It’s a few weeks overdue, but the season is still young. I won’t edit the 2000 words I had written up. Unfortunately, I got busy and had to delay the publishing of this write up. Everything you read below was written before the first game tipped off this season.
It’s so exciting to be previewing college basketball this season! After a long break from covering the sport, it’s nice to be writing about my favorite sport. A few events ushered college basketball fans to change the preview of the season because of what has been revealed about a few high-level programs. I won’t go into much detail in this post, but will refer to those events and the influence it has on a few programs in a later post.
I will continue to share the fastest and slowest games of the week or month, oddities of the game, and trends that are revealed over the course of the season by way of statistical evaluation. That will be shown through examples of college basketball as a whole, or in smaller sample sizes.
Favorites to Cut Down the Nets
It seems like the usual suspects make this list.
Michigan State – Tom Izzo did not know his forward, Miles Bridges, was returning for a sophomore campaign. Loading talent with a roster returning from a tournament team last season, Sparty has the make of a team that can make a deep run. Here’s the catch. Last season was the first time I can remember where the Spartans were in jeopardy of making it to the NCAA tournament. They finished surprisingly at 20-15.
Duke – Surprise? HA! Well, actually, yes. This may come as a surprise because they will not be so star-studded this season. Of course, with Coach K at the helm, and his first legitimate point guard, Trevon Duval, in three years, excitement is brewing to see how far this team can traverse during the month of March.
Kansas – Set for another run at the top of the Big 12, the Jayhawks look primed for a deep run into the tournament. If recent history is any tell though, they may have a difficult time making it to the second weekend.
Dark Horses to Challenge Contenders
Minnesota – One of the nice surprises last season was the resurgence of the Golden Gophers. After a solid non-conference last season (albeit a cakewalk for most of it), Minnesota began the Big 10 conference with a 3-1 record, the only blemish coming to Michigan State in a 1 point overtime loss. They seemed to fall apart with five straight losses and, halfway through the conference season, were 3-6. Things seemed to click and they ended the season on a 8-1 record and won their first game against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. I think Minnesota is a top 4 Big 10 team this year and can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
Wichita State – The Shockers bring back everyone that made it to the NCAA tournament last season. The heavily under-seeded Shockers lost in a Round of 32 match-up against Kentucky. The transition to the American Athletic Conference already sees the Shockers as the favorite to win the regular season. If seeded appropriately, this team has potential to be a 2 or 3 seed.
Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish has senior leadership and talent on their roster. They possess qualities that resemble a team that has the opportunity to make a deep run. They will have a possible meeting with Wichita State in an early season tournament before the Thanksgiving holiday. They will also duel with Michigan State in the Big 10/ACC challenge.
Saint Bonaventure – Picked second to finish behind heavily favored Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Bonnies bring back a core group that lose to Rhode Island in the A-10 Conference last season. A team that won 20 games will be tough to handle, especially with VCU and Dayton falling off a bit. Remember the name Jaylen Adams. The Bonnies go as he goes.
Northwestern – The Wildcats bring back a majority of the group that made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Aaron Falzon is a nice addition to help with the perimeter shooting. Northwestern was close to beating Gonzaga. If they get a favorable draw, they could easily find themselves in the second weekend.
Seton Hall – This team is dangerous. Their core three, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington, will contribute each game with points and invaluable leadership. Not to mention senior forward, Ismael Sanogo, and sophomore guard, Eron Gordon, this team has the look of one that can surprise people and make a deep run if things are clicking come tournament time.
Players to Watch
Michael Porter Jr. – Most may have not heard his name because this is his freshman season. He is already projected as the #1 pick in the 2018 draft by numerous analysts. So what’s the excitement about? His 6-foot-10 build is something amazing considering how well he can handle the ball.
Bennie Boatwright – Averaged just over 15 points per game during the regular season. His ability to step out and shoot from 3 point range is just one of tools he possesses as a 6-foot-10 Forward to stretch any opponent defense.
Mike Daum – I wrote about him last year as he looked to help lead South Dakota State back to the tournament. He averaged just over 25 points per game last season and looks to continue to own a large portion of scoring responsibility this season. In fact, Daum scored 51 points against the Fort Wayne Mastadons last season, the highest output by an individual last season. He 25.1 points per game ranked 2nd, behind Marcus Keene’s 30 points per game. Daum will be fun to watch this year. Oh, did I mention he’s on pace to finish in the top 5 of the all time NCAA career scoring? He’s currently ahead of Doug McDermott when comparing where Doug was and Daum is now.
Angel Delgado – Many analysts and fans are comparing Delgado to Caleb Swanigan, a comparison that I think is deserving heading into the season. Delgado is joined by high-level players Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodreiguez. With the style this team plays, they will score in bunches and Delgado has a legitimate opportunity each game to produce a double-double.
