It’s one of the best times of the year to be a basketball fan. The NBA season is underway and NCAA basketball is just beginning. Some people are trying to find out which colleges are going to bust their brackets in March. Others want to know which players will become top NBA prospects. Most fans are looking to see how their alma mater is going to perform. As always, this year will hold countless buzzer beaters, blowouts and upsets.
Once again, the blue bloods find themselves on top. Kansas University and the University of Kentucky are numbers one and two, respectively, in the AP preseason poll. Both teams have a balance of great returning players and incoming talent. Kansas has returning stars Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike and looks forward to incoming transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson. Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson headline the team’s recruiting class.
Kentucky’s returning players include Quade Green and P.J. Washington, along with Reid Travis, a transfer from Memphis who can really take this team to the next level. Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery are the top five star recruits head coach John Calipari has brought in this year.
As usual, Kentucky will be looking to get great production out of its freshmen.
Gonzaga University, Duke University and the University of Virginia come next in the AP poll. Like the top two teams, Gonzaga has an impressive mixture of experience and fresh talent. This is the first time the team is seeded this high in the preseason poll. Returning star Killian Tillie will start the season injured, but hopefully he can lead his team to another tournament run when he returns.
Duke is in familiar territory, sitting near the top of the rankings while some of its best players are freshmen. However, this year is definitely more extreme. None of Duke’s regular starters from last season are returning and coach Mike Krzyzewski will likely start three or four freshmen in their place. R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson are expected to not only be some of the best freshmen, but also some of the best players this year.
After UVA’s embarrassing loss to 16-seeded University of Maryland - Baltimore County in the NCAA Tournament last year, the team is quickly returning to their elite status in the AP poll. Many of the players who helped the team secure its top seeding last year are returning, including De’Andre Hunter, a key player who could have prevented the loss to UMBC had he not been injured. UVA’s experience and incredible coach, Tony Bennett, will likely take the Cavaliers far again this year.
While the rankings of most teams are hotly debated, it seems fairly certain that these are the top five teams in college basketball right now. Still, that doesn’t mean they are the only teams worth watching. It will be incredible to see what the top players on some other teams will be able to do as leaders this year.
Besides Duke’s freshmen, the incoming player everyone wants to watch is Nassir Little. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill forward was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game this year, and he will provide scoring, rebounding and defense for the Tar Heels. Along with returning senior Luke Maye, Little can help this team be one of the most fun to watch this season.
It’s always intriguing to see how returning players like Maye, who already averaged 16.9 points per game last year, improve over the offseason. Carsen Edwards is no exception. Edwards will be a junior guard this year at Purdue University, and after averaging 18.5 points per game last season, it’s hard to imagine how dominant he’ll be able to be this year. Projected by some to be the best player in the NCAA right now, Edwards can determine how far Purdue will go this year.
Once again a candidate for a Cinderella run in the tournament, South Dakota State University is led by senior forward Mike Daum. While not one of the best all-around players, Daum has been almost single-handedly taking South Dakota State into the tournament since his freshmen year. He is 23 years old and will have the opportunity to score his 3000th point this season. One of the best scorers in college basketball, Daum will be looking to lead his Jackrabbits to their fourth-straight Summit League Championship.
Another team with the potential to be a Cinderella team is Loyola University Chicago. An 11 seed last year, the Ramblers won their way to the Final Four and the team chaplain, Sister Jean, became the center of the media’s attention. Clayton Custer may be one of the best point guards this year, and he is projected to lead the team to another tournament berth at the very least.
While March Madness is still months away, college basketball’s regular season is anything but boring. Each conference is its own battleground. Every game is a tug of war between some of the most elite basketball players in the world. Besides, the people with the most consistently good brackets in March are the same people who have been paying attention all season.