68 predictions (look away, Duke haters)

The men’s college basketball season tips off Monday night with all but four AP Top 25 teams active. To celebrate the start of the new season, here are 68 predictions that will definitely come true (unless they don’t).

1. This is going to be the year of the big man in college basketball … again. For the second year in a row, the top returning players in the sport are 6-foot-11 or taller, from reigning national player of the year Zach Edey (Purdue), to All-American nominees Hunter Dickinson (Kansas), Armando Bacot (North. Carolina), Kyle Filipowski (Duke), Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton) and Donovan Clingan (UConn).

2. Expect this trend to have staying power for years to come. Big men have a greater incentive to return to school for four years when the NBA cuts the average position and the loosening of NIL rules makes it possible to earn more money in college than overseas or in the G League.

3. Duke will be the nation’s best team in November (and possibly March). Not only do the Blue Devils have their usual roster of future NBA draft picks, they also boast experience. Four starters return from last year’s 27-win squad, a feat not seen since the program adopted a one-man model more than a decade ago. Hide your eyes, you Dukes. It’s going to be a long season for you.

4. A team outside the preseason Top 25 that could surprise: UCLA. The Bruins may struggle in the starting blocks as they find their identity and integrate their young players, but this is a bet on their long-term potential. Mick Cronin’s roster includes shot-blocking center, rim-running Adem Bona, promising sophomore guard Dylan Andrews and a wealth of international talent from Serbia, France, Spain and Turkey.

5. Preseason Top 25 team that could disappoint: San Diego State. Nathan Mensah is in the G League. Matt Bradley and Adam Seiko are playing overseas in Germany. Keshad Johnson transferred to Arizona. Enough starters return for San Diego State to challenge for the Mountain West title again, but the guys they lost were driving the Aztecs’ run to last year’s national title game. That’s a lot of significant departures to justify the No. 1 ranking. 17 preseason.

6. The most popular players in college basketball this season will be the returning stars of the women’s game. Casual fans are more familiar with Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers and Angel Reese than Edey, Dickinson and Filipowski.

7. Men’s college basketball will continue to suffer from the departure of its top prospects and the emergence of alternatives to the NBA. This year’s freshman class already lacks pizzazz even before 2024 lottery picks Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis chose the G League Ignite over top college offers.

8. Freshmen who will make a big impact this season: Justin Edwards (Kentucky), Isaiah Collier (USC) and Stephon Castle (UConn).

9. Freshmen ranked outside Rivals’ Top 10 who will make a big impact this season: Ja’Kobe Walter (Baylor), Jared McCain (Duke) and Elmarko Jackson (Kansas).

10. Freshmen ranked outside the top 25 who will make a big impact this season: Aden Holloway (Auburn), Sebastian Mack (UCLA) and Garwey Dual (Providence)

11. The league Mike Krzyzewski expected to be “the best conference in the history of the game” will never come close to fulfilling that lofty prediction. Only Duke, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia cracked Ken Pomeroy’s preseason top 50 or received votes in the preseason AP Top 25. Five NCAA tournament bids would be the ACC’s maximum.

12. The Big East will be proud to chase the most exciting title in college basketball. Creighton, Marquette and UConn each appear in the top eight of the preseason AP Top 25. Even Villanova has a Final Four to look forward to if Justin Moore returns to his pre-Achilles form of tearing and passing that doesn’t mesh seamlessly and live up to expectations.

13. The SEC will produce more NCAA tournament bids than any other league. Tennessee, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Arkansas are near locks, while Alabama, Florida and Auburn are good bets as well. Mississippi State could get there if it weathers the initial climate of center Tolu Smith’s absence. So does Ole Miss or Missouri if they play their way.

14. At a time when college basketball relies heavily on transfers and high-profile individuals, embattled Kentucky coach John Calipari is pinning his future in Lexington on another youth organization. These freshmen aren’t as flashy as the John Walls, DeMarcus Cousins ​​and Anthony Davises of years past, but the Wildcats can still be dangerous if at least one of their sidekicks returns. In other words, this won’t be a dominant Kentucky team right away. Think 4 or 5 seed opponents won’t want to draw in March.

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 01: Tyrese Proctor #5 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball against the UNC-Pembroke Braves during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 01, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Tyrese Proctor #5 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball against the UNC-Pembroke Braves during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 01, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) (Grant Halverson via Getty Images)

15. ACC breakout star: Tyrese Proctor, Duke.

16. American Athletic Conference All-Star: Ezra Ausar, East Carolina.

17. Big East breakout star: Donovan Clingan, Conn.

18. Big Ten breakout star: Bruce Thornton, Ohio State.

19. Big 12 superstar: Terrance Arceneaux, Houston.

20. Mountain West breakout star: Jaedon LeDee, San Diego State.

21. Pac-12 breakout star: Kylan Boswell, Arizona.

22. SEC breakout star: Rylan Griffen, Alabama.

23. Blind-sided coaches and commissioners in single-bid leagues will continue to oppose recent changes to the NIT selection process — and with good reason. Eliminating automatic bids for all regular-season champions who fail to survive their conference tournament is ironic. Those are the groups that search playing in the NIT. Mid-power conference teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament just want their season to end.

24. Conspiracy theories that this is a prelude to the NCAA leadership doing the same thing with the NCAA tournament will have no merit. This is about keeping the NIT running with Fox trying to organize a new postseason tournament featuring power conference teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament. The NCAA and our media partners are not removing UMBC and the Fairleigh Dickinsons of the world from the NCAA tournament. They know that “Cinderella” is where the money is.

25. The exhibition loss is a sign of things to come: Kentucky Wesleyan 71, Louisville 68. Just when Louisville fans thought it couldn’t get any worse than last season’s 4-28 showing, a loss to a Division II team that was ranked No. 1 followed. eighth in its league. It’s the second straight season Kenny Payne’s team has dropped an exhibition game against a Division II opponent. And it’s a disappointing sign for a second-year coach already under a lot of pressure.

26. Exhibition losses worse than predicted: Pace University 63, St. John’s 59. Yes, the Red Storm shot poorly and defended inconsistently, but this injury-plagued, youth-laden team was always going to struggle early. St. John’s was without three starters against Division II Pace. Rick Pitino will mold this into a respectable team in the middle of the Big East pack when conference play begins.

27. Most likely to lead college basketball in SportsCenter Top 10 appearances: Michigan State freshman Coen Carr.

28. The first game Bill Walton calls this season will have to be seen for reasons that have little to do with basketball. We’ve been waiting months to hear what he has to say about conference realignment and the demise of his beloved Pac-12.

29. It used to be that newly hired coaches relied on managers to give them at least four years to turn around struggling programs. That’s not the case anymore. The transfer portal made it possible to renew the talent list in one season. This causes many coaches to lose their jobs after only two or three seasons if they don’t win.

30. Second-year coach under pressure to show improvement: Louisville’s Kenny Payne.

31. Third-year coach under pressure to show progress: Minnesota’s Ben Johnson.

32. Coaches who will be under pressure in 2024-25 if they do not make the NCAA tournament this season: Kyle Neptune (Villanova), Hubert Davis (North Carolina), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Chris Holtmann (Ohio State) and Dana Altman (Oregon).

32. Coach to be needed next year: Charleston’s Pat Kelsey. He has always won at Winthrop, went 31-4 in his second season in Charleston and has the Cougars poised to be a top 100 team again this season. Top opportunities will be there for Kelsey next spring if he wants them.

34. Coach who can’t seem to be fired: Jerod Haase, Stanford. Seven times in seven seasons, Haase missed the NCAA tournament at Stanford. Seven times, he has kept his job. Neglecting this growth at a school that made 13 of 14 NCAA championships from 1995-2008.

