The postponements and cancelations are finally starting to dip. The peak in disruptions may have been reached.
If that’s the case, then it’s time for 16 fearless predictions in mid-January to get you through to the NCAA tournament.
1. Not one team will be forced to sit a player or miss a game in the conference tournament or NCAA tournament due to COVID-19. Maybe this is WISHFUL thinking, but the Omicron surge hit the sport at the best possible time, thus saving the back end of the regular season and postseason.
2. Auburn will be a No. 1 seed in the East. Baylor will get a No. 1 seed in the South. The Big Ten champ will get a No. 1 seed in the Midwest. And the West No. 1 will be chosen among Gonzaga (WCC) or the Pac-12’s UCLA or Arizona.
3. The same player won’t win each player of the year awards. Men’s college basketball isn’t the same as college football with the Heisman dominating the postseason honors. There are at least five major men’s college basketball player of the year awards: the Naismith, Wooden, Robertson, Rupp and Associated Press.
The options are at least five deep: Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji are all worthy. And the candidacies of Baylor’s James Akinjo, Ohio State’s EJ Liddell, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Wendell Moore Jr., Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and UCLA’s Johnny Juzang are still being formed.
4. The predicted combined NCAA tournament berths of the Big Ten (8), Big East (5), Big 12 (7) and the SEC (6) will be three times the amount the Pac-12 (3) and ACC (4) put in the field.
5. The team for the SEC that received no preseason attention that will ultimately sneak into the field will be Texas A&M. The one that had plenty of preseason hype that won’t will be Arkansas.
6. Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd in his first season as a head coach will win national coach of the year.
7. Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, not even considered for Big Ten coach of the Year in the preseason, will win the award after the Badgers finish in the top four in the final standings.
8. The Missouri Valley (Loyola Chicago), Ohio Valley (Belmont and Murray State) will be in position for multiple bids heading into conference tournament week if the favorites don’t win the tournament.
9. The Big Ten will end the regular season with the top two scorers in the country (see a combination of Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, Iowa’s Keegan Murray and/or Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn).
10. The COVID-scheduling option of picking up a game on the fly will be the norm in future years with at least one game being kept open by teams. San Francisco coach Todd Golden did this and that’s why he was able to put in the game against Loyola Chicago in Salt Lake City.
11. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins will get into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at an announcement at the Final Four in New Orleans.
12. Another COVID-interrupted season will mean there will be a relaxation of the five years to play four seasons again in 2022-23 — based on situations. There won’t be a blanket policy change like 2021-22, but there will be more acceptance that players didn’t get a “normal” season and if the school has a spot and the scholarship available then a traditional senior can return for a super senior season.
13. There will be another Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16: A team from a one-bid league will make a second-weekend run (top candidate could be Iona from the MAAC).
14. The Big East will have the closest, most late-possession and overtime games by the time we get to Selection Sunday (and that includes the Big East tournament).
15. This season will go down as one of the top-scoring seasons in recent memory when the final statistics are tabulated.
16. ESPN will do the right thing and if Dick Vitale is healthy enough and his voice is back he will be on the call for Coach K’s final regular-season game at Cameron Indoor Stadium between Duke and North Carolina on March 5.