It's Monday, Sept. 16, which marks 50 days until we get to Tuesday, Nov. 5, the start of the 2019-20 college basketball season. I'm loving the impending fall and the beginning of football season, just as you may be, but the itch for college hoops is unavoidable at this point. Rosters have been largely finalized and almost every schedule has as well. Practices will officially be allowed to start in less than two weeks. We are ramping up.
So let's give you a taste and forecast of what the forthcoming campaign could or should bring. With 50 days to go, here are 50 facts, questions, predictions, nuggets, you name it -- just a cauldron of college hoops particulars to help hold you over and get you ready for the season.
50. The Champions Classic (this year it's Duke vs. Kansas and Michigan State vs. Kentucky) will again -- but just for the second time ever -- be the pull for the opening night of the season. That said, be aware that other good games will tip the next night, as the ACC opts for intra-conference games to start the season as means to bring attention to the ACC Network:
It will feel weird, sure, but will also bring some attention and a little unusual buzz to college hoops by doing this. UVA at Cuse is spicy. Cincinnati plays at Ohio State that Wednesday night as well. Good all-around noncon slate.
49. A note on the offseason. Fifty days still seems like a ways away, and it is, but college basketball has the longest offseason of any major American sport -- and it's all the better for it. Let the hunger and thirst build up. Because college and pro football are in the throes of their respective seasons when college hoops gets going, it always feels like the college basketball season goes by too fast and conference play arrives before we know what hit us.
48. No one will be Zion Williamson next season. It won't even be close. So who will take over the mantle held in recent seasons by Zion, Trae Young, Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons? That is: the most discussed player in the sport. My guess is UNC's Cole Anthony.
47. If you want a general head start on what names you should know heading into 2019-20, here's an introductory list of some guys to generally be aware of in advance of November:
- Cassius Winston, senior, Michigan State
- Markus Howard, senior, Marquette
- Myles Powell, senior, Seton Hall
- Jarron Cumberland, senior, Cincinnati
- Kerry Blackshear, senior, Florida
- Anthony Cowan, senior, Maryland
- Jordan Nwora, junior, Louisville
- McKinley Wright IV, junior, Colorado
- Devon Dotson, sophomore, Kansas
- Tyrese Haliburton, sophomore, Iowa State
- Tre Jones, sophomore, Duke
- Ayo Dosunmu, sophomore, Illinois
- Andrew Nembhard, sophomore, Florida
- Cole Anthony, freshman, UNC
- James Wiseman, freshman, Memphis
- Anthony Edwards, freshman, Georgia
- Nico Mannion, freshman, Arizona
- Tyrese Maxey, freshman, Kentucky
- Isaiah Stewart, freshman, Washington
- Scottie Lewis, freshman, Florida
46. Names of some lesser-accomplished guys who should become buzzy, easy to love, easy to hate, etc.: LSU's Skylar Mays, Texas' Andrew Jones, Illinois' Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Wisconsin's Brad Davison, Texas Tech's Davide Moretti, Duke's Alex O'Connell, Purdue's Matt Haarms, Georgetown's James Akinjo and Mac McClung.
45. What if college football decided that getting first downs was too easy and opted for a marginal-but-not-insignificant rule alteration and changed it from first-and-10 to first-and-11? It'd be interesting and sure to have big-picture effects. I expect similar of the newly instituted 3-point distance, which is now the international distance: 22 feet 1¾ inches, up from 20-9 that it'd been for the past decade-plus.
44. Other rule changes to be aware of, including the sure-to-be-interesting implementation of goaltending calls being reviewable in the last two minutes and in overtime. This is sort of like the NFL going to reviewable pass interference (or lack thereof) but somewhat less problematic.
43. Something that's dissipated from college basketball's consciousness for now but will be interesting to follow in the coming months: does the American Athletic Conference opt to replace UConn with any program, or will it stick with its reduction of 11 programs once UConn leaves in the summer? I think it's the latter, though I've been told that a school like VCU for hoops would obviously greatly entice the American.
42. Shoutout to new Cincinnati coach John Brannen, who's yet to win a game but has already logged a huge victory for the Bearcat fanbase: he's bringing back UC's Midnight Madness. As in: actually at midnight. That is terrific, and more programs should seek to do it. Hold a free, fun event at midnight on a weekend, and you know college students will show up.
