64 fearless predictions for the 2018-19 college basketball season
Let's cure those offseason withdrawls with a whole bunch of 2018-19 predictions.
1. North Carolina’s Nassir Little will be the most impactful freshman in the country
Duke’s three-headed monster (Zion Willamson, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett) is getting plenty of publicity, but Little gets buckets, and North Carolina needs someone to score following Joel Berry’s departure. He could have a huge year.
2. Indiana’s Romeo Langford will be second
Similar deal. Supremely talented scorer on a team that needs someone to create offense.
3. Carsen Edwards wins the Naismith Award
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4. Loyola-Chicago hovers around the top 25 all season
The Ramblers have plenty coming back and should run through the Missouri Valley once again.
5. Duke finishes lower in the final AP Poll than the first AP Poll
The talent in Durham is obvious, but it’s unclear how the pieces will fit. The Blue Devils also haven’t played good man-to-man defense since 2015.
6. Same with Tennessee
Tennessee could open as a top five team, and the Volunteers will be really good. But part of that ranking is based on what we don’t know about other teams. Tennessee might have the highest floor in the country, but its ceiling is limited.
7. Butler’s Kamar Baldwin wins Big East Player of the Year
The Big East lost a ton of talent to graduation, and Baldwin is a two-way monster. He’s also the clear No. 1 option for Butler.
8. Virginia grabs another 1 seed in the NCAA tournament
Buckle up if this happens. It’s obviously fair to question what Virginia will do in the postseason, but don’t sleep on what Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Tony Bennett are capable of in the regular season.
9. So will Gonzaga
The Johnathan Williams loss hurts, but the Bulldogs are absolutely loaded. Killian Tillie will look like a man among boys in the West Coast Conference.
10. A returning Villanova player makes a massive leap
Some candidates: Eric Paschall and Jermaine Samuels.
11. This will be Kentucky’s best team since its 2012 title squad
The Wildcats are absolutely loaded up and down the roster, and finally have some experience in Reid Travis.
12. Chase Jeter has a big year, but Arizona misses the NCAA tournament
The Wildcats’ roster looks bleak at the moment.
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13. Nevada leads the country in offensive efficiency
The Wolf Pack ranked seventh last year, return everyone, and add Jordan Brown. They’ll score a ton of points.
14. Syracuse finishes in the top four of the ACC
Duke, North Carolina and Virginia will likely finish in the top three, in some order. Then it’s wide open. The Orange have an elite defense and their young perimeter players improved at the end of last season.
15. Alex O’Connell becomes a pivotal player for Duke
O’Connell shot 47 percent from 3 last year, and the Blue Devils always seem to need shooting. Duke would love to see his playmaking improve.
16. Kris Wilkes wins Pac-12 Player of the Year
Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are out at UCLA. Wilkes averaged 13.7 points as a freshman and should improve with more opportunity and a summer in the weight room. He could average 20 as a sophomore.
17. Sagaba Konate averages at least 3.5 blocks per game
He averaged 3.2 last year and physically dominated foes. There’s no telling what he’ll do as a junior.
18. USC makes the NCAA tournament
The Trojans lost some key pieces, but the roster just makes more sense now. Bennie Boatwright struggles as a role player but has the talent to carry a team.
19. Mike Daum averages at least 25 points and 12 rebounds
He averaged 24 and 10 last year and balled out in his lone NCAA tournament game. Daum is going to put up some crazy numbers.
20. Ohio State will finish higher in the Big Ten than the preseason poll projects
The Chris Holtmann effect is real.
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21. Jontay Porter averages a double-double for Missouri
Porter rapidly improved as last season progressed. With a full offseason to develop, he could average something like 15 and 10 as a sophomore.
22. LaGerald Vick winds up being an essential player for Kansas
Vick’s return announcement was mostly met with shrugs by pundits, but he’s a competent 3-and-D wing. Title contenders can never have enough 3-and-D wings.
23. Texas Tech snags a 6-seed or higher in the NCAA tournament
Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith and others are gone, so it makes sense that Texas Tech is mostly off the national radar. But Chris Beard is a difference-making coach. The Red Raiders will find their way.
24. Tremont Waters averages 20 points per game for LSU
Waters was sneakily one of the most entertaining players in the country next year and averaged 15.7 points per game. Expect that number to rise as a sophomore; he's both flashy and efficient.
25. Multiple Bruno Fernando dunks make the SportsCenter top 10
Here's what he's capable of.
26. Same with Daniel Gafford
27. Cassius Winston flirts with 10 assists per game
He averaged seven last season and will have the ball in his hands more for Michigan State. There might not be a better passer in the country.
28. Kansas State underperforms its preseason ranking
It’s easy to see the Wildcats’ appeal. Most key pieces return from an Elite Eight squad, and had Dean Wade not gotten injured, they may have made the Final Four. But Kansas State was above average at best during the regular season and got hot at the right time.
29. Paul Scruggs becomes the next star at Xavier
Someone is going to need to pick up the scoring slack at Xavier with Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura gone. Scruggs has the talent to be the guy.
30. Villanova takes even more 3s than last season
The Wildcats took a ton last year, but won’t be as talented in 2018-19. One way to mitigate that? Increase the variance.
31. Michigan snags a 3-seed or higher in the NCAA tournament
The Mo Wagner loss hurts, but Michigan returns plenty. Don’t doubt the Charles Matthews-John Beilein duo.
