College Basketball kicks off tomorrow night and the power teams aren’t the only ones who have a chance to cut down the nets in March. If you count the Big East as a power basketball conference, and I do, those conferences have won the last four National Championships. Recently, only UConn, a former Big East member, has won the title without playing in a Power Conference.
But that doesn’t mean the mid-majors don’t have an equal chance. They do. The non-conference tournaments provide plenty of opportunities to play against power conference opponents. Also, it’s rare when a mid-major has a one and done so there’s a better chance for those teams to have experienced players in March.
John Calipari has his usual stable of impact freshman. Four 5 stars and a 4 star is enough to make anyone blush but are they ready for big time college basketball? We will find out early because the Wildcats open out against Duke. How about that for an early season test.
Sophomores PJ Washington and Quade Green will provide veteran presence for Calipari and that should be enough to carry this team deep in March.
The only reason the Blue Devils are at four is because they have to prove they can go deep in March with this group. Too many pundits are underestimating the loss of Grayson Allen. Despite the problems with his demeanor, he meant everything to a team that was a rimmed out shot from beating Kansas in the tournament.
Duke’s freshman haul was better than Kentucky’s as they’ve taken over the title of One-and-Done University. For all the hype behind Zion Williamson, the freshmen to watch are Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett. Both will have monster years in Coach K’s offensive structure.
The key for the Blue Devils will be on the other end. Will Williamson be enough of a rim protector to allow Duke to pressure the ball on the perimeter? If so, the Blue Devils will play less zone than they recently have and that will help them in March.
Where to begin with this team? The Jayhawks might have more talent up and down the roster than any other team. Inside coach Bill Self has a legit big man in Udoka Azubuike. The 7′ 1″ junior will be more of an offensive presence with Devonte’ Graham gone. Expect Azubuike to get a lot of touches at the beginning of the season to see what problems he will cause to his opponent.
The return of LeGerald Vick and the arrival of the Lawson twins (Memphis transfers) will ease the loss of Graham, Svi Mykhailuik, and Malik Newman.
They will win the Big XII again but, as always, the Jayhawks will be judged by what they do in March.
Despite Killian Tillie’s injury, I’m putting the Zags at number two. The Bulldogs have everything you need in March including experience. Depth in the tournament can be overrated because most teams will play eight players with sprinkling in a ninth depending on the situation. This means the Zags have more than enough to be a threat.
Tillie, Zach Norvell Jr., Josh Perkins and Rui Hachimura were double digit scorers last season and will have more opportunities this season with Johnathan Williams gone. San Jose St. transfer, Brandon Clarke along with 6′ 10″ freshman, Filip Petrusev will provide enough for the Zags to be conference winners again.
Because they don’t have a player that is “the guy”, the Bulldogs get lost in the shuffle. But remember this. Villanova won two of the last three championships with a roster that was more sum-of-parts than alpha dog.
If the Bulldogs get enough perimeter shooting in March, they have a legit chance to cut down the nets.
First of all, forget about last year’s tournament loss to UMBC. If anything, that will provide even more motivation to a dangerous roster. Junior Kyle Guy should lead the Cavaliers in scoring again. Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter are poised for breakout seasons.
Too much is made out of the pack-line defense and can you win a national championship with it. It comes down to how many conversions on live ball turnovers UVA can make. If they convert their defense into more layups and easy scoring opportunities then they’ll win the national championship.
This roster is full of experience and not short of motivation. You can thank UMBC for that.