41. Will any coach have more attention on him in 2019-20 than Penny Hardaway? Probably not. The Memphis Tigers bring in the No. 1 recruiting class and will have a schedule that begs Memphis to win 24 games, minimum, before postseason play. But something tells me it's not going to be so easy. Somehow, we'll try to work in Tigers talk on the Eye on College Basketball Podcast.
40. To date, the only school that has publicly acknowledged that it's been served a notice of allegations from the NCAA stemming from the college basketball corruption trials is NC State. We were told the number and that all six schools would be known by end of summer/early fall. But we're still at one. In the lead-up to the season, just a reminder that it seems almost certain more schools will be subject to bad pub. I find it hard to believe we won't learn of at least one more school by the end of September.
39. As is the case every two or three years, the Bahamas will be host to the best early-season tournament. This year's Battle 4 Atlantis will have seven teams with good-to-great chances of making the 2020 NCAA Tournament: UNC, Gonzaga, Oregon, Iowa State, Michigan, Seton Hall, Alabama (and Southern Miss). That is stacked field with tremendous guard play: UNC's Cole Anthony, Oregon's Payton Pritchard, Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton, Michigan's Zavier Simpson, Seton Hall's Myles Powell and Alabama's Kira Lewis. WOW.
38. The Pac-12 was almost historically horrendous last season, but it eked out three NCAA Tournament teams -- and Oregon did make the Sweet 16. Cal and Washington State, the bottom two teams in the league, were the only ones to make coaching changes. I have to believe the conference will be better this season (how could it not?) but am still hesitant to think it will for sure be stronger than the Big East or AAC or SEC. It wasn't last year and might not be again in 2020.
37. The Big 12 has finished as the No. 1-rated conference in KenPom six seasons running. It put six teams into the NCAAs last season. Should it be No. 1 again? Let's run down a stock report of expectation for every team in the conference for 2019-20, listed according to where they finished in the league last season.
- Texas Tech: down
- Kansas State: down
- Kansas: up
- Baylor: up
- Iowa State: flat
- Texas: up
- Oklahoma: flat
- TCU: down
- Oklahoma State: flat
- West Virginia: way up
I'll say the Big 12 finishes No. 2 next season, behind the ACC.
36. Moving over to the Big East, know this: the league is expected to be stronger than last season. Villanova, 30th in KenPom a season ago, was the highest-rated team in the conference. The league sent four of its 10 teams to the NCAAs, which is a low for the Big East since it reformed in 2013. Six bids are reasonable and seven are not out of the question. The only programs for sure that set up as NCAA Tournament long shots are DePaul and St. John's.
35. Mid-major league that is going to make noise in November: the Colonial. Hofstra and Northeastern might not be quite as good as last season, but the middle of that league -- I think, anyway -- is going to make a big jump and wind up giving us one of the best conference races in 2020.
33. Of the oldest coaches at power-conference programs, who will be the first to retire, and will any of these guys hang it up come next March or April? Here's everyone 65 or older: West Virginia's Bob Huggins (65, will be 66 later this week), Oklahoma's Lon Kruger (67), North Carolina's Roy Williams (69), Miami's Jim Larrañaga (69), Florida State's Leonard Hamilton (71), Duke's MIke Krzyzewski (72) and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim (74). And why does it feel correct to think that even though Boeheim is the oldest he will coach longer than anyone else on this list?
32. Some of this most confounding news of the offseason came to light just a few days ago: DePaul issuing a press release that it was, in fact, in the midst of restructuring Dave Leitao's contract in an effort to provide him a raise and an extension. DePaul is 48-82 the past four seasons under Leitao, not to mention the program was brought up tangentially in the FBI's findings into corruption in recruiting. And he'll be serving a three-game suspension in November because of NCAA sanctions. I mean, what?
31. In the past five seasons, only three times has a team from outside the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and West Coast Conference earned an at-large bid. In 2020, I predict we'll have two programs from outside those nine leagues (AKA: the multi-bid conferences) break on through.
30. A big reason why I think mid-majors will have a bit more success with the at-large process in 2020 is due to the NET, which enters its second season and will still be something coaches haven't figured out to the fullest, except for the obvious: schedule and beat the best teams possible. If you're in a power conference and aren't projected as a single-digit seed by mid-March, you have no one to blame but yourself.
29. Speaking of the NET, a little birdie told me that the first version of the rankings will be released in mid-December, as opposed to right around the time of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Last year's debut version brought on flammable (and regrettable) criticism. This year, the first rankings figure to make more sense, as they'll have hundreds more games worth of data.
