10 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Regular Season
If you like your NCAA basketball predictions as bold as I like my coffee, then buckle up for 10 slightly outlandish projections for the rest of the 2013-14 regular season.
There is a good amount of rationale behind these predictions, so you won't find any preposterous claims, such as "Arizona won't score another point this season."
What you will find, though, are predictions that Kentucky will be ranked No. 1 again before the season ends, that neither Memphis nor Louisville will win the American regular season championship and that some individual will score 60 points in a game for just the second time since 2000.
One bonus prediction that isn't bold at all: North Carolina fans will not be happy about the next slide.
North Carolina Will Miss the NCAA Tournament
Given North Carolina's recent losses to Wake Forest and Miami, this might not seem like a bold prediction at first, but it's still pretty far out there in the realm of possibilities.
The Tar Heels still have two games against Duke, road games against Syracuse, Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina State and a home game against Pittsburgh. Even if they lost every single one of those games while winning the "lesser" games in between, they would still be 19-12 with huge wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky.
Last year, Villanova had a handful of massive wins but just barely finished above .500 in conference play and was blown out in the first month of the season by Alabama, Columbia and Temple. Despite their 13 losses, the Wildcats earned a No. 9 seed, so it would likely take at least another two or three bad losses before North Carolina's tournament bid is in serious jeopardy.
But really, would it be all that surprising if this team lost at home to Maryland and Notre Dame or on the road against Georgia Tech? Is a sub-.500 record in ACC play even remotely out of the conversation?
Marcus Paige isn't a true point guard and certainly hasn't been a successful shooting guard as of late, either. Take out the game against Davidson, and Leslie McDonald is just barely averaging one point per field-goal attempt (57 points on 56 shots). Brice Johnson has been almost invisible for the past month, and James Michael McAdoo is more inconsistent than ever.
Kennedy Meeks is arguably the most talented player on the team, but he doesn't have the conditioning to play more than about 15 minutes per game.
We'll never understand how or why North Carolina won the marquee games that it did, nor would it be a surprise if it beats Syracuse by a dozen points on Saturday. But it's certainly possible that the Tar Heels will be competing for the NIT championship this March.
At Least One Team Enters Conference Tournament Undefeated
The smart money here is on Wichita State.
Not only will the Shockers be favored in every game they play, but there are only two games in which they have a less than 78 percent chance of winning (according to KenPom; subscription required). All in all, this leaves Wichita State with about a one-in-seven chance of running the table.
The particularly bold part of this prediction is the insistence that Wisconsin at least has a snowball's chance in Maui of going undefeated, too.
I know what you're going to say—"The Big Ten is way too strong for anyone to go undefeated"—and you're almost certainly right; however, Wisconsin does not play on the road against either Michigan State or Ohio State this season.
At the start of play on Thursday, the Badgers were No. 1 in RPI, No. 2 in BPI, No. 3 in KenPom's rankings and No. 4 according to AP voters. No matter the ranking system to which you subscribe, they're one of the best teams in the country, and they avoid playing road games against the other top dogs in their conference.
Aside from a road game against Iowa in late February, they're projected to win every remaining game on their schedule. By the time they play Iowa, perhaps the momentum of 26 straight wins will be enough to carry them to an "upset."
Someone Scores 60 Points in a Game
It has happened just once in the past decade, and Ben Woodside needed three overtimes to pull it off; however, I have a sneaking suspicion that someone is going to explode for 60 points in a game at some time in the next two months.
Maybe Niagara's Antoine Mason can more than double his nation-leading average of 28.7 points per game this weekend against Rider—a team that ranks 325th in points allowed, at 79.7 per game.
Or perhaps Oral Roberts' Shawn Glover—a forward who has scored at least 15 points in every game this season—will decide to single-handedly go to town in one of his games against Northwestern State. The Demons give up more points per game than any other team and rank 337th in the nation in two-point field-goal defense, according to KenPom.
