It is finally that time of the year where the nation’s best collegiate basketball players get together and compete in the wild world that is commonly referred to as college basketball. The nets have been restrung, the student sections have been restocked, and 347 Division I basketball programs are set to embark on a season with one common goal, to win a National Championship. In this article, I will be previewing all of the power 5 conferences in detail as well as predict a conference player of the year, and a conference champion at the end of each breakdown. The article will than continue with a list featuring the top 5 teams who are going to be surprises this year as well as 5 teams who will be major disappointments during the 2018-2019 season. To finish the article out, I will be predicting my pre season Final Four as well as picking a National Champion. To kick things off, we go to a conference that is widely considered to be the weakest in the power five, but still have some teams who could possibly make some noise come March.
Last year, the Pac 12 was dominated by the Arizona Wildcats. They went 14-4 in conference play and won both the Pac 12 regular season and tournament titles. That being said, Arizona’s entire starting 5 is now gone, leaving the conference up for grabs. If you were to pick a favorite to win the conference coming into the season, the smart picks would be to go with the Oregon Ducks out of Eugene. They are a team who is going to be able to put up points by the pound this year as well as have a sound, stable defense that will help them win games down the stretch. Oregon is returning two key starters from last year, highlighted by Junior Guard, Payton Pritchard. Pritchard is a tall, lanky playmaker who scored 14.5 points a game last year which led to Pritchard being on the All Pac 12 second team come seasons end. Oregon also brings in a pair of highly talented, 5 star recruits in the likes of 7’3 Center, Bol Bol (son of Manute Bol) and 6’9 Forward Louis King. If this new formed big three can find chemistry early, the Ducks are in for a memorable season.
Another team who will be a contender this year in the Pac 12 will be the Washington Huskies. The Washington Huskies are currently ranked 25th in the preseason polls and for good reason, as they are absolutely loaded with returning talent. The Huskies come into the 2018-2019 season as one of the few teams in the entire country to return their entire starting lineup and this experience and depth is sure to bring them success. For the Huskies to have a legit shot at winning the Pac 12 this year, they are going to need to get production from their star PF, Noah Dickerson. Dickerson was an absolute monster in the paint last year, as he collected 8.4 rebounds a game to go along with 15.5 points per contest. The Huskies are also returning an extremely athletic guard in Sophomore Jaylen Nowell who averaged 16 points a game last season and can take over a game with a snap of a finger. This team is deep, experienced, athletic and have all the pieces to win the Pac 12 this year, along with the potential to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The question is however, can this team put the pieces together? Only time will tell.
The final team that I feel will have a legitimate shot of winning the Pac 12 this season comes from the Golden State in the likes of the UCLA Bruins. Just a mere few weeks ago, many experts were projecting UCLA to be a serious threat come tournament time, and potentially be a National Champion. The Bruins were getting ready to welcome in 4 Star Recruit and son of Hall of Fame Center Shaquille O’ Neal, Shareef. The hype was real but than a harsh state of reality quickly hit UCLA fans along with the O’Neal family. Shareef experienced problems with his heart and was forced to undergo season ending and potentially, life saving heart surgery. Fortunately, O’Neal expects to make a full and healthy recovery and expects to play with the Bruins in next season. This is a big loss for the team, but it is not the end of the world, UCLA still has a BUNCH of talent. UCLA is going to be led this year by one of the best players in the Pac 12, Kris Wilkes. The Sophomore guard is one of the most pure scorers you will see in the country and I honestly see him having a season where he averages around 20 points a game (averaged 13 points a game last year.) Wilkes has a silky smooth jumper, is extremely fast, and has the ability to take a game over when need be. The Bruins are also accompanied by Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands who for a better use of the word, a team player. Hands knows how to shoot the outside ball well, as well as create turnovers on the defensive side of the ball and will take a charge for his team when the moment is right. Hands may not be the best player on the team, but he is a guy that gets his hands dirty and puts the team before himself, which makes him very valuable to this squad. Realistically, I feel that this UCLA team has an outside chance of winning the conference and think if they have any chance to do so, they are going to have to get hot at the right time and execute every single opportunity that is presented to them.