35. College basketball will once again have the worst opening night of any major sport. All but four of the preseason AP Top 25 teams begin their season on Monday, but they mostly face the Cal State Fullertons and Morgan States of the world. Only two games against power conference foes: No. 21 USC vs. Kansas State and Oregon vs. Georgia. That’s a terrible way to draw in casual fans.

36. Bronny James won’t be playing on opening night, but whenever he returns, the excitement will make USC’s games televised. LeBron’s oldest son suffered a sudden heart attack during a July workout at the Galen Center. LeBron said he hopes Bronny can play for USC at some point this season.

37. How big of an impact can Bronny make? The McDonald’s All-American will have to shake off the rust, but before his fall he was seen as the third guard behind guard Isaiah Collier and veteran scorer Boogie Ellis. Bronny is a good shooter and a quick defender, but to improve he needs to improve on the dribble.

38. The team that will jump the most from last year: Wisconsin. Expect a bounce-back season from Wisconsin after last year’s sub-.500 Big Ten finish. The Badgers return every key player except Jordan Davis, who transferred to Illinois State. They replaced Davis with St. John AJ Storr, who should provide some much-needed scoring punch.

39. The team that will fall the furthest from last year: Xavier. If you’re going to find Sean Miller, find him now. Xavier already lost four starters from a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16. Now Miller indicated that top returners Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter may also be unavailable.

40. With Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgren and now Drew Timme all gone, Gonzaga’s national title window has, for now, closed. Mark Few and his staff have done a good job of reloading through the transfer window, but a successful season for these Zags would be great for Saint Mary’s to the WCC title and extend the program’s best national streak to nine consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.

41. Common sense demands that the NCAA get out of the business of evaluating the eligibility of transfer waiver requests. The NCAA, of course, won’t do it. As a result, the NCAA will continue to take heat for making inconsistent decisions and being understaffed to make those decisions properly.

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Michigan State Spartans guard Tyson Walker (2) listens to instructions from head coach Tom Izzo during a college basketball exhibition game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Tennessee Volunteers on October 29, 2023 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI.  (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Michigan State Spartans guard Tyson Walker (2) listens to instructions from head coach Tom Izzo during a college basketball exhibition game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Tennessee Volunteers on October 29, 2023 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI.  (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tom Izzo has his second national championship streak at Michigan State. (Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

42. This could be a good chance for 68-year-old Tom Izzo to win his second national title. Michigan State is talented, experienced and, above all, deep. That means Izzo has the option this season to ride point guard AJ Hoggard if he’s playing well or bench him if he’s not up to his level.

43. Colorado basketball will receive a fraction of the attention that Colorado football received, but Tad Boyle’s team will finish higher in the Pac-12 standings than Deion Sanders’ team. Boyle returns potential players in the league and welcomes back top 10 recruit Cody Williams and big but talented TCU transfer Eddie Lampkin. At the very least, this is a top four team in the improved Pac-12.

44. Football schools that will have more success on the hardwood this season: USC, Miami, Texas A&M.

45. Basketball schools that will have more success on the gridiron this season: Louisville, UNLV.

46. More than any other team in college basketball, Purdue’s season will be defined by how deep it makes the NCAA tournament. That’s the amount of annual growth expected in the regular season, only to endure back-to-back March meltdowns. It started with North Texas in 2021. Then followed St. Peter’s in 2022. And, of course, 16th-seeded FDU last year.

47. Purdue may not pull off a 2019 Virginia sweep in March, but it won’t suffer a fourth-round upset. The supporting cast surrounding Zach Edey this season is deeper, more athletic and more experienced than last year. That should make Purdue less vulnerable to pressure defenses and more vulnerable if its 3-pointers don’t fall.

48. The Maui Invitational will feature at least four future Sweet 16 teams — and that might sell out a little. With Kansas, Purdue, Tennessee, Marquette, Gonzaga, UCLA and Syracuse joining host Chaminade, this is as loaded a field as this tradition-rich event has ever had.

