We are one day from the start of the season. Finally, and thankfully. Last year, right before the 2016-17 season began, I lobbed outon what was to come in college basketball. (Numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 16, 17, 19, 20, 25, 27, 28, 30, 32 and 33 turned out to be right.)
So let's do this again. This year I'm upping it all the way to 34. Here are the visions that my muse summoned me to prognosticate. It's a calling. I can't explain it.
1. Either Duke or Kentucky will fail to get a No. 3 seed or better. Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari are Hall of Fame coaches, but they're also dealing with their most inexperienced rosters ever. Lots of talent, but lots of ways for their seasons to slip sideways. how Kentucky is particularly vulnerable and why this season's roster is demonstrably different than any other youth-laden Wildcats team under Calipari.
2. Miles Bridges will not be the player of the year. Peek around the preseason magazines and national outlets and you won't find more than one publication that picked someone besides Bridges to take home the hardware. He's a great candidate, but this is groupthink run amok. I'm taking a player who will have more value to his team and have the ball in his hands more: Villanova junior point guard Jalen Brunson.
3. The Big East will send four teams to the Sweet 16. The conference has been a top-three league the past few years, and now it's going to send Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall and either Providence or Creighton into the second weekend of the Big Dance. The biggest reason why is coaching, but also, each team has a stud, a top-50 player in America: Nova with Brunson; Xavier with Trevon Bluiett; Seton Hall with Angel Delgado; Providence with Kyron Cartwright; Creighton with Marcus Foster.
4. The Grayson Allen quick-trigger-mega-coverage is gonna get exhausting in a hurry -- but he's going to go the whole season without an on-court incident. Allen brought most of his reputation on himself. He's spent the past seven months knowing that he's got one shot to restore his image and change his reputation. No matter what happens he won't repair everything, but being Duke's only senior, he'll get through his final season without one tripping, shoving, elbowing or otherwise physical incident. (Please. I'm begging this into existence, LaVar Ball-style.)
5. Wisconsin will finish outside the top four of the Big Ten for the first time since the Pliocene. Ethan Happ's an All-America candidate, but Greg Gard's got a lot of new players taking on bigger roles elsewhere. With Northwestern, Minnesota and Maryland on the rise, and Purdue and Michigan State expected to finish at the top of the conference, Wisconsin's famous streak of top-four finishes finally comes to an end. Tragically, the Badgers will learn the shame of taking sixth place.
6. The American will set a conference record by sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament. This is year No. 5 of existence for the American. With Wichita State coming into the league, . The Shockers will be joined on Selection Sunday by Cincinnati, UCF, UConn and SMU.
7. None of last season's Final Four teams will reach the Elite Eight. And I don't think South Carolina even sniffs the NCAAs. Gonzaga's going to be pretty good again, but the Sweet 16 is a reasonable expectation. Reigning champs North Carolina have Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson back, but after two straight trips to the championship game, the Tar Heels will probably land in the 3, 4 or 5 seed range -- and likely get knocked off by a higher-seeded club. Oregon's got enough talent to get back to the NCAAs, but I'm not expecting a team with a lot of new pieces to wind up as a top-20 club by season's end.
8. Notre Dame's Matt Farrell will be so awesome he will prevent Bonzie Colson from winning NPOY. Colson's a fun player to watch because he so often makes the right play, and his pace and savvy often keep defenders hesitant to a default. Farrell's going to be outstanding running the point for Mike Brey this year, though, and he'll often outshine Colson. They'll make for arguably the nation's best 1-2 duo on offense.
9. At least three more schools will be linked to the FBI's investigation. There is an expectation within many in college basketball that the FBI will eventually get enough evidence to bring charges to other programs and coaches. The timeline is what's murky. We could get the next grenade in mid-November, or we could have to wait until near the end of the season. Have the two of the 10 men arrested who were not indicted -- Minush Sood and Jonathan Brad Augustine -- already flipped?
10. The NCAA will not bring down rulings on any of the programs caught up in the FBI scandal. Not during this season. The FBI has already told the NCAA, and the programs affected, that they can't formally begin their own investigations until the federal government is done taking its course there. Sanctions almost certainly will come for many schools, but those cases won't begin for a couple of months at the earliest.