28. One team I like to double its win total from a season ago: the Western Michigan. Broncos, who should bring back enough to get to 16 wins after an 8-24 run last season that was affected in a big way by injuries.
27. One team I like to triple its win total from a season ago: Tulane. Former Georgia State coach Ron Hunter is now in charge of the Green Wave. No, this won't be an NCAA Tournament team, but expect positive dividends. The team only won four games last season. Twelve dubs or bust!
26. Non-obvious schools whose football programs will have better seasons than their men's basketball counterparts: Utah, Iowa, Arizona State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Temple. Maybe Michigan? Wisconsin too?
24. Big programs with NCAA Tournament droughts of seven years or longer that will be making the 2020 Dance: Illinois (2013). And ... I think that might be it.
23. Programs with NCAA Tournament droughts of seven years or longer that will not be making the 2020 Dance: Rutgers (1991), DePaul (2004), Washington State (2008), Boston College (2009), Georgia Tech (2010) and Penn State (2011).
22. New coaches at new spots who will make the 2020 NCAA Tournament: John Brannen (Cincinnati), Nate Oats (Alabama), Mark Pope (BYU) and Buzz Williams (Texas A&M).
21. New coaches at new spots who will not make the 2020 NCAA Tournament: Mike Anderson (St. John's), Mick Cronin (UCLA), Fred Hoiberg (Nebraska), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Eric Musselman (Arkansas) and Jerry Stackhouse (Vanderbilt).
20. You heard it here first: the Atlantic 10, coming off arguably its worst season ever, puts four teams into the 2020 NCAA Tournament. The league is much older this year, should have three top-40 teams in VCU, Davidson and Dayton, and the middle will be sturdier.
19. Mike Anderson has never coached a team to a sub-.500 season in his 17-year career. Alas, I believe that run will end with St. John's this season. Tom Izzo and Roy Williams, however, will continue their runs of never having coached a sub-.500 season. They're at 24 and 31 straight seasons, respectively.
18. When we talk about schedules in March, remember the rejection so many solid mid-major programs face -- all the rejection -- from April until the end of the summer. A mid-major coach of a team that should be top-100 in the metrics texted me Sunday night: "I still need a game. Sept 16th. F my life." No reason this should be happening, but when power-conference programs (or even higher-level schools in the A-10, etc.) have no incentive, you get this kind of squeeze. It's a problem the sport faces annually, and shy of having a commissioner, it's not solvable.
17. I want to highlight some high-level nonconference tilts to be aware of (aside from the aforementioned Champions Classic) in November and December. Keep in mind there will be even more top-25 matchups that materialize in bracket play in exempt events. We just don't know how or if which ones will happen. All the games below feature at least one team in the current CBS Sports Top 25 and 1, and many feature two:
- Nov. 8: Baylor vs. Washington (Armed Forces Classic in Alaska)
- Nov. 9: Texas at Purdue
- Nov. 12: Memphis vs. Oregon (Phil Knight Invitational)
- Nov. 13: Villanova at Ohio State
- Nov. 13: LSU at VCU
- Nov. 13: Purdue at Marquette
- Nov. 14: Michigan State at Seton Hall
- Nov. 17: Florida at UConn
- Nov. 22: LSU vs. Utah State (Jamaica Classic)
- Nov. 27: Oregon vs. Seton Hall (Battle 4 Atlantis)
- Nov. 29: VCU vs. Purdue (Emerald Coast Classic)
- Nov. 29: Utah State at Saint Mary's
- Dec. 3: Duke at Michigan State
- Dec. 4: Virginia at Purdue
- Dec. 7: Arizona at Baylor
- Dec. 7: Cincinnati at Xavier
- Dec. 8: Gonzaga at Washington
- Dec. 10: Texas Tech vs. Louisville (Jimmy V Classic)
- Dec. 14: Gonzaga at Arizona
- Dec. 14: Memphis at Tennessee
- Dec. 18: UNC at Gonzaga
- Dec. 19: Maryland at Seton Hall
- Dec. 21: Kentucky vs. Ohio State (CBS Sports Classic)
- Dec. 21: Kansas at Villanova
- Dec. 21: VCU at Wichita State
- Dec. 28: Louisville at Kentucky
Look at that spread. That's very good, and again, doesn't include at least 8-to-10 must-see matchups that will come about in bracket play. There's also another 10-to-15 games between good teams outside the top 25 I didn't list.
16. Gonzaga's going to be very good again, just so you know. Like, No. 4 seed at the worst, I think. If you're still salty or cynical about Mark Few's program, well that's very 2013 of you and you need to move on.
