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Cheat Sheet for Everything You Need to Know for 2017-18 College Basketball Season

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We’re just a few short days away from the start of the college basketball season. So if you’re not an Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Clemson or Oklahoma football fan, you may want to start getting ready for hoops. Consider this your cheat sheet for the season if you haven’t read any preseason stuff. This is everything from names, teams, players, conference races and rumors that will have you ready to go for the season.

The FBI investigation is going to linger

Unfortunately we’re entering college basketball with a massive black cloud over the game. If you somehow didn’t hear about 8 weeks ago there was a massive FBI corruption case brought against four assistant head coaches along with talks of pay-for-play for top recruits. The schools that either had a coach arrested or named in pay-for-play include USC, Arizona, Miami and Louisville – four top-15 teams this year. Other schools like Auburn and Oklahoma State were either expected to make a jump as a possible NCAA Tournament team or in rebuild mode. Either way this is going to be talked about the entire season because it may take that long to find out exactly what’s going on. The thing is no one knows, which reminds me, don’t listen to anyone who says ‘they have a source’ regarding this. No one has a source with the FBI.

There’s already been a ton of suspensions to important players

Just off the top of my head here’s a list of players that have been or are suspended for some time: Brian Bowen (Louisville), Robert Williams (Texas A&M), Admon Gilder (Texas A&M), DJ Hogg (Texas A&M), Austin Wiley (Auburn), Danjel Purifoy (Auburn), Trevon Duval (Duke), Esa Ahmad (West Virginia), Rakym Felder (South Carolina), Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech) and Tadric Jackson (Georgia Tech). Now some of these players are expected to be back for the season opener, while some like Ahmad and Felder will be back after first semester. Some like Wiley, Purifoy, Okogie and Jackson are indefinite. These players are all suspended for a variety of reasons including academic, violation of university rules, violation of team rules and taking extra benefits. Either way this is going to be tied to the FBI investigation and it’s worth keeping an eye on.

There’s no clear No. 1 team 

Most people have penciled in Duke as the No. 1 team in the country and while they have the most talent, it’s still yet to be seen just how well they’ll mesh. This is a super young Duke team led by an upperclassmen in Grayson Allen with his own question marks. From there you can make a case for Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas even Villanova and Kentucky could be in the consideration for a No. 1 vote. That’s what’s going to make this year awesome. There’s going to be a team from that group that falls back and ends up being like a No. 5 seed come the NCAA Tournament and there will be a team from the backend of the top-25 that will be in the hunt for a No. 1 seed. It always seems to work out that way and with a bunch of really talented teams that makes for an exciting regular season.

Depth after the top teams is there 

When you get into the second/third tier of teams, however you break them up, you realize that college basketball this year is really deep. To me there’s not a real difference in teams ranked No. 11 – 19ish when you look at teams like Seton Hall, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Xavier, Notre Dame, West Virginia and St. Mary’s. All those teams have the makeup of a second weekend team and shouldn’t shock anyone to see them in a Final Four. You’re going to see a lot of upsets this year simply because there’s not a huge gap in talent like we’ve seen in years back. This is due to a couple different reasons – but most of it is due to these teams having upperclassmen stay in college for four years and grow together. Look at Seton Hall, who has 3 1,000 point scorers. The fact that all are there for their senior years give them a chance to compete with top-10 teams.

North Carolina is limping into the season

North Carolina has been the most successful program the last two years in college basketball. However, this year might be a little down by UNC standards. First, the Tar Heels are going to have a different look as they simply don’t have the height or talent to play two traditional bigs like Roy prefers to do. On top of that they lost senior point guard Joel Berry for a few weeks due to a broken hand after he punched a door in the heat of a video game. You can spin it and say that young guys like Felton and Woods will now see more minutes and it will pay off in the long haul, which is true to a degree. But, now when you’re already experiencing a complete change in philosophy as a team. If UNC still had a Tony Bradley, I’d agree with you there. Now, they have to rely on a grad transfer in Cam Johnson or someone like Theo Pinson to carry them until Berry comes back.

There’s a legit chance Wisconsin finishes outside the top-4 in the Big 10

While the Kansas Big 12 streak gets a lot of talk, Wisconsin is usually an auto-lock to finish in the top-4 in the Big 10. They have finished in the top-4 every year since 2000-01 when the Badgers finished 5th. That streak is in legit jeopardy this year as the Badgers have a lot of unknown outside of Ethan Happ. The Badgers have to make up losses of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, four starters and a guy in Koenig who could bail you out of games and late shot clock possessions. Now, I know they could be a better shooting team this year, but will they be consistent? Can someone step up to spell Happ and force defenses to make decisions. We saw what happened last year when Happ got doubled in the post – he typically struggled in those scenarios and was turnover prone. Teams will do that this year until someone steps up.

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The Big East is the deepest conference in the country

Yes, I know. It’s not the old Big East. That said, this ‘new’ Big East is still pretty, pretty good. This year they have three top-15 teams in Villanova, Xavier and Seton Hall. They also have plenty of depth, more than any other conference in the country. Last year the Big East put 70% of the conference in the NCAA Tournament, that number should be matched this year. There is a clear bottom two with Georgetown and DePaul simply being not good. But, that middle of the pack with Providence, Butler, St. John’s, Marquette and Creighton is incredibly strong. Providence is the clear 4th best team and then it’s a logjam for 5-8. I highly suggest tuning into FS1 to watch Big East games, because it’s the second best conference in America this year behind the ACC.

