- Ok so spoiler alert, I'm pretty
Most prediction things I've looked at have them somewhere in the 20s, and that is just way way way wrong. Did we all forget just how far one great player can take a team in college basketball? Carmelo Anthony? Danny Manning? Hell, Kemba Walker? Marcus Smart is one that level. But lest you think this is a one person team, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash are here too. The only thing missing is a good big man, but they have a ton of options so if they can cobble together forty minutes of competent big man play each game (they only need one "big guy" because Nash is big enough to play the 4 unless they need to go big) this team is going to be a serious, serious contender. Currently 25-1 or 40-1 to win the whole thing at some books. Get in there now.
- Speaking of, here are your contenders this year: Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, VCU and Wisconsin (gross, but true. I'm high on Dekker). That's it. I think UCONN could be a bit of a sleeper too, seems like everybody has forgotten about them but they have a pretty nice squad coming back. On the opposite end, I think Indiana falls off a cliff. I know Noah Vonleh is supposed to be a stud, but when the rest of your offense is going to reliant on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey you're in trouble. The only exception is if Evan Gordon (transfer from Arizona State) ends up being a stud, but he's on his third team of his career for a reason. Then again, he's already 22 (and a half) so maybe he'll have some of that Mbakwe stuff going on, although I don't know how much that'll help a guard. Plus, I hate Indiana a lot, so there's that too.
- If you want another team that could surprise, but in more of a rising from projected bubble team to a top 5 seed, you should consider Stanford. Nobody really is predicting them to do much, but it's basically the third year with the same core group but they added Chasson Randle last year. Two years ago they won the NIT, then had a really disappointing season landing back in the NIT last year. They just couldn't get over the hump, losing something like six games by five points or fewer, and I think with another year, particularly for Randle, they'll win more of those games and contend for the Pac-12 title. And then probably make Reid Travis fall more in love with them. Great. We're doomed.
- Speaking of doomed, I just want to mention the loony bin that is the Gopher Hole, where apparently if Rashad Vaughn ends up at either Iowa State or UNLV those programs are clearly crooked. Honest to god, the prestige rankings over there are something like:
1. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
6. North Carolina
7. Louisville (shot up the rankings this year)
Seriously. Then there's a huge gap and everyone else is in the 100s with Iowa State at the very bottom. That place has gotten damn near unreadable due to all the Minnesota high school talent for 2014. Did you know that any Minnesota kid, or any kid considering Minnesota, who ends up going to a different school was clearly enticed by some sort of illegal or shady benefit? It's true.
- Should I elaborate on my Wisconsin thoughts a bit? Yeah, probably since I'm saying they're going to be really good but I hate them. Assuming Josh Gasser is fully back, he and Ben Brust give the Badgers one of the best back courts in the country. Wait let me clarify. I don't mean one of the best back courts in the country in terms of talent or ability or anything like that, I mean best back courts as in best fits for their team's system. Their boring, boring system. I don't remember the last time they had two guards who fit this well, but this is like if Jordan Taylor and Trevon Hughes played together and were white.
Then you bring in Sam Dekker, who I think is going to be an absolute monster, and this is a crazy, crazy talented team for a Wisconsin club. The only real concern is in the front court, except that's never a concern for Wisconsin because there's always some giant hulking shlub who can go from nothing to 10 & 8 in no time flat because Bo Ryan has some sort of grinchy magical powers when it comes to 6-8 frumps. I don't know if it'll be an old guy (Frank Kaminsky/Zach Bohanon/Evan Anderson) or a new guy (Nigel Hayes) but the last thing you ever need to worry about when it comes to Wisconsin is them getting front court production. Add in their best 3-man back court I can remember and their boring, boring system of boring their opponent to death and the Badgers are sneaky dangerous this year. And that sucks.
- Overall the Big 10 is going to be tough this year, but I see four pretty distinct tiers:
TIER 1: Michigan State
TIER 2: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa
TIER 3: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota
TIER 4: Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State
There's some chance for movement between these of course - Michigan State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin could end up as good as Michigan State. Iowa or Illinois could drop. Northwestern could jump up, but pretty much this is how I see it so I guess I'm saying the Gophers could finish anywhere from 6th to 10th, and because their schedule is so weak this year it's going to be an uphill battle to get to the NCAA Tournament again. Obviously not impossible or anything, but keep an eye on the Maui tournament - the results there could end up being huge for the Gophers' RPI.
