Tuesday night officially marks the start of the greatest time of year: The start of college hoops season.
And while I’ve already spent an insane amount of time both writing about the season ahead and talking about it on my podcast, the one thing I haven’t done is put my official picks on the record.
So after sharing my Final Four, National Player of the Year and National Championship picks on the podcast over the weekend, I decided to put them all down on paper here.
And below are my Final Four, National Player of the Year, and national title picks for the season:
Michigan State: Michigan State starts the season as the No. 1 team in every major poll, with the best player in college hoops (Cassius Winston) and is coming off a Final Four berth, so this is a relative no-brainer. Nothing is guaranteed in college hoops. But it would shock absolutely no one if Tom Izzo ended up in the ninth Final Four of his career this spring, and potentially took home his second title as well.
Louisville: On the opposite spectrum is Chris Mack, who has never made a Final Four. Still, this Louisville team reminds me a lot of Mack’s team at Xavier two years ago, the one that ended up as a No. 1 seed and Big East regular season champs. It has a legit star (Jordan Nwora), other veterans around him (Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch) and a bunch of freshmen ready to jump in and contribute (Samuell Williamson, David Johnson). Because of injuries this team might not look the part in November, but they have the goods to get to the final weekend in March.
(By the way, if you missed it, Chris Mack joined the podcast this summer. To hear him preview the season ahead, click here)
Kentucky: Like Louisville, I’m not sure that Kentucky will look elite right away. With a constant turnover of new players it always takes a little while for John Calipari to figure things out, but we all know that Coach Cal does in fact always figure it out and have his team peaking in March. The facts speak for themselves. In 10 years at Kentucky, Calipari has eight Sweet 16’s, seven Elite Eight’s and four Final Fours. Those are just insane, insane numbers. Give it time, but I expect Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery and others to develop. And for the Wildcats to be playing on the final weekend of the season.
Baylor: I already know what you’re thinking: “Baylor? Baylor? AT are you serious?” You’re darn right I’m serious. And after correctly picking Auburn to make the Final Four last preseason (seriously, here is the tweet) I’m taking the Bears to make it this year. Keep in mind, Baylor finished fourth in the Big 12 last year, and did it after their best player (Tristan Clark) got hurt mid-season. This year they return Clark and six of their top nine scorers overall and add two big-time transfers. Scott Drew has already been to the Elite Eight twice in his career. This year I expect him to get one step further.
National Player of the Year: Cole Anthony, North Carolina
Cassius Winston is the best player in college basketball, but the award doesn’t always go to the best player. One, much like Tua Tagovailoa in football, I believe there’s going to be a “burnout factor” with Winston – we spent all off-season talking about him, and the media will want something new and fresh to talk about. Well, what is newer and fresher than a freshman, who is the son of a famous NBA player, playing a blue blood (North Carolina), that will have the ball in hands and be asked to do just about everything?
Nothing, which brings me to the point I brought up on my podcast Sunday: For whatever reason, ESPN loves – LOVES – taking one player and overhyping the hell out of him. It happened last year with Zion Williamson (even if the hype was justified), the year before with Trae Young and the year before that with Lonzo Ball.
This year it will be Anthony.
And the combination of insane stats on a historical power, and the push by ESPN to find a star in this sport will result in Anthony ending up as National Player of the Year.
(Others I’d keep an eye on: Winston, Markus Howard (Marquette) and Devon Dodson (Kansas))
National Champion: Michigan State
Look, the Final Four is still months away, but we all know college basketball is a sport dominated by teams full of upperclassmen. Virginia last year, Villanova in previous years, North Carolina, you name it.
The Spartans have the most upper-class experience of any major contender in the sport, and the most tournament experience as well.
Therefore, while it’s totally predictable and boring, I like Michigan State to cut down the nets in Atlanta next spring.