We are facing our final weekend without college basketball for five months. It's almost here!
So now I've got to give out some spoiler alerts. As usual, I've taken tea leaves, crystal balls and tarot cards with Jerry Palm's face on them to get clearer visions on what's likely to materialize this season. And before you go thinking this is just goo I'm flinging at the wall, know this: Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11 (half true), 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, 29 (mostly) and 30 (just about) from last year all were correct.
College basketball is impossible to predict, but we can surely try. Here are 37 allegedly ludicrous predictions for 2018-19, many of which will come true.
1. The Kentucky Wildcats will make another Final Four, bring their official program total to 18 and making a fifth appearance in the past 10 seasons under John Calipari. Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis will be the Wildcats' most valuable player and move (some of) the conversation off of Kentucky's freshmen (for a change).
2. Loyola-Chicago will not return to the NCAA Tournament. (But maybe Sister Jean will. She can do anything.) The Ramblers wrote one of the sweetest scripts in Big Dance history last March and April, but Porter Moser's team will take second in the Missouri Valley to Illinois State and come up just short of earning an at-large bid to the chagrin of many. Other coaches at power programs refusing to schedule Loyola will wind up factoring into this.
3. A year removed from the most embarrassing loss in NCAA Tournament history, Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers will TOTALLY REDEEM THEMSELVES and go all the way to the Final Four. It will be the first of Bennett's career and Virginia's first since 1984.
4. Duke phenom Zion Williamson will become the new Grayson Allen. And Trae Young. And something altogether unfamiliar yet entirely predictable at the same time. Because Williamson is unique, because he plays for Duke, because he's the most famous player in college basketball and yet has never even played a regular season game as of this piece publishing, he's going to become the primary attraction. The machine will take his story and recycle it a thousand times. Media saturation of Zion is inevitable. Hopefully his play is so enjoyable, so jump-off-your-couch entertaining, that the general public doesn't turn on him. Then again, his name's already irreversibly been brought into the federal corruption case on college basketball. Think that's gonna be forgotten? Of course not.
5. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt freshman Darius Garland will actually be the closest thing to Trae Young this season.
6. Duke's R.J. Barrett will not be the national player of the year. We ran into this last season, and I accurately predicted it when I said Michigan State's Miles Bridges would not wind up as the 2017-18 NPOY. Barrett, like Bridges a year ago, has become the widely accepted preseason choice for the award. He's a great talent, the most likely player right now to wind up as the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. But freshmen almost never win NPOY. Instead, my pick is Purdue combo guard Carsen Edwards. Grain of salt: I predicted Buddy Hield, Jalen Brunson and Doug McDermott for NPOY in the preseasons before they went on to win those awards in recent years.
7. The only team in the AP preseason top 25 that will not make the NCAA Tournament: the West Virginia Mountaineers. Bob Huggins' team will wind up in the first-four-out mix on Selection Sunday.
8. The NCAA will still not bring down rulings on any of the programs caught up in the FBI scandal. Hey, this is a repeat from last year! And it deserves repetition, as many fans are waiting and waiting and waiting to see if any of the schools and coaches who were dragged into this trial will face the fire. But there's still two more federal cases scheduled to go to trial in New York (in February and April), and best we can tell, the NCAA is doing the Justice Department's bidding by not formally opening any investigations of its own until this matter is entirely resolved on the federal level. I do expect sanctions to come, but that's a separate matter entirely and something that, unfortunately, will propel a lot of debate during the 2019 offseason.
9. Villanova will be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the sixth straight season. Yet another instance where I'm forced to repeat myself from a year back. Although the reigning national champs lost four players to the NBA Draft (it would've been fun if Donte DiVincenzo came back; Nova's probably a preseason top-five team in that case), there's still a lot coming back to Philly and a great freshman class ready to step in. The Big East below Villanova didn't rise up, so unless Marquette or St. John's play to their capacity, Villanova's gonna take the league again.
10. This is how the Major 7 conferences will rank out in most metrics by season's end: ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, AAC. The ACC will lead all leagues with eight NCAA Tournament bids.
11. The Pac-12 will look odd this year because the Arizona Wildcats will not only fail to win the league, but they'll fail to reach the NCAA Tournament. And after a down year, Oregon will return to the top of the conference. The Pac-12 will get four bids, one of which will play in the First Four in Dayton.
12. Longest NCAA Tournament streaks that will continue: Kansas (30 years), Duke (24), Michigan State (22), Gonzaga (20), Cincinnati (9), North Carolina (9).
13. Longest NCAA Tournament streaks that will end: Wichita State (7), Arizona (6).
14. Longest NCAA Tournament droughts that will end: Rider (24), Illinois State (20), Mississippi State (9), Washington (7).
15. Jim Boeheim will have Syracuse's best season since 2013-14, when the Orange earned a 3 seed and went 28-6. Remember that team? It had C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis, who came from out of the blue to put on a huge freshman season. This year's Orange team won't rely on any freshman like that, but Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett will ensure the Orange get to about the 28-win mark again.
16. Eric Musselman wins coach of the year honors as Nevada lands a No. 2 seed in the West. Nevada will not lose a game at home this season. Musselman will take his shirt off in celebration twice prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament.
17. Romeo Langford will be very good for Indiana, but Juwan Morgan will be great and by far more important to IU's push to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers will get a 5 seed.
