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.
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
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.
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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.
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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.