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January 27, 2021

A preview of the NCAA basketball season

By ERIC LYNCH | October 31, 2019

The 2019-2020 NCAA basketball season will begin this Tuesday, Nov. 5. Over 100 games will be played that day, including No. 1 Michigan State against No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Kansas against No. 4 Duke. 

This is the first time ever that the one, two, three and four seeds will play each other in this way on the first day of games. We’re being treated to March Madness-level matchups in just the first games of the new season.

And while these two games will be incredible to watch, there will be much more going on this season. 

With that in mind, I’ll share my predictions in an attempt to answer some of the biggest questions facing both players and teams as we enter the beginning of the season.

1. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston will win the Naismith College Player of the Year award. 

I know this isn’t a very bold take, but it would be wrong to say this award race is already decided. 

Marquette’s Markus Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell are both solid contenders. North Carolina’s Cole Anthony and Memphis’ James Wiseman could have their name in the mix if they transition well to college. 

But Winston is the only one of those players who is on the roster of the preseason no. 1 ranked team. 

Despite the loss of Joshua Langford, Michigan State is looking like a very strong National Championship contender. In fact the loss of Langford may give Winston the opportunity to take a larger portion of the team’s shots. 

Volume scorers on winning teams are always good candidates for the player of the year award. 

And that’s without even mentioning his senior leadership, his assist numbers and his efficiency.

2. The Memphis Tigers will not live up to the hype. 

Memphis is one of the strangest teams college basketball has seen in quite a while. 

A bad team last year, Memphis now has the number one recruiting class, which on paper, gives them the tools to be successful. However, it remains to be seen how far this will actually take them in the season. 

Coach Penny Hardaway has proven himself to be an impressive recruiter, but his abilities to win games, develop players and create chemistry are far from certain. 

All in all, I don’t necessarily think Memphis will be bad. On the contrary, in fact, I think they will be the best team in their Conference division. 

But at this point, they’re getting a lot of hype, and it’s difficult for me to see the team working out as perfectly as many fans are hoping. 

The team is going to be completely reliant on their freshmen, many of whom are being overvalued. 

Other teams that are typically reliant on their freshmen are also led by coaching gurus such as Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari. 

Hardaway has never done anything like this before, and it’s safe to expect this team will struggle early on until they find their groove.

3. James Wiseman will be the freshman of the year. 

Again, not an incredibly bold take, but many are choosing Cole Anthony as the frontrunner for this award. 

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know these two are also candidates for the player of the year award. 

And while Anthony will have the veteran guidance of Roy Williams and players like Garrison Brooks, Wiseman will be the unopposed centerpiece of his team. 

Wiseman was the top-ranked player in his class, and it’s hard for me to see the 6-foot-3-inch Anthony dominating opponents as much as I can see Wiseman doing. 

Height certainly doesn’t matter in college as much as it does in the NBA, but Anthony is just short enough to ensure he will have problems driving to the hoop against certain other teams. 

At 7-foot-1-inch, Wiseman will not struggle with the same issue. While it’s hard to see anyone else challenging for this award, Zion Williamson was able to surpass the favorite, RJ Barrett, last year, so who knows what will happen.

4. For my last prediction, I will say that the Kansas Jayhawks will win the National Championship this season. 

I think the loss of Langford will hurt the top-ranked Spartans, and the Jayhawks are the next best candidate to me. 

Returning players like Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike are invaluable, and incoming players like Isaiah Moss will also provide a lot of help. 

With a lot of experience and a domineering center like Azubuike, its going to be hard for teams to stop the Jayhawks. 

If you haven’t already been able to tell, I value the center position a lot. In a time when the three-pointer matters more than ever, being able to control the paint is still just as important as threatening from the three-point line. 

Azubuike is perhaps the best center in all of college basketball right now and if no opposing teams have anyone that can stop him, Kansas will be unbeatable. 

As I said before, I think Langford’s absence hurt Michigan State. But the lack of a powerful center is what will really make Michigan State stoppable. We’ve seen players like Cassius Winston carry a team on his shoulders, but to expect him to do that all the way to the National Championship game, even with the good help he has, is a bit much.

The Virginia Cavaliers are not contenders to repeat because their best players left for the NBA. As good of a coach as Tony Bennett is, there’s only so much he can do with this year’s squad. Look for this team to be a top team next year, though. Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Kihei Clark will be at their collective peaks. 

The Kentucky Wildcats suffer from a lack of experience, as usual, and a weak front court. I don’t love to bet against John Calipari, but he has struggled to find playoff success the past few seasons, failing to make it past the Elite Eight since 2015.

And I think Duke will be leaning on Tre Jones harder than they should be. Some are even putting him in the Player of the Year conversation, but I don’t think he proved enough last season. 

There are a couple more teams that have a good shot at the title, but I won’t mention all of them because most of them, while good, are simply not as strong as these top teams, and there’s no single weakness for me to point out in each team. 

There’s a lot to watch for in any given college basketball season. With 347 schools each with unique storylines to follow, college basketball never has a dull moment. There’s always a game to watch and always new players to learn about.

This season is certainly going to be an interesting one, and I don’t think the pool is as top-heavy as some are saying. A lot of questions are going to be answered. Although only a few teams are real contenders at this point, anything can happen at the Big Dance. 

But if you don’t want your bracket to get busted, you’re going to have to tune in and also watch some regular-season games.

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