It’s the busiest time of year in sports; every sport is seemingly in season. The NFL is gearing up for the playoffs, as well as college football. Baseball ended not too long ago and basketball, both collegiate and professional is starting to begin their respective seasons.
While most know who will be the contenders for the NBA title based on last year, college basketball brings a different dynamic. Many of the teams that were factors in last year’s March Madness tournament have lost a good percentage of their contributing players, including the national champions Villanova University Wildcats. That’s the beauty of college basketball; the large roster turnover year after year gives new teams a chance at winning the championship. Since college football is coming to an end and Superbowl season is looming, many fans will switch their attention to college basketball. Here are my early predictions on the five best teams fans should watch for.
First is the Kansas University Jayhawks. Head coach Bill Self has Kansas playing good basketball, again! For about the 100th straight year, Kansas is the favorite to win the Big 12 conference and this year, it might be close. The Jayhawks are No. 2 in the country with a perfect 6-0 record that includes wins over two top 10 teams, the Michigan State University Spartans and the University of Tennessee Volunteers. KU started the year ranked No. 1 until the Duke University Blue Devils came out the gate in a stunning fashion. Then Gonzaga University Bulldogs took over the No. 1 spot after beating Duke at the Maui Invitational Tournament. Regardless of the rankings, I think Kansas is the number one team in the country and my early favorite to win the NCAA tournament.
University of Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson is having an outstanding year, averaging 19 points 11 rebounds, as well as three and a half assists. They also have other big time players like senior LaGerald Vick who leads them with 21 points a game. Along with those two superstar talents, they have high rated freshman Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, with 7-foot-1 Udoka Azubuike starting at center. He’s averaging a solid 15 points, six rebounds and 2 blocks a game. KU has several bench players that were in the starting line-up at their previous school, most notably Charlie Moore, a former four-star recruit. This Kansas roster is well wired; their only weakness might be depth on the inside.
The second team to watch for is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags might be the best at this point. They proved a lot to me at Maui, when they beat not just Duke, but two other Power Five conference teams. Winning three games in three days proves how good head coach Mark Few’s coaching skills really are. However, I don’t think they have the firepower to beat a team like Kansas, and while they are better than Duke now, I don’t think I will be able to say the same by tournament time. Junior Rui Hachimura is their best player and he’s currently averaging 22 points a game, but in my opinion he can be game-planned to stop. That will force guards Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins to score more. These two players are capable but they are also streaky. Gonzaga doesn’t get much scoring off its bench and their other starter transfer Brandon Clarke is more of a defender and rebounder than an offense guy. He’s averaging 17 points at the moment but I expect that to slowing decline as the season goes on.
Third is the University of Michigan Wolverines, surprise, surprise. Coming in at number three on my list, I have last year’s runner-up, as the Michigan Wolverines. They lost their best player Mo Wagner to the NBA last year, but filled his spot well with freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. Brazdeikis is averaging 16.3 points a game this season, which leads the team. Many people thought Michigan would take a step back this year with the loss of Wagner, but nobody anticipated that head coach John Beilein would fill his role so fast, especially with a freshman. With championship experience, along with big time guards Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews, I think the Wolverines have a good recipe to repeat what they did last year in the NCAA tournament. They are currently No. 5 in the country with an 8-0 record.
Next is the Duke Blue Devils. One of the best recruiting class I’ve ever seen is going to mature, and when they do look out. Duke has hit the floor running with four freshmen in the starting line-up. They are ranked No. 3 in the country at 7-1, and come in on my list at number four. This team has a real chance to move up on my rankings soon, but I think that all depends on how well the bench plays the rest of the year. RJ Barrett paces the scoring with 23 a game, adding six rebounds and four assists a night. Human highlight reel, Zion Williamson scores 21 a night, grabbing nine rebounds. With this type of one-two punch, the reserves wouldn’t have to do much, but they have to do something. Any scoring production off the bench makes the Blue Devils that more dangerous. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski should think about moving freshman Cameron Reddish to the bench to help with that. He’s currently averaging 16.3 points a game. His scoring is not needed in the starting line-up with the presence of Barrett, Williamson and even Tre Jones. Relegating Reddish to the bench helps the team for the better in my opinion.
Last but not least, the University of Nevada Wolfpack. The Wolfpack made it all the way to the Sweet 16 last year, and they managed to bring back every major player from their roster. That’s scary for young teams like Duke, as they have already struggled against experienced teams like Gonzaga. Nevada is getting respect in the polls, too; they are rated No. 6 in the country with an 8-0 record. This Nevada team essentially has one shot at the title. Every player in the starting line-up is a senior, including leading scorer Caleb Martin (20 ppg). Senior Jordan Caroline is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10 rebounds. Having talented seniors like this brings major trouble to the rest of the teams. Head coach Eric Musselman has created a great team in a short time; mostly due to his expertise in the transfer market. Every member of Nevada’s starting line-up is a transfer, but don’t be surprised if the Wolfpack makes it all the way to the Final Four this year.
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