by Eli Boettger – November 9, 2017
The new college basketball season tips off Friday morning. Here’s four thousand words on what I predict will happen during the 2017-18 season. Enjoy, and let’s laugh at these in five months.
1 – Duke starts the season at #1
The Blue Devils not only return their top dog in Grayson Allen (14.5/3.7/3.5 in 2016-17), but Mike Krzyzewski welcomes another legendary recruiting haul. Duke adds four top 20 recruits, including the nation’s top freshman in Marvin Bagley, who reclassified and committed in August.
2 – Georgetown wins twice as many non-conference games as conference games
CORRECT – 10 non-conference wins, five conference wins
With a non-league slate that includes Jacksonville, Mount St. Mary’s, Maryland Eastern Shore, Coppin State, North Carolina A&T, North Texas and Alabama A&M all at home, if the Hoyas can’t win at least 10 non-league games, Georgetown fans will be calling for Patrick Ewing’s head before the calendar flips to 2019. It’s also worth noting that the Big East is almost undoubtedly the deepest league in college basketball this season.
3 – Joel Berry’s video game incident ends up costing North Carolina
INCORRECT – UNC went 10-2 in non-conference play, Berry returned shortly after
North Carolina point guard Joel Berry might be the most valuable player in America, recording 143 of 160 possible minutes in the past two season’s Final Fours. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, though, Berry broke his hand after punching a door in a video game-related incident. He expects to be back before league play, but UNC has true road matchups with tournament hopefuls Stanford and Tennessee, neutral tangles against Davidson and Ohio State, as well as the stacked Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, which includes Oregon, Michigan State, Arkansas and Oklahoma in UNC’s side of the bracket. There’s no way the Tar Heels go undefeated in non-conference play without their senior point guard.
4 – Kansas handles new-look Kentucky in Champions Classic showdown
PARTIALLY CORRECT – Kansas won 65-61
Kansas has continuity, Kentucky does not. Two of the nation’s blue bloods battle in the first full week of the season in Chicago, and the Jayhawks will cruise to a double-digit win. Kentucky has a severe lack of experience on its roster, and even though the Wildcats have #2 incoming freshman class according to 24/7 Sports, UK has lost at least two non-conference games in four of the last five years. KU should be a steady favorite in this one.
5 – Duke and Michigan State highlight the night with an overtime classic
INCORRECT – Duke won 88-81
Anyone remember January 4, 2016? Oklahoma and Kansas fought in a #1 vs. #2 headliner in Allen Fieldhouse, which resulted in a 109-106 instant classic in triple overtime. Duke and Michigan State won’t go to three OT periods, but Sparty and the Blue Devils will be tied at the end of regulation in another #1 vs. #2 thriller. Preseason player of the year favorite Miles Bridges will hit a couple key baskets in the extra session to guide Michigan State to the marquee victory.
6 – Notre Dame captures the Maui Invitational over Wichita State
CORRECT – Notre Dame beat Wichita State 67-66 in championship
The Maui Invite should be no slouch this season. Notre Dame and Wichita State are heavy favorites to reach the title game, though the Shockers might have a bit of a tougher path (California, Marquette/VCU) than the Irish (Chaminade, Michigan/LSU). UND’s dynamic duo of Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson gets it done in Maui.
7 – Michigan State, Florida notch PK Invitational titles
PARTIALLY CORRECT – Michigan State, Duke won PK80 titles
If you haven’t heard, the PK Invitational brackets are absolutely stacked. The 16-team, two-bracket tournament field has combined 23 national titles, 89 Final Fours, and 391 NCAA Tournament bids. With UNC missing Joel Berry presumably, the Victory Bracket is wide open, where Michigan State and Oregon have the strongest chances at taking home the hardware. Over in the Motion Bracket, Duke, Florida and Gonzaga are seeds 1-3. Look for the Gators to start the season hot with a win over Duke in the bracket’s championship round.
8 – Texas Southern wins a non-conference game
INCORRECT – Texas Southern went 0-13, but had five single-digit losses
If you have a KenPom.com subscription, stop by Texas Southern’s team page for a second. What you’ll find is the SWAC favorite which won’t play a home game until New Year’s Day. That’s right. Mike Davis’ squad will take on Gonzaga, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Oregon, Baylor, TCU, BYU and others all in true road games in November and December. Washington State and Toledo are the only non-top 100 opponents on the list, so expect the Tigers to pick up a ‘W’ in at least one of those games.
