Turn back the clocks to this time last year, and one thing is clear: Whatever we thought we knew about the 2015-16 college basketball season, we didn’t.
It was a time when Villanova was considered a regular-season juggernaut that was destined to fail in March. Maryland supposedly had the best starting five in America. Senior star power was thought to be a distant memory, and the Pac-12 had no dominant team.The reality: Villanova won the national championship; Maryland failed to live up to the hype; seniors Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine were the two best players in the sport and Oregon earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
So, preseason conventional wisdom is usually flawed. (More than) A few crazy things are bound to happen throughout the course of a season, and it’s fun to try to pinpoint off-the-wall predictions that just might come true.
With that in mind, here is Part I of our 32 bold college basketball predictions for 2016-17.
1. Isaac Haas matches the departed A.J. Hammons' production at Purdue
As a junior, the 7-foot-2, 280-pound Haas is finally the man in the middle for the Boilermakers. Hammons was quietly one of the most dominant big men in college basketball last season, but Haas could be just as good. Their per-40 minute numbers last season:
Purdue’s success will boil down to its point guard play. Its frontcourt production figures to be excellent, per usual.
2. Oklahoma State finishes in the top half of the Big 12 and reaches the NCAA tournament
A star guard and a savvy head coach can get you a long way in college basketball. The Cowboys have both of those things.
Oklahoma State went 3-15 in conference play last season, but point guard Jawun Evans was a bright spot. As a freshman, Evans posted games of 42 points against Oklahoma and 22 points against Kansas. The Cowboys welcome former Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood to Stillwater, as well. Underwood nearly led Thomas Walkup and the Lumberjacks to the Sweet 16 last season; in the first round, Stephen F. Austin defeated Big 12 power West Virginia. It will be fun to see what this combination can do together.
3. Melo Trimble is a first-team All-American
Trimble toed the line between table-setter and go-to scorer last season. At times, he looked like he was lost in between those differing mindsets. But at his best, he was dynamite.
Trimble is the only returning starter for the Terrapins, and while Maryland may not win as many games as it did last season, this should benefit Trimble. He might be the best ball screen guard in America, and the Terps will run a heavy dose of pick and roll this season. Because, how else are they going to generate points? Here’s an interesting exercise.
|Player||Points per game||Assists per game||FG%||3FG%|
Player A is Hield in his junior season. Player B is Trimble as a freshman. Don’t be surprised to see the latter explode as a junior.
4. Markis McDuffie emerges as a household name at Wichita State
Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet are gone, but Wichita has Gregg Marshall and a talented young squad. The most exciting baby Shocker is McDuffie.
A 6-foot-8 sophomore wing, McDuffie is an excellent defensive chess piece that showed flashes of explosive offense last season. His ball-handling needs work; McDuffie had more turnovers than assists in 2015-16. But he’s a great athlete with a good feel for the game, and once his skill level catches up, he could become a star.
5. Indiana struggles in non-conference play before finding its footing in the Big Ten
Indiana has talent, but its best players aren’t guys who are able to create their own shots, and the Hoosiers’ point guard situation is murky at best.
Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby are joys to watch; limbs are flying around, rims are rocking and crowds are going berserk when these two take the floor. But both players need a point guard to deliver them the ball, and James Blackmon Jr. is a great individual scorer that leaves much to be desired as a playmaker. IU will need to rely on Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk, who is unproven, and Robert Johnson, a capable secondary ball-handler who is a shooting guard by trait.
The Hoosiers have too much talent to stay dormant for long, but with non-conference tilts against Kansas, North Carolina and Butler, expect some early turbulence.
6. Sean Miller finally makes his first Final Four
If you get enough spins at the wheel, you’re bound to strike at some point. Arizona has very good teams every year, but the Wildcats have yet to escape the Elite Eight under Miller. There’s reason to think that changes this year.
For starters, Arizona has ridiculous depth at the guard position. Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier were all good players last season, and the Wildcats add two stud freshmen in Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.
Last season, Trier got injured, and Arizona struggled when he did. A multi-dimensional offensive player with a bulldog mentality, Trier averaged 14.8 points per game and got to the free-throw line 5.4 times per contest last season. He’s the captain of this ship, and Arizona also boasts two outstanding frontcourt newcomers in Ray Smith and Lauri Markkanen.
Outside of Kentucky and Duke, no team has the type of incoming talent that Arizona does. This could be the year the Wildcats get over the hump.
7. Not only does Kansas win its 13th straight Big 12 title, but it does so in a landslide
Who’s challenging this Kansas team from the Big 12? Texas is young, athletic and talented, but Shaka Smart’s Longhorns don’t have the personnel to hang with the Jayhawks over an extended sample size. And Texas is probably the second-best team in the league.
West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma all suffered huge losses from last season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Jayhawks run away with the conference title this year. Star freshman Josh Jackson joins a hungry veteran squad with high-caliber returners at every position.
8. Joel Berry becomes a better player than Marcus Paige ever was was at North Carolina
Paige’s struggles near the end of last season were well documented, and Berry looked like the better point guard during 2016-17.
But Paige was elite during stretches of his career in Chapel Hill. Even so, Berry could be better. He averaged 12.8 points and 3.8 assists per game last season on 38.2 percent shooting from 3-point range, and his usage rate should skyrocket in 2016-17. A 17/4/5 stat line with high percentages and stout defense isn’t out of the question for the junior floor general.
*Check back for parts two, three and four in the coming days