Pac 12 Champions: Washington Huskies
Pac 12 Player of the Year: F Louis King – Oregon
The Big Ten was a weird, yet underwhelming conference during the 2018-2019 season. The conference only sent 4 teams to the NCAA tournament, the least in the decade but yet sent a team to the National Championship game in the likes of Michigan. The unbalance in talent that the conference experienced last year, should change a tad this year as a bunch of new, young and talented faces are set to enter the league and make an immediate impact. In my eyes, this conference is going to be a three team race with everyone else chasing from a distance. These three teams in my eyes will be the Michigan State Spartans, Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers. Starting with the Michigan State Spartans, I feel that Tom Izzo is welcoming in one of the most talented teams he has had in upwards of a decade. The Spartans are coming off of a successful 2018-2019 season that finished with a Big Ten regular season title and an early exit in the NCAA tournament to Syracuse. This year, the Sparty faithful feels that it is a Final Four or bust type of season and will accept nothing else as a program and fan base. The spartans are going to be led this year by three-headed monster of Junior Guard, Cassius Winston, Junior Center, Nick Ward and Junior Forward, Joshua Langford. Focusing strictly on Joshua Langford, I think he will be they key guy that will either benefit or harm the Spartans season this upcoming year. During his two first years with the Spartans, Langford has been decent, but has in no way came close to living up to the potential that was placed on him coming into college. Langford was expected to be the next great college basketball player and a number 1 pick in the NBA draft and that has just not been the case thus far. There are rumors circulating however, that Langford has improved his game drastically over the offseason and big things are expected of him this winter. Overall, I think that Michigan State is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten this year. They are the deepest team in the conference, have the most athleticism as a whole and have the greatest total upside. That being said, I do not thing the conference title will just be handed to them as there are two teams who will be nipping at their ankles all season long, looking to take down the defending champ.
One of these teams is the Indiana Hoosiers. The Archie Miller era is now a year old in Bloomington and I have to say, last year was an average season at best for the Hoosiers. They finished the season with a 16-15 overall record which included a lousy 9-9 record in conference play. This season however, the Hoosiers expect to make a quick turnaround and are considered as one of the contenders in the big ten coming into 2018-2019. The Hoosiers going to be lead this season, by their Senior leader, Juwan Morgan, who in my eyes is one of the more underrated players in the conference. The 6’7 Forward from Missouri is not only a pure playmaker, but is one of the most athletic men you will ever see on a basketball court. Johnson is coming off of an impressive 2017-2018 season campaign in which he finished the year averaging 16 points a game to go along with racking up 7.4 boards per contest. Morgan will not have to do all the work however, as the Hoosiers are also going to be highlighted by arguably the biggest recruit they have ever signed, Romeo Langford. The 6’6 Shooting Guard from New Albany, Indiana is the first Mr. Basketball (an award given to the best high school player in the state of Indiana,) to sign with the Hoosiers since 2011 and the state of Indiana could not be more excited. Langford is already projected to be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft even though has yet to play a game in historic Assembly Hall. Langford is legit and so is this Indiana basketball team. If they can stay healthy as well as work in their Freshman the right way, the Hoosiers could be one of the more exciting stories of the entire winter.
The final team that I feel has a legitimate shot of winning the Big Ten this year is the Purdue Boilermakers. Personally, I love this Purdue team and thought they were one of the more exciting teams to watch last year in the entire country. This team is fast, they are athletic, they can score the ball at an extremely efficient rate and I promise you this team will make noise come tournament time in March. That being said, if Purdue wants to take home a Big Ten title this year, they are going to need to get major production from two key guys, Carson Edwards and graduate transfer, Evan Boudreaux. Starting with the Dartmouth graduate transfer, Boudreaux could not be more ready to play as he sat out for the entirety of last season due to transfer rules. During his first two seasons at Dartmouth, Boudreaux became one of the best players in the Ivy, averaging 17 points a game, 9 rebounds a contest as well as shooting 44 percent from the field. With key players such as Issac Haas and Vincent Edwards now gone, it is key that Boudreaux steps up quickly and becomes a leader on this team. Now to my man, Carsen Edwards. Carson Edwards may have very well been, my favorite college basketball player to watch last year. The dude was absolutely electric. Edwards is as quick as Westbrook but as pure as Harden and when you mix the two together, you get a prime PTPer. Last season, Edwards averaged 18.5 PPG, shot 41% from beyond the arch and found himself on the First Team All Big Ten by season’s end. I expect Edwards to only grow during his Junior season and think you are looking at your 2018-2019 Big Ten player of the year. As for Purdue, they are formulating an almost entirely new starting 5 this year. That is never a good recipe for success. However, I feel that this team has enough individual talent to put the pieces together quickly and turn this season into a conference championship caliber year.
Big Ten Champions: Indiana
Big Ten Player of the Year: G Carsen Edwards – Purdue
The SEC. A football conference that gets dominated by one school year in and year and makes you wonder, what’s even the purpose? John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats have won the last 4 SEC tournaments, won 3 of the last 4 regular season championships and for all intents and purposes, are the Alabama of college basketball (inside the SEC.) This year however, there is a new sheriff in town. A new team dressed in bright orange that is looking to not only take down the Kentucky Wildcats in 2019, but destroy them. That team is the Tennessee Volunteers. Although the boys from the rocky top are fresh off a regular season championship just a year ago, experts believe this team is 5 times better and is a potential Final Four candidate. On paper, the 2018-2019 Vols have everything you would want in an elite college basketball team and then some. They have the length, they have the athleticism and they have the star power in Junior Forward, Grant Williams. Williams has the potential to be an absolute super star this year and its no surprise as he showed glimpses of greatness last season, averaging 16.2 points a game as well as ripping down 6 rebounds a contest for the Vols. After watching Williams film relentlessly over the last few days along with what i’ve heard from around the college basketball world, I think a reasonable expectation you can have for Williams this season is 28-29 points per game to go along with 8-9 rebounds per game. If Williams can live up to the expectations that are being put are on him this season, I not only think he will win SEC player of the year, but think he has a realistic shot to win national player of the year. He is just that special. One player that will have to help Williams out and be a supporting player for this Vols team this season comes from the likes of Senior Forward, Admiral Schofield. It was unsure if Schofield was going to be playing college basketball this year as he teased the idea of entering the 2018 draft. The Vols are sure happy to have him back however as he was and still is one of their key pieces to success. Last season, Schofield averaged just under 14 points a game while grabbing 6.4 rebounds each time he stepped on the Hardwood. If Schofield can produce those types of numbers again this year, him along with Williams will be one of the most dangerous 1-2 threats in the entire nation. Overall, I like this Tennessee team a lot. I think they are fast, physical and can run with any team in the country and compete with them at a high level. This team in my eyes, has not only the capability to win the SEC this year, but also go on and win the National Championship.
Splitting the regular season title in the SEC with the Vols in 2018 was the Auburn Tigers, who are hungry to collect even more hardware this winter. This thing that intrigues me most about this Auburn team is just how well coached they by the man the myth the legend, Bruce Pearl. Pearl is now in his fifth season with the Tigers and has taken the program to new and improved heights, leading them to a 26 win season last year and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament where they were defeated by the Clemson Tigers. This year, the Tigers are reloaded with talent, and may even be more talented than they were just a season ago. Auburn is going to be lead this winter by Senior Guard, Bryce Brown. Brown had an impressive 2017-2018 campaign in which he averaged 15.9 points a game and shot 40.1% from the field. Brown is extremely explosive and is the type of player who is not afraid to drive in the paint, draw contact and find himself on the Free Throw strike. He is also one of the better three-point shooters in the entire country and made 107 shots from behind the arch last season, nearly breaking the school record. I like Brown to improve his stats this season a tad and think he will average 20 points and torture SEC defenses all year-long. The Tigers are also looking forward to the return of their widely talented Center, Austin Wiley who was ineligible to play last season due to NCAA restrictions. Wiley brings this team a layer of depth and aggressiveness that they lacked last year and with this piece now added, they transform from a good team into a memorable team who will be a contender in the SEC.
