Continuing from last year, Ryan Berry and Zach Beeler will have a weekly column exploring 5 topics (or ‘5 Big Things’) that are prevalent in college basketball. We are open to suggestions, so if you have any requests feel free to Tweet them to @ZachBeeler33 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. What team in the preseason AP top 25 will not be there when the season ends?
Ryan Berry: The Gonzaga Bulldogs finally broke through and stormed all the way to the national championship game in 2016-17 before falling to North Carolina in the title game. Unfortunately, 2017-18 will not be as friendly to the Zags, who lose four of their top five scorers from a season ago. The losses of Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski will especially sting, as their top guard and big man both will not return to Spokane. Mark Few will have his team in the tourney come springtime, but I’m not convinced we’re looking at a top 25 squad here.
Zach Beeler: It will be interesting to see how Northwestern responds to finally breaking through and making the NCAA Tournament. They start the season ranked at #19, but I see them as a team that could fall just outside the top 25. Although they return some important pieces like Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, my biggest concern has to do with their homecourt. While usual homecourt Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes a massive renovation project, the Wildcats will play their home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. Over the course of the rigorous Big Ten schedule, having a big crowd at your back at home is pivotal. Without that energy behind them, I could see Northwestern’s talented squad dropping a few home games that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise.
2. What team not in the preseason AP top 25 will be there when the season ends?
Ryan Berry: After taking a minor step backward a season ago in his second year at Texas, Shaka Smart will have his Longhorns back in the NCAA Tournament in 2018, and I believe Texas will be ranked to close out the season. Mo Bamba is the highest profile recruit the Longhorns have landed since Kevin Durant, and the expectations will skyrocket in Austin solely because of his presence. Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach II will be counted on to fill the prominent scoring roles, and the Longhorn defense should improve because of the length of its pieces. Shaka Smart’s team was ranked in the preseason poll last year and finished 11-22. Even with a young team, I expect something of the opposite to happen this season.
Zach Beeler: Cuonzo Martin did not take long to get the turnaround started at Missouri, landing potential number one pick Michael Porter Jr. before he had ever coached a game there.There is no doubt that he will take on most of the scoring and leadership load. However, the Tigers will have much more than him on the team. His brother Jontay reclassified and will make an immediate impact, while one time Illinois commit Jeremiah Tilmon will also be a load to handle in the paint. Coach Martin has already reinvigorated a fan base in less than a year, and I believe that the talent on this team will lead them to the top 25 by the year’s end.
3. What player not on the national radar could make an All-America team at the end of the year?
Ryan Berry: Saint Mary’s’ Jock Landale nearly averaged a double-double during his junior campaign, posting numbers of 16.9 ppg and 9.5 rpg. Both of those averages were more than double the numbers he put up during his sophomore year. In his final season for the Gaels, expect Landale to step into the national spotlight for a team that should stay in the top 15-20 for most of the season and be a darkhorse candidate to reach the Final Four. Do not be surprised if Landale finishes as one of the premiere big men in the country and sneaks onto one of the All-America teams at the season’s end.
Zach Beeler: Although not entirely shut out of the national media scene, I do think that Bruce Brown for Miami will storm into the picture this year. After a solid freshman year averaging 11.8 points and ⅚ rebounds, I expect Brown to be the leader on a very good Miami team. A jack-of-all-trades type of player, Brown can do a little bit of everything. Normally playing at the shooting guard position, Brown can use his length and athleticism to get to the rim and make some tough shots. He considered the NBA Draft after his freshman year, and this year will most likely be his last for Miami if he has the type of big year I think he will.
4. What freshman outside the top 50 (according to 247) will make the biggest impact this year?
Ryan Berry: Minnesota’s Isaiah Washington will serve as a phenomenal backcourt mate for senior Nate Mason, and considering the scoring punch both guards will provide, the Golden Gophers could be sneaky good this season. Richard Pitino entered last season coaching for his job, but after leading the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament, signed an extension through the 2021-2022 season. Talents like Washington will continue the upward trend in Minneapolis, as Minnesota will be a team more than capable of reaching the second weekend of the Big Dance in March.
Zach Beeler: Nojel Eastern from Purdue will get a lot of minutes, and could really make his mark as the Boilermakers’ backup point guard. Standing at 6’6’, his size dimensions will provide a very interesting matchup almost every time he steps on the court. A great passer, his length can also be used to make things difficult on the defensive end of the court. Along with that, his height allows his to shift to other positions on the floor, and he could certainly play his way into more minutes outside of the point guard position. Purdue will be a senior-laden team, but Eastern will make his mark coming off the bench.
5. Who is your national champion?
Ryan Berry: Michigan State. The Big Ten has lost national title games in 2002 (Indiana), 2005 (Illinois), 2007 (Ohio State), 2009 (MIchigan State), 2013 (Michigan), and 2015 (Wisconsin). This is the year the conference finally snaps its losing streak in the biggest game of the year, and the Spartans are the team to do it. Miles Bridges will have the monster year many experts are predicting he’ll have, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will each chip in from the perimeter, and jaren jackson will prove his status among the top tier of freshmen in the nation. Don’t overlook the importance of the Spartans getting back big men Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling from injury, either. Tom Izzo will finally win his second national championship, 18 years after claiming his first. Michigan State will cut down the nets in San Antonio.
Zach Beeler: Duke. Look, I know they struggled last year with a top recruiting class. However, I will never bet against Coach K and I think they bounce back in a big way this season. Marvin Bagley will be an absolute star, and Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter round out an excellent trio of recruits ranked inside the top 10. They also return senior Grayson Allen, who will look to put his controversial junior season behind him. The talent is undeniable, but I think the combination of freshman talent and senior leadership will be the thing that pushes the Blue Devils to their 6th national championship.