While there will always be surprises throughout the course of a college basketball season, we usually have a good idea of who the best teams are going in.
Here are the four schools we believe will secure No. 1 seeds come Selection Sunday and why.
The obvious choice. Kansas has won 14 Big 12 regular season titles in a row. If it wins its 15th straight, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise, the Jayhawks should snag a No. 1 seed.
Kansas has no obvious holes. Its defense should be tremendous. The Jayhawks have experienced, athletic, heady defenders and a coach in Bill Self who knows how to coach up his guys on that end. If they don’t lead the country in defensive rating, they’ll be close.
There may be some kinks to work out on offense, but Kansas has more than enough talent to thrive on that end. Dedric Lawson is a legitimate No. 1 option. Udoka Azubuike almost shot 80 percent from the floor last season. Lagerald Vick and K.J. Lawson are good complementary players who can hit 3s and attack a scrambled defense.
The point guard position is a potential question mark, but it shouldn’t be too much cause for concern. Transfer Charlie Moore only shot 39 percent from the floor in his lone season at California, but he’s talented and can create shots. If he falters, Quentin Grimes could take on more playmaking responsibilities. Neither is proven as a starter on a championship-caliber team, but it's likely at least one of them will be able to do what’s asked.
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Kansas has had its NCAA tournament flameouts over the years, but it’s extremely reliable in the regular season. Look for the Jayhawks to earn yet another 1-seed.
Kentucky is going to win a ton of games. Its biggest problem might be that it has too many quality players. Juggling minutes and egos could prove to be tricky. That’s a nice problem to have.
There’s been a lot of talk about how experienced Kentucky is. That’s a bit overblown. Kentucky is still relatively young; Reid Travis is a senior, but its next-oldest key contributors are sophomores P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards.
But any form of experience is an upgrade for the Wildcats in comparison to what we’ve seen in recent years. And this freshman class is extraordinarily talented. Beyond returning a few parts we didn’t expect, another reason to love Kentucky this year is that it has outside shooting to pair with its usual size and athleticism. Green can stroke it, Tyler Herro has the chops to become an elite shooter, and Keldon Johnson is a versatile stud who can score at every level. The offense became too cramped last year; Kentucky didn’t make a 3-pointer in an NCAA tournament win over Davidson.
That proves how much else the Wildcats have going for them, but it’s hard to win at the highest level of college basketball in 2018-19 without a solid perimeter attack. Kentucky doesn’t need to become 2017-18 Villanova, but it will bridge that gap in a meaningful way. Combine that with the experience factor, and this should be the best Kentucky squad we’ve seen in a while.
Roll your eyes all you want, but Virginia was the best regular season team last year and returns most of its roster. It’s fair to be skeptical of the Cavaliers in March, but they’re a machine during nonconference and ACC play.
Virginia loses Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins. They were both quality players, but the Cavs have guys to replace them. De’Andre Hunter, the most talented guy on the team, is ready for an increased role. He’s a massive wing with a nice skillset; Hunter averaged 18.4 points per 40 minutes last year. That may seem “good-but-not-great” at first glance, but considering Virginia’s snail-like pace, it’s great. Hunter is an ace defender to boot and only played 19.9 minutes per game as a freshman.
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And Mamadi Diakite is ready to slide into Wilkins’ minutes. Wilkins was one of the brainiest players in the country, but Diakite brings an explosive element he didn’t. Virginia also got some good news recently that Alabama transfer Braxton Key will be eligible this season. He’s another large wing capable of guarding multiple positions; he also averaged 12 points per game as a freshman.
Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome also return. That’s one of the most proven backcourts in the country. It’s reasonable to think Virginia can be as good as it was last year, and if that’s the case, UVA will earn a No. 1 seed.
This was a toss-up between Duke and North Carolina. It’s easy to see the appeal of the Blue Devils. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish form a historically great freshman class, and Mike Krzyzewski is coaching them.
But there are serious question marks up and down the roster after that, and the Blue Devils’ defense has been spotty in recent years. North Carolina feels more reliable. Its best player is a senior in Luke Maye; he averaged a double-double last season and is a versatile inside-out threat. Nassir Little could be every bit as good as anyone in the Duke trio. Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams aren’t huge names, but they’re the type of guys every elite team needs: 3-and-D wings who can help you on offense without dominating the ball. Duke may unearth a few of those guys, but none of them are as proven as Johnson or Williams.
North Carolina has star power but is also experienced and deep. Roy Williams is a great coach. The Joel Berry loss will hurt, of course; he meant so much to the Tar Heel program. But he also struggled during his senior season, failing to crack 40 percent from the floor. Despite his fantastic career, Berry’s final season was actually the worst of his last three. If you think North Carolina is going to regress that much because it loses Berry… you may want to look at those numbers again.
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Coby White should come in and be a productive point guard from the jump, and the rest of the starting lineup is loaded. Don’t sleep on the Tar Heels in 2018-19.