32. St. John’s makes the NCAA tournament
Shamorie Ponds is back, and St. John’s showed what it was capable of in beating Duke and Villanova last season. Consistency is the next step, and the Big East is a crapshoot.
33. Luke Maye averages 20 points and 10 rebounds
He put up 17 and 10 next year. More shots will mean more points. Novel concept!
34. The SEC will challenge the ACC as the best conference in the country
The SEC has so much depth. Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU all look formidable going into the season, and there are plenty more.
35. Coaches will gradually grow less scared of foul trouble
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36. The Lamont West/Konate pairing becomes one of the best frontcourts in the country
We know all about Konate, but don’t sleep on West, who averaged 9.4 points in somewhat limited minutes last year. He can stretch the floor and make plays.
37. A team takes at least 47 percent of its shots from 3-point land
Washington State led the country last season at 45.1 percent. That trend isn’t slowing down.
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38. Marquette’s Markus Howard averages at least 23 points per game
Marquette might not be that good, but Howard is a scoring machine who will have plenty of opportunities. He averaged 20.4 last season and Andrew Rowsey has moved on.
39. North Carolina will win more games than last year
A bit of a hot take, with Berry gone. But he quietly struggled last year and the Tar Heels add Little to go with Maye, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. That’s a loaded group.
40. Opponents will use the ‘Hack-a-Doke’ strategy even more
That’s a reference to intentionally fouling Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, who shot 41 percent from the line last year. The Jayhawks are going to be so much more talented than some of their opponents that it might be the right strategy.
41. Virginia won’t finish dead last in adjusted pace
It would be in Bennett’s best interest to try and establish a few different styles for tournament play. The Cavs won’t crack the top 300 (and shouldn’t), but they can speed things up a little bit.
42. Wisconsin gets back to the NCAA tournament
You can’t keep the Badgers down for long. Ethan Happ is still a beast and everyone has one more year of experience.
43. Xavier faces Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament
Make that 63 fearless predictions, because this one is a little scary. But wouldn’t Chris Mack facing his old team in the 8-9 game be something?
44. Ben Howland reaches his first NCAA tournament at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs clearly have the talent. Time to go do something with it.
45. Notre Dame misses the dance
The ACC is a beast, and Notre Dame didn’t have much besides Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell last year. Both of them are gone.
46. Davidson’s Kellan Grady averages more than 20 points and shoots better than 50 percent
Grady averaged 18 points on 50 percent shooting as a freshman. Guards aren’t supposed to be that efficient; he’s special.
47. Kansas wins its 15th straight Big 12 title
The coolest take in here.
48. The Big East still sends half of its league to the NCAA tournament
Villanova, Xavier, Creighton, Providence, Butler and others lost key pieces. But these teams always seem to figure it out and have high-level coaches. A few unexpected squads will pop.
49. Illinois will sniff the NCAA tournament, but miss it
The Illini haven’t made it since 2013, but Brad Underwood is one of the best minds in the game.
50. John Calipari wins his second national championship
Kentucky has its usual gem of a recruiting class, but pairs it with Travis and solid returning sophomores.
51. Clemson’s Marcquise Reed makes first-team all-ACC
Reed helped keep Clemson afloat last season when Donte Grantham got injured.
52. Oregon has a bounce back year
The addition of Bol Bol helps. Last year’s young Ducks have another season of experience.
53. Wichita State’s defense improves, but its offense declines
The Shockers finished fourth in offense and 111th in defense last year, rare for a Gregg Marshall team. Expect those numbers to even out a bit.
54. Defensive switching becomes a much more common strategy
We saw plenty of it from Villanova, Michigan, and in the NBA playoffs. Coaches will take note.
55. Cam Reddish competes with R.J. Barrett to be Duke’s best player
There are fair questions about Reddish’s motor entering college, but his talent is undeniable. We said the same thing about Deandre Ayton last year.
56. KeVaughn Allen returns to his sophomore form
The Florida guard averaged 14 points on 44 percent shooting as a sophomore, but those numbers dropped to 11 and 36 as a junior. He’s too talented to scuffle that much again.
57. Another experienced mid-major makes the Final Four
It would be impossible to try and predict who, but the youth of the top teams helps the Loyola-Chicagos of the world.
58. Memphis becomes nationally relevant again
The Tigers may not win a bunch of games in 2018-19, but Penny Hardaway will generate excitement in Memphis. They should be good in 2019-20.
59. Transfer Joe Cremo quickly becomes a household name at Villanova
The former Albany guard averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists last year. He can do a little of everything, and Villanova loves versatility.
60. Tennessee has the best defense in America
The offense is fine but not great, hence the previous prediction. But the Vols return almost everyone from the No. 6 defense in the country.
61. P.J. Washington averages more points per game than Travis
Travis is the more established college player, but Washington has more raw ability and dominated in stretches at the end of last season.
62. Nick Ward averages a double-double for Michigan State
The key for Ward: he needs to stay on the floor. He averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, and Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges are gone.
63. Texas winds up in the First Four in Dayton
The Shaka Smart experience has been up and down. The Longhorns are fine, but don’t inspire much confidence this season.
64. A 16-seed comes close to beating a 1, but falls just short
UMBC proved it’s possible. If nothing else, we should see more scares going forward.