1. Champions Classic Teams
The NCAA does a great job pitting top tier talent on the court going against each other to open the season. Because of such a long regular season, losing these games really doesn’t matter so playing them is only just a huge benefit for the fans. This season we have Michigan State Vs Kansas and Duke Vs Kentucky. Michigan State will be led by Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, two experienced players that should provide experience for a Spartans team that loses Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges. Kansas should be one of the most exciting teams in the country, as well as one of the best. The Jayhawks have Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson at the guard position, both of whom are very explosive and crazy athletes that can help get the ball to their studs down low in Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike. Duke and Kentucky are also the two most talented teams in terms of future NBA talent in the country. Duke is headlined by the top three players in the class of 2018, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish. Barrett is a smooth scorer who gave USA basketball their first loss in years by scoring 38 points in a huge upset. Zion Williamson will be the most crazy player to watch in years, but what makes me love him is the opposite to what casual fans will see. Many people will fascinate about his dunking ability, but what I’m intrigued with Zion is his body structure, as we haven’t seen anybody really built like him in a long time. Zion is also a very underrated ball handler and an elite decision maker for his position. If Zion plays some small ball center, I don’t see any way he gets bullied down low, the man is simply too strong and vertically explosive. Cam Reddish is someone who will be polarizing for me. He sometimes shows that he has a unique offensive skill set that can compete with anyone in the class. Tre Jones will be another player to watch because his high IQ and ability to get the ball to the other stars will be crucial for Duke to have consistent success on offense. Kentucky is loaded, I cannot wait to see their lineup depth and the creative ability that John Calipari will be able to put on the floor. I am worried that Coach Cal won’t use the uniqueness of his roster to his advantage enough and do some really cool things, but that roster is stacked. Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are probably the primary ball handlers this season, and while I don’t like Quade at all and Hagans needs to develop a jump shot, they are all talented basketball players. Kentucky does really only have two wing type players, and I think this could be a reason why they don’t have a ton of defensive success and the ability to switch. These two wings are Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Johnson is one of the best athletes in the class and should be a great transition player and Herro is a classic Kentucky shooter, his ability to move off ball and create his own shot will provide so much value to Kentucky this season. During their trip to the Bahamas he shot the ball amazingly and proved that he could be the guy during end of game scenarios. Kentucky really gets awesome when you look at their big man units, with Reid Travis, PJ Washington, EJ Montgomery, and Nick Richards will make Kentucky arguably the deepest frontcourt unit in the country. Travis, a Stanford transfer will give Kentucky an experienced player to help out all of the young Cats this season but Travis is a baller himself, he won’t just be a locker room presence. PJ Washington was not great last season but his off season development was incredible. In the Bahamas he dominated and looked like a completely new player. If he can translate this improvement to the regular season he could become a first round draft pick. I was a little disappointed that Montgomery decided to go to Kentucky because I’m not sure that he’s going to get the playing time and usage to fully show off his skills, but he is still a ridiculously athletic 6’10 player who can protect the rim and rim run offensively. Richards was one of the most harmful players in the nation last season, but with a complete offseason Calipari should have figured out a way to make him not completely ruin their team’s success.
2. The Best on the West
I love the fact that the two best teams on the west coast are Gonzaga and Nevada, both of these teams are going to be joys to watch. Gonzaga has one of the most complete rosters in the country, despite missing stud Killian Tillie for the first eight weeks of the season. Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, and Rui Hachimura will all provide winning experience and a standard for the younger players and transfer Brandon Clarke to live up to. Nevada is also awesome, I’ve never seen a non high major have the depth that the Wolfpack will have this season. It is ironic because coach Eric Musselman can literally send his team on in packs and dominate offensively; the amount of offensive talent on the team this season is absurd. Nevada returns the Martin brothers, Lindsey Drew, and Jordan Caroline. The Pack also add Tre’Shawn Thurman who averaged 13.8 PPG at Omaha. Jalen Harris is a transfer from Louisiana Tech who scored 15.3 PPG. Corey Henson is coming in from Wagner where he scored 14.6 PPG. Nisre Zouzoua also comes in Bryant where he scored 20.3 PPG. Jojo Anderson is transferring in from Northern Arizona where he scored 11.1 PPG. Trey Porter is coming from Old Dominion where he scored 13.2 PPG. Jazz Johnson is coming from Portland where he scored 15.8 PPG. Oh and Jordan Brown is a top 35 recruit who played at one of the top schools in the nation and dominated. I literally cannot wait to watch this team because the scoring possibilities are endless, if they can learn to share the ball they will be one of the best offenses in the nation.