9 – Jaylen Adams puts up 40 against Maryland Eastern Shore
INCORRECT – Adams missed the game due to an injury
St. Bonaventure’s star senior guard Jaylen Adams is a fantastic scorer. He tallied 25 or more points seven times last season, including a 35-point road contest against Dayton in mid-February. On November 15, Adams’ Bonnies host Maryland Eastern Shore, a team that ranked 314th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, according to KenPom.com. Adams is going to unload.
10 – Bruce Pearl doesn’t survive the regular season as head coach
INCORRECT – Auburn won 26 games and clinched a No. 4 seed in the tournament
There’s a lot going on at Auburn, and none of it is particularly good. Aside from Pearl’s increasingly warming seat (a dismal 44-54 win-loss record and zero tournament appearances in three years with the Tigers), the program has been closely tied with the ongoing FBI probe. Ex-assistant Chuck Person has been fired and indicted due to his role in paying thousands of dollars to lure recruits to Auburn. Star players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy have been suspended indefinitely, and Pearl’s squad has somehow managed to cheat, get caught, and still be the laughing stock of the SEC.
11 – Michigan State is the last undefeated team
INCORRECT – Michigan State lost to Duke in its second game of the season
Assuming Michigan State is able to pass through the PK Invitational gauntlet after topping Duke in the Champions Classic, the Spartans should be off and running. MSU host Notre Dame, which could be a challenge, then has two early conference gimmes against Nebraska in East Lansing and at Rutgers. Miles Bridges and his crew only play one more top 250 preseason KenPom team until a January 4 matchup with Maryland. It won’t be easy, but if Michigan State starts strong, the latter half of non-conference play should be worry-free.
12 – Savannah State records a 100-possession game
CORRECT – 2/10 vs. Morgan State and 2/19 at Hampton
Yes, 100 possessions. Savannah State led the nation in tempo last year with 81 possessions per 40 minutes. With five 90+ possession games last season (all that finished in regulation), Horace Broadnax’s squad should be able to eclipse the century mark in 2017-18. Savannah State will play Louisiana-Lafayette on November 17, a duel between two top 20 tempo teams, according to KenPom.com. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
13 – Grayson Allen mirrors his sophomore form
INCORRECT – Allen wasn’t bad by any means, but was not his sophomore self
With tripping antics and sideline bouts aside, Duke guard Grayson Allen had a letdown of a junior season. His efficiency plateaued from 1.285 points per possession to 1.167, and his per-game scoring average went from 21.6 to 14.5 for a Duke team that got bounced by South Carolina in the round of 32. This year, Allen appears focused and ready to be more of a leader for the youngest team in the country. If Allen isn’t the heart and soul of the Blue Devils on and off the floor, Duke could have another short stint in March.
14 – Chris Clemons uses more possessions than any other player
INCORRECT – Clemons finished 7th nationally in usage percentage
As a sophomore, Campbell guard Chris Clemons recorded a usage percentage of 37.0%, which ranked 4th in the country, per KenPom.com. Illinois’ Mark Alstork (formerly of Wright State) and Tennessee’s Randy Onwuasor (a Southern Utah transfer) both opted to enroll in power conference programs after dominating at the sport’s lower levels, which should lead to a decline in overall usage. Not Clemons, though, making the 5-9 firework the leading candidate for usage king.
15 – Ten teams have three-point attempt rates higher than 50%
INCORRECT – five teams had three-point attempt rates higher than 50%
The three-pointer has never been as popular in basketball as it is right now. In each of the last five years, the nation’s leader in three-point attempt rate has been re-upped the following year. In 2013, Central Michigan led the country with 45.4% of its field goal attempts coming from deep. The following four seasons? Princeton at 47.8%, VMI at 51.7%, Wyoming at 52.9%, and Savannah State at 57.4% this past season. Seven teams had three-point rates higher than 48.0% in 2016-17, and that number should only increase this season.
16 – Yante Maten leads the SEC in scoring
CORRECT – Maten scored 19.3 points per game
The Georgia forward was 9th in the SEC in points per game as a sophomore and 4th as a junior, so his senior season should be his best offensive output yet. Only four of the SEC’s top 10 scorers are back from a season ago, with Maten leading the way at 18.2 points per game. Georgia’s leading scorer J.J. Frazier (18.8 PPG) graduated, so Maten’s workload is bound to increase in his final season in Athens.
