No one can predict the future, but it sure is fun to try!
Here are 33 musings on what should be a stellar season ahead in college basketball.
1. The national title winner will not be a No. 1 seed
A No. 1 seed gets to the Final Four in most seasons, but in terms of winning it? No guarantee -- but history favors it. Since 2000, a No. 1 seed has won it all 11 of the 17 tournaments played. As you'll see with these predictions below, I'm a believer that this is going to be a tremendous and tremendously weird season.
The tournament has been more volatile in a lot of ways in recent years, and I think -- given there are 19 legitimate candidates who can win it all -- that a lower-seeded team takes it. The scenario that plays out there is varied. Maybe a really good team hits a skid and gets a 2 seed. Maybe injuries lead to a lower seed, but a team gets healthy and goes on a run. Something like that.
2. For the second consecutive year, two players wind up splitting honors in the six major national player of the year awards
Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield did it last year. With so many candidates in play this season, I think you'll see two of the guys we highlighted on our preseason All-America teams wind up splitting votes. For the record, I'm riding with Oregon's Dillon Brooks as the POY.
3. Villanova will become the second team in a decade, and the first team since Duke in 2011, to win the national title and follow up the next season with a No. 1 seed
Curious what happened?
2007: Florida earned a No. 1 seed after winning the national title; the Gators won it all again
2008: Florida failed to make the NCAA Tournament the year after winning two straight
2009: Kansas was a No. 3 seed
2010: UNC failed to make the NCAA Tournament after winning it all in '09
2011: Duke earned a No. 1 seed after its 2010 title
2012: UConn was a 9 seed the year after Kemba and Co. made its run
2013: Kentucky failed to make the NCAA Tournament
2014: Louisville was a No. 4 seed
2015: UConn did not play in the NCAA Tournament
2016: Duke was a No. 4 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament
And this season?
2017: Villanova will earn a No. 1 seed again, the program's second in three years.
4. Five of the 10 players selected to the AP First and Second Team All-America teams at the end of the season will be freshmen
There are too many incredible first-year players who will play pivotal roles and get their teams to high seeds in the NCAAs to believe otherwise. From Josh Jackson at Kansas, to Malik Monk/Bam Adebayo/De'Aaron Fox trio at Kentucky, to Jayson Tatum at Duke, to Dennis Smith Jr. at NC State, to Lauri Markkanen at Arizona, to Markelle Fultz at Washington, to Lonzo Ball at UCLA, to Miles Bridges at Michigan State. There are a lot of talented freshmen out there. It's going to be a dominant story line. Get used to it.
5. Nigel Hayes and Grayson Allen will become the faces of college basketball
Allen because he'll star for Duke, and because he's already the most recognizable face in the game. Hayes because Wisconsin will be in play all season for a very good seed, and he's made it clear that he'll continually be speaking up on significant issues -- racial, social, student, all of it.
6. Markelle Fultz will follow the Ben Simmons model: He'll be an incredible freshman at a school not known as a basketball powerhouse, becomes a top-three pick in the NBA Draft -- yet fail to reach the NCAA Tournament
I think Washington has some good talent this season, but on the whole, I have to see Lorenzo Romar break through. I'm not convinced the Huskies have enough. Next season, an even stronger recruiting class comes in -- and I bet UW breaks down the door and is a single-digit seed come the 2018 tournament. This year? First four out.
7. NC State, led by national freshman of the year Dennis Smith, makes its first Elite Eight appearance in 31 years
I'm driving the NC State bus. I think the eligibility of Omer Yurtseven combined with Smith's outrageously good talent, and all that Mark Gottfried brings back, will line up a really nice season for the Wolfpack. They won't be a top-15 team throughout, but I do think the group will find its footing and momentum into February. Smith -- who will probably be a top-five NBA pick -- will have his moment come March. State fans get nervous with predictions like this, but they also have seen Smith early in exhibitions and can see he's the real deal.
8. For the third consecutive season, the Big East will rate as a top-three conference
It's the thing few have been talking about, really. After the conference was splintered by realignment, the league responded by averaging five teams in the NCAA Tournament in the years since, including giving us the 2016 national champs in Villanova. Nova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Butler and Creighton all have rosters capable of earning single-digit seeds again this season. I expect the conference to perform well in non-league play in the first three weeks of the season.
9. Davidson's Jack Gibbs will lead the nation in scoring average
In doing so, he'll join Steph Curry, who did it in 2008-09. Gibbs' game is perfectly tailored to run in Bob McKillop's system, and Davidson should be a bubble-type team in 2016-17. Gibbs has also gotten his body in the best shape of his college career -- it's going to pay dividends.