18. Steve Alford, a curious hot seat candidate (in the eyes of some), will stay on at UCLA after the Bruins have a really good season and easily swoop into the NCAA Tournament. UCLA will get a 7 seed.
19. Gonzaga's chances at a No. 1 seed will rest on how good it is in November and December without Killian Tillie. The Bulldogs' Rui Hachimura will have a breakout season of fame on a roster as loaded as any 1-through-8 in college basketball.
20. Dan Hurley will prove to be the most immediately successful of the four highest-profile hires (Hurley to UConn, Chris Mack to Louisville, Penny Hardaway to Memphis, Jeff Capel to Pitt) of the offseason. Hurley probably won't make the NCAA Tournament, but in terms of on-court performance vs. expectation heading into the season, I anticipate UConn being better than Louisville (primarily because of the scale of difficulty in the ACC). Memphis and Pitt should expect some schedule turbulence.
21. James Wiseman will verbally commit to Hardaway and Memphis over Calipari and Kentucky. Wiseman will provide one of the biggest headlines of the season -- and do so despite not being a college player. This will also bring in a new level of interest and intrigue in recruiting power nationally. Kentucky and Duke will be joined by Memphis, and don't forget that Arizona hasn't lost all its pull -- and Villanova's entered the room too.
22. Seven sexy Cinderella stories set for March's splendid stage: Illinois State, Jacksonville State, Montana, Northeastern, South Dakota State, UNC Greensboro, Vermont. All should make the NCAA Tournament. At least three will get to the second round. At least three of the coaches at these schools will be hired to bigger jobs by early April.
23. The biggest jobs to open by the end of March will be: DePaul, Nebraska, Penn State, Washington State and one wild card gig that could create chaos. (Let's see how things go with Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City over the next five months.)
24. Seven Sweet 16 teams from 2018 will make it back to the second weekend in 2019: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, Syracuse and Villanova.
25. Teams that lost really good players but are going to nevertheless get better: Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Georgetown, USC. Only Georgetown will fail to make the NCAAs from this group.
26. It will look close in the early months, but by season's end Michigan State will by far be the best team in the Big Ten. Cassius Winston will come into his own and compete for Big Ten Player of the Year as the Spartans have one of their best offensive seasons ever under Tom Izzo.
27. The final undefeated team in college basketball will take its first loss before the College Football Playoff national championship game. The date on that is Jan. 7. What team will it be? I'll put my chips in for Nevada, but predicting that is tougher than going 32 for 32 in the opening round of the NCAAs.
28. Only two of the 54 coaches at new schools this season will make the NCAA Tournament in year No. 1: Xavier's Travis Steele and Florida Gulf Coast's Michael Fly. Neither will win a tournament game in 2019.
29. Sagaba Konate, who stands 6-7-and-change in shoes, will have almost twice as many blocks as 7-2 Oregon center Bol Bol.
30. The Providence Friars will make a sixth straight NCAA Tournament. Ed Cooley, in doing so, will cement himself once and for all as a big-name coaching candidate for any top-25 jobs that open in the ensuing seasons.
31. Seven at-large bids will come from outside the Major 7. The Mountain West (three total bids), the A-10 (three), the WCC (two), Conference USA (two) and the one other league that loses a really good regular-season champ in its conference tournament (two) will make for a very varied at-large field from what we've seen in recent years.
32. The NCAA's new NET ranking, which is replacing the RPI, will give us an NCAA Tournament field with some unpredictable controversy in Year No. 1. This is going to be inevitable because the signal-to-noise ratio with the NET is bound to be problematic in its first year. But make no mistake: It is an absolute upgrade from the RPI.
33. Texas' Andrew Jones will provide the most emotionally uplifting moment of November (or perhaps early December) when he steps onto the floor for the Longhorns after his year-long battle with leukemia. Jones is fighting a toe injury currently, too, but is expected to get back to being a big part of Texas' roster -- an active part. I can't wait to watch him ball again.
34. College basketball history will be made when Campbell's Chris Clemons and South Dakota State's Mike Daum reach 3,000 points in the same season, likely within a game or two of each other. Amazingly, Daum and Clemons are both at exactly 2,232 points as they begin their senior seasons! Daum's taken 104 career games to get there; Clemons is at 97. This will be one of my favorite storylines of the '18-19. There are only eight players in men's D-I history with 3,000 points. Now we should get two more around late February.
35. For the seventh straight season, an NCAA D-I record will be set for most 3-pointers made in the sport. Last season there were 88,801 instances where a 3-pointer was successfully shot in Division I. I predict at least 93,000 3-pointers will be made this season. This comes to about 15 made 3s per game, as there will be a little north of 6,000 games involving D-I teams in 2018-19. When will this trend hit its fatigue point? Will we actually touch 100,000 made 3s in the next decade? (Stats on 3-pointers courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.)
36. LSU's Tremont Waters, who stands about 5-9, will be the shortest player to make a true push for NPOY since ... wow ... maybe Damon Stoudamire at Arizona in 1994. (Even muscly Jameer Nelson was listed as 6 feet tall.)
37. Kansas will not play Silvio De Sousa in a game this season and will still go on to win the national title. The Jayhawks will finish 36-4, win the Big 12 for a 15th straight season and do this while uncomfortably being attached to the ongoing fallout from the Justice Department's findings. Dedric Lawson will be Kansas' best player all season long -- but freshman Quentin Grimes will be the Final Four MOP on his way to being a lottery pick.