The best bet, however, is on Texas Southern's Aaric Murray simply laying waste to a Grambling State team that ranks near the bottom of the country in just about every metric imaginable. The Philadelphia native already exploded for 48 points in a game earlier this year against Temple. Good luck finding video evidence of the games, but Texas Southern plays Grambling State on January 18 and February 15.
Perchance we'll get really lucky and it will happen on national television at the end of the season, when Boston College travels to North Carolina State to be abused by T.J. Warren.
There's no telling when it will happen, but let's all hope it does.
Cincinnati Wins the AAC Regular Season Title
Our very own Joe Tansey wrote earlier this week that the winner between Memphis and Louisville on Thursday night will go on to win the AAC title.
The Bearcats would like a word with you, Mr. Tansey.
Defense wins—say it with me, everyone—championships, and Cincinnati has one of the best defensive units in the entire country. I've been referencing this stat on repeat for about a month now, but the Bearcats have yet to allow anyone to score more than 67 points in a game against them.
They've already scored a huge road win over Memphis and are unlikely to even be challenged in another game until travelling to Louisville in three weeks.
Despite the loss to Memphis on Thursday, Louisville is still the overwhelming favorite to win the conference and could very well go 17-1 against its competition.
But it would be somewhat of a shock if the Bearcats lost more than three games in conference. If they can win at home against the Cardinals in late February—the only game left on Louisville's schedule in which it has less than a 62 percent chance of winning, according to KenPom—anything's possible.
The Big East Sends Just 2 Teams to NCAA Tournament
That's perhaps more of a shocking headline than an actually bold prediction.
We certainly knew the Big East wouldn't be anywhere near as strong as its namesake from the past decade, but no one thought it would be this dreadful.
Villanova is a mortal lock to go dancing, but would you bet your life savings on any of the other teams to get there?
Creighton was the favorite of the bunch until Doug McDermott strained his shoulder and Grant Gibbs dislocated his kneecap on Tuesday night against DePaul. McDermott should be fine, but Gibbs will miss at least a month—a length of time that includes games against Xavier, Butler, Georgetown and Villanova.
Without any particularly noteworthy wins during nonconference play—home wins over Nebraska and Cal are as good as it gets—the Bluejays need to do well in conference to lock up a bid. Playing half of the remaining season without their sixth-year point guard could throw a wrench into those plans.
Xavier figures to be next in line after winning its first three conference games at home, but the X-Men have struggled away from home. They do have a huge neutral-court win over Cincinnati, but they went 0-3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis and needed some come-from-behind magic to beat Alabama (currently 7-7) in their only true road game of the season.
We'll see how those nine road games in conference treat the Musketeers.
Beyond that, this conference is just a bunch of middling teams that will beat each other up and probably lose twice each to Villanova. Butler, Georgetown or Marquette could potentially separate from the pack and earn a bid, but it is very difficult to see this 10-team conference getting anywhere near as many tournament invites as a 10-team conference like the Big 12.
Everyone Finally Memorizes Their Channel for Fox Sports One
Remember when the NCAA tournament expanded its coverage to include TBS, TNT and truTV, and we spent the bulk of the opening rounds trying to remember what numbers to punch in to find those truTV games?
That's how I felt over the past few months with Fox Sports One, but that's already changed.
In case you weren't already aware, Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson are the primary announcing duo for the Big East games being televised on Fox Sports One this season. Not surprisingly, their first game of the regular season went into overtime.
Look, I can count on one hand the number of things that wouldn't be made better by the running commentary of Johnson and Raftery, and most of those things involve being in a library. The Big East might be a tattered and broken shell of what it used to be, but because of those two voices from heaven, I may end up watching even more Big East games than I did last season.
They'll be on the mic for Villanova vs. St. John's on Saturday afternoon and again on Tuesday night for Butler vs. Creighton.
Rise and fire. Bring on the onions.
Iowa State Wins the Big 12 Regular Season Title
The question before the season began was whether or not Oklahoma State could bring an end to Kansas' nine-year streak of earning at least a share of the Big 12 regular season championship.
The Jayhawks' streak will end, but not because of the Cowboys.