10. Duke will have five games, max, where every scholarship player is healthy and available to play
The Blue Devils are dealing with hell in the preseason. Three of their four five-star freshmen have been sidelined in recent weeks. Harry Giles with a knee scope. Jayson Tatum with a foot ailment. Marques Bolden with a lower leg injury that will be further diagnosed next week. It's feeling like the preseason No. 1 team is going to be good -- but seldom complete -- while chasing a sixth title for Coach K. That's why I think this team will fall short.
11. Iowa, Oregon State, Saint Joseph's, Notre Dame, USC, Providence, Seton Hall, Texas Tech and -- all single-digit seeds in the 2016 NCAA Tournament -- fail to make the 2017 NCAAs
Every season we have turnover from the previous NCAA Tournament, of course. This time around, I happen to think these teams will fall just short. In the case of Seton Hall, I think the margin is razor thin. Overall, a lot of the teams from last season who made the NCAAs as single-digit should be good-to-really-good again. This is beneficial to the overall health of the game.
12. One team and one team only from a traditional one-bid conference will steal a bid with an at-large selection
I'm not thinking it's going to be a strong year for mid-majors. Only one team, like a Valpo or a Monmouth or a Belmont, will probably have a shot at stealing a bid. The big boys look really good this year, and unfortunately the system is already tilted against the little guys. That's not to say they won't win in the NCAAs, because they will to a small degree, but breaking through isn't going to happen this season.
13. Arizona's Lauri Markkanen steals Freshman of the Year award in the Pac-12 from presumptive winner Markelle Fultz
I told you some of these predictions would be zany! Everyone's all in on Fultz, and I get it, but Markkanen's an awesome talent. You're going to hear Dirk Nowitzki comparisons early and often. That's too lofty, but he's a tall Finnish dude who can step out and shoot and should be asked to do more, seeing how Arizona's roster is now in turmoil from what we expected it to be. Allonzo Trier will not be uniform -- or on the trip -- for Arizona's season-opener on Friday against Michigan State.
14. The ACC will fall one team short of the Big East's 2011 record by sending 10 teams to the NCAAs
Getting 11 teams into the Big Dance is a mammoth task. The ACC looks awesome right now. Really, really good. But for all the chatter that this league could be the best single-season conference in the history of college hoops ... let's just pause for a minute on that. It's going to be good. But getting 11 in would be monumental. I think it will one team short, and it will be a firm 10 teams.
15. Illinois State thwarts Wichita State to win the auto bid in the Missouri Valley
The Shockers will probably win the regular season in the MVC. I think Gregg Marshall's team is better on the whole than Illinois State. But ISU is going to be really good this year. If players can not get suspended, then Dan Muller's team has the capability of winning the Valley tournament with good odds. I'm calling it now.
16. The backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford will get UCLA to a No. 5 seed or better -- and propel the Bruins to the second weekend of the NCAAs
UCLA was poor last season, going under .500 and roiling the fan base. The Bruins will absolutely be better this year. Ball and fellow frosh T.J. Leaf will help see to that. But Alford -- though not a great shooter -- is a very good college basketball player. I think he will blend so well with Ball. Thomas Welsh is going to be very important as well. On the whole, I'm aggressively high on UCLA's projection this season. Anything less than a 7 seed would be a disappointment.
17. Virginia will be a No. 5 seed at best in the NCAA Tournament
And here's a team I'm selling, relatively speaking. I was very high on Malcolm Brogdon's contributions, and Anthony Gill was a top-10 player of impact per KenPom metrics last season. Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte are also gone, and while London Perrantes is a fine ACC-level player, I don't think he'll wind up being a top-10 point guard in America this season. Virginia will slide back some, which is a negative outlook compared to how UVA's been placed in preseason polls.
18. Members of at least a half-dozen college basketball teams will kneel during the national anthem within the first week of the season
It's bound to be a very interesting opening couple of weeks. We've already heard chatter and seen certain teams and athletes take photos, make stands, say they're considering doing something. Will it happen? I believe so. There are 351 teams and more than 4,700 basketball players. Some will be provoked to share their voice.
19. The Maui Invitational will once again provide great theater
It's good every single year, and it's going to be good again. The gold standard of early-season tournaments. You can always count on Maui to be a welcomed distraction and reminder of college hoops as college football and the NFL approach their zenith the week of Thanksgiving.
20. The NCAA selection committee will make a strong statement in March by distinctly punishing teams who did not challenge themselves enough by scheduling true road games outside of conference play
Call it a hunch, but I think the story of this year's Selection Sunday. There will be teams that either don't get selected or are slotted below expected seed lines due to an influx with the committee's acknowledgement of certain data points. The bottom line is this: College basketball coaches should not be encouraged to continue dodging true road scheduling outside of league play. What's more, those who do, and get some wins, should be rewarded. I bet that comes to light in a big way this season.
