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Joe Boozell | | October 18, 2016

Part II: 32 bold college basketball predictions

  Cal transfer Jordan Mathews gives Gonzaga the 3-point shooting it lacked last season.

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 II of our 32 bold college basketball predictions for 2016-17. If you missed Part I, check it out.

9. Monte Morris averages 20 points per game for Iowa State this year

You could probably count the number of "bad" shots Morris has taken in his three years at Iowa state on one hand. The senior point guard is as cerebral as they come; he’s a step or two ahead of everyone else on the court, and he almost always makes the right play.

This year, the right basketball play might look different at Iowa State than it did in past seasons. Georges Niang and Jameel McKay are gone, and while Deonte Burton is poised to have a breakout campaign, Morris is the best scorer the Cyclones have. That wasn’t true as long as Niang was his running mate.

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Morris will post the highest usage rate of his career by far this season, and given his efficiency, he should be able to top 20 points per game; his career high is 13.8. Morris shot 50.7 percent from the floor as a sophomore and 48.7 percent as a junior, and the advanced numbers are even more impressive. He boasts a 57.2 career true shooting percentage, and if he plays with an aggressive mindset, he should prove to be a fantastic scorer.

10. Andrew White outperforms Malachi Richardson at Syracuse, and it's not close

Richardson was a first-round NBA draft pick, and he played a huge role in Syracuse making the Final Four last season. Even so, the Orange upgraded their small forward position this offseason.

Here’s a 2015-16 statistical comparison between Richardson and his replacement, Nebraska transfer Andrew White.

2015-16 Richardson vs. White
Malachi Richardson 13.4 4.3 2.4 37.0 35.3 13.8  
Andrew White 16.6 5.9 0.6 48.1 41.2 24.2  

Frankly, this isn’t even all that bold, but a certain stigma exists among one-and-done college talents. Richardson’s potential and tools were obvious, but by every measure, White is the more productive college basketball player. He also gives Jim Boeheim lineup flexibility; the Orange were excruciatingly thin last season, and though he’s a small forward by trait, White can play anywhere except for center and point guard. He averaged almost six rebounds per game last season, and if Boeheim wants to use him as a small-ball four, White could hold his own defensively and cause serious matchup problems on the other end.

11. At least three of the five first-team All-Americans are freshmen

This year’s crop of freshmen looks to be fantastic, and Grayson Allen is the only returning All-American in college basketball this season.

Whether it’s Markelle Fultz at Washington; Dennis Smith Jr. at North Carolina State; Josh Jackson at Kansas; Miles Bridges at Michigan State or the various rookie talents at Duke and Kentucky, the diaper dandies should experience a banner year in college basketball.

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12. Duke loses to Kansas in the Champions Classic on Nov. 15

The 2016-17 Duke comparisons to 2014-15 Kentucky are absolutely fair. The Blue Devils are clearly the most talented team in the country, and they are coached by Mike Krzyzewski.

With that said, Kansas is extremely talented in its own right, and it has a continuity edge over Duke. This will be the Blue Devils’ third game of the season, and star freshman big man Harry Giles likely won’t be able to play due to his ongoing knee issues. Duke has major questions at the point guard spot, while Kansas has two outstanding floor generals in its starting lineup in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham.

If I had to pick this game and it were to be played in, say, January, I’d choose Duke without hesitation. By that time, it is most certainly not a bold prediction to say that the Blue Devils will be the best team in college basketball. But in mid-November, I’m not so sure.

13. Villanova’s Josh Hart wins the Naismith Award

Villanova feels like it has the adequate pieces returning (and incoming) to be a legitimate top-five team, but at the same time, enough departs to the point where it can support a Naismith Award candidate.

Hart has dazzling career efficiency ratings; his field goal percentage has never dipped below 50 percent in his three years at Villanova, and his usage has increased in every season:

Hart efficiency vs. usage rate
Season FG% Usage Rate
Freshman 50.0 16.7
Sophomore 51.5 18.9
Junior 51.3 24.3

For most players, efficiency tends to dwindle as usage increases. Hart separates himself from the rest of the pack in that regard. His on-off court splits are ridiculous as well; the senior posted a career-low net rating of 25.7 last season. That speaks to how consistently great Villanova has been in recent years, but it also indicates how important Hart is to the Wildcats’ success.

For Hart to win the Naismith, these two things must happen:

A) Villanova finishes in the top 10 and/or wins the Big East championship
B) Hart averages somewhere around 20/7/3 with outstanding efficiency

Neither of those things is far-fetched; in fact, they’re more likely to happen than not.

14. Gonzaga wins 30 games

Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are gone, but here is who the Bulldogs have coming in. (Przemek Karnowski is included since he missed the bulk of last season due to injury).

Gonzaga's Big Four
Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga, 2014-15) 10.9 5.8 1.3 62.0 N/A
Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington, 2014-15) 15.6 4.7 5.9 44.2 25.6
Jordan Mathews (Cal, 2015-16) 13.5 3.4 1.3 42.2 41.6
Johnathan Williams (Missouri, 2014-15) 11.9 7.1 0.8 41.2 34.4

With Mark Few at the helm, nobody is going to want to face these guys. The Zags should return to form in 2016-17.

15. Kris Jenkins hits another dramatic buzzer-beater in a big game this season

Call it a hunch. Jenkins has a flair for the dramatic, and the world (sans North Carolina and its fans) needs more of this:

Jenkins will never match that moment, but it would be really fun to see him make the last-second dagger his niche.

16. The Jamel Artis point guard experience goes better than people think

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Pittsburgh star is reportedly going to start at point guard this season after manning both forward spots for the Panthers in the past.

You can see the logic here, even if it’s unconventional. Pitt doesn’t have a prototypical floor general it trusts, so instead, Kevin Stallings will try to get his five best players on the floor at the same time.

Artis has served as a point forward in his career, but bringing up the ball each possession is a different animal. Artis dished out 98 assists last season, which is more than plenty of power conference point guards were able to muster in 2015-16, and the peculiar lineup structure could leave opposing defenses in a bind. We’ll see if the senior can be secure enough with the ball in order to capitalize on the mismatches he will create.

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