It's finally here. The college basketball that you demand. Ok, maybe some of you. A few? Anyone? The season has tipped off and is in the very early stages. Who is going to be dancing in Atlanta when this is all said and done? The Stack is here to predict all conference winners, some first teamers and attempt to pick who is going to win the national championship when March Madness is all said and done so let's get right to "the stack" for today, Friday, November 16:
This season promises to be a good one. Why? Because so many teams are legit this year. Defending national champion Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, Florida, maybe even Gonzaga? They all have national title hopes. Then you have to take a look at some of the top players in the land. Cody Zeller from Indiana is the top player in many people's eyes, but don't discount some of these other players from smaller schools like Doug McDermott from Creighton or Isaiah Canaan from Murray State. They both have great chances of winning player of the year and taking their teams deep into the tournament. More on some other players in just a little bit. Before we make some predictions on the big BCS conferences as well as the other conferences, here are some mid-majors you shouldn't sleep on:
Mid-major programs who could make some noise
Gonzaga always seems to be in discussion every of a mid-major that will really break out and have a great year. The Zags just might do it this year. They can score points in bunches. They knock down threes. This team is going to be very dangerous this year and could make a surprise Final Four run...at least that is what some of the "experts" think.
Led by Doug McDermott, who is one of the best players in the country, Creighton will ride their way to a Missouri Valley championship, but they have their sites set on better things. Last year was a little disappointing for them in the tournament. Almost only because of McDermott, I think Creighton can make the tourney and make a sweet 16 run.
New to the conference, Brad Stevens will have his guys ready. Senior point guard Chase Stigall will lead them through this conference. Are they considered mid-major anymore?
Just like Butler, new to the conference, but that won't slow the Rams down. Guard Darius Theus will help lead the charge towards a tournament birth.
Despite their head coach leaving after a big tournament run last year, the Bobcats have six seniors returning and they'll know what it takes to get back to the dance.
South Dakota State (Summit)
Nate Wolters is a legit superstar in college basketball. He averaged 20 ppg, over five rebounds and five assists last year. Only player in the country to do that. Jackrabbits look like they have another tournament run in them.
Now time for some conference previews...
For the last few years, it has been North Carolina and Duke who battle it out to win the ACC. These teams are always loaded. The Tar Heels are young, with Dexter Strickland as their lone senior. But they do have a lot of talent led by sophomore James Michael-McAdoo. They'll be in it this year just like Duke. You still have Mason Plumlee and another Plumlee brother, Marshall, has joined him. With sharp shooter Seth Curry, the Blue Devils can make a deep tournament run. Heck, they already beat Kentucky this year. However, there is a new team on the block, a new favorite. North Carolina State. Head coach Mark Gottfried put the team in great position last year in his first year on the job. They made it to the midwest regionals, losing narrowly to Kansas, but they're out to prove that's no fluke. Forward C.J. Leslie is the best player on the team, but they have plenty of talent to along with him. With three seniors on the team, they'll have the leadership to make a run at an ACC title and do big damage in March. Florida State will be good, Maryland is looking to have a nice bounceback season and there may be a few others, but UNC, Duke and NC State are the cream of the crop.
ACC winner: NC State
Total teams in the dance...6 (UNC, NC State, Duke, Florida State, Maryland & Clemson)
Looks like the A-10 took a page out of the Big 10's playbook when adding teams to the conference. They have sixteen! And some of these are some big mid-major names like Butler and VCU. They should really think about changing the name. It's going to be a competitive year in the A-10 and they will get a surprisingly big number of teams in the dance. It will take Butler and VCU a little time to get used to the style of the A-10 and the opponents. Remember, this is a step up for each school. Butler was in the Horizon last year and VCU was in the CAA. Mainly for that reason, I like Xavier this year. The brawl with Cincinnati made a big impact on this team last year and they were never able to fully recover. This year they can, and they will.
A-10 winner: Xavier
Total teams in the dance...6 (Xavier, Temple, Butler, Dayton, St. Louis & VCU)
The conference welcomes in newcomers West Virgina and TCU just as they did for football. Basketball wise, TCU won't be much, at least not this year. West Virginia will though under Bob Huggins. But they can't match Kansas' level. The Jayhawks are coming off of a somewhat surprising run to the national title game before losing to Kentucky. Fairly young with only three seniors, but I do like the tall guy Jeff Whitey. Kansas has a ton of talent, but could see Texas make a run at them. They play good defense and they too have a young team, but they will make a run. Baylor is pretty talented too. They have a lot of athletes on that squad. Don't count them out either.
