College Basketball is back, and I mean fully back. I know we had a season last year, but I'm not afraid to admit it was a watered down version. Seating restrictions, half empty stadiums , cancellations, etc. College Basketball was not all the things we love about it. Court storming were down, student sections weren't as filled. Overall , chaos was down - as most reflected by the rather tame NCAA Tournament, which resulted in the top two overall seeds meeting in a letdown of a Championship Game.
This year seems to be extremely different, and as Jon Rothstein says, the buzz is "palpable". The season kicks off tomorrow with a loaded slate capped off by The Champions Classic (Michigan State vs Kansas and Duke vs Kentucky) at Madison Square Garden. Everyone is ready to go , everyone is excited, everyone is undefeated, everyone has a chance. There's nothing quite like opening night. Endless possibilities. What's the best way to celebrate the opening tip of the season you ask ? Place a few bets on who can win the National Championship.
Here's a handful of futures I would look at via the Barstool Sportsbook :
I liked this one a lot more before the reports of Remy Martin playing himself out of the starting lineup in an exhibition game . However, even with that said. I do think the Jayhawks bring back a great deal of talent, and bring in a great deal of talent- led by Remy Martin . The Arizona State transfer scored 19.1 ppg while dishing out 3.7 assists last season. There's a ton of pressure on him to end on a successful note and possibly play himself into an NBA roster spot after an underwhelming season last year.
Additionally, the Jayhawks add Joseph Yesufu from Drake, and Jalen Coleman-Lands from Iowa St. The return Jalen Wilson (who'll miss the first 3 games as a suspension), Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack - all double digit scorers last season.
Bill Self is one of the coaches most due for a national title in the country right now. 2008 seems like an eternity ago. The Big 12 will be a challenge, but you have to put Kansas right in that race. I like the experience, and I like the additions of Martin and Yesufu , to me Kansas has to be taken seriously, and I'll roll with 15-1.
The SEC is LOADED, and despite what Reags tries to tell you.. it goes much deeper than Kentucky. Various outlets have talked about Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi St as conference contenders. Add in Florida, LSU as teams likely to make the NCAA Tournament, and the depth speaks for itself. Back to the contenders ... Kentucky didn't even make the NIT last year. Granted they bring in some great transfers (Kellan Grady) and a top recruit (Tyty Washington), however for my money- I'd back the team who won the regular season crown and the SEC tournament crown... The Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Tide loses NBA talent in Josh Primo and Herb Jones, however Jahvon Quinerly , 5 star frosh JD Davison , and Jaden Shackelford can pick up the slack as one of the best backcourts in the country. What makes Alabama such a fun team to watch is their lockdown defense. It's one thing to play fast which Bama does (11th fastest tempo in the country), and great offensively (30th in the country), but it's very rare to match those numbers with the 3rd best defensive efficiency in the country.
Coach Nate Oats has found a system that focuses on shots at the rim, and three pointers, while playing exceptional defense. The defensive standouts like Juwan Gary, Keon Ellis will be the anchors for Alabama. Add in Noah Gurley who put up 15 ppg for Furman last year and 7 foot freshman Charles Bediako add depth.
Alabama plays a very difficult schedule, which Oats has said he loves because of how many tests it gives his team. I think those tests + the grueling SEC schedule is exactly what you will want come March . Bama may take a few losses , but this team is built to succeed . I'll take +2000 - thank you very much.
PS- if they hit a free throw or two last year vs UCLA- they very much could have been in the championship game.
Remember that conference that came out of nowhere and had a ton of success in the NCAA Tournament last year ? It was the Pac 12. And for all the love UCLA got , and they did make an impressive run , they needed overtime to beat Michigan St in the play in game. The Bruins bring everyone back, and are expected to be atop the Pac 12. Don't you dare sleep on the Ducks though.
Depth and experience. The Oregon starting lineup is 2 seniors and 3 juniors. 5 players (Will Richardson, De'Vion Harmon (Oklahoma transfer), Eric Williams , Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse transfer), and Jacob Young (Rutgers transfer) scored in double digits last season.
The Ducks can cause size matchup problems with 6'11 N'Faly Dante (8.2 ppg 5.8 rpg), and 6'11 top recruit freshman Nate Bittle.
The last piece to me is a coach I can trust. Dana Altman is very much one you can trust.
2021- sweet 16, 2020- no tourney - predicted as a 4 seed 2019- sweet 16 2018- missed tourney 2017- Final 4, 2016- Elite 8
We saw it last year with Scott Drew finally being able to break through and win a National Title after a decade of success. If Drew didn't win last year, it was Mark Few. If Few lost to UCLA in the Final Four it could have been Mick Cronin.
My point here is - if you succeed during the year, year over year - you can eventually catch all the breaks you need to final hang a banner. I think Altman is one of the guys and I'm buying Oregon at 35-1.
Enjoy all the games tomorrow and this week . Check out the newest episode of Barstool Bench Mob which features our Final Four picks.