49. Maui Invitational Prediction: Kansas over Purdue.

50. Battle 4 Atlantis: Arkansas over North Carolina.

51. Continental Tire Main Event Prediction: Saint Mary’s over Washington.

52. Empire Classic prediction: Conn over Texas.

53. NIT Season Tip-Off prediction: Baylor over Florida.

54. ESPN Events Invitational Prediction: Texas A&M over Boise State.

55. Charleston Classic prediction: Houston over Dayton.

56. What Florida Atlantic can do for an encore will be one of college basketball’s most intriguing early stories. Coming off a 35-win team that came within a shot at a national title, the Owls must contend with a challenging non-league schedule before making their American Athletic Conference debut. A top 25 team but not a top ten team sounds about right.

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) shoots over Fort Hays State forward Shaun Riley, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov.  1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) shoots over Fort Hays State forward Shaun Riley, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov.  1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) shoots over Fort Hays State forward Shaun Riley, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (TARGET NEWS)

57. If the preseason No. 1 Kansas is falling short of expectations, the culprit being its lack of shooting around Hunter Dickinson. The Jayhawks lost their top two 3-point shooters from last season’s midseason shooting team. Can young Elmarko Jackson or Johnny Furphy solve that problem? What about Towson transfer Nicolas Timberlake?

58. Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd will get the best out of Caleb Love, the talented but underachieving transfer from North Carolina who drove the Tar Heels to the 2022 national title game but also blew them up in a handful of other games. It’s a perfect fit, with Love knowing he needs help improving his shot selection and style of play and Lloyd knowing he needs a scoring guard who can raise Arizona’s ceiling and raise the margin of error come March.

59. Five other transfers who will make a big impact this season: Dickinson (Michigan to Kansas), Ryan Nembhard (Creighton to Gonzaga), Tylor Perry (North Texas to Kansas State), Steven Ashworth (Utah State to Creighton), Jesse Edwards (Syracuse to West Virginia) ).

60. A decision to stay in school that will look smart: Creighton’s Trey Alexander is among the top guards in the country. The 6-foot-5 junior could move up in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft because of his perimeter shooting, his dribble play and his strong defense at the point of attack.

61. Syracuse’s trademark orange jerseys will be the only recognizable part of the Orange this season. Jim Boeheim is gone, along with his favorite 2-3 spot. Coach Adrian Autry aims to modernize the system, which means Syracuse will play with a man-to-man attack and will go to the zone as a change of pace.

62. The most charged area of ​​any game this season will occur when Ed Cooley returns to Providence on Jan. 27. Cooley divided Friars fans when he ditched his letterman for hated Big East rival Georgetown after calling Providence his “dream job.” This was a bad breakup and the wounds have not healed.

63. Two years ago, North Carolina caught fire late to play for the national title. Last year, the Tar Heels went from preseason No. 1 missed the NCAA tournament. This season, Hubert Davis enters a season to prove himself with the renewed support of returning players Armando Bacot and RJ Davis. How good will North Carolina be? The projection here is volatile but good enough to keep the pressure on Davis come next year.

64. A small-conference team with the most Cinderella chances in March: Keep an eye on UC Santa Barbara, which added former 6-foot-11 five-star recruit Yohan Traore to a core that also includes returning Big West player of the year Ajay Mitchell. The Gauchos have made two of the past three NCAA Tournaments and nearly took down Creighton in 2021.

65. The first Final Four since 1991 without Jim Nantz behind the microphone is going to be a little weird. You might even miss his sappy lines, written when a new champion is crowned.

66. Nantz’s successor will thrive in his new playing role. Ian Eagle is a consummate professional who always has a witty quip or clever pop culture reference up his sleeve.

67. Final Four Prediction: Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Creighton.

68. Most of these preseason predictions will likely be wrong. The most exciting part of college basketball is that it always defies expectations.