The NCAA has decided the best way to deal with its offensive issues is to shorten the amount of time skill-challenged teams have to shoot the ball. The avalanche of hurried and ill-advised shots that will cover arena floors may actually drive scoring down until teams adapt. While the rules committee deals with the fallout of its actions, the fight for top honors nationally should make those who pine for the old ACC days nostalgic for battles between Lefty Driesell and Dean Smith. North Carolina and its killer frontcourt could well meet resurgent Maryland for the Big Prize. If so, maybe the game can be played in Greensboro, for old times’ sake. We were one of the outlets smart enough to pick Duke to win it all last year, so give this year’s edition some respect.
- North Carolina
Key Players: Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Paige
The Skinny: Nobody was happy in Chapel Hill last year when Duke won it all, but it’s time for the Tar Heels’ revenge. Paige (who will miss the first three weeks of the season but should be back to full strength by the new year) is one of the nation’s top guards, and UNC has the best frontcourt in the land.
Key Players: Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble
The Skinny: Was it just a year ago that coach Mark Turgeon was the subject of criticism and doubt? Thank you, Melo Trimble! The outstanding guard gets help this year from newcomers Stone and Carter, along with Layman, probably the country’s most underrated player.
Key Players: Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray, Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis
The Skinny: Coach Cal has another great crop of freshmen in Lexington this year. Yawn. The question—as always—is whether it can come together and win big. Don’t bet against it, especially if Labissiere is a fire-breather, as expected.
Key Players: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, London Perrantes, Mike Tobey
The Skinny: The Cavaliers’ python-like defense will again torment opponents, especially those trying to play too fast because of the new, 30-second shot clock. UVA doesn’t score a bunch, but when you hold the other guys to 40, you don’t have to.
Key Players: Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton
The Skinny: Remember when Coach K didn’t like one-and-done kids? After last year’s National Title, he sure loves ’em. A bunch more come to town in the nation’s top recruiting class, joining Allen, who is ready to break out.
Key Players: Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden
The Skinny: Never doubt the power—and luck—of Bill Self. Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are gone, but Ellis and Selden decided to return. Then Diallo commited late, providing needed toughness inside. The Jayhawks will probably win the Big 12. Again.
- Iowa State
Key Players: Deonte Burton, Jameel McKay, Monte Morris, Georges Niang
The Skinny: The Mayor—Fred Hoiberg—has left Ames, but Steve Prohm has a team with lots of talent, particularly Niang and Morris, and the ability to score. As usual, some transfers buttress the holdovers, and a trip to the top reaches of the Big 12 is likely.
Key Players: Jordan Loveridge, Jakob Poeltl, Brandon Taylor, Dakarai Tucker
The Skinny: The NBA is already drooling about Poeltl, who’ll be a Lottery pick when he decides to leave Salt Lake City. The Utes have plenty of guards and good depth. So what if Delon Wright is gone? There’s plenty left.
Key Players: Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard
The Skinny: The Sooners are going to play some nasty defense; count on that. And Hield can pile up the points. OU has good experience, but if the newcomers don’t deliver, depth will be a problem.
Key Players: Ryan Anderson, Justin Simon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Allonzo Trier
The Skinny: Every year, it’s the same thing in Tucson: Is this the season the Wildcats get to the Final Four? Nope. But there’s plenty to like about this squad. The freshmen are amazing. The defense will be stout. Tarczewski is tough to handle. And BC transfer Anderson will make a big impact. Pretty darn good.
- Wichita State
Key Players: Ron Baker, Connor Frankamp, Anton Grady, Fred VanVleet
The Skinny: Some of the names are the same, but the one that matters—Gregg Marshall—signed a big-money contract to hang around. VanVleet and Baker lead the Gonzaga of the Plains to another big season.
Key Players: Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu
The Skinny: Nobody does guards like the Wildcats, and adding the explosive Brunson to Arcidiacono and Hart will make ’Nova as potent as ever. Watch out for Ochefu, who’s ready to be a bigger producer inside.
Key Players: Rico Gathers, King McClure, Lester Medford, Taurean Prince
The Skinny: The Bears will still board well; Gathers sees to that. But what about the backcourt? Medford can’t keep turning it over so much, and McClure had better come through quickly to keep Baylor near the Big 12’s top.
Key Players: James Blackmon, Thomas Bryant, Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams
The Skinny: No coach got better news last spring than IU’s Tom Crean, who learned Ferrell and Blackmon weren’t going to the NBA and that Bryant was heading to Bloomington. Instead of hearing fans’ grousing about lack of success, Crean should be listening to a season of cheers.
Key Players: Przemek Karnowski, Josh Perkins, Damontas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer
The Skinny: It doesn’t get much better than the Zags’ forward wall, which has the ability to handle any job necessary. But the losses of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell mean Perkins had better be good quickly, or the big guys will go hungry.
- Notre Dame
Key Players: Zach Auguste, Bonzie Colson, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia
The Skinny: The Irish scored more than Russell Brand last year, and though Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are gone, ND will be plenty potent this time. Auguste emerged as a force in last year’s tourney, and Jackson should become a big producer in the backcourt.
Key Players: Jabari Bird, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Tyrone Wallace
The Skinny: The returns of Wallace and Bird are big, but the arrivals of Rabb and Brown, two of the top recruits in the country, are enormous. For the first time in a long time, Cal is national player.
- Michigan State
Key Players: Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Eron Harris, Denzel Valentine
The Skinny: Once again, the Spartans are going to win with a bunch of players who lack star power. All they do is execute, defend like predators and obey the wild man on the sideline, Tom Izzo. WVU transfer Harris boosts the offense, while everybody else does his job.
Key Players: Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton
The Skinny: The returns of LeVert and Walton from injury mean offensive mad scientist John Beilein will have a deep and versatile cast to unleash on the Big Ten. If the big guys can consistently rebound and finish, Michigan will be dangerous.
Key Players: Tonye Jekiri, Sheldon McClellan, Kamari Murphy, Angel Rodriguez
The Skinny: Murphy balances the potent backcourt of McClellan and Rodriguez and gives the Hurricanes some much-needed frontcourt pop. Underrated coach Jim Larranaga does the rest. The result: an ACC darkhorse with plenty of punch.
image via Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC