I have grouped our college basketball futures into four tiers in order to accommodate for varying degrees of risk tolerance. If you are following along, find a team you like in your desired comfort zone or take some teams from the first few categories to ride to the finish line, and one or two long shots that could offer a nice hedge opportunity come March.
Michigan State 7-1
I’m not sure if there’s any actual value here at the moment (it might be better to see if they get off to a slow start), but the combo of Tom Izzo and Tom Izzo’s most talented roster is enticing. Sparty is my preseason pick to win it all, so I might as well put my money where my mouth is. If Cassius Winston makes a sophomore leap, Sparty has an elite point guard, the best wing in the country and a dominant back-to-the-basket big, plus great depth.
Jalen Brunson is arguably the best point guard in the country, they have an elite defensive wing with a burgeoning offensive game in Mikal Bridges, and if Omari Spellman is the real deal on the block, this team profiles similarly to the national championship team, especially if Phil Booth is healthy. Sign me up.
Mick Cronin’s teams are always going to defend and protect the rim at an elite level. What makes Cincy incredibly dangerous this year is that Cronin bolstered the offense with the Cane Broome, who jumped off the NEC Front Row stream two years ago when I watched him at Sacred Heart. Broome surrounded by top-shelf athletes and a top-shelf defense makes the Bearcats my favorite "sleeper." Unfortunately, it appears a lot of other folks are on the Cincy train, as their value has slowly evaporated through the course of the offseason.
The Boilermakers have underrated athleticism, a solid senior point guard, and the duo of Edwards’ (Vince and Carson) can mitigate the loss of Caleb Swanigan’s offense while simultaneously improving the defense.
Notre Dame 66-1
The Irish have too many solid pieces at the right spots to ignore — and a coach that has a history of exceeding March expectations in the recent past. Matty Farrell is a veteran, solid point guard who knows Mike Brey’s offense like the back of his hand, and he has an All-American candidate in Bonzie Colson to feed in the post, plus an underrated wing corps.
LONG SHOT TIER:
The Sooners have a lot of question marks, but Trae Young has the potential to take the Big 12 by storm as a freshman point guard with unlimited range, and Lon Kruger’s offensive scheme will maximize his talents immediately.
The two Cincy teams are actually my two favorite futures picks. Trevon Bluiett (hopefully the shoulder injury isn’t a lingering issue) can throw this team on his back when he needs to, but a lot depends on the development of Quentin Goodin at the point. Chris Mack’s switching zone defenses are impossible to prepare for in tournament situations, and while the frontcourt has some question marks, Mack and his staff always maximize the paint talent.
DEEP CUTS TIER:
San Diego State 150-1
Brian Dutcher is going to open up the offense, and this Aztec team can make shots and score in bunches. You might not recognize them when they blow Arizona State out of the water next Tuesday, and the hype train will start to get a little crowded, especially if they continue to defend at a typical Steve Fisher level as well.
Texas Tech 400-1
I’m a Chris Beard fan, and the Red Raiders have one of the most athletic wing corps in the country. TTU should be fully versed in his pack line defense in his second season in Lubbock, and Keenan Evans is overlooked in the deep Big 12.
Middle Tennessee 700-1
MTSU isn’t going to run away with the CUSA title again this year, so they might be flying under the radar a bit in March, but the Blue Raiders are every bit as athletic and physical as a power conference team, and Kermit Davis’ constantly shifting aggressive zone is difficult to prepare for. Giddy Potts gets all the pub in the backcourt with the best shooting stroke in the game, but sophomore point guard Tyrik Dixon is as cool as they come.
TEAMS TO AVOID
- North Carolina 18-1
- UCLA 60-1
- West Virginia 65-1
- Seton Hall 125-1
- South Carolina 125-1
5 UNDERVALUED MID-MAJORS
Come conference tournament season, here are five teams that are currently flying a bit under the radar in their respective leagues:
1. Georgia State (Sun Belt) – D’Marcus Simonds is one of the best penetrating guards in the country, and Ron Hunter’s aggressive half-court trapping zone is always a matchup issue, especially in a league that doesn’t shoot the 3-pointer well.
2. Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) – Belmont figures to be a touch less dominant this year, and Murray State’s defense is problematic. EKU has the league’s best big in Nick Mayo, and Dan McHale’s Pitino-esque zone pressure should be more effective this year.
3. BYU (West Coast) – St. Mary’s and Gonzaga are going to get all the press, but the Cougars hold some value. Dave Rose’s best teams have always been more backcourt centric, and the return of Heath Schroyer to the Provo sidelines immediately improves the defense.
4. Mercer (Southern) – Bob Hoffman has five senior starters in Macon. The last time Bob Hoffman had five senior starters, the Bears famously knocked off Duke as a 14 seed.
5. Utah Valley (WAC)– Mark Pope has built a monster in Orem. UVU can spread the floor with shooters in a transition-based attack, and the addition of Oklahoma transfer Akolda Manyang gives them unparalleled athleticism in the frontcourt. The WAC is deep this year, but UVU could be the league’s most lethal team.
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