Any team that has tried can tell you that it's impossible to beat Iowa State in Ames. If not for some poor luck and poor officiating in the final moments against Kansas last season, the Cyclones would be working on a 32-game home winning streak right now—capped off most recently by a 15-point win against a Baylor team that is currently ranked No. 7 in the country.
Given that their home games might as well already count as wins, the best-case scenario for the rest of the conference could be handing Iowa State three losses this season.
Are either Kansas or Oklahoma State good enough to go 15-3 or better?
Mitch McGary Plays Again This Season
"Mitch McGary to have back surgery, out indefinitely," Sports Illustrated tweeted last month.
"Most likely done for the season," ESPN's Jeff Goodman tweeted last week.
"I'm sure he'll attend some practices somewhere along the line," head coach John Beilein told Brendan Quinn of MLive.com on the day after McGary's surgery, which took place on Tuesday.
Is it just me, or is everyone intentionally leaving the door wide open for a miraculous return in March?
I have absolutely no evidence suggesting that McGary actually intends to play again this season. That, however, seems like it would be the ultimate way to shut up the critics who called him soft while he played through what must have been horrible pain.
Maybe he won't actually play, but we certainly haven't heard the last of him. Somehow he'll be back at practices by late February, impressing coaches with how good he looks so soon after surgery.
VCU Finishes Season Ranked in Top 10
Just two months ago, this prediction would've been about as bold as forecasting Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference. The Rams opened the season ranked 14th in the nation and even climbed as high as No. 10 before suffering two losses in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Since then, they've been an afterthought while A-10 teams, such as Massachusetts, Dayton, George Washington and Saint Louis, have soared to national relevance.
Overlook VCU at your own peril.
Something snapped after the loss to Northern Iowa on December 14. The defense was always good, but now it's simply out of control.
VCU forces the highest percentage of turnovers and steals in the country, according to KenPom, but it's even better now than it used to be. In the first 11 games of the season, VCU forced a turnover on 27 percent of opponents' possessions and registered a steal on 17 percent of opponents' possessions.
Throughout the past five games, those numbers have increased to 32 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Much of that increase came in one demoralizing win against Virginia Tech. VCU went on the road and won by 30 points by forcing 27 turnovers, resulting in 22 steals. If they keep playing like that, no one in the A-10 will have a chance against them.
A road win over George Washington next Tuesday will put VCU back on everyone's radar, but it's the three games against Massachusetts and Saint Louis (twice) between February 15 and March 1 that will send the Rams skyrocketing up the polls.
Kentucky Climbs All the Way Back to No. 1
At long last, Batman has found his Robin.
For too long, Kentucky has been Julius Randle and four other players who might occasionally try to score.
Willie Cauley-Stein has some decent overall numbers for the season, but he scored a total of 20 points in Kentucky's four games against ranked opponents.
Aaron Harrison can't seem to decide if he's a slasher or a shooter, oscillating from 10 or more free-throw attempts in one game to two or fewer the next. The Harrison brother who was supposed to be the better shooter has made more than one three-pointer in just three games this season.
Meanwhile, Andrew Harrison has as many games with three or more assists as he has games with three or more turnovers, tallying seven in each category. It's been nice of him to consistently score between seven and 17 points in each game, but he needs to get more consistent with his ball control and court vision.
Throughout the last two games, though, James Young has emerged as a monster.
Young has back-to-back double-doubles after recording more than six rebounds just once in Kentucky's first 12 games. After averaging 1.7 assists and 0.7 steals throughout the first 12 games, he has averaged 4.5 and 1.5, respectively, in the last two contests.
Forget about double-teaming Randle. It might be about time to start considering a box-and-one defense against Young.
This team is still finding its legs, but it looks much more cohesive than it did a few weeks ago.
If they are finally putting it all together, pray tell, when will the Wildcats lose another game? The season finale at Florida might be a loss, but that's still two months away. If they win 16 straight games between now and then, they'll almost certainly make the transition from No. 14 back to the top spot in the country.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.