- Your most likely high profile coach to get canned this year is Rick Barnes at Texas which makes sense because he's a terrible game coach. He was always a hell of a recruiter and rode those abilities to a stretch of five Sweet 16s in eight years, but the Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament last year (for the first time since 1998, but still it was pretty bad) with a losing season and they're poised to have an even worse year this season. Myck Kabongo left for the NBA (or wherever, considering he didn't get drafted) and Julien Lewis and Shelden McClellan transferred, Ioannis Papapetrou signed to play pro ball overseas, and Javan Felix is injured and out for an indefinite amount of time. With a not very strong recruiting class coming in this is going to be an ugly year. Maybe his past success combined with the current rough circumstances will buy him some more time, but Texas is not a very patient school and also Rick Barnes is almost worse than Bruce Weber.
- As far as Kentucky goes this year, I know a lot of people are ready to hand them the title since they have the best recruiting class of all-time coming in and some established talent already in place and frankly it's not a bad call. It really is the greatest collection of talent I can remember in college basketball in the early entry era, at least on paper. Calipari showed how this kind of plan can work two years ago when he won the national title, but he's had the same basic play every since he came to Kentucky and still only has the one title in four years, while missing the tournament altogether last season.
I'm not saying they shouldn't be the favorite, but there is some truth to the old saying, "not enough basketballs to go around." That Kentucky team that won the National Championship was supremely talented, but that talent came mainly in the form of players who could impact the game without needing the ball. Anthony Davis was a defensive force, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an all-around stud, Marquis Teague was happy to let others take the shots, and even Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones had no problem taking a back seat when necessary for the good of the team. That was the problem with the John Wall team (a team that, granted, made the Elite 8) - Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins were all ball dominating players. I'm interested to see where this new group falls, because the talent level really is insane, and like nothing we've ever seen before.
- One of the unintended consequences of all this conference realignment stuff going on is the complete weakening of the mid-majors as the bigger conference get stronger by pilfering the top programs from all over the country. The only mid-majors worth a damn (WCC, A-10, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West if you consider them a mid-major) were either strengthened or completely untouched by realignment. Look at once strong conferences like Conference USA, the Colonial, and the Horizon have been gutted.
C-USA has become 16 crappy teams, everyone has fled the Colonial to the point where the team that just joined up, College of Charleston, is probably the most historically successful program in the conference, and the Horizon is now looking at Wright State and Cleveland State as it's shining stars. Perhaps the worst is the WAC, which was never you know, awesome or anything, but it has been completely gutted. The #1 team is now New Mexico State, but even worse the #2 squad is Idaho or Cal State Bakersfield. Bakersfield! I'm not even sure if any of these teams here outside of NMSU have ever been to the NCAA Tournament. I mean they probably have or something, but I'll be damned if I remember. Sure, this all makes for better games in the major conferences, but I'm a little sad about how crappy all the mid-majors are now. Well, I'm over it now.
- There is now a team in D-I basketball called the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals (of course they're the Cardinals). They're ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year as they make the transition to D-I, but they're joining the Southland along with Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Soon it seems the Southland will be called the Holy Conference. Or something more clever than that. Shut up I'm tired.
- Lastly, here's my shot at your projected NCAA Tournament teams by conference. We'll see how I do:
ACC (5): Duke, Syracuse, UNC, Virginia, Notre Dame
AAC (4): Louisville, Memphis, UCONN, Cincinnati
A-10 (3): VCU, LaSalle, St. Louis
America East (1): Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun (1): Florida Gulf Coast
Big East (5): Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Creighton
Big 10 (5): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana
Big 12 (5): Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State
Big Sky (1): Weber State
Big South (1): High Point
Big West (1): Long Beach
C-USA (1): Louisiana Tech
Colonial (1): Drexel
Horizon (1): Wright State
Ivy (1): Harvard
Mountain West (4): New Mexico, UNLV, Utah State, Boise State
Missouri Valley (2): Wichita State, Indiana State
MAC (1): Akron
MAAC (1): Manhattan
MEAC (1): Morgan State
NEC (1): Bryant
Ohio Valley (1): Belmont
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Colorado, Stanford
Patriot (1): Lafayette
SEC (6): Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Missouri
SoCon (1): Elon
Southland (1): Houston State
Summit (1): Denver
Sun Belt (1): Western Kentucky
SWAC (1): Texas Southern
WAC (1): New Mexico State
WCC (2): Gonzaga, BYU
You know what's crazy? When I did this without worrying about counting how many bids I was giving out on my first pass I came out with 67 teams. Just had to add one to round it out. I ended up making it Indiana which was perfect because I didn't feel good about just five teams coming out of the Big 10, but I have no idea who the sixth one will be. Indiana, like I said, has a million question marks, I hate Illinois, and I don't think Purdue or Minnesota have the pieces. Whatever. I'm pretty dumb anyway so say la vee.