Finally, if you thought I was going to preview the SEC without talking about the powerhouse that is Kentucky, you are just flat-out crazy. Over the last half decade, Kentucky has run the SEC and early speculations say, that the pattern will not change this year. Although the wildcats had some what of a lack luster season in conference play last year, finishing with a 10-8 record, they somehow found a way to get hot and win the SEC tournament for the 4th consecutive season. This year however, experts have this as a Wildcats team who may lose 1-2 games in conference play, and be a sure lock to make a deep run in the postseason. Kentucky is one of the deepest and most talented teams in the entire country coming into the season, and are currently ranked 2nd in the AP preseason poll. Kentucky is set to bring in one of the best recruiting classes that the SEC has ever seen that will be highlighted by potential stars Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro (both guards.) The belief is that both these players have the potential to be first round picks in the 2019 draft and if they can play to their full potential for the Wildcats, this team could be seemingly unstoppable. The 2018-2019 Wildcats are not only going to depend on their star-studded Freshman to lead them however, as they have one of the more talented Graduate Seniors in the entire country, Reid Travis. The former Stanford star is ready to bring his talents to Lexington with him and with that, comes the ability to score the basketball at will. In the 20127-2018 season, Travis averaged 19.5 points a game to go along with grabbing 8.7 rebounds a contest which landed him on the 1st Team All PAC 12 by seasons end. This big 3 has the potential to be as dominant of a big 3 as we have seen at the college level in a long time. The sky is the limit for this Wildcat team and they have what it takes to cut down the nets, come late March.
SEC Champions: Kentucky Wildcats
SEC Player of the Year: F Grant Williams – Tennessee
Kansas has won 14 straight Big 12 regular season titles. This is one of the most impressive streaks in the history of sports and as the streaks goes on. the question starts to circulate of just how long it will last. 20 years? 30? Who knows, only time can truly tell. One thing is for certain however, and that is that this years Kansas team is poised to take home their 15th straight total and do so with quite ease. The Big 12 is not that deep this year. A lot of good teams have turned into average due to the loss of key players and there are only 2 teams that can truly even sniff the Jayhawks this year. That being said, Kansas is the most talented team on paper in the Big 12 and it’s not even close. For starters, Kansas returns two potential Big 12 player of the year candidates in the likes of Senior Guard, Legerald Vick and Junior Center, Udoka Azubuike. These two players teared the lights off of conference play last season and helped the Jayhawks go all the way to the Final Four. Another player who will help the Jawhawks succeed in 2018-2019 will be the coveted 5 star recruit from Texas, Quientin Grimes. The hype surrounding Grimes has been absolutely insane and if he can live up to this hype in even the slightest bit, the Jayhawks will be a top 3 team in the nation all season long. I personally do not have anyone in the Big 12 touching Kansas this year and have them rolling to their 15th straight conference championship. May the phog roll on!
Although I do not see anyone touching Kansas this year in the Big 12, I think there will be a very competitive race for second place between the Kansas State Wildcats and West Virginia Mountaineers. Starting with the Wildcats from Manhattan, Kansas, they are coming off a weird season which culminated in an elite 8 run in the NCAA tournament. In lieu of this impressive tournament run along with some impressive recruits coming into the program, experts are finally starting to give credit to the Wildcats as they are ranked #12 in the AP preseason poll. This ranking comes for good reason as Bruce Weber’s bunch is absolutely loaded with high level and explosive talent. Starting with Senior Forward Dean Wade, the 6’8 playmaker from Saint John, Kansas is everything you want in a college basketball star. Wade come shoot from the outside, drive and score, create turnovers and bring in a bunch of rebounds. Last season, Wade averaged 16.2 points a game, collected 6.2 rebounds a contest and shot a staggering 55% from the field. I expect Wade to have a monster Senior season and have him ending the year averaging around 20 points a game along with grabbing 7-8 rebounds per matchup. A player who will look to support Wade this season and take some of the work load off his back will be the Senior Guard from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Barry Brown Jr. Brown was a scoring machine for the Wildcats last season and scored 20 or more points in 11 games during the season along with scoring 34 points a game twice. If the Brown-Wade combo can click early in 2018, Kansas State will be a team of dominance and could perhaps give the Jayhawks a run for their money in the Big 12 tournament.
Now, let’s talk about the west Virginia Mountaineers. WVU is the type of team who will suffocate you on defense, as well as score enough points to run you out of the building. The Mountaineers finished their 2017-2018 season with a 26-11 record to go along with a 11-7 record in conference play. This season however, Bob Huggins will look to sharpen things up and to do so, will have to rely on a bunch of young talent. The first player that West Virginia is going to have to depend on if they want to expect success this winter comes from the likes of Junior Forward, Sagaba Konate. Konate was an absolute monster in the paint last season in which he averaged 10 points a game, 7 rebounds a contest, and 3 blocks per matchup. Konate will be the key difference maker this year and if he can improve his scoring numbers a tad during the upcoming season, the Mountaineers will be a very dangerous team on the offensive side of the ball. West Virginia also is known for their absolutely suffocating full court press and although Jevon Carter is now gone, this team has guys that can pick up where he left off and fill in the gaps such as Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris. Overall, I feel that this West Virginia team has the capability to do special things during this upcoming season. You can expect them to have the best defense in the Big 12, have one of the better offenses in the Big 12, and have some of the best coaching money can buy in the likes of legendary coach, Bobby Huggins. Can the Mountaineers win the Big 12 outright this year? I don’t think so. Can they make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? You better believe it.
Big 12 Champions: Kansas Jayhawks
Big 12 Player of the Year: F Dean Wade – Kansas State
It is now time to preview the most exciting conference in college basketball, the ACC. Now, am I saying this because I am a Duke fan? Perhaps, but I truly believe that the ACC is the deepest conference in the country and will be the most exciting conference to watch all season long. I believe the conference will be a four horse race this year between the Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Cavaliers, North Carolina Tar Heels and Virginia Tech Hokies. Starting with the Virginia Tech Hokies from Blacksburg, it will be interesting to see just how far they can go this winter as they are loaded with talent and have one of the better coaches running the ship in Buzz Willams. Virginia Tech is going to be lead this season by their flashy Senior PG, Justin Robinson. Robinson is one of the more electric guards you will see play at the college level at puts his heart on his sleeve every time he graces the hardwood. Last season, Robinson was absolutely terrific for the Hokies, averaging 14 points a game to go along with adding 5.6 assist per contest. Robinson knows that this is his team this year and you can expect his leadership skills to be on full display during this upcoming season. The Hokies also are accompanied by a a very athletic Senior Guard in Ahmed Hill who will give you 10 points night in and night out as well as make some much needed defensive stops. Overall, I think this 2018-2019 Hokies team has the potential to do some special things. They have the depth, have the defensive prowess and have an offensive attack that will not be easy to obtain for 40 minutes. If Buzz’s boys can get a rhythm working early and keep pace with the big boys such as Duke and Carolina, I think they have a good chance of competing for a conference title near seasons end.
Another team that has the chance to contend for a conference title during the 2018-2019 season is the Virginia Cavilers. Virginia ended their season last year in historic fashion, becoming the first one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in NCAA tournament history. Although the Cavilers may have been the punch line to many jokes over the offseason, they have ever reason to be taken seriously this year as they are one of the more talented teams in the nation. The thing that makes Virginia so dangerous as a team, is their ability to play a crisp, sound defense along with a fundamental yet explosive offense. Virginia’s head coach, Tony Bennett has always done a fantastic job balancing the two and his team has always had one of the more balanced attacks in the ACC year in and year out. The Cavaliers are also filled with star studded talent in the likes of Junior Guard, Kyle Guy, who is considered to many, as the most talented player in the ACC. Guy had a breakout year during the 2017-2018 season in which he averaged 14 points a contest including a 39% shooting percentage behind the arch. Guy is certainly a preseason nominee for conference player of the year and if he can improve his rebound and assist numbers from a year ago, he will have the makes of a memorable season. Overall, I think this Virginia team is not going to be a team you want to mess with in conference play this winter. They are going to play great defense ever time they step out onto the floor, create fast break opportunities off turnovers and shoot a above average percentage from behind the arch. Virginia is a team that is hungry for revenge after some unfinished business was left behind a season ago, and if you are a betting man, this is a team you may want to put your chips in.
Now, we go to Chapel Hill where the Tar Hells of North Carolina look to make some noise in the ACC in 2018 and avenge a rather sloppy season a year ago. Let’s be honest, for the expectations that are put of North Carolina on a yearly basis, the Tar Hells underperformed in 2017-2018. They lost to Wofford at home, went a measly 11-7 in conference play and got embarrassed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to the Texas A&M Aggies. This is a new year however, and a fresh slate is presented with a new, more talented team. The 2018-2019 North Carolina Tar Heels are going to be lead by Senior Forward, Luke Maye who is also commonly referred to as Mr. double double. This nickname was given to him last season when Maye averaged a double double; scoring 16.9 points a game along with bringing down 10.1 rebounds a contest. In his first two years at Carolina, Maye was a roll player who would come off the bench, but he is now the leader and star of this team and will have to step up in a big way if he wants to bring a championship home to Chapel Hill. Maye will not have to do all the work by himself however, as he will be accompanied by a pair of highly coveted, 5 star recruits in the likes of Nassir Little and Coby White. Both Little and White are regarded as two of the best recruits in the entire country and Tar Hell nation has been long awaiting their debut in the all famous powder blues. Overall, I think this Carolina team has the potential to be dangerous. If the combination of Maye, Little and White can click and play well together early, they will be one of the better trios in college basketball and will lead their team to high accolades. I cannot promise that North Carolina is going to win the ACC this year, but I can assure you that they will be in the mix and will be no where near the 11-7 conference record they finished at, just a season ago.
Finally, It’s time to talk about one of the most hyped up teams in the nation, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is going to most likely start their 2018-2019 season with 4 Freshman in the starting lineup and although this is a big risk, they are four of the best Freshman in the entire world. The first Freshman that is going to help lead the Blue Devils to great heights this year is Small forward, R.J. Barrett. Barrett comes into Duke as the number one overall recruit in the country and was the key signing for any college during the entire recruiting process. The 6’7 Forward out of Florida can do things on a basketball court, that you have never seen and due to his his raw athleticism and talent, R.J. has been described as a once in a generation type player. If Barrett can live up to this hype in Durham, the Cameron Crazies will soon fall in love with him and make them one of their own. The next Freshman that Coach K will look mentor this season is highly anticipated, 5 star recruit, Zion Williamson. You have probably all seen the mix tapes of Zion dunking in high school, and bringing the roof off of the gym, but it is now time to see what Zion has got when the pressure is on and the lights are shining bright. Williamson comes into college as the number one PF among recruits as well as being the 5th ranked recruit nationally. The stuff Zion can do on a basketball court is absolutely breathtaking. Williams has also trimmed fat over the offseason and has added muscle, turning him into the blue Hulk. Williamson is going to be must see TV all year long and I can not wait to see the big flashy dunks that we have all grown to know and love. Rounding off Duke’s historic recruiting class is Guard Cam Reddish who is the 2nd ranked recruit in the country behind Barrett and Tre Jones, the younger brother of Duke great, Tyus Jones. Because this team is so young, it is unfair and unrealistic to put the “National Championship or bust” label on them right away. That being said, if this recruiting class can gel early and play with chemistry, which has been a lost art form lately in college basketball, this, could potentially be, one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time.
ACC Champions: Duke Blue Devils
ACC Player of the Year: F/G R.J. Barrett – Duke
Top 5 Biggest Surprises of the 2018-2019 Season
The 2018-2019 Nevada Wolfpack will play in this year’s Final Four. No, you don’t have to wipe your glasses off because you are reading that statement correctly, this team is going to be special. Nevada is currently sitting pretty, ranked as the 6th best team in the nation, according to the Associated Press in their preseason poll. This ranking should come as no surprise however, as the praise being given to them has been building up over the last couple of seasons. Nevada ended their 2017-2018 campaign as a Cinderella story, making a run all the way to the sweet 16 before being eventually being defeated by the Ramblers of Loyola Chicago. This cinderella run put the Wolfpack in the national spotlight and as a result of this, they have become one of the more hyped up teams nationally, coming into the season. The thing that makes this Nevada team potentially so dangerous is the fact that they have two of the most exciting players in college basketball who also happen to be twins, Cody and Caleb Martin. During last years NCAA tournament, the Martin twins put on an absolute showcase that left spectators begging for more. That being said, if you take a deep dive into last years box score, you will quickly see that these twins were special all year long. Starting with Cody, the 6’7 Forward from North Carolina had a breakout Junior season in which he averaged 14 points, shot 51% from the field, dished 4 assist per contest and and brought down a total of 8 rebounds per matchup. Looking at Caleb’s numbers from a season ago, he was even more impressive, averaging 18 points a game to go along with 5 boards per contest. The fact of the matter is that brother’s aside, this is one of if not the most lethal duo in all of college basketball. If the Martin twins can produce at the rate that they did last winter, the Wolfpack are in for a special season and college basketball fans worldwide will be in for a show on a nightly basis.