17 – Indiana finishes ahead of Iowa in the Big Ten standings
CORRECT – Indiana finished tied for sixth (9-9), Iowa finished tied for 11th (4-14)
Iowa is a trendy pick in the Big Ten, and rightfully so. The Hawkeyes still have nine players that averaged 12.8 minutes per game or more from last season’s 19-win squad. The big loss is Peter Jok, though, an all-Big Ten guard who averaged 19.9 points per game last season. The Hoosiers welcome former Dayton coach Archie Miller to the sidelines, as the Tom Crean era ended after nine seasons. Although Indiana is rebuilding, technically, there are still some nice pieces on campus. Four freshman incomers are rated as a three-star or better, and Robert Johnson (12.8 PPG), Josh Newkirk (9.0 PPG) and Juwan Morgan (7.7 PPG) are back, as well as Collin Hartman, who missed all of last season with a preseason injury. At times, it won’t be pretty, but the Hoosiers should be far from awful.
18 – Ethan Happ shoots five three-pointers, makes one
PARTIALLY CORRECT – Happ attempted 11 three-pointers, but did end up making one
Wisconsin’s junior forward is notorious for his craftiness around the rim. In two years with the Badgers, Happ has attempted 675 field-goal attempts – 561 were layups or dunks, 114 were two-point jumpers, and he still has yet to attempt a regulation three-pointer, according to Hoop-Math. Reports this summer noted that he’s been renovating his shooting form, and continues to work to extend his range. Wisconsin made 283 threes as a team last year, and 56 of those are via players that are on the 2017-18 roster. Any perimeter assistance is needed.
19 – Jim Christian loses his job mid-season
INCORRECT – Christian completed his fourth season at BC, going 19-16
The Boston College athletics department can’t be pleased with its men’s basketball program. BC hasn’t recorded a winning season since 2012, and have gone without a NCAA Tournament victory in ten years. In three years at the helm, Jim Christian owns a dismal 29-67 win-loss record, and has yet to finish above 13th in the league. You can probably count on the Eagles losing to someone they shouldn’t in non-conference play (i.e. Sacred Heart, Colgate, Hartford), and a stacked ACC will be nothing but salt in the wound for an already broken program. Patience is out the window.
20 – Washington wins more games this year with Mike Hopkins and David Crisp than in 2016-17 with Lorenzo Romar and Markelle Fultz
CORRECT – Washington saw a 12-win improvement
Washington canned its longtime head coach Lorenzo Romar after a dismal 2016-17 season where the Huskies won nine games with the future #1 draft pick (Markelle Fultz). Enter former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, who has a handful of newcomers and quality upperclassmen David Crisp (13.8 PPG, 3.1 APG), Noah Dickerson (12.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and Matisse Thybulle (10.5 PPG, 2.1 SPG). The Huskies won’t sniff the NCAA Tournament, but they will be improved, even though the 2017 NBA Draft’s #1 selection is no longer on campus.
21 – Oregon’s Elijah Brown’s offensive efficiency dips below 1.00 PPP
INCORRECT – Brown’s efficiency rose to a career-best 1.13 PPP
Elijah Brown has always been known as a volume scorer, but not necessarily an efficient offensive outlet. The New Mexico grad transfer averaged 20.3 points per game in a Lobo uniform, but shot just 37.9% from the field last season. His efficiency plummeted from 1.151 points per possession (PPP) to 1.037 in 2017, and with more surrounding talent and offensive options in Eugene, Brown will see a much smaller role.
22 – Vin Baker, Jr., has a better freshman season than his father
INCORRECT – Baker averaged 1.9 points per game and played 7.2 minutes per game
Former America East player of the year, four-time All-Star, and two-time All-NBA star Vin Baker’s son is playing D-I basketball this season for Boston College. As a freshman with Hartford, Baker average 4.7 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game. His son steps into a suboptimal situation in Boston College (see #19), which should allow Baker, Jr., to enjoy a modest freshman season with the Eagles. Watch out, old man.
23 – Mike Daum and Tyler Hall both finish over 25.0 PPG
INCORRECT – Daum (23.9 PPG) and Hall (17.5) fell short of 25 points per game
There’s nothing like elite mid-major scorers. Sure, Daum averaged 25.1 points per last season as a sophomore, but only seven players have recorded multiple 25.0+ PPG seasons since 1993. SDSU loses two 8.0+ PPG scorers to graduation and return an upperclassman version of Daum, which sounds like a formula for another 25.0+ PPG campaign. Montana State’s Tyler Hall has generated draft buzz after a 23.1/5.4/2.8 season and had an eye-popping 1.21 points per possession with a 27.2% usage rate. He’ll get more looks this season, allowing both Daum and Hall to combined for more than 50 points on a nightly basis.