3. Vandy Being Relevant Again
If you didn’t know, I am a diehard Vanderbilt Commodores fan. Being one of these fans has been rough the past couple seasons but I am stoked for this upcoming season. With Darius Garland and Simi Shittu joining the program, the talent in Nashville is as high as it has been since the team that had three top 31 draft picks. Garland is a hometown hero who will be one of the best freshman point guards in the country, his shot off the dribble is already elite and his passing ability is very advanced for his age. Shittu will be more of a project because he is coming off a serious knee injury, but he is an awesome modern big man. Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith will also give the Commodores some much needed offensive creation after losing lots of guard scoring from last years team.
4. Freshman Making a Name
Obviously freshman are typically the biggest stars in the NCAA and this season will be no different. Besides the players I’ve already highlighted, some of my favorite freshman to watch this season will be Nassir Little (North Carolina), Bol Bol (Oregon), Romeo Langford (Indiana), Naz Reid (LSU), Coby White (North Carolina), Taeshon Cherry (Arizona State), David Duke (Providence), and Jordan Mccabe (West Virginia). All of these players will provide a new spark to college basketball and should make the season very exciting.
5. Northeast Ohio Studs
I am a Cleveland native and the past season absolutely loved watching some of the elite talent from around my area compete in person. Watching these players at the next level will be awesome because I watched these guys in person throughout their high school career. Some of the players I’m most excited about from Ohio are Sincere Carry (Duquesne), Christian Guess (Missouri), Dwayne Cohill (Dayton), Jerry Higgins (The Citadel), Michael Bothwell (Furman), Pete Nance (Northwestern), and Jerome Hunter (Indiana) (played in Columbus but watched him in person when he came to Cleveland). Seeing players grow from high school to college will be one of the coolest experiences for me and one I will truly start to appreciate this college basketball season.
6. The 2232 Club
I’m pretty sure nobody is going to understand this reference, but it is to Mike Daum and Chris Clemons, these two players have been scoring machines and have amazingly scored the exact same amount of points throughout their careers with 2232 points. Daum is the more well known player of the two. The Summit league stud was a probable candidate to be a graduate transfer but he decided to stay at the school that he has had all much success in his career and he will try and lead his team to a cinderella run this March. Clemons is a 5’9 point guard with crazy explosiveness, and I’m getting the opportunity to see him in person on Monday November 12th when Campbell travels to Athens, Ohio to take on the Bobcats. If you want to know my detailed opinions of Clemons follow me on twitter @mikerothou because I’ll be doing a full player profile to preview the game.
7. Mid Major Studs
Mid major players are always fun to watch and this season there seems to be slightly more star mid major individual players that should make the season even more fun. Some of the top mid major guys that I haven’t already highlighted are Ja Morant (Murray State), Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky), D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State), Seth Towns (Harvard), Kellan Grady (Davidson), Jon Elmore (Marshall), Fletcher Magee (Wofford), and John Konchar (Fort Wayne).
8. Returning Stars
Obviously college basketball storylines are sometimes ran by Freshman, but typically in March the experienced teams have had the tournament success, this season has a little less star power returning, but as always there are some amazing players back in CBB. My favorite returners that I haven’t already mentioned are Carsen Edwards (Purdue) Grant Williams (Tennessee) Tremont Waters (LSU) Markus Howard (Marquette) Eric Paschall (Villanova) Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State) Daniel Gafford (Arkansas) De’Andre Hunter (Virginia) and Jarrett Culver. (Texas Tech)
One of the most amazing plays in sports is a monster poster dunk, and college basketball is no stranger to players with crazy athleticism. I already talked about Zion Williamson in detail, but not at least mentioning him in this part of the story would be criminal. Some other freshman who should be on some crazy highlight videos are Kevin Porter Jr (USC), Emmitt Williams (LSU), Mac McClung (Georgetown), Taevon Kinsey (Marshall), and Marlon Taylor (LSU). Remember these guys are all Class of 2018 freshmen, so this list doesn’t even count some of the top returning dunkers that will be back flying all over college basketball courts.
Obviously I’m a huge CFB and NFL handicapper but I’m very excited for CBB to return, to finish this article I’m posting my picks for the opening night of CBB.
Rider At UCF -7
North Carolina At Wofford over 159
Michigan State At Kansas -5 under 156
Fairfield At Purdue -20
Alabama A&M +14.5 At USF
Unc Wilmington At Campbell over 156.5
Louisiana Tech +10 At Wichita State
Grand Canyon +10.5 At South Dakota State
Purdue Fort Wayne +13.5 At UCLA
UMBC At Marquette -17.5