The NCAA’s Blue Bloods are back. And they’re ready to make serious noise in March. (Looking at you, Lonzo Ball)
Another Christmas has come and gone, and what did the tubby old man bring us this year? A likely title for the Alabama Crimson Tide, a playoff cakewalk for the New England Patriots, and an overly dramatic NBA Finals preview. Coal would have been better. Then again, the tubby old man moving to the White House has promised that too. But alas, March is on the horizon. With it comes one of the most talented draft classes college basketball fans have ever seen. The true Blue Bloods of the NCAA are back, and while America may not be great again, college basketball certainly is. With conference play starting up, let’s take a closer look and pick some winners.
Let’s jump right into the most difficult conference to decipher. Not one team is under .500. As it stands now, 12 of these teams have a legitimate argument to be put in the tourney, 11 of which have two losses or less. Florida State has gone from the fringes to contenders, Louisville took down Malik Monk and the big boys at Kentucky, and Duke’s star freshman Harry Giles is back from injury. It’s going to be a fun season for the ACC.
Predicted Winner: Duke
It’s still theirs to lose. Here’s hoping for another Grayson Allen temper tantrum in the process.
Contenders: Everybody … except for Boston College of course.
This might be the most exciting, least talented conference in the entire NCAA. And yet, the committee loves them. Four teams received bids last season (They went 1-4). The most impressive win for the conference this season was Temple topping Florida State. This was, of course, the same team that lost to Villanova by 21 a few weeks later, but we can forget about that. Either way, expect this conference to have the most movement in the rankings and standings all season long.
Predicted Winner: Cincinnati
Contenders: Temple, SMU, Houston, Memphis
This was the most exciting conference last season, but now it seems more like a two-horse race. Baylor and Kansas will keep them relevant. The Bears have looked unstoppable and notched huge wins over Oregon, Louisville, and Xavier. While Oklahoma’s fall from grace hasn’t been pretty, West Virginia’s win over Virginia was incredible. There is a huge disparity in talent between the top and bottom, and no more than four will make it to the Tournament this year.
Predicted Winner: Kansas
They have the talent, experience, and coaching to clinch another title. Not to mention the benefit of another inevitable Baylor collapse.
Contenders: Baylor, West Virginia
If the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is any indication of things to come, it’s not an NCAA title for the Midwest. Might as well pick this conference-winner out of a hat. So long as that hat contains only Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State. Maryland has looked good but hasn’t played anyone of consequence, Michigan State has looked horrible but has played everybody, and Ohio State and Wisconsin have been somewhere in between. The marginally talented players in this conference should make it a marginally fun season.
Predicted Winner: Indiana
They may have two awful losses, but they beat Kansas and UNC.
Contenders: Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State
The Villanova team that came out of nowhere last year looks poised to ride the overall No. 1 seed all season long. Fortunately, we won’t have to speculate any contenders for long because they play Creighton on New Year’s Eve and I expect them both to be undefeated going into that game. Should be an exciting one, but you should probably watch the College Football Playoff instead.
Predicted Winner: Villanova
Perhaps the most competitive conference all year. UCLA is officially back and Lonzo Ball is dismantling opponents. They took down Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Ohio State handily and ride a 13-0 record into Pac-12 play. Scary thing is, Ball’s not even one of their leading scorers yet. Conference play should be interesting between USC, Oregon, and Arizona. Not to mention two games between Ball and Markelle Fultz as they compete to become the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick.
Predicted Winner: UCLA
Contenders: USC, Oregon, Arizona, Cal
At the start of the season, it looked like Florida or Texas A&M could keep Kentucky out of the top spot. It doesn’t quite look that way anymore after their abysmal non-conference performances and Malik Monk’s emergence for the Wildcats. Not even Arkansas could get through their non-conference slate unscathed after playing zero ranked teams. Expect Kentucky to dominate the SEC once again and remain late into March. John Calipari’s team is once again too big and too talented for the field.
Predicted Winner: Kentucky
Contenders*: Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina
*for second place
Discussing this conference is just an excuse to talk about the burgeoning rivalry between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. As it stands, the odds don’t look good for the Gaels. They got snubbed from the Tournament last year because they didn’t play any ranked teams outside their conference. How’d they respond? By not playing any ranked teams outside their conference. They’re ranked now, but conference play will change that quickly. As for the ‘Zags, they look much better than expected, with quality wins against San Diego State, Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona.
Predicted Winner: Gonzaga
Contender: Saint Mary’s
In the spirit of predictions, it’s only fair to take a look at the Final Four. Based on how the bracket shapes up on ESPN and my own bracketology, I have it laid out as such: