It’s a wonderful time of year. I am truly grateful that the college basketball season is about to commence. This year we – we as fans – will go through many ups and downs. We will begin the season with hope. You may be wearing your Bill Sherman USC jersey as you watch Omar Oraby go up against Aaron Moore to start another dreadful season or you may be wearing your John Wall jersey as you close your laptop, x-ing out the webpage 40and0.com. Whether you’re a fan of a bottom feeder or a fan of the contender, whoever you support you will be watching and you will be full of hope. You’re hopeful that your team will get to make one last stand in the breeze of March, that you will see them become that Cinderella story, that one morning-glory, that utter abomination to the word… Ranking. Everybody in America will be watching when their team plays its first game because we – we the fans – we are the reason there is Madness in March.
This year is bound to be full of surprises, yet there are eight to eleven strong contenders this year that should all be very strong tournament teams this year. I expect a group of teams in the Final Four whose sum of rankings is below fifteen, but this is a seasonal preview, so let’s get into it:
National Player of the Year
Candidates: Jahlil Okafor (Fr. Duke), Fred Van Vleet (Jr. Wichita State), Marcus Paige (Jr. North Carolina), Montrezl Harrel (Jr. Louisville), Frank Kaminsky (Sr. Wisconsin), Delon Wright (Sr. Utah).
Who should win the award: Marcus Paige
Paige is the best point guard in the nation, Delon Wright being a close second, and he has one of the best teams around him, something he did not have last year when he broke out as a super sophomore. Now with a pair of freshman coming in who should help their team (and his stats) tremendously, he is poised for greatness.
Who will win the award: Jahlil Okafor
If you’ve seen him play you know he’s a beast down in the post. Combined with him being the only mature rebounder on the Duke roster (sorry Mason Plumlee), his stats should be through the roof. However, his biggest case for the Wooden Award and others of the like is he will be the best big man in the best conference in the college basketball world. He should dominate every opponent he faces, including James Michael McAdoo, Montrezl Harrel, Frank Kaminsky, and Ammida Brimah. I don’t expect him to be as good as Anthony Davis, but he should be pretty close.
Freshman of the Year
Candidates: Jahlil Okafor (Duke)… Umm… I can’t think of anybody else.
Who should win the award: Jahlil Okafor.
Who will win the award: Jahlil Okafor.
Why? See above.
Number One NCAA Tournament Seed
Kentucky has the talent of an NBA roster and the experience of the Rugrats. This team has the talent and the leadership to make it through the regular season with just a couple of bite marks. Having two starting fives greatly improves their ability to close out games, something they missed last year. I think they go through SEC play with one loss, away to Florida, and through non-conference play with one loss, maybe two, neutral court versus Kansas and at Louisville. I can’t see this team going into the tournament with more than five losses, which should be more than enough for the number one seed considering their strength of schedule, of course unless Utah, Tulsa, Alabama, Memphis, Saint Louis, and two Mountain Valley Conference teams turn into top 25 teams.
Best Mid-Major Team
Gonzaga has a good team this year. The addition of Kyle Wiltjer should really improve their depth. Przemek Karnowski has been a beast the past two years, and I know he has been working hard in the gym in Torun over the summer. They have the lethal duo of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., while Angel Nunez should look to step into a bigger, more important role this year. I am tempted to say Wichita State, but a team that should win every game it plays because its opponent isn’t good enough (with respect to Larry Krystowiak and Delon Wright). I think Gonzaga is a solid team that should be a threat to make an Elite Eight and possibly a Final Four run, if they get in the right region.
This is one of the best Duke teams Coach K has had at Duke. The depth is finally where it needs to be for this team to succeed and they actually have a true center. Since the days of Mason Plumlee Duke has long-awaited for a Center to bring them to prominence. Now that he is here Duke finally has the experience and the ability to win a national title. Why not Kentucky? Because Kentucky is going to crack under pressure. Kentucky is going to be like the Syracuse team a couple of years back who only lost two games in the regular season, lost Fab Melo, and almost got upset by the number sixteen seed in their bracket. I think Duke can beat anybody, especially if Justice Winslow develops into a star-caliber player and Quinn Cook can lead a point without throwing the ball to the stands. Duke has all the pieces, and I think Coach K will be able to solve the puzzle and win himself a fifth national title.