The Redshirt Senior: Teams to Look Out For with College Basketball Just Around the Corner
It’s never too early to start thinking about basketball season. While professional basketball is already in the full swing of preseason and is caught up in a scandal with China, the infinitely more exciting college basketball season has something even better: ongoing scandals!
The latest reaction to the NCAA bringing the ban hammer down on programs was Snoop Dogg’s performance at the University of Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog event. His performance — which conveniently coincided with the NCAA’s investigation of head coach Bill Self potentially providing impermissible benefits to players and recruits — included Snoop Dogg wearing Adidas apparel (referencing the Adidas scandal a few years ago), pole dancers (referencing the recent investigation into the Georgia Institute of Technology’s basketball program)and a money gun shooting fake $100 bills into the crowd. It went over as well as one might expect with the Kansas administration, with athletic director Jeff Long issuing an apology the next day. The landscape is as exciting as ever!
So who are the frontrunners to win it all this season? It’s probably one of the teams that did well for themselves last year and had the crux of their talent return to school. Among those teams, the two that are most poised to make a long run are the University of Florida and Michigan State University. Florida is returning a breakout point guard in sophomore Andrew Nembhard and has pulled in the eighth-best recruiting class, per 247 Sports, which includes two five-star recruits in small forward Scottie Lewis and point guard Tre Mann. In addition, Florida won the sweepstakes for arguably the most talented student in the transfer portal with forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. committing to Florida after transferring from Virginia Tech. The Gators are awash with talent, but Blackshear coming in not only adds another big man to the starting rotation — he also adds leadership. Last season, the talent was with the young players, so any growing pains caused by Nembhard and the other young guns in Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson will be lessened with the addition of Blackshear. Florida is an obvious Final Four contender this upcoming season.
Michigan State is trying to recreate some of the magic from last year when the team took down the Duke University Fighting Zion Williamsons in last year’s Elite Eight. Michigan State’s best player on that team and one of the best players in the country, Cassius Winston, was instrumental in that win. He ended up returning to school instead of going pro. Cassius Winston is in fact the first player named to the AP All-American First Team to return to school in seven years; the last to do it was Doug McDermott in 2012. Winston, as a point guard, improved his scoring from 12.6 points per game to 18.8 points per game last season. Winston will also have another guard to help out in the backcourt with the return of Joshua Langford, who averaged 15 points per game to begin the 2018 season before his season ended with an ankle injury. Michigan State is a well-coached team which features the return of one of the best players in the country; sometimes the pick for which team will be the best is the obvious one.
Now that the power conference teams are out of the way, we can move on to the mid-majors. The Ivy League is especially relevant to this discussion, because Harvard University’s team is going to be really good, probably AP-Poll-ranking-at-points-in-the-season good. Harvard’s 2016 recruiting class are all seniors by this point and will all start for the team. Bryce Aiken (the 86th ranked recruit in the country that year), Chris Lewis (108th) and Seth Towns, (129th) will all suit up healthy for the first time in a long while, and the Crimson have already played well enough to compete for the Ivy League title when some of these three players sat out due to injury. Harvard has lost two straight years on the cusp of winning the Ivy League Tournament and with the talent the team has returning, in addition to the equally-as-well-ranked freshmen the Crimson have coming in, it would be difficult to imagine Harvard not giving the Ivy League the best representation it has had in a long time.
Other mid-majors to look out for include Gonzaga University, but the Bulldogs are good every year, so there’s not much to talk about there. In that team’s conference, however is Saint Mary’s University, a Catholic university located in the East Bay of San Francisco. Even after losing All-American big man Jock Landale and an All-Conference point guard in Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s found a way to crash the NIT due to head coach Randy Bennett (the brother of University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett). Bennett, like his brother, is keenly aware of the changes that occur across the college basketball landscape. Last year, Bennett implemented a more free-flowing game plan atop of the team’s usual Princeton offense. With that kind of adjustments made, and the loss of only one starter this past offseason, don’t be surprised if Saint Mary’s gives Gonzaga a run for their money in the West Coast Conference.