Streaks can be broken 

The streaks I’m talking about are the Big 10 not winning a title since 2000 (Michigan State) and a west coast team not winning a title since 1997 (Arizona). It’s pretty shocking to see those numbers and see the talent that has gone through the Big 10, Pac-12 and Gonzaga since that time. This year there are legit chances to see this streak ends with Michigan State, USC and Arizona as title contenders. People love to harp on you can’t win a title with a young team, at some point you have to say you can’t win a title if you play in the Pacific Time Zone. *Note, I’m completely joking and think both statements are ridiculously dumb.

New coaches in the Big 10 will pay off in the long haul

The Big 10 made three very important hires this offseason. The conference brought in Chris Holtmann (Butler to Ohio State), Brad Underwood (Oklahoma State to Illinois) and Archie Miller (Dayton to Indiana) this offseason. All three coaches are top-50 coaches in the country and all three are at schools where they should be very successful. All three programs have a rich recruiting base, strong enough history and plenty of resources/money to be successful. We’ve already seen it starting to pay off as Ohio State has an incredibly strong recruiting class coming in next year. Illinois has received commitments from a couple of four-stars and Indiana is in the running for some of the best recruits in the country. These are programs that all should be relevant and these three coaches help up the conference.

The SEC is finally relevant and it’s not because of Kentucky

The SEC has been stuck in the 5th or 6th spot in conference rankings for quite some time. That’s not the case this year as the SEC is likely the 3rd best conference in America and it has nothing to do with Kentucky. The conference has Florida making a comeback as a top-10 team in the country (and getting better each year). They have Alabama as a top-25 team, they have Missouri with a freshman class that resembles Kentucky. They have Texas A&M as a top-25 team with NBA talent on the roster. They have Mississippi State and Tennessee improving. They have South Carolina a year removed from a Final Four trip. The SEC still won’t get talked about until February due to college football, but fans of the conference will want to pay attention earlier.

The senior class is absolutely loaded

Last year we saw a dominant group of freshmen as they completely controlled the game. This year it’s the senior class that is dominant. Here’s just a list of a few seniors in the country: Jevon Carter (WVU), Joel Berry (UNC), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), JP Macura (Xavier), Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Desi Rodriguez (Seton Hall), Theo Pinson (UNC), Yante Maten (Georgia), Grayson Allen (Duke), Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech), Rob Gray (Houston), Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure), Gary Clark (Cincinnati), Jock Landale (St. Mary’s), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Devonte Graham (Kansas), Marcus Foster (Creighton), Matt Farrell (Notre Dame), Ky Cartwright (Providence), Vincent Edwards (Purdue), Kelan Martin (Butler), Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern), Johnathan Williams (Gonzaga), Nate Mason (Minnesota), Jordan McLaughlin (USC). I think you get my point. This class is really special.

Freshmen will dominate NBA Draft talk

While the senior class is loaded with great college basketball players, the freshman class is special, especially when you talk about the next level. Obviously we can’t talk about Luka Doncic as he’s playing overseas, but Michael Porter, Marvin Bagley, Collin Sexton, Mo Bamba and DeAndre Ayton are all going to be discussed as top-5 picks in the NBA Draft. They are all projected to be major players on their respective teams this year and if you watch the game just to keep an eye on top NBA talent, these are the guys (plus Miles Bridges) that you want to watch.

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Coaches on the hot seat

I don’t love the term hot seat but here are a list of coaches at major schools that need to have a successful season. Tim Miles (Nebraska), Pat Chambers (Penn State), Mark Fox (Georgia), Brad Brownell (Clemson), Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Kevin Ollie (UConn), Jim Christian (Boston College), Kevin Stallings (Pitt), Dave Leitao (DePaul), Jeff Lebo (East Carolina).

This is an important year for the American 

This is a conference that is sort of in a weird spot. They aren’t a ‘major 6′ conference but they are nowhere near a mid-major. They get a ton of help with Wichita State coming over to the conference this year, giving them another quality team and helps strengthen the top of the conference. But, they need the middle of the pack to get better and more consistent. Two things that need to happen for the AAC is UConn being UConn and relevant. They can’t be this consistent middle of the road AAC team. The other thing they need is those middle teams to get nonconference wins against quality opponents. We saw what the committee thinks of the conference when SMU/UC were both 6 seeds last year. This is an important year to flip what those people think of the league.

St. Mary’s can be Gonzaga

Last year everyone wanted to discredit Gonzaga because of the WCC and Gonzaga’s ‘failures’ in the NCAA Tournament, especially as a high seed. This year that will likely be St. Mary’s. They are a wildly efficient team, who makes you work on the defensive side of the ball. They like to run a ton of ball screens to make you communicate correctly and then they feed Jock Landale in the post to score. They have an inside-out game led by Landale and Emmett Naar and a top-20 coach in Randy Bennett. If they make a Final Four, do not be surprised because they are in the WCC.