1. Kentucky, not Tennessee, wins the SEC
Yes, Tennessee is the better team right now, despite Kentucky’s impressive back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Louisville. But the Wildcats are coming. John Calipari seems to have figured out how to fit the puzzle pieces together, which was always the issue. Not talent.
2. Virginia wins the national championship
If it’s possible for an 11-0 team to fly under the radar, Virginia has done just that. The Hoos have the star power and structure to do so. What better way to avenge last year’s 16-1 upset than winning it all?
3. The Pac-12 sends two teams to the NCAA tournament, and one will play in the First Four
The Pac-12 doesn’t have a school in the KenPom top 35 as of this writing. Oregon and Arizona State are your most likely candidates.
4. On the flip side, the ACC sends at least nine schools to the dance
Possibly 10. The ACC currently has nine schools in the KenPom top 50, four of which are in the top 10. The league is as loaded as ever.
5. A 15-seed will beat a 2-seed
We won’t see UMBC over Virginia again, but it’ll be close. There are some really talented players at schools that don’t get much regular season love.
6. Kevin Keatts wins Coach of the Year honors
North Carolina State is 12-1 in Keatts’ second year. The Wolfpack isn’t going to keep up that kind of win percentage in the ACC, but if it can finish above .500 in the league, they’ll earn a solid NCAA tournament seed. And the Wolfpack doesn’t have a star player who stands out.
7. Nevada loses one regular season game
The Wolf Pack is undefeated going into conference play and have no obvious challenge in the Mountain West. But someone will trip them up along the way.
8. Villanova still wins the Big East despite early struggles
Talk to us when the Wildcats don’t run through the Big East. Marquette has looked really good in the nonconference, but Villanova’s league dominance since the new Big East formed is too much to ignore.
9. Syracuse barely squeaks into the NCAA tournament, but wins at least two games once there
Maybe this isn’t so bold, considering the past few seasons. The Orange don’t look like a team that can win two tournament games. But they have a knack for grinding out wins in March.
10. Ethan Happ will make at least one 3-pointer
Let’s get crazy! Happ has attempted three of them this season and has one make in his college career. Perhaps he’ll let one fly in a game the Badgers are up big.
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11. Zion Williamson wins the Naismith Award
But it’ll be very close. Happ and Dedric Lawson will get serious consideration. But Williamson will be the biggest name on one of the best teams, and he’ll have the numbers to back up the buzz.
12. Tre Jones will become so well-known for being underrated that he’ll eventually be properly rated
Jones is awesome. It’s already a popular talking point to suggest that he doesn’t get mentioned enough considering Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. And that’s true right now.
But people will be talking about him plenty by the time February rolls around. There’s no real way to measure this, but keep it in mind when consuming college hoops coverage.
13. Markus Howard has at least two 40-point games in Big East play
He already has a 40-point half. Nobody can score in bunches quite like Howard.
14. Two ACC schools will earn NCAA tournament 1-seeds
Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are all candidates. Three is a stretch, but one feels too low.
15. Ja Morant, known by college hoops diehards, will become a mainstream name in the NCAA tournament
The Murray State guard is averaging 23 points, 9.3 assists and seven rebounds. If the Racers make it to the dance, he could become an overnight superstar.
16. Kansas wins the Big 12 by multiple games
The Jayhawks haven’t looked great lately, and the Big 12 has a bunch of solid teams. But there’s no school that will seriously contend with Bill Self’s crew.
17. Northwestern will be a First Four team
The Wildcats’ losses are excusable: they’ve fallen to Indiana, Oklahoma, Michigan and Fresno State. They’ll pick up a few nice Big Ten wins and head to Dayton.
18. Kentucky will beat Kansas on their Jan. 26 showdown
Kansas has gotten the better of Kentucky each of the past three years, but look for the surging Wildcats to end that streak in a few weeks.
19. Virginia Tech won’t shoot 40 percent from 3 for the year
The Hokies are at an astonishing 44.4 percent right now. They’re an excellent shooting team and could easily prove this wrong. But 44 percent feels unsustainable, and their competition level is about to rise drastically going through ACC play.
20. Oklahoma falls out of the top 20 in defensive efficiency
The Sooners are currently eighth, which sticks out considering they weren’t expected to be a dominant defensive team coming into the season. Some of this is real, but Oklahoma should regress to the mean once it plays some Big 12 games.
21. Nassir Little will average 25 minutes per game during March
The reasons Roy Williams hasn’t used Little as much as expected have been well documented, but he’s learning the nuances of the college game. Little is still extraordinarily talented, and if the Tar Heels are going to make a title run, they’ll need the best version of him.
22. Cincinnati wins the American
Houston is undefeated right now, but the Bearcats are more proven and have been playing better as of late. They square off on Feb. 10.
23. Gonzaga makes the Final Four
The Bulldogs came out of a grueling nonconference schedule 12-2 with the best offense in the country, and Killian Tillie hasn’t even played yet. A Tillie, Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura frontcourt trio could be the best in the land.
24. The WCC sends two teams to the NCAA tournament
Gonzaga, and either St. Mary’s or San Francisco. Keep an eye on the Dons, who are 12-2 and have one of the better defenses in the country.
25. Carsen Edwards edges Markus Howard for a first-team All-American spot
These two are so similar right now, but Edwards plays in a better conference and has even more of an offensive burden to carry. It’s really splitting hairs between these two.
26. Chris Clemons averages 30 points per game
The Campbell guard is currently at 29.6. He’s certainly never been shy on offense; Clemons is attempting 10.5 3s per game. If he’s this close to 30, look for him to go off in his final few games.
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27. Tacko Fall shoots 80 percent from the floor
He’s at 80 right now, which is remarkable. Fall has made 15 of his last 17 shot attempts. The 7-6 center is as reliable as they come.
28. Butler’s Jordan Tucker becomes the latest Duke transfer to shine
Tucker, who left Duke last season, became eligible at the end of the first semester. He has 35 points and 15 rebounds in 52 minutes of action. Tucker should play more, and if he does, Butler should still earn an NCAA bid.
30. Ole Miss reaches the NCAA tournament
The Rebels have quietly compiled a 10-2 record and have the No. 28 offense in the country. They haven’t lost since Nov. 24, and Kermit Davis has them playing a pretty brand of basketball.
31. Jahvon Quinerly settles into the rotation for Villanova
Quinerly has had a tough start to his college career, to say the least. But he played 25 minutes in his last outing against UConn and looked solid. If he approaches his preseason hype, Villanova’s ceiling is undeniably higher.
32. Florida earns a 6-seed or higher in the NCAA tournament
The Gators rank near the bottom of KenPom’s “luck” rating. The Gators have blown out good teams, and their losses have generally been tight. Look for Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen to improve in the second half of the year.
33. Cam Reddish bounces back, averages 15 points per game by season’s end
Reddish has really struggled after a nice start. He’s down to 37 percent shooting and only played 20 minutes against Texas Tech. But he’s too talented to scuffle for long, and Reddish was known for being streaky coming into college. A hot stretch is coming.