Rider is one of the few teams in the country that returns all five of its double-digit scorers from last season and all five are not going anywhere as they consist of three redshirt sophomores and two juniors. The juniors consist of two Pennsylvania natives; 6-0 guard Stevie Jordan and 6-9 center Tyere Marshall. Jordan averaged 12.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and a team-leading 5.9 assists per contest which was good enough for 24th best in the country. Marshall added over 10 points a game while grabbing 6.6 rebounds per contest. The three sophomores returning to the Broncs were also the team’s top three scorers last season. Despite missing three games, 6-5 swingman Dimencio Vaughn was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds. He also registered three double-doubles and a season-high 34 points in a win over St. Peter’s. Jordan Allen, a 6-4 guard netted 13 points per game, but also scored at least 15 in 15 of the team’s games. Finally, Indiana native Frederick Scott averaged 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds and led the team in field goal percentage among those with at least 100 shot attempts at 52%. Rider is also coached by reigning MAAC coach of the year, Kevin Baggett who is a top 3 coach in the Bronc respected conference and can matriculate a game like it is his part time job. Overall, I think this is Rider basketball team is one of the more underrated programs in the entire country. They have the depth, have the offensive star power and have the ability to run a team out of the gym on any given night. There is just too much talent on this roster to not see success from this small private school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Buffalo is good, and I’m not just talking conference championship good, I mean a potential elite 8 team good. Buffalo had a magical 2017-2018 season in which they finished with a 27-9 overall record and a blowout upset win over Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Fast forward a season ahead, and the word on the street is that this Buffalo team has the potential to be substantially better than they were a year ago, and that is saying something. Buffalo is returning three really talented Seniors this season in the likes of CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris who all averaged between 15.5 and 17.2 points per game last winter. The Bulls also are bringing a pair highly coveted recruits in the likes point guard Ronaldo Segu and wing Jeenathan Williams who will both look to make an immediate and productive impact on the team. Overall, I think that Buffalo will be one of the best mid majors in the country this season and come tournament time in March, I feel that this Bulls has the potential to do some major damage. Pencil this team in your brackets now, you will not regret it.
It is now time to make our way up to the hills of West Virginia as the Thundering Herd of Marshall look to be battering rams during the 2018-2019 season. Last year, Marshall broke out on the scene during the NCAA tournament as they shocked Wichita State as a 13 seed in the first round of the tournament they call “March Madness.” This win sparked a confidence in this bunch that has carried all the way over into the new season, as Marshall is now hungry to go back and handle some unfinished business. If Marshall has any chance to make noise in this years NCAA tournament, they are going to need to see major production from their star player, Jon Elmore. The 6’3 guard from Charleston West Virginia is coming off of a breakout Junior season in which he averaged 22.7 points a game, 6.8 assist, and 5.8 rebounds a contest. Elmore has the potential to be a 20-8-6 guy during his Senior season and if he can do that all I have to say is, watch out. The Herd come at you with another 20 point scorer in the likes of Senior guard, C.J. Burks who is coming off of a 20-4-3 season. This Marshall team is going have one of the more lethal offensive attacks you will see in college basketball and if they can win their conference and get to the tournament healthy, they will be so much more than a first round surprise story.
5. Southern Illinois
It is now time to talk about the Salukis from Southern Illinois. Now sure, they have a bad ass nickname that is fun to say, but this team out of the Missouri Valley is legit and are going to be headline makers during the upcoming year. If you are a fan of high scoring basketball, the Salukis are going to be the team you are going to want to watch this year. Southern Illinois is lead by Senior guard, Armon Fletcher who has the ability to light up a scoreboard on a nightly basis. During the 2017-2018 season, Fletcher averaged 14 points a game as well as bringing down 5 rebounds a contest. The Salukis are also complemented by a pair of playmakers in the likes of Aaron Cook and Thik Bol who will provide a nice spark of offensive productions as well as create some big time turnovers. Overall, I think this will be the year that the Salukis go dancing for the first time since 2007. When a team finishes 2nd in the conference and than returns all five starters, they are bound to find some success and that is exactly what is going to be the case in this situation. GO SALUKIS!
Top 5 Biggest Disappointments of the 2018-2019 Season
This may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t. Lets be honest, when you win the National Championship like Villanova did last season, the pressure immediately rises to defend your crown and in a blink of an eye you transform from the hunters, into the hunted. This is one of the reasons why winning back to back National Championships is nearly impossible and hasn’t happened since 2006 (Florida repeated in 2006 and 2007.) Another reason why it is extremely difficult to have a sensational season post National Championship is because you lose key pieces that helped you win that championship to either graduation or the NBA draft. In Villanova’s case, they are coming into the 2018-2019 season without key players to last years championship team such as Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman. This is 4/5 of last years starting lineup that now has to be replaced and will be no easy feat to do so. That being said, Villanova does have some things to look forward to this year, including welcoming in one of the top recruits in the nation, PG Jahvon Quinerly. I am not saying that Villanova is going to be bad this season, but to expect them to have the same success that they experienced a year ago with so many key pieces now gone and the new added pressure, would just be unrealistic.
