. Kentucky’s only real competition this season will likely come from Florida, Texas A&M, or Alabama, but I think the gap between these schools are big enough that everyone else is playing for second place in the SEC.
Big Ten: Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo’s Spartan squad has never been one that typically deals with the one-and-dones, as Deyonta Davis is the only player in recent memory to leave for the NBA after one season in East Lansing. That bodes well for Michigan State because they’ve got a lot of good returning talent, particularly Miles Bridges (who may be my favorite player in all of college basketball) and Lourawls “Tumtum” Nairn. Michigan State also landed Jaren Jackson, ESPN’s #9 recruit, who looks to be a major contributor for this season. In the Big Ten, Michigan State’s main competition will likely come from Wisconsin, Purdue or even quietly good Minnesota and Northwestern teams. Indiana’s potentially a wild card because it’ll be interesting to see how Archie Miller transitions to major college basketball after great success at the University of Dayton. But Michigan State is so loaded and have a Hall of Fame head coach, making it awfully difficult to pick against them.
Big 12: Kansas Jayhawks
Do I really even need to do this one? The Big 12 has been OWNED by Kansas of late, as the Jayhawks have won the Big 12 every year since 2005. That’s THIRTEEN STRAIGHT CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS! Despite this, Kansas only has one national championship victory to show for it (2008) but they will be looking for another run this year. They lose Player of the Year Frank Mason to the NBA, but they do have Devonte Graham returning, which was huge for Bill Self’s squad, as Kansas’ recruiting class was a little light this season. Billy Preston was their only recruit in ESPN’s Top 50. But having another season of Devonte Graham will likely be good enough for the Jayhawks to hold off such competition as West Virginia, Baylor, and possibly Iowa State for a fourteenth straight conference title.
PAC-12: Arizona Wildcats
Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins are back for Arizona and they’ll be running this offense with one new toy to play with: DeAndre Ayton, the 7-foot 250-pounder out of Phoenix. Ayton is the #3 overall recruit according to ESPN, trailing only Bagley and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr (both guys are in the discussion for number 1 pick in the NBA Draft). Ayton is arguably as good as either of these guys and will be key to replacing Lauri Markkanen. Head Coach Sean Miller (older brother of Indiana coach Archie Miller) has had Arizona playing some really good basketball these last few years and it wouldn’t shock me to see these guys unseat UCLA as best in a weak conference, as only the Bruins and USC are expected to be competitive in this conference.
Preseason Top 25:
1.Duke Blue Devils
2.Michigan State Spartans
7.North Carolina Tar Heels
9.Wichita State Shockers
10.West Virginia Mountaineers
11.Miami (FL) Hurricanes
13.Notre Dame Fighting Irish
15.Minnesota Golden Gophers
24.St. Mary’s Gaels
25.Seton Hall Pirates
Preseason All Americans
F-Miles Bridges-Michigan State
G-Joel Berry-North Carolina
F-Michael Porter Jr-Missouri
Projected Player of the Year: Miles Bridges-F-Michigan State
Bridges is one of the most exciting players in the game and as a freshman last year, he scored 16.9 points per game with 8.3 rebounds while shooting almost 50% from the field and 39% from 3. He’s got another year under his belt and I think given his abilities, we are in for a tremendous season from the sophomore forward from Flint, Michigan.
Projected #1 Seed: Duke Blue Devils
Duke is just too stacked on paper for it to be anyone else at this point in the year. As I mentioned, in a sport typically dominated by freshman, Duke has 4 of the 8 best, including the number 1 overall player as well as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. However, we often see these super teams fall apart under the weight of media expectations, as teams with this much hype rarely ever live up to it, so while I am super high on Duke, it also wouldn’t shock me to see them underwhelm.
Those are my predictions for this college basketball season. Probably going to look WAY different when I do the postseason edition. Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.