It's November. Everybody's got college basketball predictions.
"Bold" ones are easy to make, too. All one has to do is throw out an inflammatory comment guaranteed to skewer a vocal fanbase's sacred cows and wait for the clicks and comments to roll in.
"Kentucky's Fabulous Freshmen Will Make Another NIT." There, my work is done.
Never mind the fact that I don't believe for a moment that such a thing is true. The whole point is to be BOLD!
See, there's a distinction between bold and crazy. Bold predictions can at least be supported. With all that said, check out a few of this writer's ideas about the forthcoming season. You'll all think at least one of them is crazy.
For all the hype about Kentucky's spectacular freshman class, it's easy to forget that the SEC not only has 13 other teams, but that some of those teams recruited very well.
While Julius Randle, the Harrison twins and James Young try to divvy up the possessions in a way that keeps everyone happy, some of their conference classmates walk into situations that demand immediate responsibility.
Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis (pictured) grew up in Little Rock, and he knows what the Hogs teams of the past have accomplished. The goal, as he told the Arkansas Traveler, is to be "recognized as one of the greatest Razorbacks of all time." He's starting quickly, as he recorded a double-double in the first half of Arkansas' first exhibition game.
At LSU, talk of the NCAA tournament is flying fast and thick. Part of the optimism is the frontcourt pairing of junior big man Johnny O'Bryant with McDonald's All-American Jarell Martin. Martin is the Tigers' most versatile offensive option, capable of scoring inside against wings and outside against big men. If he leads a tournament team in scoring, he'll draw Freshman of the Year votes.
When Florida signed point guard Kasey Hill, it didn't think it would need to start him immediately. Now, with Scottie Wilbekin reinstated for practice but not games, Hill will be the floor general when the Gators tip off against North Florida on Friday.
Florida coach Billy Donovan says Wilbekin still has work to do to be fully reinstated. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter is recovering from a broken leg. It all adds up to Kasey Hill needing to make plays from his very first game. If he can keep UF near its preseason Top 10 perch, his leadership alone will draw award consideration.
All three of those budding stars can win the SEC's top rookie honor while the baby Wildcats split shots—and votes.
Excitement should be building on Rocky Top for the 2013-14 Tennessee basketball season. In the SEC, though, it's usually hard to tell until football season's over.
The duo pictured, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, has played all of 17 games together since Stokes joined the program in December of 2011. Maymon's return from a knee injury will fully unleash Stokes, who was hardened by a season of relentless double-teams as a sophomore.
UT augments a strong returning core, including All-SEC first-teamer Jordan McRae, with talented newcomers like freshman Robert Hubbs and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton.
Compare the Vols to Florida. The Gators also return decorated veterans like Patric Young and Will Yeguete while adding Division I transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris. Talented freshmen Kasey Hill and expected December enrollee Chris Walker are also a big reason for optimism in Gainesville.
Now, consider the discipline problems brewing at UF. The Scottie Wilbekin suspension was mentioned previously. Harris and Finney-Smith will miss at least one regular-season game with their own team rules violations. Any further issues with those players will deprive Florida of some key pieces.
Injuries are also rearing their heads with the Gators. In addition to the previously noted Carter, Yeguete is recovering from offseason knee surgery and shooting specialist Michael Frazier is battling mononucleosis.
If any of these issues linger long into the regular season, Florida fans may find that their team is much closer to the SEC's chasing pack than to the presumptive lead dogs (Cats?) from Lexington, Ky.
Meanwhile, conference foes like Tennessee wait to pounce.
Andrew Wiggins is expected to do everything for Kansas short of broker world peace, cure cancer and raise Phog Allen and Wilt Chamberlain from the dead. Even suggesting that he will score a mere 20 points per game can draw derision from Jayhawk fans unprepared to admit that "Maple Jordan" might be mortal.
So what, then, will be made of the idea that Wiggins will not only fall short of 20 PPG, but that classmate Wayne Selden (pictured) or big man Perry Ellis can be the team's leading scorer?
While Wiggins is a breathtaking athlete, profiles of him often note his above-average passing skills and a desire to involve his teammates rather than become the alpha male. Wiggins will be a primary focus of every defense Kansas faces, and he's more than willing to unload to the open man when defenses try to help on him.
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, Selden will have a physical advantage on most guards he faces. He'll find driving lanes or make his own, putting himself in great scoring position off passes from not only Wiggins, but also from junior point guard Naadir Tharpe.
