Thoughts of the Day is back with another season preview! The college basketball season tips off this weekend, so it’s time to make some predictions for how the season will unfold. Who will win in the top conferences? What players will rise above the rest? Who will be cutting down the nets on April 7 in Arlington, Texas? We have a plethora of predictions to get you ready for the season, let’s do it!
- 1. Marcus Smart will win National Player of the Year honors. The fact that Smart decided to return for his sophomore year was a blessing for Oklahoma State, who needs their star guard if they are going to win the Big 12. Last season’s freshman of the year uses his size, strength, and impressive rebounding ability to dominate against his collegiate counterparts, and he’s almost a lock to be a first-team All-American. If he can shoot better from three this year (he shot 29% from behind the arc last year) and cut down on turnovers (3.4 a game as a freshman), he can be the most complete player in the NCAA.
- 2. Andrew Wiggins will win Freshman of the Year. This seems like an absolute certainty with the hype the Kansas Jayhawk “diaper dandy” has been getting. When you’ve already been on a Sports Illustrated cover and have teams tanking for the rights to select you with the Number One pick before you’ve even played a college game, you know you have to live up to those expectations. I expect Wiggins to thrive due to his athleticism, incendiary explosiveness off the dribble, and excellent shooting ability.
- 3. Stony Brook will win the America East Conference. While Vermont is favored to take the title in the America East, the Stony Brook Seawolves will surprise some people to top the Catamounts. The Seawolves have won the regular season championship in three of the last four seasons, and while Tommy Brenton is gone, Jameel Warney is a star in the making. Look for the AEC to be a very fun league to watch this year, with Steve Pikiell’s team victorious in the end.
- 4. Duke will win the ACC. Jabari Parker is almost as hyped-up as Wiggins and for good reason. Parker reminds me of Melo or Kevin Durant in that he has a good size and wingspan, has a solid pull-up jumper, is good off the ball and has a high basketball IQ. His versatility really works in Coach K’s system, and when he improves defensively this year he will be an NBA-caliber player. A great player with a great attitude who works hard everyday, but Jabari is not alone. This Duke team has a leader in Quinn Cook, an emotional, electric player in Rasheed Sulaimon, a future star in Rodney Hood, and a sparkplug in Amile Jefferson to add to their star freshmen. It’s a very complete starting five with the depth to beat the rival Tar Heels in the ACC.
- 5. VCU will win the Atlantic 10. The A-10 is full of good teams with the potential to go deep into the NCAA Tournament, but Shaka Smart’s team is probably the deepest, most skilled team in the conference. Senior Juvonte Reddic and junior Treveon Graham are the top scorers, while Terrance Shannon, a transfer from Florida State, and freshman Mo Alie-Cox add to the big presence of this Rams team. Look for Saint Louis, LaSalle and Richmond to contend, but not have the depth to beat VCU.
- 6. Marquette will win the Big East. Since the traditional, stronger Big East has been dismantled, Marquette will bully their way to the championship in the new edition of the conference. An Elite Eight trip last year showed that this Golden Eagles team has the potential to make a run, and forwards DaVante Gardner and Jamil Wilson will try to make up for the loss of last year’s star, Vander Blue. Georgetown and Creighton will also be likely tournament teams, but the conference won’t be as exciting as in years past.
- 7. Michigan will win the Big Ten. Were you expecting another team in the state to be at the top of the list? Most are picking the Spartans, but the Wolverines will be on top of the standings in March. They lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but they still have tournament star Mitch McGary, Glen Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, who shot 44% from three-point range last season. There will be no letdown for John Beilen’s crew. As for Michigan State, they have one major weakness that will prevent them from winning the Big Ten, and that’s inconsistency from the guard spot. Keith Appling had a rough junior year, and Gary Harris had a horrible shooting performance in the Sweet 16, failing to guard Seth Curry effectively enough in the process. MSU has a lot of questions, while Michigan has the right stuff to beat the overrated Spartans.
- 8. Kansas will win the Big 12. Wiggins is a big reason the Jayhawks will win the Big 12, but he’s not the only key to victory for Bill Self’s team. Joel Embiid, also an incoming freshman, was considered the best center in the recruiting class, while Memphis transfer Tarik Black was the Newcomer of the Year in the conference last year. While the Jayhawks aren’t locks to win with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State looking to knock them off, they have a better team offensively and defensively than the Cowboys.
- 9. Harvard will win the Ivy League. Always have to give the Ivy League their props. After the Crimson won their first-ever Tournament game in March, they’re hands-down the top team in the smartest conference in America.
- 10. Arizona will win the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has been slumping the past few years, but the Wildcats will try to bring it back to prominence. When most of America is sleeping this winter, Arizona’s frontcourt, led by 7’0 center Kaleb Tarczewski, will dominate the likes of Oregon, UCLA and Cal on the west coast.
- 11. Kentucky will win the SEC. The Kentucky Wildcats are loaded. John Calipari’s team is possibly the most talented college basketball team since John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were wearing the blue in Lexington. Six McDonald’s All-Americans come in as freshmen, with the Harrison twins and Julius Randle leading the pack. Alex Poythress returned for his sophomore season, as did Willie Cauly-Stein. It’s a no-brainer: Kentucky will win the SEC and finish the regular season with only one loss going into the NCAAs.
- 12. Gonzaga will win the WCC. The West Coast Conference only has one powerhouse, and the Wildcats, though they won’t be as dominant as they were last season, will go into the NCAA Tournament ranked in the top 20.
- 13. Champions Classic on November 12: Kentucky beats MSU 87-63, Duke beats Kansas 84-78
- 14. Upset of the year: Vanderbilt over Kentucky on January 11. Kentucky’s one conference loss will come on the road against Vandy.
- 15. 2014 Final Four: Kentucky beats Duke, Florida beats Ohio State
- 16. National Championship Game: Kentucky over Florida
- 17. Andrew Harrison wins Tournament Most Outstanding Player
That’s right basketball fans, this year’s College Hoops Preview has a Big Blue flavor to it. I’ve got Kentucky winning it all. Let the season begin!