By: Billy Cook, KCOU Sports
Just a few weeks ago, we wrapped up one of the more compelling NCAA Tournaments over the past decade. We had Cinderellas in Georgia State and UAB shocking two of the Big 12’s top four teams in Baylor and Iowa State, respectively. We also got to watch Notre Dame push Kentucky to the edge of the cliff, just to watch Wisconsin knock the Wildcats off and in the process, exacting their revenge after being knocked off in the same round a year earlier from one Aaron Harrison’s clutch three-point basket. With Duke eventually cutting down the nets, let’s take a look at a few of the teams who will be the popular picks to win their region and advance to the Final Four in Houston next season.
Duke. We’ll start with the defending national champions, the Blue Devils. While the losses of Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones will hurt, the rise of Grayson Allen and the top recruiting class in the country (led by four ESPN top 25 recruits) will once again allow Mike Krzyzewski to gear up for a chance at his 6th national championship. The Blue Devils will be considered one of the favorites to cut the nets down next April.
Kentucky. As long as John Calipari is in Lexington and recruiting as well as he is, the Wildcats will have championship or bust expectations every season. While this team won’t be expected to go undefeated like this past season’s squad was, expect Calipari to be fueled by the critics of his one-and-done coaching philosophy salivating after his team failed to capture the crown last season. Put my money down on the Wildcats to reach Houston and the Final Four for the 5th time in the last six seasons.
Kansas. With the Jayhawks returning four of their five starters from last season to go along with two of the top-five Power Forwards (Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg) in the class of 2015, you can look for Bill Self to lead his team to contend for their 3rd Final Four (and 12th straight Big 12 Championship) of his tenure in Lawrence. Look for the Ukranian Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk to live up to the hype and become the go-to guy on the wing for this talented squad.
North Carolina. Write it down now. Marcus Paige will be ACC player of the year and a consensus first-team All-American and the Tar Heels will ride his strong performance deep into March, with a legitimate shot at playing into April. Roy Williams will be looking for his 8th Final Four appearance, and his 4th since becoming the coach for UNC.
Michigan State. What Tom Izzo did with his team last season in getting them to his 7th Final Four during his tenure was nothing short of miraculous. Picking up Caleb Swanigan and Deyonta Davis during recruiting, along with Denzel Valentine and West Virginia transfer Eron Harris will make the Spartans a trendy pick to compete for another Final Four berth, not mention the Big 10 crown.
Much will change, players will progress and teams will have to deal with injury problems, but these teams are on the short list to look out for when the next basketball season comes around.
See ya soon, college basketball. You will be missed.