Bold predictions: Some college court vision on display
Yes, ESPN has asked me to write another round of preseason Bold Predictions.
Of course, I’ve earned this opportunity.
I’m the same guy who steered the masses in the right direction when I ranked Michigan 15th in my Sweet 16 reseeding piece last year. Yeah, Michigan reached the national title game, and the bottom four teams in my rankings all advanced, but I was close. So close.
And last year’s Bold Predictions for the NCAA tournament nailed the ACC’s absence from the Final Four. Sure, the other nine predictions were wrong, but we’re all about effort.
This is another attempt to tell you about the 2018-19 season before it happens. If my track record or success is any indicator, you’ll be the smartest person in the room when you rattle off these predictions.
Here are my Bold Predictions for the 2018-19 season:
1. Zion Williamson will win the Wooden Award, lock up the No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft: Check out the preseason All-American teams and you won’t find Williamson’s name. He’s not even the best NBA prospect on his team. RJ Barrett is the projected No. 1 pick in ESPN’s 2019 mock draft and Williamson is slotted at No. 3. The high-flying freshman and mixtape legend will play a vital role for the Blue Devils this season, but he’s so much more than a highlight reel. He can handle the ball and he can defend in space. Around the rim, he’s unstoppable. But his versatility and physical advantages will propel him into the national player of the year conversation and the top spot in next summer’s NBA draft.
2. Kansas will reach the Final Four, Bill Self will take an NBA job after the season: Last summer, Self told ESPN.com he doesn’t want to coach past the age of 60. He’ll turn 56 in December. And he made that statement before he was connected to the ongoing FBI corruption investigation that has rocked the sport. He has the potential to win another national title with a unique squad that features Dedric Lawson, a 6-9 forward as a point forward and a top-10 recruiting class. He’ll take that squad to the last stage of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. And then, Self will hear from an NBA team that will make him an offer he can’t refuse. At Big 12 media day, he said he won’t run from the FBI drama. He can’t. But he can end his NCAA career, head to the NBA and leave some of the drama behind.
3. The SEC player of the year won’t come from Kentucky, Tennessee or Auburn: The stacked conference is filled with candidates who don’t hail from those top-25 programs. Tennessee’s Grant Williams is the league’s reigning player of the year, and Kentucky and Auburn both possess players who could capture that honor, too. But look for this season’s SEC POY to come from this pool of players: LSU’s Tremont Waters, Alabama’s Tevin Mack, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, Florida’s Jalen Hudson or Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland.
4. Nevada will go undefeated during the regular season: It’s not a crazy idea. Nevada returns Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and Caleb Martin. Plus, the squad will add five-star freshman Jordan Brown. Eric Musselman’s squad failed to manufacture a top-100 defense last year and that could prove to be a key challenge again for a team that lost a healthy lead in a loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16. But one of the most talented offensive teams in America has the talent and the favorable schedule to enter the NCAA tournament with an unblemished resume.
5. The state of Wisconsin will have more All-Americans than the entire Pac-12: Look for Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (17.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.1 BPG) and Marquette’s Markus Howard (20.4 PPG, 40.4 percent from the 3-point line) to secure All-American nods this season. The Pac-12 might not produce any players who earn All-American recognition. Bol Bol and Louis King, both Oregon freshmen, have a chance but no guarantees.
6. Archie Miller will win a slice of the Big Ten title in his second season: Indiana isn’t a flawless program. But five-star freshman Romeo Langford and standout Juwan Morgan comprise a potent duo. Yes, Miller’s team has challenges with depth, point guard play and defense. But the Big Ten is filled with uncertainty this season. The top of the league, at this point in the preseason, looks solid but not remarkable. Without a juggernaut in this league, Langford will be the difference for an improved Hoosiers squad that shares a piece of the Big Ten pie at the end of the season.
7. Chris Mack will win national coach of the year after leading Louisville back to the NCAA tournament: The hype about Mack surrounds his 2019 recruiting class, a group currently ranked No. 1 on ESPN.com. But Cardinals fans won’t have to wait that long to see Mack showcase his coaching prowess. The Cardinals lost four of the five top scorers from a team that was on the bubble in the final weeks of last season and probably one fluky finish against Virginia from earning a berth. With V.J. King and other respectable returnees on the roster, however, Mack will guide the Cardinals to the NCAA tournament and win every meaningful coach of the year award before welcoming the top recruiting class in the country next season.
8. No top-25 recruit will accept the G-League’s $125,000 offer: The NBA’s minor league will attempt to lure elite prospects with a six-figure offer and vague promises of a development plan that will prepare them for the pros. Here’s what the best players in America know: The blue bloods they’re considering have better resources, coaching and facilities than the G-League squads that want them. That’s why all of them will pick college.
9. Sagaba Konate will set new NCAA record with 17 blocks in a game: Alabama A&M’s Mickell Gladness set the mark with 16 blocks in a single game in 2007. But he also played before small-ball and 3-point shooting dominated the landscape. Still, West Virginia’s Konate had three games last season with seven blocks or more. He was also No. 2 on KenPom.com’s block rate chart. And with Jevon Carter’s departure, teams might do a better job of breaking WVU’s press and getting to the rim against the Mountaineers. That’s where Konate will be waiting. This season, Konate will set a new mark for blocks in a game.
10. No Big Ten team will reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament: I know the Big Ten has a bunch of good teams. But none are great. And few leagues have lost as much as the Big Ten has. Miles Bridges, Mo Wagner, Vincent Edwards, Tony Carr, Keita Bates-Diop and other stars are gone. The league’s national title drought — no Big Ten team has won a national title since Michigan State in 2000 — will continue.
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