Who really knows what will happen? These college basketball takes may be crazy, but they aren’t impossible.
September is one of the most exciting times in sports.
Anticipation is building from all angles; the MLB is getting set for its final stretch, the NFL is finishing up the preseason, and colleges across the nation start their fall semester– which means both college football and college basketball start working their way into the national spotlight again.
While the nation gets set for Week One, college basketball fans get their first look at the squads their schools have assembled this offseason. More importantly, fans start the annual tradition of guessing who will win it all in the tournament– three months before the season even starts.
The quest for March starts NOW, and here are five way-too-early, sizzling-hot takes to get your blood pumping.
1. St. John’s finishes the year in the top 15 in the AP Poll
Rick Pitino has been around the block. Since 1975, Pitino has amassed an impressive 711-290 college coaching record to go along with an eight-year stint NBA. Pitino has worked with a plethora of great coaches in his tree, including Jim Boeheim, Billy Donovan, and Jeff Van Gundy. He has established himself as a member of basketball royalty.
Expect his Red Storm to have a breakout season.
Last year, St. John’s went 7-13 in the Big East (finished 8th). A combination of a lackluster season and a coaching turnover led to eight members of the team leaving via the transfer portal. But Pitino reloaded, adding eight transfers of his own to make up the nation’s 7th best incoming transfer class.
Of the eight transfers, Pitino landed six 4-star transfers. His crown jewel: Penn guard Jordan Dingle. Dingle was the nation’s second-highest scorer last year with 23.4 PPG on 46.4% shooting, 35.7% from three-point range. Dingle seems like the perfect piece to lead St. John’s to a magical season while shaking up the Big East in the process. Pitino also returns center Joel Soriano, the Big East’s leading rebounder last year and a top-10 scorer. Dingle and Soriano could emerge as one of the nation’s best duos as the season gets underway.
Don’t be surprised when St. John’s makes waves this year.
2. UConn finishes the regular season unranked
Storrs, Connecticut, won’t like this one, but it’s tough to bet on the title-defending Huskies this year.
UConn has five NCAA Division I National Championships for men’s basketball in program history (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014, 2023). In the years following their first four, the rebound was tough. In 2000, 2005, and 2012, UConn didn’t make it past the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament. In 2012 and 2015, the Huskies finished the regular season unranked in the AP Poll. Head coach Dan Hurley, with both Rhode Island and UConn, has appeared in five NCAA Tournaments. He has made it past the first weekend once: this past season.
UConn’s top two scorers, Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, are gone. 6th man Naheim Alleyne is off to St. John’s. Cam Spencer and his three-point prowess join the squad, but that’s the only incoming transfer for the Huskies.
UConn does, however, bring in the nation’s 4th best recruiting class into this season, highlighted by the 2023’s 9th-best recruit in Stephon Castle.
A shimmer of hope for the Huskies, but it will be hard to repeat the success from last season.
3. Syracuse makes it to the ACC Tournament semis
Jim Boeheim’s out, and no one can thank the man enough for all that he’s done for the sport. But it feels like his replacement, Adrian Autry, is about to have some beginner’s luck.
Autry has been with the program as a coach since 2011 and played under Boeheim from 1990-94. Autry knows the climate of Salt City; he’s been front and center for the good times and the bad. Syracuse made the decision to stay in-house to replace Boeheim and fans seem pleased with the choice. Gerry McNamara, Autry’s competition for the head coaching job, is staying with the program as well as the associate head coach. These two know the program well, have experience working together, are both members of the Boeheim coaching tree, and are already familiar with the returning roster. A perfect storm?
Speaking of the roster, Autry has a core of talent returning and some key transfers joining the program. Junior forward Benny Williams comes back for his third season in orange. While he only recorded three double-doubles last season, Williams is looking primed for his inevitable breakout season. Sophomore guard Judah Mintz is paired with Notre Dame transfer (and Central New York native) J.J. Starling. Mintz was a star in the conference, while Starling was undervalued on a struggling Notre Dame team. The two make up what will be one of the most talented backcourts in the ACC.
Kansas transfer Kyle Cuffe, Jr. looks to bounce back after a lower-body injury ended his time with the Jayhawks last season, adding some depth at guard. Then you throw Naheem McLeod into the mix, a 7-4 junior who adds even more rim protection to a team that led the conference in blocks per game last season.
It’s looking up for the Orange. If they can gel during September workouts (and hopefully stray away from the 2-3 defense) they should be in position to stun the ACC in March.
4. Purdue to the Final Four
Just five months removed from a stunning loss to 16th seed Fairleigh-Dickinson, it’s a bit premature to claim that a heavily criticized Purdue team in the 2022-23 season is about to make a run in March. But Zach Edey’s coming back… and that changes things.
Let’s look at last year’s national rankings from the 7-4 junior:
- 6th in scoring (22.3 PPG)
- 2nd in rebounding (12.9 RPG)
- 18th in blocks (2.1 BLK)
- 1st in double-doubles (27)
Add all that to over 60% from the floor and Edey looks like a prime candidate to defend his Naismith and Wooden Awards. But how did Purdue reload?
They didn’t, and they didn’t have to.
The Boilermakers are returning 11 players to a team that only lost six games last season. They also brought in five freshmen highlighted by Myles Colvin, a Top 100 player in the class of 2023. This group is littered with veteran experience who have played a lot of basketball together, and who have all experienced a 16-over-1 upset in the NCAA Tournament.
The Boilermakers have a lot to play for. They’ll sweep the Big Ten Conference Championship and then ride that momentum through March.
5. North Carolina wins the 2024 National Championship
Uh oh, somebody said it… again.
Last year was a nightmare for the Tar Heels after coming off of a National Championship Game appearance in 2022. It only took five weeks for North Carolina to drop out of the AP top 25 after holding the top spot coming into the season. They finished 7th in the ACC, lost in the quarterfinals in the ACC Tournament, and missed out on the dance. The loss of Brady Manek proved costly, and Armando Bacot took a step in the wrong direction. Now heading into this season, North Carolina loses two of their top scorers in Leaky Black and Caleb Love.
But things feel different.
Armando Bacot and RJ Davis are back to provide a veteran presence. The Tar Heels added Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan to provide the shooting. Ryan is one of three 4-star transfers coming to Chapel Hill this year, and the 12th-best player in the 2023 class in Elliot Cadeau joins the team as well. Behind the seniors, UNC is an early contender for the “dark horse” to win it all. But they seem to say that every year, don’t they?