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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | January 2, 2018

68 fearless college basketball predictions for 2018

  Nick Ward has been a model of efficiency for the Michigan State Spartans this year.

Let’s jump into the new year with a whole lot of college basketball predictions for 2018.

1) A team other than Kansas will win the Big 12.

Has to happen some time, right? The Big 12 is loaded this year – TCU, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma look phenomenal, and there are no bad teams. The Jayhawks lack depth. Why not 2018?

2) Trae Young will win the Naismith

Nobody said these had to be bold, right? Young is the clear frontrunner at the moment. He may not keep up this statistical pace in Big 12 play, but anything close will suffice.

3) Louisville will miss the NCAA tournament

The Kentucky loss was ugly, but truth is, the Cardinals haven’t played well against a quality opponent all year. The ACC doesn’t present many easy wins.

4) Cincinnati or SMU will win the AAC, not Wichita State

Something feels off with the Shockers this year. Before the season, I thought they’d run away with the AAC. The defense has lagged. Cincinnati and SMU are both good, and are more familiar with the league.

5) Virginia will finish will the No. 1 defensive rating

Surprisingly, it’s never done this under Tony Bennett – the Cavaliers have topped out at No. 2. Expect Virginia to earn the top spot this year.

6) Alex O’Connell sees more and more playing time for Duke

He can shoot (50 percent from 3), doesn’t need the ball to be effective, and knows where to be on defense. O’Connell isn’t as flashy as some of Duke’s other players, but he does what the Blue Devils need.

7) Duke’s lackluster defense will keep it out of the Final Four

The Blue Devils may improve on that end, but their defense is barely in the top 70. It’s hard to string tournament wins together doing that, no matter how great the offense is.

8) Villanova loses three games or less

Despite Saturday’s loss, this might be Jay Wright’s best team yet, and Villanova won it all in 2016. Scary thought.

9) Mikal Bridges has a better season than Miles Bridges

Miles is still an effective player, but he doesn’t fit into Michigan State’s personnel as well as Mikal does for Villanova.

10) Eight Big 12 teams make the NCAA tournament

The league is so strong from top to bottom. Iowa State is the only team in the conference currently ranked outside of KenPom’s top 50.

11) DeAndre Ayton proves he’s better than Marvin Bagley

Bagley is awesome, but Ayton can just do a little more. Better shooter, better rim-protector.

12) But Bagley will still be the ACC Player of the Year

Because he’ll put up monster stats on a winning team. But keep an eye on his defensive development.

13) No. 3 Arizona State won’t win the Pac-12

The Sun Devils have been amazing so far, but ASU is ranked outside of the top 100 in defensive rating. The offense is superb, and will continue to be, but there will come nights when the shots don’t fall. Like Saturday against Arizona. 

14) Sterling Manley will be North Carolina’s starting center by the end of the season

He’s averaging 19.8 points and 16.2 rebounds per 40 minutes. Manley needs to get in better shape, but he’s the Tar Heels’ best center.

MORE: Full NCAA.com basketball coverage

15) North Carolina wins the ACC

Yes, over Duke, and despite the loss to Wofford. If Manley gets more burn as expected, the Tar Heels are the most complete team in the league.

16) Virginia makes the Final Four

Call it a hunch. The defense is better than ever, and Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are calculated risk-takers past Cavaliers team have lacked.

17) Butler beats Villanova again

Butler has dealt Villanova three of its last four losses. For whatever reason, the Bulldogs have the Wildcats’ number.

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18) Clemson makes the NCAA tournament

The Tigers have top-40 units on both sides of the ball and have quality wins over South Carolina, Florida and Ohio State.

19) Florida gets back on track, finishes in the top three of the SEC

The Gators crashed back down to Earth after a rollicking start, but there’s just so much talent and experience here. Mike White will figure out the defense.

20) Seton Hall finishes ahead of Xavier in the Big East

Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and a bunch of competent role players. The Pirates are for real.

21) Jalen Brunson will shoot better than 60 percent from the field

Spoiler alert: he already is, which is nuts. But he’ll maintain this.

22) Michigan State will win the national championship

So much size, so much talent, a great coach, and underrated guard play. Plus, the Big Ten is starved for a national title.

23) Carsen Edwards helps Purdue reach the Elite Eight

The Boilermakers haven’t had much March success lately, but Edwards gives them a new dimension. He’s a gunner, in the best kind of way.

24) Nick Ward will be Michigan State’s most productive big man

Yes, he plays with Bridges and Jaren Jackson. But Ward is averaging 32.4 points and 15.8 rebounds per 40 minutes while shooting almost 70 percent from the floor. His PER is 40! Ward’s been ridiculous, and the only player with a higher offensive rating in the country is Young.

25) Markus Howard, shooting 38 percent from 3, will end the season higher than 42

He’s too good of a shooter not to. Howard shot 55 percent from 3 as a freshman.

26) Kentucky still wins the SEC

Despite not looking great thus far, and the strength of the league. But the Wildcats are so young. They will only get better, and there’s plenty of talent to work with.

27) Arizona will win the Pac-12

Rawle Alkins’ return has been huge. After a weird losing streak in the Bahamas, the Wildcats look just fine.

28) Virginia Tech will continue to be the most sneaky-fun team to watch

The Hokies are shooting 44 percent from 3, and aren’t shy about jacking from deep. They’ll upset some big opponents, and Buzz Williams is a treasure.

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29) Jordan Murphy will be the Big Ten Player of the Year, and Minnesota will snap out of this funk

Murphy is averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds. If the Golden Gophers start winning, those numbers are too good to ignore.

30) Houston will make the NCAA tournament

Which hasn’t happened since 2010. Before then, the Cougars hadn’t made it since 1992. Houston is quietly a top-40 KenPom team.

