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Joe Boozell | | October 11, 2017

16 bold predictions for the 2017-18 season (Part II)

  With Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes gone, Ethan Happ will be even more of a focal point for Wisconsin.

Check out our first set of predictions in case you missed them.

Here are eight more:

*Wisconsin F Ethan Happ will be a First Team All-American

Losing Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes will hurt. A lot. But if there was any debate over who Wisconsin’s best player was last season, Happ should have squashed it by the end.

He might be the most unique player in the country. At first glance, Happ is an old-fashioned brute. He averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds per 40 minutes last year. He’s never attempted a 3. If you think you see him stray outside of the paint, chances are you’re watching a Frank Kaminsky replay.

But watch him more and you’ll notice other elements of his game. He’s an elite passer out of the post. Happ averaged 2.8 assists, a ton for a college center.  Koenig shot 39 percent from 3 on seven attempts a game last year. Happ made that possible, constantly demanding double teams and finding the open man. He’s an offense unto himself.

Then there’s the defense. Happ averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks. 6-10, 240-pounders shouldn’t be anywhere near two steals per night. A word to describe his game: sticky. He gets his hands on everything. Rebounds, opposing teams’ passes, you name it. Happ is like a possession receiver in football. If the ball is in his zip code, he’s getting his hands on it.

With Koenig and Hayes gone, Happ should increase his numbers to the point where he can be a First Team All-American. He’ll be a joy to watch.

*Butler's Kamar Baldwin will make the All-Big East First Team

Baldwin was overlooked coming out of high school, but Butler found itself a gem. The Bulldogs have a guy who can do this on one end and create his own shot on the other.

There’s an argument that Baldwin was the best player on a 4-seed as a freshman. He averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists on 50 percent shooting and 37 percent from 3.

He was efficient, but wasn’t a primary option in the offense. He finished fifth on Butler in usage rate (10 percentage points behind Kelan Martin, who used a whopping 30.4 percent of the Bulldogs’ possessions), so averaging double figures is impressive under those conditions. With Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Kethan Savage and Tyler Lewis gone, his usage will rise. Expect him to top 15 points per game.

The best thing about Baldwin? His defense is light years ahead of his offense. Foes scored 98.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. No other Bulldog was below 100. That’s a type of mark usually reserved for rim-protecting centers.

Effective perimeter defenders are valuable, but many think it’s hard to build a defense around them. Baldwin isn’t having any of that. In Butler’s two NCAA tournament wins, he hounded Winthrop’s Keon Johnson and Middle Tennessee’s Giddy Potts all night. Here's how they fared compared to their averages:

Baldwin's NCAA tournament defense
Player Season PPG Season FG% Points vs. Baldwin FG% vs. Baldwin
Johnson 22.3 43.2 17 36.8
Potts 15.3 48.2 0 0 (0-for-8)

Baldwin is legitimate. More people will notice this year.

*Luke Maye will be North Carolina’s second-leading scorer

Look at UNC’s roster, and this may not even be that bold of a prediction. But given what Maye was last season — a seventh man turned NCAA tournament folk hero — we’ll go with it. Someone besides Joel Berry has to score.

Of course, Maye will be remembered for his March heroics against Kentucky:

But he was pretty good all season. And the Tar Heels desperately need him this year.

Maye would have started on 95 percent of teams as a sophomore, but he was stuck behind three stud big men in Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley. He was the best fourth big in America. Now that he’s a starter, what can he be?

Let’s look at the per-40 numbers. Maye averaged 15.7 points and 11.2 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 40 percent from 3. He was valuable for Roy Williams because he was UNC’s only floor-spacing big. Expect to see a lot of Maye-Berry pick-and-pops this season. Something like 14 and nine on high efficiency doesn’t seem out of the question.

North Carolina has had success pounding foes on the glass and running them out of the gym in recent years. It intimidated people. Maye doesn’t fit that mold. Will Williams adapt?

He’ll have to. Whether or not that will be enough to keep UNC dominant is unknown.

*Matt Farrell will wind up being as good as Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson were for Notre Dame

Here are Grant and Jackson’s numbers in their final Notre Dame season, followed by Farrell’s last year.

Notre Dame point guards
Player PPG APG FG% 3FG%
Grant (2014-15) 16.5 6.7 47.8 31.6
Jackson (2015-16) 17.3 4.7 46.3 33.9
Farrell (2016-17) 14.1 5.4 44.8 42.0

Both were slightly ahead of Farrell, but he’s expected to improve as a senior with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem gone. Buried behind Jackson and Grant during his first two years in South Bend, Farrell was a revelation as a junior. He had scored 86 points in his college career before his breakout season.

Farrell is a pick-and-roll wiz who fits Mike Brey’s system perfectly. He’s not as good an athlete as Grant or Jackson, but he’s a better shooter. Farrell was much like Duke's Luke Kennard last year. Kennard made 44 percent of his 3s on 5.4 attempts per game. Farrell took the same amount and made 2 percent less. He shot plenty off the dribble, too, which is the hardest kind of 3. It’s also the toughest to defend, considering the defender often needs to slither around a screen to contest. Have that shot in your bag, and you’re on another level.

