Syracuse has lost their undefeated season. North Carolina is streaking. Andrew Wiggins is coming along. The college basketball season is finally starting to pick up steam… and wouldn’t you know it? March is only a few weeks away.
It doesn’t feel like it, does it? Well, as we get closer to tournament season, we’re diving deep to give you some bold predictions to watch out for. Here are ten of them.
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1. Wichita State will go undefeated… but be ousted in the first weekend of the NCAAs.
Wichita State went on a magical run last year, defeating Pittsburgh, No. 1 seed Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State on their way to the Final Four. They fell short of playing in the National Championship Game after battling with the eventual champion Louisville Cardinals. This year, Cleanthony Early and Fred VanVleet have done a great job carrying over that momentum and running through their schedule so far this season. I don’t see one team on the remaining schedule, including the conference tournament, that can knock off the Shockers. The Shockers have been phenomenal this year on both ends of the floor, resulting in a 28-0 record and a No. 3 overall ranking.
So why do I think the Shockers will fall so early in the tournament? This year the Shockers have been headlining college basketball because they still remain as the lone unbeaten in the country. I think the pressure of them to prove that they really are as good as their record says they are will be the difference this year. It’s easier to be the team no one is talking about, flying under the radar as a big underdog but it’s a lot different when you are expected to win. I think they run into a good 8/9 seed and the excess media attention and pressure of the undefeated season rattle the Shockers and end their historic year.
2. Oklahoma State will win four of its next five and play in the Big 12 Championship Game.
The Cowboys have done nothing lately to show they are worthy of an NCAA bid and have played some terrible basketball, losing seven straight games. But as odd as it might sound, that’s the exact reason why I like them to make a run. Marcus Smart will return with a vengeance after being trashed in the media and hearing how his draft stock has plummeted because of his lack of self-control on the court. They have Texas Tech and TCU in their next two games, which are games the Cowboys cannot let slip away. Then Oklahoma State has a three-game stretch hosting Kansas and Kansas State before wrapping up the year at Iowa State. All three of those games give the Cowboys an opportunity to prove to the committee they are back on track and are too good of a team to pass on inviting to the tournament.
If Oklahoma State can win two of those three games, I think it will give them confidence heading into the Big 12 Tournament, where they will get hot and find themselves in the championship game. If the Cowboys can pull that off, they will without a doubt be in the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys have one of the most talented teams in the country with Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and a lethal shooter in Phil Forte III. They returned to school this year for a reason and I’m not ready to count them out just yet.
3. Duke will be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I no Duke lost at North Carolina this week but I think that’s the last loss they’ll have the rest of the year. They need to take care of business at home this Saturday night against Syracuse and with the Orange losing earlier this week, they’ll be a re-motivated team. If Duke can defeat the Orange at home, they will have won ten of their last 12–the only losses being that overtime thriller at the Carrier Dome and this week’s loss at the Tar Heels.
After this weekend, the rest of Duke’s schedule isn’t very difficult and Coach Mike Krzyzewski has won the ACC tournament nine of the past 13 years. The Blue Devils might be the deepest team in the country and have the most talented player in the country on their team. If they can amp up their defense and knock down their shots, they might win out heading into the NCAA Tournament. I still think the Blue Devils can grab the No. 1 overall seed if Florida and Syracuse slip up again and Duke takes care of business the rest of the season.
4. One Pac-12 teams will make it to the Sweet 16 and it won’t be Arizona.
I think the Pac-12 conference is very overrated this year. They have one legitimate team in Arizona but the Wildcats have showed vulnerability since losing Brandon Ashley for the year. For most of the season, Arizona has been the only ranked team from the Pac-12 and even though Joe Lunardi of ESPN has six Pac-12 teams making the NCAA Tournament, I think that is a big stretch. The Wildcats will be a two-seed heading into the madness and will run into a tough 7/10 matchup. They will have to rev it up against top notch competition for the first time without Brandon Ashley. Arizona has not played a ranked team since NOVEMEBER 29 against Duke. That is almost three months ago, meaning they haven’t played top notch talent in a long time. The Wildcats will look impressive the rest of the way in conference play but they are in for a rude awakening come mid March.
What Pac-12 team will escape the embarrassing showing from the conference? The Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado has flown under the radar, and if you look at their losses this season, they are against the top half of the Pac-12 or against ranked teams earlier in the year. The Buffaloes were a very young and inexperienced team last year with six freshmen. This year, they have four players who average double-figures and even with Spencer Dinwiddie out for the year, Askia Booker will be the reason Colorado advances to the second weekend while the rest of the conference watches them from home.