24 – Virginia Tech, not Miami, chases Duke and North Carolina in the ACC
INCORRECT – Miami finished third in the ACC, Virginia Tech finished seventh
It took a couple seasons, but things are finally trending up in Blacksburg. Buzz Williams has upped the Hokies win totals in each of the first years, and 2017-18 will be the season where Virginia Tech is a factor in the ACC. Seth Allen and Zach LeDay are gone (combined 30.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 4.6 APG last season), but the Hokies still have three double-digit upperclassmen scorers and two top 100 recruits. Watch out for this trendy ACC sleeper.
25 – American’s Sa’eed Nelson records more minutes than any other player
INCORRECT – Nelson finished 49th nationally in minute percentage (89.1%)
No freshman recorded a higher minutes per game average over the last seven years than American point guard Sa’eed Nelson. The Eagles rookie averaged 37.9 minutes per game last season, playing a 94.2% minutes percentage, which was second in the country, according to KenPom.com. American lost eight players over the offseason, so even though Nelson nearly played every minute last year, he might even record a higher average this season.
26 – Every first-year power conference coach misses the NCAA Tournament, except Butler’s LaVall Jordan
INCORRECT – Jordan (Butler), Martin (Missouri), Keatts (NC State), Holtmann (Ohio State) reached the NCAA Tournament
Over the previous ten seasons, there have been 97 first-year power conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big XII, Pac-12, SEC) coaches. Of those 97, 24 made the NCAA Tournament in their first season (24.7%). There are 11 first-year power conference coaches this season, headlined by Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin, Indiana’s Archie Miller, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, and Washington’s Mike Hopkins. It’s safe to say all five will be on the outside looking in to begin the year. Butler, with the return of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, will sneak into the tournament as a double-digit seed.
27 – Devontae Cacock breaks efficiency
INCORRECT – Cacock’s PPP dipped from 1.41 to 1.14
In case you missed it, UNC Wilmington forward Devontae Cacock had one of the most efficient seasons in college basketball history last year. He played 35 games, averaging an unheard of 1.46 points per possession, a plus/minus net efficiency rating +47.9. Only three players since 2010 have ever played more than 30 games while recording 1.40 points per possession or greater. Cacock will push that number to 1.50 as a junior.
28 – Gonzaga stays atop the WCC
CORRECT – Gonzaga won both the regular season and conference tournament titles
Is this finally the year a WCC foe tracks down Gonzaga? I don’t think so. Though Saint Mary’s is a consensus top 25 team with All-American forward Jock Landale, Gonzaga returns an upperclassmen trio with Final Four experience in Silas Melson, Josh Perkins, and Johnathan Williams. Keep an eye on Rui Hachimura, a sophomore who will bring NBA scouts to Spokane throughout the season. The ‘Zags will pick up their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after a gaudy 18th WCC regular season title share in 19 tries.
29 – Brad Brownell and the Clemson Tigers see its bubble pop, yet again
INCORRECT – Clemson reached the NCAA Tournament, reached at least the Sweet 16
There may not be a program that has been more bubbly in recent years than Clemson. The Tigers have won either 16 or 17 games in four of the last six seasons, and have seen their fair share of close losses. Since signing on with Clemson, Brownell is 27-59 in two-possession games (decided by six points or less), which is a winning percentage of just 31.4%. With the loss of stud Jaron Blossomgame, expert the heartbreak to continue in 2017-18.
30 – Thomas Welsh leads UCLA in efficiency for the third straight season
INCORRECT – Welsh finished fourth in the conference in efficiency
UCLA’s supremely underrated center Thomas Welsh has been the staple of offensive efficiency for the Bruins since his arrival in 2014. Welsh is one of just seven players to score at least 1.25 points per possession with a usage percentage of 17.0% or higher in both of the last two seasons. Even alongside Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, it was Welsh who led the Bruins in efficiency. With a deadly mid-range shot and a developing three-point stroke, Welsh will continue to be a matchup nightmare.
31 – A freshman lands on the All-American first team
CORRECT – Marvin Bagley and Trae Young both enjoyed All-American seasons
I’m not super confident who it will be, but I can expect at least one freshman to be placed on the nation’s All-American team at season’s end. The smart money says Missouri’s Michael Porter, Jr., or Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, but I’m going with Texas’ Mo Bamba. The Longhorns big man is the epitome of NBA potential. At 7-0, 216 pounds and a near-eight foot wing span, his measurables are eye-popping. He’s smooth, agile, and has good driving ability. He’ll enjoy a memorable freshman season – the best for a Texas frosh since AP player of the year Kevin Durant in 2007.
32 – Temple punches an NCAA Tournament bid
INCORRECT – Temple had quality wins, but too many bad losses for a bid
With a schedule that’s chock full of resumé-boosting opportunities (home against Wisconsin and Villanova, at Georgia, a neutral matchup with South Carolina, and the Charleston Classic), the Owls have more than enough chances to improve their team sheet. Forward Obi Enechionyia (13.1/5.8 in 2016-17) and guard Shizz Alston (13.9 PPG) will be one of the AAC’s best duos, leading Temple to its eighth tournament bid in 11 years.
33 – Angel Delgado records 30 double-doubles
Since the 2010-11 season, there have been ten individual seasons in which a player recorded 25 or more double-doubles. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, who had 27 last season, is the only one of those 10 who returned to school the following season. He has a legitimate shot at 30 this year, especially if Seton Hall has lengthy runs in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
34 – Mississippi Valley State doesn’t win a game
The expectations are considerably low in Itta Bena, Mississippi. MVSU hasn’t won ten games since 2012, when Sean Woods took the Delta Devils to the NCAA Tournament. The worst team in the worst conference in the country ranked in the bottom 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency this season, and are the #351 team in KenPom’s preseason rankings. Could be a long year.
35 – Despite losing Steve Fisher to retirement, San Diego State improves
SDSU fans will hope last season’s 19-win campaign was an anomaly, rather than a sign of what’s ahead. Legendary head coach Steve Fisher, the winningest coach in program history, called it quits in the spring, allowing Brian Dutcher to take over the reins. Dutcher has been alongside Fisher since the 80’s, and with San Francisco transfer Devin Watson and California transfer Kameron Rooks on campus, the Aztecs should rival Nevada for the Mountain West crown.
36 – Austin Luke, Kyron Cartwright top the nation in assist rate
Belmont’s Austin Luke and Providence’s Kyron Cartwright are two of the nation’s best point guards, and combined to average 13.8 assists per game last season. The two placed in the top eight in the nation in assist rate last season, per KenPom.com, and that should continue in 2017-18.
37 – Wisconsin’s streak of top four Big Ten finishes comes to an end
Wisconsin has been the definition of consistency for quite some time. The Badgers haven’t finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten since the 1999-2000 season, capturing four Big Ten regular season title shares in that span. Though potential player of the year Ethan Happ returns, Wisconsin loses its unforgettable quartet of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, which helped contribute to 13 NCAA Tournament wins over the past four seasons. That’s a ton of experience to replace.
38 – The Atlantic 10 falls to one-bid status for the first time since 2005
The A-10 has been one of the more consistently strong mid-majors the past decade. The league has shipped at least three teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last ten years, but the 14-team conference is trending downwards in 2017-18. Two of its top programs, VCU and Dayton, saw their head coaches leave for power conference jobs, leaving Rhode Island as the only tournament guarantee.
39 – Kansas pushes its Big XII streak to 14 with relative ease
Kansas has captured at least a share of the Big XII regular season title in each of the last 13 seasons, that streak should continue in 2018. The Jayhawks have a stud senior point guard in Devonte’ Graham who, for whatever reason, still doesn’t receive enough praise. Graham’s joined by former five-star Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, upperclassmen returners Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick, as well as a great incoming freshman class. TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia are nice, but Kansas is still so much better than the rest of the conference.
40 – The Big East joins the ACC, Big Ten and SEC with six or more tourney bids
It’s been years since the projected NCAA Tournament field has been this dominated by power conferences. The A-10, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and WCC are all down and won’t pick up more than two bids each, allowing the power conferences to take over. The SEC looks much deeper this season, as does the Big East, while the ACC and Big Ten should have at least four ranked teams at all times throughout the regular season. These four leagues could combined for as many as 30 total bids.
41 – Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Villanova grab #1 seeds
Nothing new here. Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Villanova have combined to grab six of 12 top seeds over the past three seasons, a trend that will continue in 2018. The four blue bloods have loaded schedules which should allow for plenty of quality win chances. All four teams rank in the top 30 in team sheet opportunities.