Farrell is often unselfish to a fault. With Bonzie Colson, Vasturia and Beachem in the fold, it was easy to see why.

But it's the Farrell and Colson show now. Farrell will have a big year.

*UCLA won’t fall off as much as people think

This is an admittedly risky prediction. Lonzo Ball changed the culture at UCLA, so the narrative goes. C-level players became B-level players. B-level players became A-level players. The Bruins were under .500 the season before Ball arrived. Now that he’s gone, they should regress.

To be clear, they’ll likely regress. But the level of regression may be overstated.

MORE: Full basketball coverage

Outside of Arizona and USC, the Pac-12 is unproven. Oregon lost pretty much everyone from its Final Four team. Beyond those four schools, no Pac-12 squad made the 2017 tournament.

UCLA still has plenty of talent. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday are two quality building blocks. Each averaged double figures last season. Holiday, a point guard, plays the most important position on the court. They were high-level pieces on a national title contender, which is more than most Pac-12 teams have from the jump.

Kris Wilkes, a 6-foot-8, do-it-all swing man, is a highly touted freshman that plays a position of need. Prince Ali redshirted, but he looks like he can be a quality rotation piece.

UCLA won’t win 31 games again. But it should win more than the 15 it did two years ago.  Welsh, Holiday and Wilkes are three foundational players. Given the watered-down state of the Pac-12, UCLA should still make the tournament.

*Kentucky will eke out an SEC regular-season title

Kentucky has won the SEC the last three years. If you look at what Florida lost and the usual blue-chip talent coming into Kentucky, the Wildcats should win it again.

It won’t be easy.

Kentucky is talented, but we don’t know how well the pieces fit. Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones are the only returners that figure to see time. They’re fine role players, but neither can carry a team. That burden will fall to guys like Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards and Quade Green. Jarred Vanderbilt was supposed to be in that mix, but he injured his foot and is expected to miss a few months.

MORE: Meet the team who will face Duke and UK in a 24-hour span

De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were as close to sure things as incoming freshmen as you’ll find. Kentucky doesn't have that this season. UK doesn’t have a Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder-type veteran shooter to space lineups, either. Kentucky will win a ton of games and score a ton of points. But enough to run through the SEC like it has before?

Maybe not.

Florida returns KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza and John Egbunu from its Elite Eight squad. Kentucky’s freshman class is deeper than Missouri, the Mizzou has Michael Porter, Jr. Arkansas, Texas A&M and South Carolina loom as threats.

Kentucky likely will win the SEC again. But expect it to be a struggle.

*Northwestern will earn a 6-seed or higher in the NCAA tournament

Strip away the history and this isn’t a bold prediction. In fact, it might be underselling Northwestern. Given everything teams lose on a yearly basis, an NCAA tournament 8-seed that returns its five leading scorers should jump a few spots. Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey are really good players. Isiah Brown showed promise as a freshman.

First Round: Northwestern knocks off Vanderbilt

At the same time, predicting Northwestern to snag a 6-seed or higher just feels weird, given the number of decades (more than seven) it took the Wildcats to reach the NCAA tournament. Last year’s team got the kind of coverage you’d expect from a Cinderella. It made sense.

But this is a team with veteran high-major starters that’s had success. It’s an above-average Big Ten program with a rising star in head coach Chris Collins. In other words, it's a squad that should be a tournament fixture

Pencil the Wildcats in for another quality season.

*Purdue's Isaac Haas may not match Caleb Swanigan, but he'll post crazy numbers

Haas has never cracked the 20 minute per game threshold in his career. He was redundant next to A.J. Hammons two years ago and Swanigan each of the last two. Everyone knows Haas is a beast down low, but his lack of mobility and lack of shooting made him an awkward frontcourt pairing with those two stars.

With Swanigan gone, this is Haas’ year to shine. He’s already been plenty productive. Guess which career per-40 stat line belongs to Haas:

Purdue career per-40 numbers
Player Points Rebounds Blocks FG%
Player A 19.9 11.6 4.3 53.9
Player B 19.7 14.3 0.7 52.7
Player C 24.8 10.5 1.9 57.6

Player A is Hammons, Player B is Swanigan, and Player C is Haas. He’s so big, and has such soft touch that he eats opposing interior defenses alive.

Of course, there are flaws. Haas averages five fouls per 40 minutes, which is another reason he hasn’t played that much. He’s too slow to guard pick-and-rolls. He’s fine as a rim-protector, but Hammons was clearly better. So was Swanigan, who wasn’t exactly Ben Wallace there.

Still, Haas should put up big numbers as a senior. Vince Edwards, a small forward masquerading as a power forward, is the perfect frontcourt pairing. He’ll chase around stretchy bigs on defense and space the floor on offense, letting Haas feast.

Despite losing Biggie, the Boilermakers will be fun once again.

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