This College Basketball season should be a fun one. Though we don’t have a generational player like Zion Williamson last year, there seems to be a lot of teams who appear to be championship contenders, but no teams that appear to be steps ahead of the rest. I think this season will be one of the toughest to predict that we’ve seen in a long time. With that said, here are the teams I believe to be true championship contenders (in order).
As we saw in the game against Michigan State, Tyrese Maxey is a star. He is good enough to possibly end up being SEC player of the year, and when you pair his talent with the experience of Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, this could be the best back-court in the country. In addition, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards are both experienced big men who can hold down the paint. Coach Cal has something special this season.
Though they started off with a loss, MSU is still one of the best teams in the country. Cassius Winston is arguably the best player in the country, and will be extremely valuable in March. Once Josh Langford returns from injury, the perimeter scoring from the Spartans will be dangerous from the trio of Winston, Langford, and Aaron Henry. The only worry I have about Michigan State is the big men, because after Xavier Tillman there isn’t a whole lot of depth on this team.
No Duke doesn’t have the same incredible talent they have had in years past with guys like Zion, RJ Barrett, Jayson Tatum, or Jahlil Okafor, but their team is pretty well balanced. The freshmen wings in Cassius Stanley and Matthew Hurt will provide good scoring options for Duke this season. Tre Jones is arguably the most reliable guard in the country with his ability to run the offense and defend, and his scoring has seemingly improved since last year. Vernon Carey is a force in the interior, and Duke also has solid veteran presence with DeLaurier, O’Connell, and White.
Jordan Nwora is a Naismith contender and just started off the season with 23-12 on the road against an ACC opponent. When Malik Williams returns from injury, the Cardinals will have one of the best big man duos in the country in Williams and Steven Enoch. They also have arguably the best perimeter shooter in the country in Ryan McMahon. If Louisville can have a breakout player emerge outside of these four guys, they could definitely make a deep run in the tournament under second year coach Mack Brown.
Maryland boasts a good combination of perimeter and interior threats. Anthony Cowan is one of the top guards in the country, and Jalen Smith is one of the top big men in the country. In addition, they have one of my breakout candidates of the year in Aaron Wiggins. Though I am still picking the Spartans, it wouldn’t shock me if Maryland took the Big 10 title this year.
Kansas has a ton of talent, but as their 28 turnovers against Duke showed, they have a lot of room for growth. Azubuike is a beast in the interior, and Ochai Agbaji has shown he is a great scorer. The player I want to see improve the most is guard Devon Dotson. Though he had 17 points against Duke, he also had six turnovers which is unacceptable as the primary ball-handler. I expect Bill Self to whip his team into shape and be one of the top contenders come tournament time.
UNC might be the biggest unknown in college basketball this year. The only true returning contributor is Garrison Brooks. Outside of him, Roy Williams will rely heavily on newcomers. Luckily for North Carolina, they picked up two solid transfers in Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, and a five-star recruit in Armando Bacot. But if North Carolina is going to make a championship run this season, it will likely be because of one man: Cole Anthony. The five-star freshman guard is projected as one of the top picks in next year’s draft, and for good reason. He is a great athlete, good shooter, and is said to play mature beyond his years. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes Tar Heel fans quickly forget about losing Coby White to the NBA. He is that good.
Dark Horse Team- Xavier:
Xavier is my dark horse pick this season because of their balanced team. They have three very good perimeter players in Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, and Quentin Goodin, all of whom are veterans with tournament experience. In addition, they have a physical interior presence in Tyrique Jones. With Villanova having a down year, I expect the Musketeers to make a good run at the Big East Title.