21. Not one -- but two -- double-digit seeds will make the Sweet 16
A double-digit seed has made the second weekend almost every year for the past two decades. This fun season is going to offer up a few zingers in the first weekend. The question is, will you accurately be able to predict which teams bust through? Remember, the Big 12, ACC and Big East should all be plenty strong -- which means they'll have teams as 10, 11 and 12 seeds.
22. Illinois makes the NCAA Tournament
Yeah, I'm going there. The talent is undeniable. The team is healthy. John Groce is a better coach than people give him credit for. The Illini get back to the Dance, barely, and make their slow push back toward relevance in the Big Ten. Malcolm Hill will be a first-team guy in the Big Ten. Make sure you watch him play.
23. Also making the NCAA Tournament? Pittsburgh
The Panthers will have an interesting but talented team. Kevin Stallings inherits Jamie Dixon's group -- and I think it works in Year No. 1. Jamel Artis (playing a 6-7 point guard) and Michael Young will blossom in Stallings' sophisticated system.
24. Edmond Sumner, not Josh Hart, wins Big East Player of the Year
Villanova and Xavier tie for the Big East regular-season title. That's my sub-prediction. So with that, I think Sumner has an incredible year for the X Men, while Hart gets "hurt," if you will, because Nova's surrounding cast is going to be awesome. Not an indictment on Hart at all. I think Sumner becomes a national star and Xavier gets a No. 2 seed for the second year in a row.
25. Travels and double-fouls are going to spike
This is why. Read up. Rule changes coming to college hoops, and they are minor but important ones.
26. There will be an unfortunate mishap with a monitor review that revs up the debate over whether to have monitor reviews
Just a lock. College basketball wants to get it right, but can it do so effectively and efficiently? The data says yes, but the trend across all of sports is that video replay is slowing down the game.
27. The first three weeks of the season will see dozens of teams from power conferences be upset by low- and mid-majors
This is something that happens every year, and yet each year, in the moment, it feels more striking than ever. In reality, last season was historic in the amount of ranked teams that took on losses in the first six weeks of the season against unranked opponents. I don't think it will be as common as last season, but it will happen plenty. That's a big part of the fun of November.
28. One coach will wind up making a shocking departure from his team by season's end
Last season, it was Bo Ryan retiring in December. The year before? Billy Donovan, the coach at Florida for two decades, went to the NBA. The year before that? Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving a great gig at Marquette for Virginia Tech. The year before that? Jim Calhoun retires weeks before UConn's season begins. So which coach will cut ties with his school later this season?
29. The Ivy League tournament will be fun but probably screw up everything
This is the first year the Ivy League tournament is in existence. After running a 14-game regular season tournament to determine the league's auto bid for the NCAAs, now a four-team deal will be played out in March at Palestra. With the news of Makai Mason's season-ending injury at Yale, Princeton is now an overwhelming favorite in the league. Watch someone other than the Tigers get the auto bid by winning the league tournament. Precisely what the Ivy League does not need.
30. No 16 seed will come within 10 points of a final deficit against a No. 1
As it should be, by the way. I'm one of the weirdos who roots for the 1s to win in the first round every year. There's something sacred about not opening that present yet. The chase of it is still there, and it's a part of the charm of the Big Dance. So, again, the No. 1 seeds will throttle the 16s, as the prophets foretold.
31. There will be no undefeated teams remaining by Jan. 10
I won't say it's because of parity, but rather, most seasons don't see teams get to a few games of league play without everyone having taken on at least one loss. I will say it'd be a great story line to get one or two teams deep into January and be undefeated, but with the amount of top-25 teams relying on transfers and freshmen this season, nah, it's not going to happen like that. Heck, everyone might take an L by New Year's.
32. Leagues who are locks to land multiple bids to the NCAAs: Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big East, American, A-10, West Coast Conference
I think that's it. The Mountain West is no lock for multiple bids, though San Diego State, New Mexico and Nevada will all be right there. The Valley and maybe -- maybe -- the Ivy could flirt with it, but not likely.
33. Through and through, this regular season in college basketball will rank as one of the two or three best in the sport in the past decade
Most of the best programs in the sport are ranked in the preseason polls. The preseason polls, though they may seem insignificant, actually do a great job of projecting how the end-of-year standings will be. So many of the teams forecast to be good now will be good in March. The freshmen will shine. The teams so many fans love to hate -- Kentucky, Duke and Kansas -- will probably win their conferences. This is set up to be an entertaining year above all else. So many of the players, though not well known by the masses now, will become household names. A lot of good people here, and the style of play in the sport is going to be better, faster, more offensive-oriented. Strap in, it's going to be one unpredictable ride.