11. Mick Cronin wins national Coach of the Year after launching Cincinnati to a No. 2 seed. I am promising you that this season's Cincinnati squad will be the best team UC's had in more than 15 years. Probably a top-15 team on offense and defense, which should mean the Bearcats are a top-10 team overall in quality and in resume. (If this happens, Cronin could wind up being a candidate for Louisville.)
12. Be it on television, in print or on sports talk radio, approximately 714-718 times, you'll hear "Steph Curry" invoked when Oklahoma freshman Trae Young's name is brought up. Not fair to Young, and this originated when coaches who saw him on the recruiting trail noticed Young's penchant for the 30-footer -- and his respectable rate at hitting the long ball. But he's not Curry. What he is is a talented freshman that's going to get Oklahoma back to the NCAA Tournament ... when he's a sophomore.
13. Villanova will land a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the fifth straight season. The Wildcats will win the Big East for the fifth straight season, continuing a conference record, and firm up their status as a top-five program in college basketball in the past half-decade.
14. TCU will make the NCAA Tournament -- with plenty of room to spare -- for the first time since 1998. What Jamie Dixon's managed to do so quickly at his alma mater is truly exceptional. This is an example of a quality coach needing a fresh start to rejuvenate his career. The Horned Frogs figure to be top-four in the Big 12.
15. The last undefeated team will fall before Jan. 22. Kentucky, Wichita State and Gonzaga have be aberrational in recent seasons (and it's been great to see college basketball offer up the undefeated storyline into March), but we'll return to normalcy this season. Everybody takes an L by 1/22.
16. Only two single-digit seeds in Jerry Palm's preseason Bracketology will wind up missing the NCAA Tournament. I can't just give a number and not own the prediction, so my guess as to the two: Alabama (which could lose blazing PG Collin Sexton to ineligibility) and VCU. Jerry's lowest-seeded team that I think makes the biggest jump come Selection Sunday: Maryland. They're a No. 10 seed in preseason Bracketology. Mark me down for Maryland getting a No. 5-seed down the road.
17. After losing Big Ten POY and almost-national-POY Caleb Swanigan, Purdue finishes the season with more wins than 2016-17. Kind of Ewing Theory-ish here, but Purdue is bringing back everyone except Swanigan and Spike Albrecht. The Boilermakers are going to be terrific, potentially landing a seed line higher than last season, when Matt Painter guided the team to a No. 4. Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards (unrelated) will shine.
18. Five single-digit seeds from the 2016 NCAA Tournament will fail to make the 2017 NCAAs. Florida State (No. 3 seed), Iowa State (No. 5 seed), South Carolina (No. 7 seed), Michigan (No. 7 seed), Vanderbilt (No. 9 seed). .
19. LaVar Ball will create much more of a kerfuffle for LiAngelo at UCLA than he did with LaMelo. The middle Ball is already off to a horrendous start at UCLA, as he and two other freshmen allegedly tried to shoplift from a Louis Vuitton store in communist China and, as of this story's publication, are still under house arrest at their hotel. LiAngelo's not the talent Lonzo is, so he'll not be earning nearly the minutes. LaVar hasn't proven himself capable of shutting up unless a foreign government looms over his son's freedom, so expect dad to do what he does worst. (Side prediction on UCLA: Aaron Holiday and Jaylen Hands will ensure the drop-off at point guard is minimal.)
20. Saint Mary's is the preseason WCC favorite, but Gonzaga winds up atop the league standings again. I like the Gaels a lot, but Mark Few is the king until proven otherwise. The Zags have enough coming back, including Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams III, who should both be all-WCC players.
21. There will be a maximum of 11, and minimum of eight, coaches fired from the Major 7 conferences. That's a fairly manageable number, and I'm taking into account possible firings at programs affected by FBI stuff. Look across the Big 12, ACC, SEC and more, and there isn't an overwhelming amount of hot-seat candidates out there. Reportedly, Auburn.if he doesn't start talking with independent attorneys hired by
22. Rick Pitino will lose his wrongful termination lawsuit against Louisville. The latest reports, which involve unsealed documents from the FBI's complaint, allege Pitino knew of -- and signed off on -- payments to at least one player (Brian Bowen). If proven true, it's open-and-shut. Pitino won't be getting his millions from Louisville, and that crucial detail would kill off any shot of Pitino coming back to be a head coach in Division I ever again.