5. Doug McDermott will lead Creighton to the Final Four.
Now I don’t believe one player has the capability of carrying a team throughout the tournament. It just rarely happens and in March Madness you need a couple of lucky breaks to advance. However in this case, I think Doug McDermott is one of those college basketball players that can accomplish that task. The Bluejays shoot 50.2 percent when running their half-court offense (best in the nation) and score at will. McDermott averages 25.8 points a game and does it in various amounts of ways. He is shooting over 51 percent from the field and almost 90 percent from the free throw line. He can score down low and use his height at 6-9 or can shoot the deep ball (44 percent from three). McDermott is almost unstoppable on the offensive end and is the reason why the Bluejays average 125.5 points per 100 possessions.
Creighton is 22-4 and atop what remains of the Big East. They routed Villanova both times they faced them this season and average 81 points a night. Jay Wright called McDermott a complete player, saying there is nothing he can’t do on the floor. He complimented McDermott on his ability to take players off the dribble, knock down his jump shot and his great defense.
Many might see Creighton as an upset bid early in the tournament but I think this is the year McDermott finally gets past the first weekend.
6. Kentucky will not see the Elite Eight.
I think Kentucky can be one of those teams that slips up early in the tournament. I love Julius Randle but some of his fellow freshmen teammates have still not matured yet. The Harrison twins, when struggling, always seem to get down on themselves. That was evident in the Florida game last week when Aaron Harrison was 1-for-7 from the field, only scoring three points. Kentucky lost at home to the Gators, leaving Louisville the only ranked team Kentucky has beaten all year.
I think Kentucky is an immature team and won’t have the poise to play in some of these big games. Randle could very well lead them to the Sweet 16 but they’ll most likely play a one-seed as Kentucky is projected to be a fourth or fifth seed. I don’t think Kentucky is good enough to beat a quality experienced team.
7. Every single Big 12 team will win its first game.
The Big 12 might be the best conference in the country and it’s possible seven or right teams make the NCAA Tournament. Kansas and Iowa State are locks while Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma should make the field. Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State still have life and if they can win some games in the Big 12 Tournament, they both could convince the committee to give them an invitation.
I think if some of these teams do make the field, they’ll all win their first-round matchups. Obviously, we have no idea what the matchups would be but the Big 12 has some good basketball teams. West Virginia has a great player in Juwan Staten who can take over a ball game and Oklahoma State has the talent to get on a roll. West Virginia has some big opportunities ahead with matchups against fellow bubble team Baylor, then at Iowa State, a trip to Oklahoma before finishing up with Kansas at home. If the Mountaineers could steal one from Iowa State or Kansas, it could be the deciding factor for the committee. Baylor has WVU, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State left on the schedule to add to some of the Bears impressive non-conference wins. If you want to make the NCAA Tournament, these are the big games you need to sneak on the resume late in the year.
8. St. John’s will make the field of 68.
St John’s added a big win to their resume last week, defeating Creighton, 70-65. D’Angelo Harrison had a big game and has been leading the Johnnies all year long. Harrison is averaging 17.9 points per game for the Red Storm. St John’s has won nine of its last ten after losing six straight early in conference play.
The Red Storm have big games left on their schedule and if they take care of business and win a few games in the Big East Tournament, they should be in the NCAA Tournament. This Saturday they travel to Villanova, where they look to avenge their seven-point loss to the Wildcats earlier in the year. Steve Lavin has done a great job coaching this season and has really recruited an athletic roster. The Johnnies will be a tough matchup for a higher seed.
9. Watch out for Iowa State.
I think Iowa State is the one of those 3-5 seeds that can make a run to the Final Four. If Iowa State gets hot, they can light up the scoreboard, averaging 84 a night, which is fourth in the country. Melvin Ejim has a chance to win Big 12 Player of the Year, averaging 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane both can score the ball very well, averaging in double-figures this season, and Ejim scored 48 earlier in the year and has the ability to take over a game offensively. The Cyclones have proven themselves in a tough conference and if they closeout the year strong, they can snag a top-three seed in the tournament.
10. Hit your free throws.
With the new rules changes this year in college basketball, almost everything is a foul. The key to winning in the tournament is going to be hitting free throws. I can guarantee you the team that’s shooting a better percentage from the charity strip wins. Most of the games in the tournament go down to the wire and free throws down the stretch will be crucial if you want to continue to advance. Last year’s champions, the Louisville Cardinals, shot over 70 percent as a team; the Kentucky Wildcats in 2012 shot 73 percent on their way to a national championship. Go through every team that’s won it all in the past decade and almost all of them shot over 70 percent from the free throw line as a team.
What are your bold predictions?
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