Ellis was the Jayhawks' co-scoring leader with Wiggins in KU's exhibition opener against Pittsburg State. He may be Kansas' only truly reliable low-post scorer, and that's a position that will always get numbers. Remember, most of us slept on Thomas Robinson at one time, too.
The Towson Tigers aren't quite as fast as the wild, free-wheeling Florida Gulf Coast bunch that stomped to the Sweet 16. Coach Pat Skerry isn't married to a swimsuit model. If they win the Colonial championship and make the NCAA tournament, it won't be a story in itself except in the finishing of an epic turnaround from only one win in 2011-12.
However, the Tigers can match FGCU in talent, especially since the Eagles don't have anyone who made any B/R columnist All-America ballots. Forward Jerrelle Benimon was named a third-team All-America candidate after ripping off 17 points and 11 rebounds per game last season.
It could all come undone if the Tigers can't keep hold of the ball. Their 22.2 turnover percentage was among the nation's 50 highest last season and was the worst in the CAA according to StatSheet.com. Sophomore point guard Jerome Hairston will need to raise his assist/turnover ratio for Towson to register any major improvement.
Senior guards Mike Burwell and Rafriel Guthrie provide scoring support for Benimon, and the Tigers may have also added the CAA's top newcomer. Vermont transfer Four McGlynn splashed 38 percent of his three-pointers as a freshman in 2011-12.
The Tigers can certainly score and rebound. They're an aggressive defensive team. If they can maintain a handle on the ball, the CAA title may just be a beginning. Pay attention to the Tigers' matchups on Selection Sunday.
Countless articles have been written to dissect Doug McDermott's game and determine how well he will translate to the NBA. It's almost to the point where the Creighton forward's spectacular collegiate success is lost in the noise.
Another season like his past two and we'll not only have to call McDermott one of today's top scorers, but also one of the best in the history of the college game.
Entering his senior season, McDermott has dropped in 2,216 points. If the bottom falls out on the Bluejays and they play only once in the Big East tournament and no other postseason games, it's a 31-game season.
He would need to average 25.3 points per game to reach 3,000 and become only the eighth player in history to surpass that total. A 27.5 average would give him 3,067, surpassing former Texas Southern star Harry Kelly for fifth all-time.
Now, consider that it's highly unlikely that Creighton will play only one postseason game. If it does, it's because something happened to McDermott early, the season crashed and burned and the whole thing is moot.
A run to the Big East Championship Game and one round of NCAA tournament action would give the Jays a 34-game season. McDermott would then need to average 23.1 points per game for 3,000 and 25.1 to pass Kelly. A 25.1 point-per-game season would be a two-point increase from last season, but we do know Dougie McBuckets can score.
Don't bet the mortgage against him.
Whether the Pac-12 title alluded to in the title is the regular-season or tournament crown, don't be surprised if the Oregon Ducks add some hardware to the trophy case in March.
Oregon is giving Iowa State a serious run for the "Transfer U" title, as some kind decisions from the NCAA have given the Ducks a seriously talented 2013-14 roster.
Mercenary Mike Moser, a Portland native, is the most famous name migrating to Eugene after a difficult junior year at UNLV. Less hyped are guards Joseph Young and Jason Calliste, who will join returnees Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson in perhaps the Pac-12's most dangerous backcourt.
Young averaged 18 points per game at Houston, ranking among Conference USA's leading scorers. Calliste was a 14 points-per-game man at Detroit, forming a great guard duo with NBA draft pick Ray McCallum Jr.
Junior college transfers Richard Amardi and Elgin Cook join Moser and returning bigs Waverly Austin and Ben Carter in a frontcourt that will need some stitching together, but there is plenty of talent there as well.
Chemistry is always a concern with so many transfers coming together. Even if the Ducks take time to gel during Pac-12 play, they'll still be a dangerous draw during March.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin is 10-2 in NCAA tournament first-weekend games. At UCLA, his task was usually to make sure that his talented teams didn't get caught looking past a double-digit seed.
This season, the Red Storm have a burden of proof for the first time in more than a decade. The top five scorers return from a team that won a national postseason tournament game for the first time since the 2003 NIT championship. For good measure, Lavin brings back national shot-blocking king Chris Obekpa and brings in Rysheed Jordan, one of the top point guard prospects in the 2013 class.
The Johnnies need more consistent shooting from everybody, particularly guard D'Angelo Harrison (pictured) and junior point guard Phil Greene. The trio of Greene, Jordan and Jamal Branch give Lavin three different and talented looks at the point.
Junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, senior God'sgift Achiuwa and 2013 Big East Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson all stand at least 6'8" and can play together on the front line if needed. The three can all provide post offense when SJU trails, while Obekpa will protect the rim with a lead.
