It's been 256 days, seven long months since our last college basketball game. But as we've now hit November 25th, it's official: College hoops has... ARRIVED.
With the season now here, I've been rolling out preview content all week long, including yesterday, where I listed my All-American teams.
Now it's time to make my official Final Four and national championship selections:
I can't claim to be great at many things, but one thing I'm weirdly good at, is picking one out of no where team in the college hoops preseason.
Last year I had Baylor in my preseason Final Four, when they were ranked 18th in the preseason polls. They ended up spending five weeks at No. 1 in the country and would have been a No. 1 seed had the NCAA Tournament been played. The year before I picked Auburn to make the Final Four - and they did. The year before that I picked Xavier in the preseason, and ended up as a No. 1 seed.
So yeah, the track record is there. And this year, that team for me is West Virginia.
The Mountaineers will never be the most aesthetically sexy team, but with Oscar Tschiebwe and Derek Culver down low, they just beat teams up, and I think their scoring will be improved this year as Miles McBride gets more comfortable at the college level.
Bob Huggins has publicly said this fall that this is his best team since the Mountaineers' Final Four squad of 2010. And who I am to doubt Huggy Bear?
I know, I know, to the non-Kentucky fans out there, you think this team is overhyped and under delivers come tournament time. Here are the facts though:
From 2010-2015, the Wildcats made four Final Fours and won a national championship. And in the last three NCAA Tournament's played, they lost in overtime in the Elite Eight in 2019, were a missed foul shot or two away from beating Kansas State in the Sweet 16, where they would've played Loyola (IL) to go to the Final Four (2018), and were a buzzer beater away from going to the Final Four in 2017, before Luke Maye's miracle.
So yeah, this team has been knocking on the door to get back to the last weekend of the season for years, and I think this is the year. This is arguably John Calipari's most talented team top to bottom since 2015 (when they started 38-0) and certainly his deepest. It has the chance to be his best defensive team as well.
I'm in on the Wildcats.
Out of every team in college basketball, no team has seemingly cared less about coronavirus and more about setting up quality games than the Zags. They open with Kansas on Thanksgiving Day and played Auburn, West Virginia (who replaces Tennessee on their schedule), Baylor and Iowa before the end of December.
That's four legitimate Top 15 teams on the schedule in the first month.
I bring all this up only to say that I believe Mark Few did this because he knows he has a team good enough to win a title, and wants to set up resume to prove it in the coming months.
With the deepest backcourt in America (Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Jalen Suggs, Andrew Nembhard) and size down low, this might be the best Gonzaga team of all-time.
I mean, Villanova own 24 games last season and returns everyone from that roster except for Saddiq Bey. While Bey is an admittedly big piece, there is no team that returns more, off a really good team than the Wildcats.
Not much else to be said other than that this team returns four different players who averaged double-figures last year, add a big-time transfer (Caleb Daniels) and have two legitimate All-American candidates in Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Villanova is going to be REALLY good this year.
On my podcast Monday, I flipped and flopped between Gonzaga and Villanova, but ultimately ended up on the Zags.
I already went through it up top, but this is a team that is not only built to win a national title, but handling themselves like it. They have guys who could have gone to the NBA (Kispert, Ayayi) and another who could've gone to the G-League (Suggs) but they're all in Spokane to win a title.
Gonzaga is my 2021 national champion.
Let the games begin