Nov. 19, 2016
The Ultimate 2016-2017 College Basketball Preview
We are less than one week away from college basketball season. I am a huge college basketball fan and will be talking ball for the entire season. If you haven't read my bio, which I'm guessing you haven't, I am a huge Duke fan. I know, you probably hate me already. I am going to try and be as unbiased as possible here with my predictions and forecast for the season. The AP Top 25 Poll has been released and so have the Coaches Poll. If you don't like my breakdown of the top 25 teams, at least as of right now, you can use those as a guide. Every college basketball season is filled with highlight-reel plays, buzzer-beaters, rivalries, and so many more every single night. Oh yeah, and it has the greatest postseason of any sport. I am super pumped for this season, you're super pumped for this season, so let's get right into this thing!
1. Duke Blue Devils -- Did I already mentioned that I am a HUGE Duke fan? With that aside, I believe and so do many others, namely the voters of the AP and Coaches Polls, that Duke is the best team in the nation as of this moment. Coach K has a juggernaut of a team this year. The past few seasons, Duke has been Duke. They've been exceptional. The biggest issue over the past few years has been depth. This year, Duke has so much depth, that their bench could beat a lot of other teams on this list. They return veteran leaders like Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. They also add in a terrific freshman class with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, and Marques Bolden. The biggest question it seems so far is the health of this team. If Duke can stay healthy, the rest of college basketball needs to watch out because they will be scary good this year.
2. Kansas Jayhawks -- If it wasn't for Craig Handel, a voter in the AP Poll who ranked Duke at #6 and Kansas at #7, Kansas would be the second best team on both the AP and Coaches Polls. However, Handel did what he did and Kansas is #3 on the AP Poll and #2 on the Coaches Poll. In my mind, Kansas is the second best team in the nation right now. If you didn't already know on November 15th in Madison Square Garden, Duke plays Kansas. That night, both Duke and Kansas will figure out their identities. Kansas has a terrific backcourt with Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham. They also have a star freshman of their own in Josh Jackson. They are deep all around and should be a big threat to win the title come March.
3. Kentucky Wildcats -- Every season, you think that John Calipari will be screwed for next year when his entire team declares for the NBA Draft. Then, some of them decide to come back and Calipari works his magic to bring in a stud freshman class. Isaiah Briscoe will have to mature and become the "veteran" presence to guide this team along. De'Aaron Fox is an amazing player, Bam Adebayo is another strong big man for Coach Cal to work with and Malik Monk is a talented scorer who can jump out of the gym. Kentucky will be lead by their freshman once again this year and once again, they will do great in a not-so-great SEC.
4. Villanova Wildcats -- The returning champs make their entrance at #4 on the list. Even though Nova loses leaders Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, they return talented players from last year's championship team in Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth and more. They will be overlooked because they play in the Big East and won't get as much attention as Duke and Kentucky, but they are extremely talented. Jay Wright is a tremendous coach and now he can coach knowing that he finally got over the hump in March and won a championship. Nova will once again be talented and a threat to go back-to-back.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels -- Losing Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige are big losses but when is UNC not going to have a good team. They already suffered one huge blow losing Theo Pinson due to a fractured bone in his right foot. They still have guys like Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to lighten the loss. The ACC is super deep this year so don't be surprised if UNC is the fourth or fifth best team in the ACC this year. I'm not saying they will be bad, but every year there are a few highly ranked preseason teams that don't meet expectations this year and I think that could be UNC this year. I think that UNC could be anywhere from a one seed to a four seed in March.
6. Oregon Ducks -- This is a talented team returning many players from last year's Elite Eight team. Dillon Brooks is the star of this team but he has plenty of talent around him. Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, and many others will guide a team that is projected to win the Pac-12 this year. Oregon has the pieces to go far once again this year. Remember, they were a one seed last March and could do it once again.
7. Virginia Cavaliers -- This year for Virginia will be an interesting one. As previously mentioned, the ACC is absolutely loaded. This is the third team in the top seven. Tony Bennett is a terrific coach and always finds a way to have a great team come March. This year will be the London Perrantes year for Virginia. He has been a great player for Tony Bennett for the past three years so he'll want to do something special in his senior season. This will be Perrantes' but he has guys like Memphis transfer Austin Nichols and incoming freshman Kyle Guy to lead this team. Virginia will be a one or two seed come March.
8. Xavier Musketeers -- Everybody will remember last March but most people won't remember that Xavier was a two seed last year. They got bounced in the second round to Wisconsin on a Bronson Koenig buzzer beater. Xavier returns key guys like Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett who will help lead this team to another quality year. I think they will have a fine regular season but I think they might be once again upset in March in the early rounds.
9. Arizona Wildcats -- Now that Jay Wright has gotten over the March hump, it's Sean Miller's turn. He has never made a Final Four in his coaching tenure even though he always has great teams and players. He is quietly one of the best recruiters as he once again brings in a great recruiting class. Alonzo Trier is a terrific player and I think a dark-horse All-American. He will help lead this team along with fabulous freshman Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins. Sean Miller is a great coach and has a team that could once again be a great team.
10. Wisconsin Badgers -- Many guys return from the Sweet 16 team of a year ago. Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Ethan Happ will help lead this team to a great season. They will headline the Big Ten and I think won't be a one seed in March, but will be a very good two or three seed.
11. Indiana Hoosiers -- The loss of Yogi Ferrell is a big one. It will be hard to move on from him as he was a terrific player for Tom Crean. However, the return of Thomas Bryant was huge for the Hoosiers. He is a stud and will be a leader and a centerpiece for this team. OG Anunoby could have a breakout season like Victor Oladipo did four years ago. James Blackmon will be healthy and will contribute with Bryant and Anunoby to guide the Hoosiers this year. I think they will be very good in the regular season, but looking at the team they have right now, they look like a team with the potential to get bounced from the tourney in an early upset.
