The sport with arguably the best postseason is tipping off.
College hoops is back for another memorable season.
Here’s a look at some teams to watch out for this year.
Roy Williams and his defending-champion Tar Heels can never be discounted. Williams has won three national championships at his alma mater, and is still one of the best recruiters in the country. That said, North Carolina will have a tough road ahead of them because of all the talent they lost.
Here’s a preview of the top contenders to make it to the Final Four.
From SB Nation:
Kansas checks just about every box: A productive senior point guard, shooters on the wing, a high-upside freshman big man and one of the sport’s most dependable coaches. The Jayhawks win the Big 12 every year and you’re a fool if you bet against this team doing it again this season.
Devonte Graham played the role of supporting actor last season behind Frank Mason, but he’ll be the leading man now. Graham is a good shooter, a solid defender and the type of veteran ball handler every team needs in March. Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and five-star transfer Malik Newman will knock down shots from the perimeter, while Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike form a huge and talented front line.
Kansas is the rare program capable of making a run at the Final Four every year. This season is no exception.
3. MICHIGAN STATE
By the time this season’s Final Four rolls around, it will have been 18 years since a Big Ten team last won a national title. Michigan State, the most recent team from the league to cut down the nets, is hoping to be the same one that ends the drought.
The moment Miles Bridges opted to turn down the chance to be a lottery pick in favor of playing one more season for Tom Izzo he made himself the national Player of the Year favorite and his team one of the top choices to win it all. Despite missing a healthy chunk of his freshman season because of injury, Bridges was remarkably productive in his college debut. He did a little bit of everything for the Spartans in 2016-17, averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game.
Also returning to East Lansing this season are fellow sophomores Nick Ward (13.9 ppg), Joshua Langford (6.9 ppg) and Cassius Winston (6.7 ppg), who are all expected to take steps forward in year two. Five-star freshman Jaren Jackson should be one of college basketball’s most talented newcomers, and he’ll have frontcourt tutelage in the form of senior forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling, who both missed all of last season because of injuries.
Can Sean Miller finally make the Final Four? It was already one of the biggest storylines in the sport before the FBI investigation that led to the arrest of long-time assistant Book Richardson and a cascade of recruits immediately decommiting from the program. But unlike other teams, Arizona seems set to ride out the investigation rather than dishing out precautionary suspensions, in the process showing how serious they are about winning right now, future sanctions be damned.
That’s a good thing, because college hoops fans deserve to see this team play. Allonzo Trier is one of the sport’s great individual scorers, a bullish two-guard who can get buckets from all three levels. Freshman center DeAndre Ayton is a certified unicorn whose combination of size, athleticism and skill could make him the most dominant big man in the country from day one. There’s also a potential breakout sophomore star in Rawle Alkins and a host of four- and five-star recruits who provide great depth.
Maybe the FBI investigation will eventually end Arizona’s season before it really starts. Until then, the Wildcats have as much on-court potential as any team in America.
With Mike Krzyzewski fielding the youngest team of his career, it’s easy to see Duke in this top spot for a second straight preseason and wonder aloud: “Are we all making the same mistake again?”
The Blue Devils were a near-unanimous No. 1 choice before the start of a roller coaster season that ended with a surprising second-round NCAA tournament loss to South Carolina. While recent history is certainly capable of repeating itself when this many freshmen are involved, there are equally compelling reasons to believe that the Dukies are going to live up to their preseason hype.
For starters, Coach K has a true point guard this season in the form of five-star freshman Trevon Duvall. Instead of forcing Grayson Allen or someone else to play out of position, Krzyzewski will have the comfort of having a true floor general run the show in 2017-18. Also there’s Allen himself, a gifted senior whose tumultuous college career up to this point should allow him to provide the type of leadership last season’s team was sorely lacking.
Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be, so let’s also toss this in: Marvin Bagley III is simply a more talented player than any of the guys who suited up for Krzyzewski last year. Fellow freshmen Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. are great too, but it’s the super versatile 6’11 Bagley who truly sets this team apart from the rest of the country. At least on paper.