23. David Padgett will do a solid job as interim Cardinals coach, but U of L winds up hiring a big name to replace him at season's end. Padgett's got a good team, and I think Louisville hops in and out of the Top 25 this season. Ultimately, too many viable candidates will wind up having very good seasons. This is Louisville, a top-10 job in the country. Even with NCAA sanctions looming, it will lure big names. Padgett probably needs a Sweet 16 and a atop-four ACC finish to land the gig permanently. I'm not expecting that to happen.
24. Miami rips the ACC regular season title from Duke and/or North Carolina. The ACC's going to have a lot of drama this season, but how about the Hurricanes -- if everyone is healthy -- winning as the dark horse pick? I like it a lot. Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Dewan Huell and Ja'Quan Newton have the Canes set up to mirror the football team's success this season.
25. Seton Hall's Angel Delgado will have a double-double in every game. He nearly did it last season! Delgado is a grown man who can turn into a top-five all-time SHU player with an All-American run this season. Put me down for Angel to average 16 points and 12 boards.
26. Iowa State takes the biggest tumble of any major-conference program, finishing last in the Big 12. The Cyclones lose more minutes than just about any Major 7 program this season. Lindell Wigginton's gonna burst onto the scene as a freshman, but Steve Prohm's program is set for a huge rebuilding season. Gonna be weird to see Iowa State below average, but the Clones will be back to normal within two years.
27. Northwestern matches the hype and stays in the top 25 most of the season. Bryant McIntosh is the most valuable player, but Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law make for a tremendous trio. Northwestern's legitimately, definitively the best team in the state of Illinois.
28. The Big Ten playing at MSG a week earlier for its league tournament will be very weird and very cool. In an effort to get in on the NYC exposure, the Big Ten is heading to the Big Apple to play its championship bracket. It will start the final day of February, and be held while all those one-bid leagues are playing out for their auto bids. It's like a bonus dose of postseason hoops even earlier.
29. Previously blah teams that will actually be worth watching from time to time: UCF, TCU, Missouri, Houston, St. John's, Boston College. I expect half those teams to make the NCAAs, but all should be markedly improved from last season.
30. Four of the 47 men in new head coaching jobs will make the NCAA Tournament. LaVall Jordan (Butler), Kevin Keatts (NC State), Cuonzo Martin (Missouri) and Bob Richey (Furman). Way too many people are down on Butler. And before you go thinking NC State's just an NIT hopeful, check that roster. Keatts will do damage right away.
31. Six at-large bids will come from conferences outside the Major 7. The Atlantic 10, Mountain West and WCC will account for four of those bids. I'm saying two other leagues, seen as one-bid conferences, will land at-large inclusions. In part because we've got a good dose of mid-majors this season, but also because the NCAA Tournamentin how to judge road and neutral court outcomes.
32. Six sexy Cinderella candidates: Oakland, College of Charleston, Vermont, Bucknell, Grand Canyon, Florida Gulf Coast. Yes, Dunk City is back. Oakland and Charleston should be top-50 teams. UVM made the NCAAs last season, and Grand Canyon's finally eligible to make the NCAA Tournament. Dan Majerle's team will be the best in the WAC.
33. Taking over the throne for Wichita State in the Missouri Valley this season: Missouri State. The Bears also could apply for Cinderella qualification. It's going to be a different-looking Valley this season without the Shockers, but it's refreshing to see a new program emerge in what's still a quality mid-major conference.
34. Arizona, perhaps appropriately or ironically, will win the 2018 NCAA title despite the FBI cloud looming over the program. We'll wrap with this, which is under the working presumption that Sean Miller remains coach of Arizona this season and doesn't lose, like, three guys on the roster to eligibility concerns. The Wildcats are deep, veteran-laded, uber talented and could have the "sleeper" No. 1 pick in DeAndre Ayton. Miller's made a slew of Elite Eights; he's due to break through. All the FBI drama has caused many to sell their Arizona stock, yet this roster still qualifies, arguably, as the best in the sport. So it would be all too appropriate, and very on the nose, to have an FBI-affiliated team wind up winning the whole thing after an unforgettable scandal-scented offseason.