12. Michigan State Spartans -- It is very rare for Tom Izzo's teams to perform poorly in March but last year was one of those odd cases as the Spartans were upset in the first round by 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State. They also lost their star of last year and a great veteran leader in Denzel Valentine. However, Tom Izzo brought in one of the best recruiting classes he's ever had. Miles Bridges is a special player. Pair him with Josh Langford and Cassius Winston and Izzo has one talented incoming group of guys. Eron Harris will put the ball in the basket for Izzo. I expect him to be a huge factor for this team come March. I think that the Spartans will be a very good team come March again.
13. UCLA Bruins -- Lonzo Ball is the type of player that can single-handedly carry a team. He is going to be one of the most talked about players come NBA Draft time next year. Ball will lead a very talented UCLA team to go along with other great players like Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, and Thomas Welsh. Add in another highly touted freshman in TJ Leaf and you have a UCLA team that looks to be a dangerous one this year. I think it is easily achievable for this team to sneak into the top ten at some point this season. If UCLA has another down year, I expect Steve Alford to be on the hot seat.
14. Louisville Cardinals -- I really don't know what to think of this year's Louisville Cardinals. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this program but it is a Rick Pitino led team so I think they will manage. I think that Donavan Mitchell and VJ King will make for an explosive and fun to watch duo this year. The ACC as I've said before and will say again is absolutely loaded this year.
15. Gonzaga Bulldogs -- Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are two big losses for Mark Few's squad. However, they can handle it. Nigel Williams-Goss will be a top-three transfer this year and will make a huge impact for this team. He is a great player and will really help this team. They still have Prezmek Karnowski who will help lead this team. Williams-Goss and Karnowski will help lead this team to another solid season.
16. Texas Longhorns -- I am a firm believer that this is the year Shaka Smart takes a huge step forward with this team. He's had a few years now to implement his system. He has a lot of talent to work with. Jarrett Allen is a name to know. Not many people talk about Allen as a good freshman but he will really impress. Kerwin Roach Jr. is a great athlete and after a year of adjusting to the college game should break out this year. Shaka Smart is a great coach and will finally break through with this Texas team.
17. UCONN Huskies -- A player who I think will absolutely explode this year and put himself on national radar is Jalen Adams. He is incredibly talented and has the skills to be a big time player in college basketball. Their is other talent in Rodney Purvis and Amidah Brimah. UCONN is the favorite this year to win a weak American conference. The biggest threat to UCONN is a good Cincinnati squad but UCONN should win the American this year.
18. Saint Mary's Gaels -- Most people that look at polling and see Saint Mary's ranked so high are shocked! Heck, I was surprised not only to see them ranked so high but the voters, but for CBS Sports to rank them as their 13th best team in the nation. I did some more research and decided 18th was best for them. They return all starters from a 29 win team. They have the experience but I don't think they will win their conference because they have to deal with the consistent Gonzaga. The Gaels will be a good team, but I don't think they will live up to this hype.
19. Syracuse Orange -- Malachi Richardson was a great player for Jim Boeheim in March of last year. That team really came together and shocked almost every single fan including myself. He is now in the NBA which was a big loss for the Orange. However, Tyler Lydon decided to return for another year and he will be a star for the Orange. He was another guy to come on strong in March and should only improve. Tyus Battle is a great freshman addition for the Orange as in a deep ACC, they should do well again.
20. Purdue Boilermakers -- Purdue was upset by Arkansas Little-Rock last March and I think this is a good regular season team that could be once again upset in March in the first or second round. Caleb Swanigan is a great player but I don't see a supporting cast good enough to make a deep mark in March. I think they will fluctuate and hover around this mark throughout the season and finish as a 4-6 seed but get upset early in the tournament.
21. Cincinnati Bearcats -- Cincinnati has seemed to make it to March seemingly every season as a 7,8,9, or 10 seed. I think this is another tourney team. This will be the Troy Caupain show. I love Caupain's game and think he is a very underrated player. They have some other pieces in place. I think that they will be questioned early but will find their way late in the season an make it to March.
22. West Virginia Mountaineers -- WVU suffered a big blow last year in the tourney being booted out by Stephen F. Austin. They are back this year but without as good rebounding as last season. Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter will lead this team. I don't know how well this team will perform this year. They are one of my biggest question marks for this season.
23. Rhode Island Rams -- They were supposed to be great last year but were crushed due to injuries. They are back this year and look to be the favorite in the A-10. They have a special player in EC Matthews. To be honest, I don't really know Rhode Island as well as I know some of these other teams. They are an uncertainty for me but I am curious to see how they do.
24. Iowa State Cyclones -- Georges Niang is gone and now Iowa State become Monte Morris & Co. Morris is a stud and could win Big 12 Player of the Year. Otherwise, there isn't a load of talent besides Morris. He could have a similar season to the Kemba Walker like year of 2011. I don't think anybody can be as good as that but Morris will carry this team the way Kemba did with the Huskies back in 2011.
25. Creighton Bluejays -- Since the departure of Doug McDermott, many people have forgotten about Creighton. Dougie McBuckets dad still is the head coach and has two great players to lead his team in Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster. They are getting some national recognition already as I have ranked them lower than both the AP and Coaches Polls did. They should be a tournament team come March.
That concludes my preview for this upcoming season. It is sure to be fun, entertaining and as action-packed as ever. November 11th is the first day of action. Mark your calendars because college basketball is back baby!