31) Matt Haarms will average more minutes per game than Isaac Haas

They’re both hovering around 20; Haas has the slight lead. Haarms gives the Boilermakers more mobility and versatility.

32) Wisconsin will sniff the NCAA tournament, but fall short

This would be an impressive feat, considering the Badgers are 8-7. They have so little room for error.

33) Ohio State plays in the First Four in Dayton

Considering what we thought about the Buckeyes coming into the year, this would be a big accomplishment. The Big Ten isn’t exactly swimming in depth, and OSU is off to a nice start.

34) Emmett Naar takes the assists title away from Young

Young likely won’t be having any more 22-assist games, which inflated his average. It will be close, but Naar doesn’t carry the scoring burden Young does.

35) Jessie Govan becomes the next great Georgetown big man

He’s averaging 19 and 12 after a disappointing first two seasons. Patrick Ewing has made an impact.

36) Mo Bamba keeps his blocks average above four

He’s a remarkable talent who is learning the game at this level rapidly.

37) Only one NCAA tournament bid comes from the West Coast Conference

Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s in the tournament championship game? Sign us up.

38) Several players will earn Big East Player of the Year first place votes.

Bridges, Brunson, Trevon Bluiett, Rodriguez, Delgado… so many good choices.

39) Oklahoma will make it to the Final Four

People aren’t underestimating Young, but they’re underestimating the Sooners as a team. Lon Kruger is also an extraordinary coach.

40) Texas Tech will earn no lower than a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament

Chris Beard is legit, and so are the Red Raiders. They just destroyed Baylor.

41) The Pac-12 will only send four teams to the tournament

Arizona, Arizona State, and then two of UCLA, USC, Utah or Oregon.

42) Jamie Dixon wins Big 12 Coach of the Year honors

It can’t be overstated how good of a job he’s done for the Horned Frogs.

MORE: 7 names to know by March

43) St. Bonaventure will win the Atlantic-10.

The Bonnies recently beat Syracuse, and Rhode Island is their toughest competition. Could be their year.

44) Charles Mathews will leave us wondering how he wasn’t used more at Kentucky

Mathews is averaging 16 points on 56 percent shooting for Michigan. Think the Wildcats could use an efficient, veteran guard like him?

45) Villanova will lose the No. 1 ranking, but regain it by season’s end

The Wildcats just lost a tough road game, and Michigan State will jump the them, but Villanova will rebound.

46) Arizona State will face Duke in the NCAA tournament

Total Hail Mary here, but how cool would it be to see Bobby Hurley go up against Coach K?

47) And leading up to that game, Hurley to Duke rumors will swirl

Coach K has to retire at some point, and Hurley currently has the Sun Devils in the top five. It makes sense.

48) Only three teams from Indiana will make the NCAA tournament

Purdue, Notre Dame an Butler. Others have chances, but we won’t be seeing five from The Hoosier State in the same region like we did a few years ago.

49) Tennessee finishes in the top four in the SEC

Which would be a remarkable feat, considering the Vols were picked to finish 13th in the preseason SEC poll.

50) Collin Sexton will be the SEC Player of the Year, and the Crimson Tide will go dancing

He’ll need to put up huge numbers for Alabama to make the tournament. Sexton is uber-competitive and will welcome the challenge.

51) Marcus Foster will average 20 points per game

He’s at 19 now, and the tough Big East will require him to play more minutes.

52) South Carolina will finish with a top-15 defense but miss the NCAA tournament

Even Frank Martin’s least-talented teams defend their butts off.

53) Same with UCF, but top-10 defense

Currently outside of the 200 in offense, but the Knights have the No. 8 defense!

54) The Division I record for 3-point attempts will once again be broken

It’s on pace to once again. Teams are only going to shoot more 3s.

55) Villanova loses in the Big East tournament, but it still makes the Final Four

The Wildcats seem to fare best in the NCAA tournament when expectations aren’t as high. Maybe an ugly Big East tournament loss can lower the bar.

MORE: Full AP Top 25

56) Florida State falls off, but still makes the NCAA tournament

Considering the Seminoles lost Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, this would be a huge accomplishment.

57) DePaul doesn’t finish in last in the Big East

I’ll take the field. The Blue Demons couldn’t defend against Villanova, but they did hang 85 on the Wildcats and led Xavier for a while.

58) Northwestern surges in Big Ten play but misses out on the tournament

Similar to Wisconsin. This rough start might just be too much to overcome, though.

59) Billy Kennedy wins SEC Coach of the Year

What a turnaround Texas A&M has had. The Aggies are back where they should be.

60) Miami earns a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament

The Hurricanes are so good on defense, and have the offensive pieces and infrastructure to mow through most of the ACC.

61) We see at least two of Kentucky’s freshmen starters return next year

Not all of those guys are one-and-done caliber.

62) Grayson Allen makes the all-ACC first team

Allen will continue his rebound year into ACC play.

63) Thomas Welsh hits 25 3-pointers

He made one in three years going into his senior season. Welsh has already canned 12, and has the green light from out there.

64) Along with St. Mary’s, BYU gives Gonzaga a run in the WCC

The Cougars are off to a blazing start, and the Bulldogs are still meshing after losing so much of their Final Four personnel.

65) St. John’s wins the NIT

It feels like the Red Storm are one year away from NCAA tournament relevance, but there’s a lot to like about Chris Mullin and his program.

66) Bennett wins ACC Coach of the Year

Virginia was supposed to take a step back. It hasn’t, and won’t happen.

67) Indiana will miss the dance, but pull off some major upsets

Michigan State? Purdue? The Hoosiers can lose to anyone, but hung with Duke and beat Notre Dame. They can surprise people.

68) The NCAA tournament is, once again, going to be bonkers.

No shock here. March can’t come soon enough.