When Syracuse basketball gets brought up into a topic of discussion, two things are most likely discussed, the brilliance of Jim Boeheim and ZONE DEFENSE. Syracuse has established a brand over the last quarter of a century that has become of of the most distinct programs in the country. This year however, I see the Orange having a down year and even have them missing out on the NCAA tournament. Although they are ranked 19th in the AP preseason poll, Syracuse lacks depth, athleticism and star power compared to other teams in the ACC. Syracuse is going to struggle to protect the paint this season as their center, Paschal Chuckwu although tall, is not very nimble and showed flashes of weakness last year. The one bright spot on this Syracuse team however, comes from the likes of Junior guard, Tyus Battle who averaged 19 points a game last season in his Sophomore campaign. The Orange do not have a bad team at all, and frankly, about 85% of all Division I basketball teams would die for their roster, but they are in such a star studded conference that is going to be so competitive night in and night out that the Orange are going to find themselves trying to keep their heads above water, begging that they don’t drown.
Last season was an absolute roller coaster ride for the Arizona Wildcats. They came into the year ranked as one of the best teams in the nation, hit a weird dry spell in the Bahamas in which they got embarrassed in three straight games, got accused of paying college athletes, went on a hot streak to win the PAC 12 and eventually got upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion. If you thought last season was weird, wait until you see what is in store for the Wildcats in 2019. Arizona comes into the season, without all 5 starters from last season and essentially, has to start from scratch. Some of these loses include players such as DeAndre Ayton, who was the first overall pick in the NBA Draft to the Phoenix Suns, Alonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. To have a successful season following the loss of so many key players, the team needs ti have an almost memorable recruiting class which Arizona does not have. They signed guard Brandon Williams who is supposed to be good, but not valuable enough to start. I expect this years Arizona team to finish with a .500 record at best, an under .500 record in conference play and would not be surprised if their name does not get called on selection Sunday.
Last year, the story of Oklahoma’s season was a fast start followed by a slow and disappointing finish. After starting the season off red hot and being ranked as a top 10 team in the country, The Sooners hit an astronomical dry-spell which resulted in a below .500 conference record and a first round exit in the NCAA tournament. To make matters worst, Oklahoma enters their 2018-2019 season without their best player, Trae Young who is now playing in the NBA. Last year, Young took the college basketball world by storm, averaging 27.4 points per game to go along with 8.7 assist per contest. With that production now gone, there is no telling how far this Sooner team may drop as Young was the glue that held this team together. The one bright spot for this Sooner team however, is going to come from the likes of graduate transfer, Aaron Calixte. With Maine last season, Calixte averaged 16.9 points a game to go along with having the best FT % in the conference. Overall, I feel that this could be a really ugly season for the Oklahoma Sooners. You could start to see them fall apart at the end of last season and Young was always their to pick his team up. With him now gone, I just don’t see much success from this team and have them going way below .500 by seasons end.
The Shaka Smart era at Texas is about to enter it’s fourth year, and has still yet to fully get rolling. In his three years with the Longhorns, Smart has gone a measly 50-50 record, a dreadful 23-31 record and has yet to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Something has to change. That change will not start this year however, as the Longhorns have a long and strenuous season in front of them. For starters Texas comes into the season without Mo Bamba who averaged a double double his Freshman season and shortly after became a top pick in the NBA draft. Texas is also not that deep, and is going to struggle with fatigue late in games as some players will be asked to play major minutes. If Texas is going to have any success this season, they are going to have to lean on their Senior center, Dylan Osetkowski. Osetkowski is the teams top returning scorer (13.4 PPG) who will look to be the offensive leader for this program during the season. That being said, I feel that Osetkowski’s production will not be enough for the Longhorns to have a successful year, as I have them not only missing this years NCAA tournament but have Shaka Smart being fired from Texas by seasons end.
Pete’s Preseason Final 4