Kamar Baldwin – It is inevitable that a Butler player shows up on this list (because I watch each game). Baldwin was impressive in his freshman season for the Bulldogs. His role changes a bit after the departure of Coach Holtmann and the roster changes from departing seniors. Just a flavor of what Baldwin is capable of, see the important play he made at the end of the game to seal the win for the Bulldogs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hicCp4CUNIQ
Coaching Changes of Note
Chris Holtmann – Holtmann departed Butler in June earlier this year. He has a rebuilding project in front of him at Ohio State, taking over the head coaching responsibilities from another former Butler coach, Thad Matta. I wonder if Butler has been thanked by these other schools…
LaVall Jordan – Jordan departs Wisconsin-Milwaukee after one season. He inherits a unique situation in that he played and coached at Butler. This is a team that lost a lot of senior leadership, yet still has great talent with the youth that was recruited. I’m curious to see how the system he wants to implement applies with the players on the roster. Change is difficult and it will be telling early on how this team will fare this season.
Archie Miller – Out goes Tom Crean (probably 3 or 4 years too late) and in steps Miller with a fine track record to boast. Indiana looks like it is going to experience a down year, which is relative because in these years, IU seems to play really well with high caliber teams, and then lose a couple cakewalk games. Miller will have the Hoosiers in a rhythm eventually though.
Patrick Ewing – John Thompson III’s time at Georgetown is over and in to take over is Ewing. It’s no question the guy could play, but how well will he be able to coach the Hoyas? I think going into the season with low expectations will allow for pleasant surprises this season.
Brad Underwood – In a surprising move, Underwood left Oklahoma State after only one year to take over at Illinois, a job in which John Groce had recruited a top-15 class. Underwood had an odd time in the Big 12 conference, but ended up having a nice season come together. It will be interesting to see how his season pans out in the Big 10.
Brian Gregory – 13 years as a head coach at Dayton and Georgia Tech helped Gregory land a coaching job at South Florida. After being fired in 2016, he spent one year being a special assistant to Tom Izzo.
Pat Kelsey – You don’t hear about this too often. After being lured away to become the coach at Massachusetts, Kelsey went back to Winthrop. So odd.
Early Season Tournaments and Other Things to Look Forward to
It’s been discussed more frequently in the past few years that for teams in the power conferences to fill a slate of home games, they need to bring in teams that typically have no chance at winning the game once they agree to visit the host school. That’s why we see match-ups like West Virginia vs. Morgan State, Duke vs. Southern, or Baylor vs. Alcorn State. The argument from most college basketball fans is that this is not good for the game. I agree with that argument because those games lack excitement barring the crowd-wowing alley-oop. As much as we may not like when our team is in a battle throughout the entirety of a game, it makes it that much more memorable. As far as potentially great games early in the season, we can look no further than the early season tournaments.
Notre Dame vs. Wichita State (Maui Invitational) – I don’t think the Shockers possess as much of the consistency as we are led to believe. Mike Brey tends to be successful in these scenarios so I’ll go with Notre Dame in this one.
Michigan State vs. North Carolina (PK80) – Well, when you turn 80 years old, you go watch a lot of college basketball as a gift, yeah? We have the possible match-up of Sparty vs. the TarHeels. Both teams are equitable on offense, but Sparty has a better defense coming into this season. I’m going with Michigan State here.
Duke vs. Florida (PK80) – The Florida offense loves to move the ball quickly. Their high point totals are a product of such movement. Duke’s challenge will be defense. If they get in a tough bind or dig too large of deficit for themselves, Florida can pick them off and snag a resume building win. I’m going with the Gators.
Arizona vs. Villanova – Nova is going to Nova. Jay Wright has found a groove for what type of player works in his system. It’s evidence by his domination of the Big East since the conference was realigned. Oh, and he won a National Championship a couple years ago. Arizona has all the hype heading into the season, but I feel the negative attention from the FBI probe may be a significant distraction. I’m going with Villanova in this matchup.
There’s another match-up that I don’t anticipate the teams playing for the tournament championship, but does pose an interesting story line. As fate would have it, Butler and Ohio State are in the same bracket in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon. Chris Holtmann is the current coach at Ohio State and formerly the head coach at Butler. When he left Butler, he brought along the supporting coaching staff. That crew would be pitted against the players they coached and recruited to Butler. It’d be an interesting game because the veterans know the system that Holtmann runs and Holtmann knows the tendencies of his former players. I doubt either side shares ill will toward the other.
Here is my perspective on what happened now that some time has passed:
It’s a difficult decision to make and one that warrants grace and understanding once a choice has been made. Of course it’s difficult to swallow when a successful coach departs a school’s team that you have an affinity for. Criticizing a person’s choice from the sidelines is easy because we aren’t part of the process. As far as human nature goes, it’s easy to judge another based on their choice. We can’t control people though, and in a way, that’s a beautiful relief from us. I’m hopeful both programs are successful with their new changes. Of course it makes it difficult to root for Ohio State because I’ve never enjoyed watching them play, but knowing Holtmann is on the sideline with the rest of the former Butler coaches makes it ever-so-slightly easier to watch a game of theirs every once in a while.
Top 25 and 5
6. Wichita State
11. West Virginia
13. North Carolina
19. Seton Hall
22. Notre Dame
23. Saint Mary’s
26. Rhode Island
27. Texas A&M