It’s that time of the year. College basketball is returning. Starting in November and continuing late into March, the college basketball season is a joyous time for every sports fan. Last year, we saw the veteran experience of Shabazz Napier and the UCONN Huskies triumph over the young talents of the Kentucky Wildcats in the thrilling tournament we call March Madness. This year, who will step up? Will it be a disciplined Wisconsin team, who sticks to the fundamental? Will it be the defensive minded Arizona Wildcats, who will have several contributors returning from their impressive 2014 squad? These questions will be answered by each team’s performance on the court over the grueling next few months. Ultimately, the 64 team tournament at the end of the season will crown a champion.
1. Arizona Wildcats:
The Wildcats were a tough team to play against last year, allowing a measly 58.6 points per game last year, good for sixth in the country. Although they lost some of their explosive athleticism when Aaron Gordon declared for the NBA draft, they will still have an extremely explosive team. Adding the freak of nature, NBA-bound freshman Stanley Johnson will give the Wildcats the edge they need to seriously compete for a national title.
Coming in as a seven seed to the March Madness tournament last year, the Big Blue fought their way into the NCAA Championship game, and put up an admirable effort even in their loss. As is usually the case with Kentucky, their team will feature many of the greatest freshman in the nation. In addition to these talented specimens, they will also return twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who have the championship experience to lead Kentucky deep into the playoffs.
Every year, Wisconsin is a team that plays well throughout the regular season but struggles in the postseason. With convincing wins over Chattanooga and Northern Kentucky already this season, it seems like the Badgers may be ready to turn a corner in their program’s playoff performances. Wisconsin’s best feature is that they refuse to beat themselves, posting some of the lowest turnover numbers in the nation year after year.
Kansas comes into this season with a balanced and athletic team. Five of the Jayhawks players average over nine points per game, and leading scorer Devonte Graham is a freshman with tons of potential for coach Bill Self to exploit. Kansas teams of the past have struggled to defend, but center Perry Ellis should help the Jayhawks in that respect with his lengthy wingspan and ability to block shots. One thing Kansas must improve is their shot selection, as the team holds one of the worst field goal percentages in the country at a measly 41.2 %.
5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
The Tar Heels come into the season led by one of the nations most talented point guards, Marcus Paige. Although Paige is averaging just over 11 points per game this season, he has proven time and time again to be one of the most clutch players in the history of college basketball. A second half star, Paige has the ability to knock down jumpers, get to the basket, and find open teammates. In addition to Paige, the Tar Heels return JP Tokoto, an athletic presence who can finish on the offensive end while also locking down on defense.
Duke is loaded with talent this year, just as they have been for every season in recent history. The question is, will they be able to capitalize on this skill and athleticism? Last year, we saw Duke fall to Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament, an occurrence that seems to happen far more often than it should. With the loss of future NBA star Jabari Parker, Duke will need to find someone else to score the basketball. Veterans Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will lead the team as they look to redeem themselves after several years of disappointment for the Blue Devils faithful and joy for their haters.
Last year, Florida was the number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and deservedly so. However, the heart and soul of the Gators, Scottie Wilbekin, is no longer on the team. This means that the Gators will need to find an effective point guard who is able to establish a solid presence on the floor. With the scoring power of Michael Frazier III, the Gators have a wealth of potential if coach Billy Donovan can figure out how to efficiently utilize his talent.
Most people recognize the Texas Longhorns as a perennial football powerhouse, but it may be time to admit that there’s more than one sport in Texas. The Longhorns have been on the verge of having a breakout season for several years, but it appears that they are truly ready to make a big step up now. With big man Jonathan Holmes dominating the glass and proving a lethal finisher in the paint, look for Texas to be an athletic and defensively tenacious team come March.
Louisville is a team that you can count on to be consistently good. Headed by Coach Rick Pitino, there’s no doubt that Louisville will be a well-oiled machine come March. However, the question of whether or not the team has the talent to get the job done remains. Without the lightning quickness and clutch ability of guard Russ “Russdiculous” Smith, the Cardinals will be dependent on Montrez Harrell to provide a spark on both the offensive and defensive end.
Villanova will be led this year by junior Ryan Arcidiacono, a steadfast ball handler who keeps his head under pressure and is not afraid to take the big shot. In addition to the leadership provided by Arcidiacono, the Wildcats will bring back scorer Jayvaughn Pinkston, who is averaging just over 10 points on 50% shooting already this season. Although Villanova may not boast the firepower some of the teams higher on this list do, there is no doubt they’ll be a solid team throughout the season and possibly late into March.