The Blue Devils will begin the season as the #1 team in the country. All-American Grayson Allen (21.6 PPG), will be entering his third year and is poised to have another great year. The team will also return a key starter from the 2014-2015 championship team in Amile Jefferson, who missed the majority of last year with a foot injury. Lastly, Coach K brings in five freshmen that were ranked in the ESPN top 100 last year (Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier).
Team that will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year: Virginia Tech
In just two short years, Buzz Williams has completely changed the culture at Virginia Tech. Last year, Williams led the Hokies to a 20-win campaign. The 20 wins, which included 10 wins in the ACC, happened to be a nine game improvement from the prior year. The Hokies return a trio of talented players in Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, and Zach LeDay, all of which averaged double figures in scoring. Additionally, Williams is happy to welcome back talented guard Ahmed Hill, who missed all of last year due to injury. The Hokies look to continue on the progress they have made and return to the NCAA tournament, something they have not done since 2007.
Sleeper Team: Clemson
The month of May was full of uncertainty for head coach Brad Brownell and his staff as Clemson star forward Jaron Blossomgame was debating whether to remain in the NBA Draft or not. After weeks of waiting, Clemson got the news they were hoping for. Blossomgame, who was projected to be a late first/early second round pick, had decided to come back to school for his senior year. Having Blossomgame back, alongside guard Abry Holmes and forward Donte Grantham, make the Tigers a very dangerous team this year.
The issue for Clemson last season was inconsistency. Although they had big wins against ranked teams such as Miami (FL), Duke, and Louisville, the bad losses are what ultimately kept the Tigers out of the postseason. If they can become more of a consistent team this year, Brad Brownell and company will be back in the NCAA Tournament, ending a five-year absence.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the ACC: (10) Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Head coach Bill Self has won 12 straight regular season conference championships. It is hard to imagine Self will not make it 13. The Jayhawks welcome 5-star recruit Josh Jackson. He will help add to the firepower the Jayhawks already have, which include stars Devonte Graham and Frank Mason.
Sleeper Team: Baylor
Although Baylor lost Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, the Bears still return some key players in Jonathan Motley and Ishmael Wainright. Not to mention, the Bears welcome sharpshooting point guard Manu Lecomte, a talented transfer guard from Miami (FL) who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer regulations. Head coach Scott Drew has led Baylor to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and will certainty make it four.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the Big 12: (6) Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia.
The defending national champions will look to repeat their magical run from last season. Chris Jenkins and Josh Hart could have departed for the NBA draft, but decided to come back for their senior seasons. Head coach Jay Wright also returns a number of key players from last year, including starting point guard Jaylen Brunson. The Wildcats will be hard to take down. Expect them to be playing their basketball when it matters most.
Team that will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year: Creighton
Head coach Greg McDermott looks to build on a successful NIT run. The Bluejays look to return back to the NCAA tournament and will be led by senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr (14.1 PPG & 6.5 APG).
Sleeper Team: Providence
After a third straight NCAA tournament appearance, Ed Cooley lost star guard Kris Dunn to the NBA draft. Cooley would also lose Ben Bentil (21.1 PPG) to the draft. This was a major blow to the Friars. Although it will be a tall task for the Friars to make the tournament this year, I just cannot imagine an Ed Cooley coached team not being competitive. The Friars return a trio of talented players in Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey, and Kyron Cartwright. Do not be surprised if they are in the thick of things in the Big East come March.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the Big East: (5) Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, Villanova, Xavier
Wisconsin got off to a shaky start last year. In December, legendary coach Bo Ryan decided to retire. The keys were handed to then associate head coach Greg Gard. After an impressive couple of months on the job, Greg Gard was then named the head coach permanently. The Badgers were able to finish the season strong, make the NCAA tournament, and reach the sweet 16. The Badgers are looking to make that next push and hope to make it back to the Final Four. They will be led by two key seniors in Bronson Koenig and All-American candidate Nigel Hayes.
Sleeper Team: Ohio State
A poor start to the season last year is what eventually cost Thad Matta and his team a bid to the NCAA tournament. This marked the first time the Buckeyes did not reach the tournament since 2008. Even though they failed to make the tournament, they were able to win more than 20 games, including 11 conference wins. The Buckeyes will return a trio of key players in Jae’Sean Tate (11.7 PPG), JaQuan Lyle (11.2 PPG), and Kam Williams (8.3 PPG). If the Buckeyes are able to avoid an early season slump like last year, look for them to return back to the NCAA tournament.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten:
(7) Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
New year, same story for John Calipari and Kentucky as they lose several underclassmen (Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Skal Labissière) to the NBA draft. On the bright side, the Wildcats welcome key players in Isaiah Briscoe (9.6 PPG) and high-flying forward Derek Willis (7.7 PPG). Additionally, Calipari brings in five talented freshmen that were ranked in the ESPN Top 100 last year (Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones). Look for Kentucky to repeat as conference champions and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Team that will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year: Florida
Experience is big in college basketball. After 21-win campaign and successful NIT run, head coach Mike White returns five key players in Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, and John Egbunu. Additionally, the Gators add graduate transfer Canyon Barry, who average a little under than 13 points a game during his career at College of Charleston.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the SEC: (5) Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
After a successful Elite 8 run, head coach Dana Altman hopes his team takes that next step. The Ducks will lean heavily on junior forward Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG).
Team that will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year: UCLA
Head coach Steve Alford is on the hot seat and he knows it. If UCLA were to miss the tournament again, it could mean bad news for Alford. The good news? The Bruins return seniors Isaac Hamilton (16.8 PPG) and Bryce Alford (16.1 PPG). Additionally, coach Alford adds prized recruit Lonzo Ball. The Bruins should back in the tournament this year.
Teams that will make the NCAA Tournament from the PAC 12: (6) Arizona, California, Oregon, Southern California, UCLA, Washington
3 Mid-Majors to watch
Matt McCall, one of the best young head coaches in the country, looks to build on a very successful first year, which included 29 wins. A group of veterans return for the Mocs. They will the favorites to win the SoCon Conference and are poised to make it back to back NCAA tournament appearances.
Not winning the MAAC tournament costed Monmouth from reaching the NCAA tournament. Regardless, the Hawks should have still made it as an at-large bid due to their big wins against high-major powers and overall record. Head coach King Rice returns a core group of players, led by senior guard Justin Robinson (19.2 PPG). The Hawks are poised to have another great year, but are probably going to have to win their conference tournament in order to get into the big dance.
- Rhode Island
When head coach Dan Hurley lost star guard E.C. Matthews last year due to injury, the season seemed to be doomed. However, Hurley lead the Rams to a 9-9 conference record in a very competitive A-10 conference. The team also finished with a record above .500. Having Matthews back this year, alongside several key returners, makes the Rams one of the A-10 favorites. The Rams should be back in the NCAA tournament this year and will be a tough out once in it.
Pick to win the NCAA Tournament:
Duke is the popular choice by many. With all the veterans they have returning, plus the incoming freshmen, some of which are likely to be “one and done”, make the Blue Devils one of the deepest, if not the deepest team in the country. Some are considering this to be Coach K’s best team ever at Duke and that is saying something.