There's finally a blend of youth and experience on the St. John's roster. Also, there are no longer bullies like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Notre Dame and Pitt standing between SJU and NCAA tournament consideration.
Even if St. John's only manages one of those last four spots and gets sent to Dayton, there's enough talent and depth to make it a tough out.
Gonzaga failed to seize its moment in March, barely surviving its first tournament game against Southern and running into the Wichita State buzzsaw in the round of 32.
With talented bigs Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk gone and unproven replacements taking over, the Zags won't have to worry about top-seed expectations in March of 2014. They won't even be entering the Big Dance as West Coast Conference champions.
BYU junior Tyler Haws enters the season as the prohibitive favorite for conference player of the year after carding nearly 22 points per game. Veteran point guard Matt Carlino, junior college transfer Skyler Halford and returning missionary Kyle Collinsworth will support Haws in the backcourt.
If freshman center Eric Mika can accomplish the double-double and All-WCC goals he shared with the Salt Lake Tribune, he and Haws will comprise one of America's most gifted inside-outside duos.
Gonzaga has to have productive seasons from senior forward Sam Dower and sophomore center Przemek Karnowski, because there aren't any other strong post options.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are joined by Providence transfer Gerard Coleman in a highly skilled backcourt, but rebounding could be an issue when the shots aren't falling.
It all adds up to BYU entering the season on equal footing with the West Coast kings. The Cougars don't even have a sustained run of futile chasing to obsess over, as it's only their second year in the WCC.
The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 had legitimate cases for major-conference status last season, as each sent five teams to the NCAA tournament.
This year, the two leagues may earn only half that many bids.
In the MWC, New Mexico returns nearly everyone except its head coach and all-conference shooting guard. Boise State does return everyone from a 21-win team. San Diego State took heavy losses, but Tulane transfer Josh Davis could be a sleeper All-American candidate. He'll need to be if complementary pieces like Winston Shepard and J.J. O'Brien aren't ready to be full-time starters.
UNLV could struggle if a hamstring injury to shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones turns out to be serious. The Rebels have already had to dismiss guard Savon Goodman due to legal issues and watched two regulars—guard Katin Reinhardt and forward Mike Moser—transfer to Pac-12 schools.
Utah State's RPI will benefit from tougher opposition than the Aggies found in their final season in the WAC, but only if last season's multiple injured players are back in shape and regaining prior form.
The A-10 should be able to pencil in VCU, Saint Louis and La Salle, all of whom return large amounts of last season's production. From there, recent disappointments UMass and St. Joseph's need to win the games that count.
St. Joe's has made the tournament only once since the Jameer Nelson-Delonte West team reached No. 1 in the polls in 2004. The Minutemen haven't been seen in the tournament at all since 1998.
If you're keeping score, that's a worst-case scenario of five bids for both leagues combined, with a second straight year of 10 berths looking like a major upset.
Picking a Final Four in the preseason is plagued with difficulty, since a would-be swami is conjecturing not only on a team's talent level, but also that said team will draw favorable matchups in its road to a championship.
That said, this writer's preseason Final Four picks read thusly: Michigan State, Kentucky, Arizona...and VCU.
Since Dwyane Wade steered then-Conference USA member Marquette to the semifinals in 2003, seven of the 11 Final Fours have included a team from outside the traditional power conferences. VCU accomplished the feat while having to play a First Four game, so every time the Rams have a single-digit seed, they must be accounted for.
Top scorers Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham return, and they'll be augmented by hard-nosed redshirt freshman Jordan Burgess. Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon will take on every opponent's toughest big man, allowing Reddic to thrive in more finesse-oriented matchups.
The biggest key for the Rams is spidery point guard Briante Weber, pictured above picking on Michigan's Mitch McGary, who is most certainly not Weber's own size. Weber has ranked among the nation's steal leaders in each of his first two seasons, but he needs to show that he can run an offense full-time.
Mad bomber Troy Daniels' 124 made threes must be replaced. A committee of guards including senior Rob Brandenberg, sophomore Melvin Johnson and freshmen Doug Brooks and Jairus Lyles will attempt to do just that. And don't discount Graham and Burgess' perimeter contributions, either.
Coach Shaka Smart's "Havoc" defense is sometimes a turnover-or-bust approach. Opponents' 49.9 effective field-goal percentage ranked 13th in the Atlantic 10 last season according to StatSheet.com. If the Rams can stiffen up and reduce opponents' open looks, there's more than enough offensive firepower to carry the Rams to Arlington in April.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.