Big 12 winner: Kansas
Total teams in the dance...5 (Kansas, Texas, West Virginia, Baylor & Kansas State)
This is the last year that the Big East will look this way. And by that I mean the best basketball conference in the land. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are both leaving after this year. Notre Dame will soon be joining them in the ACC as well. New ones will be coming in like Temple. So yeah, enjoy it while it lasts. Will Villanova come back this season? They were bad. So to was Pitt. I see both teams rebounding nicely. Syracuse is right up there led by Brandon Triche. Georgetown is good as well, but don't take them to win a tournament game. They've struggled in recent years. Now that head coach Steve Lavin seems to be in good health, St. John's will make a nice run as well. The team that everyone seems to have an eye on though is Louisville. Peyton Siva, Mike Marra and company are going to do some pretty outstanding things this year. Plus, remember that UCONN is banned from the postseason this year for academic reasons. It's going to be some highly entertaining basketball in the Big East this year.
Big East winner: Louisville
Total teams in the dance...9 (Pittsburgh, Villanova, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, St. John's & Syracuse)
Speaking of good basketball, the Big Ten will have it this year. They have the number one team in the country, at least right now, in Indiana. Cody Zeller is a player of the year favorite by many. A lot of people think Iowa will be the surprise team of the conference this year and they very well could be, but I don't see them making a tournament appearance yet. Northwestern, never been to the dance. Will this be the year? Eh, maybe. Michigan State is looking poised for another run. Michigan will be good too as will Minnesota in getting Trevor Mbakwe back for his final year of eligibility. His season was lost last year due to injury. With him, the Golden Gophers have a solid team. Going to be a fun year in the Big 10.
Big Ten Winner: Michigan State
Total teams in the dance...6 (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State & Wisconsin)
UCLA has a lot of buzz around them this year with their recruiting class. But will Shabazz Muhammad ever be allowed to play? He is academically ineligible at this point and some wonder if he'll ever suit up for the Bruins. Still though, this team has good pieces. So to does Arizona. Mark Lyons transferred over from Xavier to reunite with head coach Sean Miller. The team has some good players like Solomon Hill. They'll be right up there with UCLA. The rest of the Pac 12 is a toss up. I can make an argument for several teams like Washington, but they lost to Albany. Maybe Oregon makes a run. USC too. This conference is still not quite that good yet.
Pac 12 Winner: Arizona
Total teams in the dance...3 (Arizona, UCLA & Stanford)
Home to the defending national champions, Kentucky has seen another young, dominant team go, but they have reloaded. Freshman Nerlens Noel is among the best. Fellow freshman Archie Goodwin is also good. Kentucky is going to be tough to beat in the SEC this year, but if there is a team to do it, it may be Florida. Billy Donovan's squad is good. They are fast and they can shoot. Watch out for the Gators this year and Kenny Boynton. Vandy will have another solid year too as will a few other teams, but right now, it's Kentucky and Florida and everyone else.
SEC winner: Kentucky
Total teams in the dance...5 (Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M & Missouri)
American East: Albany
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Montana
Big South: UNC-Asheville
Big West: Long Beach State
CAA: Drexel (Northeastern & George Mason are fringe tournament teams)
C-USA: Memphis (One of the stronger teams in the country)
Ivy: Harvard (Academic scandal hurt this team. If not them, Brown or Columbia)
MEAC: Savannah State
Missouri Valley: Creighton (Wichita State will make the tournament as well)
Mountain West: UNLV (New Mexico makes the tournament as an at-large)
Ohio Valley: Murray State (Isaiah Canaan too much. Watch out for Belmont)
Patriot: Lehigh (C.J. McCollum rose to fame last year. He'll lead Lehigh again)
Southland: Oral Roberts
SWAC: Prairie View A&M
Summit: South Dakota State (Again, watch out for Nate Wolters)
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee (North Texas will make a run as well)
WCC: Gonzaga (BYU & St. Mary's joins them in the dance)
WAC: UT-San Antonio
Alright, the national championship prediction. Honestly, I have no idea who is going to win it this year. Last year I knew the favorites would be Kentucky and North Carolina. This year, who knows? Indiana could do it. So could Louisville. Kentucky. Kansas. Absolutely. I'm not going to put my name on this one, but the national title game will be between Louisville and Kansas and I like Louisville to win it all this year. Let me know what you think. Hope you all enjoyed it.