Tonight marks the tip-off of the 2017-18 college basketball season. After an offseason that was shrouded in scandal, from the FBI’s bombshell accusations to three players being arrested in a foreign country, the sport and its fans can’t wait for the attention to turn to actual games. Ahead of the welcome return to competitive basketball, The Sports Fan Journal brings you a number of tidbits to get you set for your college basketball journey.
The Return of Miles Bridges
Michigan State’s explosive forward passed up a sure selection in the NBA Draft lottery after averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds last season. Instead he returns to school and instantly jumps to the forefront of National Player of the Year leaderboards while making the Spartans an early Final Four favorite. The highlight reel plays he is likely to provide on the way are worth your attention.
A Step Up For the Shockers
Wichita State’s move to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) is one of those deals that works out for everyone involved. After dominating the Missouri Valley Conference over the past four seasons with a 68-4 conference record, the Shockers get to showcase themselves against bigger brands like UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU and Temple.
Meanwhile, the AAC adds a powerhouse that is a shoo-in for an NCAA berth. Wichita State returns its top eight scorers from a team that went 31-5. The battles with Cincinnati should be epic.
Beware of a Kentucky Stumble
Everyone is used to the pattern at Kentucky. Land a top recruiting class, win a bunch of games, lose most of the roster to the NBA, repeat. John Calipari has mastered this one-and-done routine. But this year is a bit different. In addition to the eight heralded freshmen, Kentucky rosters just one returning player who averaged more than 10 minutes per game. That player is Wenyen Gabriel, who parlayed his 17.8 minutes into 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.
The last time the Wildcats suffered that kind of attrition? 2012. The result? A trip to the NIT.
Kentucky is loaded with talent and is experienced in dealing with roster turnover. They should be in the NCAA Tournament. But don’t expect a cake walk to the SEC title.
This year’s Big Dance could have a decidedly Texas feel. As many as eight programs from the Lone Star State have legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations. Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Texas A&M, UT Arlington, Stephen F. Austin and Texas Southern all have their eyes set on an invite to the Big Dance.
Contenders Lurking in the Big East
Villanova has dominated the Big East since the league restructured. The Wildcats enter the season as the favorites to win a fifth-straight regular season conference title. But their path will be a difficult one. The return of Trevon Bluiett catapults Xavier to the top of the contenders list. Behind the Musketeers, two very intriguing teams lie in wait.
Seton Hall has one of the best trios in the country in Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and double-double machine, Angel Delgado. Meanwhile Providence has quietly been to four straight NCAA tournaments and return a talented core of Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, Alpha Diallo, Emmitt Holt and Jalen Lindsey. Don’t be surprised to see the Pirates and the Friars pushing Villanova and Xavier.
Speaking of Providence…
Head coach Ed Cooley is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. The run of four straight Tournament appearances becomes even more impressive when you consider the program lost two players to the NBA following the 2015-16 campaign. The Friars were expected to take a major step back, but instead they returned to the Big Dance. What Cooley has been able to do at a small, private school in Rhode Island, in terms of both recruiting and consistent success, is admirable. Perhaps if the Friars are able to escape the first weekend of the tournament this season, more people will take note of the job Cooley has done.
The Other End of the Big East Spectrum
Once-mighty Georgetown has fallen on hard times, and the Big East just doesn’t feel the same. In desperate need of a change, the Hoyas went back to the well of their greatest glory and hired Patrick Ewing. The hire has the makings of a feel-good story: a prodigal son returns to carry the program back to the heights he had helped them achieve so many years ago. Ewing has paid his dues working the assistant ranks in the NBA, and is more than deserving of a shot as a head man.
But he takes over an almost impossible situation, and it will be interesting to see how much leeway he is given by the Georgetown faithful as he undertakes a multi-year rebuild.
Kansas, Kansas, Kansas!
It seems we enter every college basketball season talking about Kansas. That’s because we do, and with good reason. The Jayhawks look to win a Division I-record 14th-straight conference title this season, and there is no reason to believe they won’t do it. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman give Kansas one of the best backcourts in the country. The duo will get plenty of help from LaGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk. An inexperienced frontcourt poses some questions, but all signs point to the Jayhawks continuing their record run.
The road to March is a long one, but it’s never too early to take a peek ahead. Keep an eye on these six teams this season, and you may have a leg up on your opponents when it’s time to fill out your bracket. Middle Tennessee State, Ball State, St. Bonaventure, Iona, Oakland, and Florida Gulf Coast.
What to Make of the ACC?
The ACC is used to garnering headlines, and this season is no different. The tone, however, has changed. Instead of wondering whether the league can earn double-digit NCAA bids, teams are facing questions that could lead to a shakeup in the standings. Duke and North Carolina lead the way, anchoring the conference as legit national title contenders. But from there things get a bit murky.
Top challenger Louisville finds itself at the center of the FBI investigation and with a new head coach. Florida State lost its top three scorers. Virginia must replace London Perrantes, but should have enough to remain a threat. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has his most talented team yet, but some have connected the Hurricanes with the FBI investigation as well. Virginia Tech returns three double-figure scorers and could look to take advantage of the chaos. And Bonzie Colson is a National Player of the Year candidate who will look to power Notre Dame up the ACC standings. The questions only add to the intrigue in this always fascinating conference, and despite the uncertainty the ACC should battle the Big 12 for the best conference in the country top-to-bottom.
Meanwhile, Out West…
The Pac-12 is dealing with plenty of questions of its own. A top-heavy league with three teams that have big-time expectations, the conference was unable to avoid the offseason maelstrom. Arizona, USC and UCLA all had dreams of deep March runs. But both Arizona and USC had assistant coaches who were charged by the FBI, while three UCLA freshman were arrested in China. The problems at UCLA are likely to have the most immediate ramifications, as the three players involved have serious legal issues in addition to any school-issued punishment.
At Arizona and USC, the worst of the problems could still be down the road, but Arizona has already lost the commitment of Jahvon Quinerly while USC has lost J’Raan Brooks. While further recruiting attrition and legal and NCAA ramifications could be coming, the Wildcats and Trojans will have this cloud hanging over them the entire season.
On a Lighter Note…
Man, that Pac-12 stuff really sucked the fun out of the room, didn’t it? Let’s end on a lighter note, with a look at some of the best uniform updates for the coming season.
New home whites for Tulane. Old version on left, new on right. Full reveal (more photos, video, etc.) to follow on Friday. pic.twitter.com/Wk2Tli6C7h
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 6, 2017
New gray, white, and gold uniforms for Maryland-Baltimore County. Old white uni on left, new designs on right. pic.twitter.com/mD8Q4wrLql
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 4, 2017
New throwbacks for Xavier. Old white version on left, new white version in center, plus newly added blue throwback on right. pic.twitter.com/y2O2Tm6SUO
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) October 16, 2017
Well, we’re 1,300 words in and have only begun to scratch the surface of the 2017-18 college basketball season. There’s plenty more we could talk about, and the story lines will only continue to grow and evolve as the season progresses. So please stay with TSFJ throughout the season for everything you need to know about college hoops, and enjoy the ride. After this offseason, you’ve earned it!
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.