Kentucky is good.
If Kentucky DOESN’T win the National Championship this season, it will be the biggest upset in men’s college basketball history.
So in reality, this preview is based on who will be playing for second place this season. The #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats beat the #5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks 72-40 last night, and in reality the game wasn’t even THAT close. Kansas’ head coach, Bill Self elaborated in the postgame interview:
Kentucky has TEN players on the roster OVER 6’6″, they have FOUR players OVER 6’10”, and 9 of them are McDonald’s High School All-Americans. John Calipari has assembled the most talented, video-game all-star lineup that money can buy in the history of the NCAA.
One word to describe Kentucky: Sick
NCAA Men’s Basketball First Loser Preview
(I’m only discussing teams that are REALLY in contention for the Final Four)
University of Arizona Wildcats
Last season record: 33-5 overall, 15-3 Pac 12 record (1st place), Lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight
One word to describe the Wildcats this season: Versatile
The Wildcats have long, lengthy, athletic perimeter players (Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson), a solid returning leader for a PG (T.J. McConnell) and six players over 6’8″ tall that will all contribute big minutes. What this versatility and size gives head coach Sean Miller, is the ability to guard EVERY position on the floor, rebound the basketball with efficiency and run the floor with major athletes finishing at the rim. Arizona will be a team that can compete physically with the likes of the other HUGELY SIZED athletes at schools like Kentucky, Duke and Texas.
University of Wisconsin Badgers
Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 Big Ten (t-2nd), Lost in the Final Four to Kentucky
One word to describe the Badgers this season: Tough
The Badgers can be described as they’ve been described ever since Bo Ryan took over the program in 2001: TOUGH to beat. Every year they do the same thing, they compete for a Big Ten title and then they reach the Sweet 16 in the tournament. This season will be no different, except they have a legit POY candidate in Frank Kaminsky at the center position. Kaminsky was one of the breakout stars of last season, a seven-footer with perimeter skills and the size to overpower smaller defenders in the paint that can also step out and shoot the three pointer. Along-side Kaminsky, is fellow returner and STUD, Sam Dekker. Dekker is probably the more talented of the two, a 6-foot-9 wing with three point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and dunk on a defender.
Last Season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC (3rd), Lost to Mercer in the Round of 64
One word to describe Duke: Talent
Duke may have the most talented team Coach K has had since Jay Williams’ 2001 NCAA Championship team. That team had six NBA players on the roster and one presidential adviser (Reggie Love). This current team has at least six potential NBA players and nine McDonald’s High School All-Americans, including the pre-season NCAA All American First Teamer, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is THE REAL DEAL, he’s a legit center with back-to-the-basket skills and a feathery touch for a big man. Duke can compete with ANY team in the country athletically, including Kentucky.
University of Kansas
Last Season: 25-10, 14-4 Big 12 (1st), Lost to Stanford in the second round of NCAA Tournament
One word to describe Kansas: Consistency
Despite the tough outing against Kentucky the other night, Kansas will be a very good team this season. They are loaded at every position, literally could go two players-deep at every position. Cliff Alexander is the face of this year’s recruiting class, a powerfully athletic, 6-foot-8 forward that has that look in his eye like he might destroy a backboard or two with a HUGE dunk before the season is over. Wayne Selden is back and healthy, let’s not forget he has NBA lottery-pick talent that was overshadowed by injury and Andrew Wiggins last season. Kelly Oubre is this year’s Selden, an elite-level NBA prospect on the wing that may be the most talented player on the roster. Last but not least, Perry Ellis STILL has the name of a fashion designer specializing in boat-wear, AND he’s still playing for Kansas. Don’t let the blowout loss to Kentucky fool you, the Jayhawks will compete at the highest level yet again this season.
University of Texas
Last Season: 24-11, 11-7 Big 12 (t-3rd), Lost to Michigan in the second round of NCAA Tournament
One word to describe Texas: Huge
Texas will be as big and athletic as Kentucky this season at almost every position, they have seven players 6’8″ or bigger AND a returning PG (Isaiah Taylor) who quietly averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 assists as a freshman last season. Junior Cameron Ridley finally looked like a top ten recruit during his sophomore season while Jonathan Holmes somewhat surprisingly developed into a dangerous combo-forward that can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot. The x-factor for Texas will be Myles Turner, a top ten recruit and at 6’11” possesses some perimeter skills and outside shooting ability to go with a raw athleticism. But like most extremely tall and athletic freshman, he brings out the “if” phrase that drives fans and coaches crazy: IF he plays to his lotery-pick potential, then Texas will be very, very good.
University of North Carolina
Last Season: 24-10, 13-5 ACC (t-3rd), Lost in the Round of 32 to Iowa State
One word to describe North Carolina: Scary
North Carolina is another team circling around that scary word, “potential”. Returning starting PG Marcus Paige is a STUD, he can score, he can distribute the ball and as we saw last season several times, he can take over a game when he needs to. He should be in the conversation for the POY award this season. The question marks for the Tarheels are about Kennedy Meeks, the returning PF/C that supposedly has lost 60 pounds in the off-season. If that’s really true, his body-change could completely change the player that he was last season. He has good touch around the hoop, he battles hard underneath and if he can now run the floor a little bit, the Heels are gonna be in great shape. The Freshman stand-out and top recruit, Justin Jackson is a silky smooth 6’8″ SF that can score from everywhere on the floor. His game mirrors another great Tarheel SF from a few years ago that you may remember named Harrison Barnes. Roy Williams recruited well in the off-season, “potential talent” on this team is through the roof, but can they bring it together for a championship run? This team will stop and start with Marcus Paige.
University of Louisville
Last season: 31-6, 15-3 American (t-1st), Lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16
One word to describe Louisville: Pitino
Rick Pitino has done it again, he’s recruited his ass off and filled his roster with names you probably can’t pronounce, but by the end of the season they’ll be college basketball household names. The rim-rocking and backboard destroying Montrezl Harrell is back with even more hatred for any metal cylinder standing ten feet tall, and I’m told he’s even added a jumper to his game. He’ll do everything for this team this year, but the offense and defense will begin and end with the new PG Terry Rozier. Rozier is a 6’2″ combo guard that can do a little bit of everything, including score the basketball very well. He sat behind the ever-basketball-bipolar Russ Smith last season, but looks to announce his presence with authority this year. He’s got the ability and star potential to be a NBA lottery pick, this Louisville team will be a typical up and down, pressing, defending, athletic guard-heavy Rick Pitino-lead monster yet again.
Honorable Mention Teams To Keep an Eye on:
University of Virginia, Gonzaga University, Wichita State University, VCU, University of Florida, SMU (yeah seriously), Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Harvard University (yeah seriously) and UCLA.