Last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball season had to be one of the toughest to pick all year. Each year it gets tougher and tougher to gauge the season, pick the consistent winning teams, and to see which teams will rise up during March when the chips are down. This year is even more difficult.
There are many direct and indirect reasons for this. One is, so many of the really good players leave now, it is hard to even know who plays for who. Louisville, last year’s champ, lost some of their players to graduation but they also lost at least one who seized the moment and went pro. The runner-up to the title, Michigan, had two of its stars go NBA. There are countless teams up and down the board who lost star players.
The coaches, the good ones, learn to reshuffle fast, reconfigure lineups, and of all things: recruit, recruit, recruit. Junior college players. Transfers. Foreign players. They have to find talent. No matter the coach, what it really comes down to is how many top tier ballers you have on your sideline. This is what determines the winner every single time.
Indirectly, at least this year, the shuffling of conferences has thrown the leagues into complete chaos. Syracuse is in the ACC. Georgetown is in the Big East but this isn’t the Big East everyone feared. There is no Syracuse game (damn!) and UCONN is gone as well (not to the ACC though). Other teams have moved around as well though the West Coast power conferences and teams remained stable.
There are still the normal big players this year who might not be the champ but they are still solid. Duke and North Carolina are again solid teams in the ACC. Florida and Kentucky are threats from the SEC. Michigan State and Ohio State who played a classic last night are very good as well and both can contend and Michigan though they lost Trey Burke, are still loaded with talent. Kansas, as always is very good, and are a threat to win it all. Out west, Arizona is quite good as is UCLA. Gonzaga is part of the West’s strength but I will stop there because there are lots of teams who are good, like…
The Iowa State Cyclones who I saw play last night and who not only have Coach Fred Horberg’s motion three point offense working but these are players who can play above the rim and shoot. Dangerous B-ball cocktail.
Creighton, with big Doug McDermott leading the charge and looking like another Kevin Love type player, is solid as well but being in the new Big East might hurt them.
Oregon Ducks. I saw this team play early in the season when teams are not yet together and their talent level is quite high. They are high octane and should be all year. Out west, they will fly under the radar.
Other teams to watch: Wisconsin. Pittsburgh. Wichita State (made the Final Four last year). Massachusetts (yea, Dr. J’s alma mater is back playing good again), and though I hate to say it – Villanova. They took their medicine of a down year and now are back.
I could go on and on about this season and as you can ascertain from just these notes, the field is wide open. There are probably about 15-20 teams who have a shot to make a run. One thing for sure, it won’t be Louisville. They have so many missing parts from last year’s championship run. They can be good but not great. And to get to the dance you have got to be great for about a month. Other teams on the outside for sure: Indiana. Maryland. Yes, it is going to be a great year but tough to pick.