Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the 2017-18 college basketball season.
The top five
My picks for the nation’s top five teams:
1. Duke: As if the Blue Devils weren’t loaded enough, they add four sensational freshmen in Trevon Duval, Gary Trent and Wendell Carter, plus top high-school recruit Marvin Bagley, a big man out of Phoenix who can shoot and might end up being Duke’s best player.
2. Michigan State: Lots of national championship buzz about Sparty with Miles Bridges, perhaps the best player in college basketball, and Jaren Jackson, a 6-foot-11 monster who can shoot and play killer D.
3. Wichita State: The Shockers went 31-5 last season and return their top eight scorers. Experienced and well-coached by the underappreciated Gregg Marshall.
4. Cincinnati: I’m a little more bullish on the Bearcats than most. They won 30 games last season and return three starters from that team. They also add Cane Broome, a transfer from Sacred Heart where he was the nation’s eighth-leading scorer in 2015-16.
5. Kentucky: Is this a little too high for the Wildcats? Yeah, maybe. But never underestimate coach John Calipari’s ability to collect kids right out of high school and turn them into national contenders.
Good teams that could have bad trouble
Arizona and Louisville: Arizona might have the best talent in the country, and Sean Miller is a heck of a coach, but both schools are caught up in the FBI’s bribery and fraud corruption case.
What about Florida?
This looks like the Gators’ best team since winning back-to-back national titles in 2006-07. Too bad that F Devin Robinson left for the NBA, but G Egor Koulechov (left), a transfer from Rice who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds over the past two seasons, is a suitable replacement. You got to love PG Chris Chiozza and G KeVaughn Allen, who play their best in the biggest moments. The key for Florida could be John Egbunu, the big man who tore his ACL last season and wasn’t around for UF’s run to the NCAA region final. He should return in January and give the Gators a boost, especially at protecting the rim.
Best team in the state (after the Gators)
Miami, which actually might be good enough to make a Final Four run. But, hey, watch out for UCF. Led by 7-6 (yes, that’s 7 feet, 6 inches) C Tacko Fall, the Knights could win the AAC and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Meantime, FSU lost way too much from last season’s team that went 26-9.
Three interesting players to watch
Malik Newman, Kansas: He should be in the NBA right now. But he got hurt during a so-so freshman season at Mississippi State and transferred to Kansas. He’ll show why he is NBA worthy this season.
Kevin Knox, Kentucky: The Tampa Catholic grad is already considered a one-and-done. Most 2018 NBA mock drafts have the smooth 6-9 forward going somewhere around the 10th to 15th pick.
Grayson Allen, Duke: Not a more polarizing player in the country. He told ESPN, "I know there’s half the basketball world that thinks I’m this hothead, dirty player who can’t get anything under control, and who probably thinks I’m extremely arrogant. A selfish guy." More than half think that. But the guy can ball, too.
Three coaches to watch
David Padgett, Louisville: Only 32, he has the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess left by Rick Pitino.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: The greatest player in the program’s history finally gets his shot at being a head coach.
Archie Miller, Indiana: Maybe the Hoosiers have finally found a guy who can return this program back to where it belongs among college basketball royalty.
Three under-the-radar teams to watch
St. Bonaventure: Will battle Rhode Island for Atlantic 10 supremacy. The Bonnies are fun to watch because they flat out fill the bucket. And any team that has two senior guards (in this case, Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley) is always dangerous.
Bucknell: The team that won the Patriot League and lost by only six to fourth-seed West Virginia in last season’s tournament returns all it starters, as well as the first two off the bench. Nana Foulland is a special player.
Yale: Best team in the Ivy League. Loaded in the backcourt with Alex Copeland and Makai Mason, a brilliant scorer who returns after missing last season with a broken foot.
What about the women?
As always, the conversation begins (and pretty much ends) with UConn. Still hard to believe the Huskies didn’t win the title last season, but that was probably just a blip after winning four consecutive championships. They collected all 32 first-place votes in the Associated Press preseason poll. The usual suspects — defending champ South Carolina, Texas, Baylor, Notre Dame — will be treated as contenders, but UConn is looking for payback after being upset by Mississippi State in last season’s national semifinals.
Top five women in the country
A’Ja Wilson (South Carolina), Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State), Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn), Napheesa Collier (UConn), Gabby Williams (UConn).
Three things that popped into my head
1 Once again, no team will go undefeated but because of its schedule, Wichita State will make the best run at it.
2 Sleeper teams you shouldn’t sleep on: Southern Cal, Miami, Oakland, Virginia.
3 Who win the national title? From the not-going-out-on-a-limb category, look for Coach K to win his sixth national title at Duke just a couple of months after his 71st birthday.
tom jones’ two cents