As another college basketball season full of “madness” is upon us, it is that time again for the all-to-early national champion predictions. Coming off a season where powerhouse teams such as the University of Wisconsin and Duke University dominated, don’t be “shocked” to see the smaller schools steal the spotlight, such as the Wichita State Shockers.
This team is prepared to take center stage and make a run this season. Coming off a 30-5 record with impressive upset wins over Indiana University and the University of Kansas, this group of Shockers has shown that they can not only compete with the big programs, but also win. It was only the 2013-2014 season—not even two seasons ago—that this team finished the regular season undefeated; it is not out of the realm of possibility to think that they will win the championship. They also only face one pre-season ranked team all season, which can improve their chances of locking up a number one seed.
What the Shockers lack in talent, they make up for with experience—they are expected to start four seniors. The team is led by senior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, whose ability to hold onto the ball and not commit turnovers is unparalleled in college basketball.
The most important part of this team is its defense—the Shockers had a top 10 defense in the nation last year. Playing lockdown defense and not committing turnovers is a recipe for success and is the primary reason why we could very well see Wichita State as the best team in the country come April.
After making it to the NCAA Championship game and handing the University of Kentucky its first and only loss of the season last year, many people wonder if the University of Wisconsin can be as dominant as they were last year.
Despite falling to Duke University in the 2015 Championship game, no one can deny the dominance and success that 2015 Player of the Year forward Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers brought to the court. The important question that needs to be asked, however, is can they be as good this year? Not likely.
The biggest reason for doubt in Wisconsin’s success this season is the loss of forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Both of these players were huge for their team, especially during the tournament. Dekker often drained threes with his superior shooting skill beyond the arc. Kaminsky was considered one of the best all-around players in college basketball and he showed it.
The only way that Wisconsin is going to make it close to the Final Four this year is if their players that played smaller roles last year step up and assume larger roles. One player to watch is junior guard Bronson Koenig. He averaged almost nine points per game last year and has averaged 19 points in two games so far this season. If Koening can keep up his point production, Wisconsin may have a chance to make it nearly as far as Kaminsky and Dekker’s squad did last year.
The University of Kentucky’s basketball team looks to repeat the success of last season and win the national championship in Houston this year.
Kentucky is coming off a season that is regarded as one of the best college basketball seasons of all time; winning 38 straight games before losing to the University of Wisconsin in the Final Four. Even though Kentucky lost seven of their best players to last year’s National Basketball Association Draft, the Wildcats return some old faces and have some new players set to pick up where they left off.
Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis—who head coach John Calipari says is the best guard in the country right now—leads the Wildcats. With the additions of some superstar freshmen—including forwards Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries and guards Jamal Murray, Charles Matthews and Isaiah Briscoe—this Kentucky team has the tools to go back to the Final Four once again.
With the Southeastern Conference stronger now than it ever has been, it will not be a walk in the park by any means. With Louisiana State University, the University of Florida, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University all beefing up their programs, the upcoming season will show what this Kentucky team can really do.
At the end of this season, I expect to see the Kentucky Wildcats hold up the NCAA Division I trophy, bringing the ninth title in this storied program’s history back to Lexington.