15. Sister Jean turned 100 earlier this summer and I'd like to send her a belated happy birthday and also take this moment to reiterate that her press conference at the 2018 Final Four will unquestionably go down Loyola-Chicago program.. I hope she lives another 20 years and is still able to be around college basketball. It's tremendous that at her age she's still a part of the
14. I've kept most of this piece to on-court predictions, anticipations and comments, but I must note that California's Senate Bill 206 -- if it passes with the signature of its governor -- is. The NCAA is expected to put forth a proposal in October that addresses the name, image and likeness issue. Given that in this respect, the NCAA's working group cannot shilly-shally with any recommendation.
13. Cassius Winston enters the season as Michigan State's alpha and the overwhelming favorite to win the 2019-20 national player of the year. I have no real reason to expect otherwise at this point. Can't wait to see how his game grows even more. He's also.
12. Might as well take some shots at what teams are going to win the Major 7 conferences. We'll start with the American: I'll fade the presumptive pick, Memphis, and go with Cincinnati behind potential All-American Jarron Cumberland. More people are going to realize how good of a coach John Brannen is as well.
11. In the ACC, man, you want to know something? I really thought seriously about picking Virginia here. And I won't be surprised whatsoever if UVA winds up pulling off a No. 2 seed in 2020. The Wahoos lost big pieces, but Tony Bennett has a rightful claim to being college basketball's best coach right now. (And did you see how he turned down a raise?) But I'll move off that for now and pick UNC -- with plenty of hesitation. I think the top of the league is a tossup when you mix in Duke and Louisville.
10. The Big 12 leaves nothing to mystery: you'd need a lot of words and a lot of liquor to pick anyone other than Kansas heading into the season.
9. I wrote on the Big East's upgrade earlier in this story. My pick to win it? You can make solid cases for Villanova and Seton Hall. Even Marquette -- maybe -- if things hit just right. But I'll lob my vote in the here and now for Providence.
8. In the Big Ten, Michigan State has to be the pick. And I don't think any team can conceivably be picked alongside Sparty before we see the games get going.
7. It's going to be interesting when Arizona's season runs parallel to all of the speculation and brewing outrage regarding NCAA punishment ... only to see the Wildcats win the Pac-12 by two games and land a No. 3 seed. Injury to Brandon Williams taken into consideration here; I just got a feeling about the Wildcats this season.
6. It's your oldest sibling's SEC again: a battle between Florida and Kentucky for the conference crown. My official prediction is that the teams finish 14-4 in league play and tie. But as for which team will be better: mark me down for UK, ever so slightly.
5. If you're reading this and found yourself curious about it: yes, as always, I will be ranking and writing about every team in the sport in October.. Yeah, some big misses there! I've already begun my research. I'm already dreading what to do once I get into the 200s.
4. There are 13 teams that have made the NCAA Tournament the past four seasons. I expect at least 11 of the 13 to get back again in 2020 and really, all 13 making it wouldn't be a stunner: Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Iona (!), Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Purdue, Seton Hall, Villanova, Virginia. My two suspicions lie with Iona and … Michigan
3. A reminder: the top 10 of:
- Michigan State.
- North Carolina.
I'd lower Duke and Louisville, lift Kansas, lower Memphis, lift UNC and Virginia. I'd also put Gonzaga in the top 10. As we get closer to the season, the top 10 looks better, stronger, more formidable than it did when the way-too-early rankings were formed in early April. Funny how that happens every year.
2. I won't go as far as to predict Final Four or a national champion here -- gotta save that for the preseason content package -- but I'll say this: at least two of last season's Elite Eight will get back to the regional finals. That means Virginia, Michigan State, Texas Tech, Auburn, Gonzaga, Purdue, Kentucky and Duke are in play. If I asked you to go over/under 2.5 teams, wouldn't you go over? Hard not to.
1. We are 180 days -- so almost a half-year -- away from Selection Sunday. There is so much we'll learn, be shocked by, be celebratory of, be appalled at, be duped with between now and then. All too many people reduce college basketball by saying that March is the only month that matters in the sport. No. No, no, no. It's the month that matters most, but its regular season is pretty great and has gotten even better in the past half-decade. The games listed above prove that. We've just, as a sports-watching society, put less and less emphasis on regular-season play outside of the sport of football, which necessitates and urgency due to game tonnage. College basketball's regular season has strengthened in the past 10 years. We'll again find this to be true 50 days from now -- and in that four months that follow after we tip off.