This week, Ken Pomeroy released his rankings while the Associated Press released their first college basketball top 25. Both events signal that college basketball is all but upon us. While these lists provide plenty of topics of discussion, let’s first take a look at the five teams I am betting on for the title.
I may as well start off with the obvious one, right? In each of the last five seasons, a team from KenPom’s original top five has won the NCAA tournament. Is there a program that is more “due” than the Bulldogs and Mark Few?
While Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, and Joel Ayayi have moved along, the Zags return Drew Timme and Anton Watson to form one of the best frontcourts on the west coast. Also returning are point guard Andrew Nembhard and role player Julian Strawther when you combine those players with super transfer Rasir Bolton ( 15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg at Iowa St.) and a freshman class that includes the #1 overall player in Chet Holmgren and three more players in the top 55 in Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis and Kaden Perry.
This team is athletic, big, obviously well-coached, and ranked in the top spot by both lists released this week. While 7-1 is not incredibly “sexy,” there is zero value in a losing wager, and this program is overdue to hoist a championship trophy.
With this pick, you get the trifecta. The Jayhawks rank in the top five in the AP top 25 and Pomeroy’s rankings while providing fantastic value at 18-1.
The Jayhawks return a tremendous trio in David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, and last seasons’ leading scoring Ochai Agbaji. To fill the void of departed defensive dynamo Marcus Garrett, coach Bill Self took in Arizona State transfer Remy Martin and Drake transfer Joseph Yesefu. Christan Braun returns on the wing and will be joined by journeyman Jalen Coleman-Lands who began playing his college basketball career during the Obama administration.
Martin is a much better scorer than Garrett was last season and will be more comfortable in late game situations as far as taking shots. It will be interesting to see if coach Bill Self can use a double point guard lineup with Martin and Yesefu that brought him so much success with Frank Mason and Devonte Graham in 2016-17.
This line is still slightly higher than others, and it is worth taking advantage of, given what this roster looks like. Coach John Calipari does have a penchant for bringing teams together as the season progresses, but this season may need to be so taxing as he has some experienced players.
The Wildcats have brought in transfers Sahvir Wheeler (UGA), Cam Frederick (Iowa), Kellan Grady (Davidson), and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) to be the leaders and backfilled the roster with talented youngsters Ty Ty Washington, Damion Collins, and Bryce Hopkins. All of which are top 40 recruits.
Calipari is typically a leader in taking advantage of what is trending and appears to have done that again. Frederick will be a sniper from deep now that he has the opportunity to play off the ball with a premier setup man in Wheeler. Tshiebwe is a double-double machine while Grady didn’t do a whole lot other than score a couple thousand points for Bob McKillop.
Are we having fun yet? Anfernee Hardaway’s first few seasons may not have been everything that Tigers’ fans had hoped for but this is why you give him time.
Coach Hardaway has brought in the best recruiting class in the nation for the 2021 season and while that typically doesn’t equate to titles, this team isn’t all freshmen. The Tigers also return three of their top five scorers from last season to go with phenom Emoni Bates and stud big man Jalen Duran. Let us not forget that Earl Timberlake, a transfer from Miami (FL) is also a former five star recruit and likely NBA first round selection at some point.
The key is going to be Bates playing the point guard which is definitely not his position. Duran is a step down from departed Moussa Cisse defensively but Hardaway is a heck of a defensive coach.
I am not a huge Dan Hurley fan but he did a heck of a coaching job last season. James Bouknight may be gone but the Huskies have a bunch of good guards coming into the program to join perimeter players Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole, last season’s second and third leading scorers for Coach Hurley.
In the frontcourt, last season’s three best big men Adama Sanogo, Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley all return. However, all eyes appear to be on big man Akok Akok as a potential breakout candidate. Akok, the #62 player in the 2019 player rankings, has yet to see a ton of court time but possesses a really nice skill set for a place that stands 6’9.
This is obviously a tremendous longshot, but if the Huskies are able to start the season off hot, it is a ticket that you can deal with a Huskies’ fan that is blinded by fandom.