42 – Saint Mary’s fails to record a signature win, ends up in the First Four
Like any other year, Randy Bennett has an excellent team and an atrocious schedule. The Gaels play two true non-conference road games (both in the state of California) and don’t match up with a preseason top 100 KenPom team. The Wooden Legacy awaits, but SMC’s potential for quality wins is severely limited. As a result,a top 20 team on the floor and a 150-200 team on paper will have a very, very nerve-racking Selection Sunday. The Gaels end up in the First Four and will need to play their way into the field of 64.
43 – Cinderella encores come up short as March slippers change possession
Looking for a first round NCAA Tournament upset prediction? Most pundits are pointing to those who have already been there and done that, such as Giddy Potts and Middle Tennessee, and Makai Mason and Yale, but neither team will win wind up with a March upset this season. Look for College of Charleston, which returns all five starters including Joe Chealey (17.7 PPG, 3.2 APG), to knock off a top five seed in the first round. The Missouri Valley will spoil the party yet again, with future pro Alize Johnson (14.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG) and Missouri State pouncing on a power conference squad in the round of 64. Watch out for those two clubs this season.
44 – USC reaches the Sweet Sixteen, but no further
USC might be Los Angeles’ team this year. The Trojans have seemingly everyone back from last season’s 26-win, Sweet Sixteen team and also add two four star recruits. Southern Cal will enter the tournament as a top four seed, but will run into a #1 seed in the Sweet 16, ending the journey in the second weekend for the second consecutive season.
45 – Bonzie Colson wins player of the year
Michigan State’s Miles Bridges has been a near-unanimous pick for POY in the preseason, but as we’ve seen in the past, the popular preseason favorite rarely goes on to win the award. Colson has improved significantly his first three seasons in a Notre Dame uniform, as his slash line (PPG/RPG/APG/SPG+BPG) has gone from 5.6/2.7/0.4/1.3 as a freshman to 11.6/6.7/0.9/1.9 in his sophomore before recording a 17.8/10.1/1.6/2.5 average last year. There’s no reason to believe he can’t average 20 and 10 for a top 15 program this season. Sounds like a POY-esque season to me.
46 – The ACC and Big XII collapse in the NCAA Tournament
It wouldn’t be the first time, but the ACC and Big XII will come up with empty performances in the Big Dance. Both leagues anticipate sending at least six or seven teams to the tournament, but the title contenders get thin after Duke and Kansas. North Carolina has to replace a lot from last year’s title team, while Miami, Notre Dame and Virginia are strong, but are second weekend teams at best. Over in the Big XII, Kansas has to deal with life after Frank Mason, and Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma and TCU all scream first weekend upset potential. Don’t expect either league to have a lot to cheer about in March.
47 – Cincinnati and Wichita State reach the Elite Eight
The new-look American does not disappoint. Cincinnati and Wichita State were both preseason top 15 teams, and should remain atop the AAC throughout the regular season. The highly experienced teams with must-watch guards (Cincinnati’s Cane Broome and Wichita State’s Landry Shamet) and versatile front courts will make for a matchup nightmare in March. As a result, the revamped AAC occupies a quarter of the Elite Eight field.
48 – Arizona’s Sean Miller finally notches a Final Four berth
In eight seasons in Tucson, Sean Miller has done nothing but win. He’s gone 220-66 over that span, which is a better overall win percentage than legendary coach Lute Olson. His March shortcomings have been noteworthy, though. The ‘Zona faithful has grown impatient with his lack of NCAA Tournament success, but with a core of returning studs in Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins and an elite freshman class that includes potential #1 2018 NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton, the Wildcats will be a tough out in March. This time, Miller gets it done.
49 – Arizona’s joined by Villanova, Michigan State and Xavier in San Antonio
Notice any trend here? A star ball handler or scorer (Arizona’s Allonzo Trier, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett) is imperative to deep postseason runs in March. Tom Izzo, who owns one of the most impressive NCAA Tournament track records in history, will ride Miles Bridges and his team’s experience to the third weekend. The Big East will have two of the final four teams standing in Villanova and Xavier. Jay Wright makes it two Final Fours in three weekends, and Xavier avenges last year’s Elite Eight loss to Gonzaga with its first Final Four in program history.
50 – Villanova cuts down the nets
Jay Wright’s Wildcats become the first team to win at least two championships in three seasons since Florida went back-to-back in 2006-07. Strong guard play by Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, consistent perimeter scoring from Donte DiVincenzo and formidable front court performances from Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman help VU capture college basketball’s crown yet again.