Last year, I attempted to lay out a series of predictions for the upcoming season, and as you’d expect, almost none of them worked out. TJ McConnell didn’t quite become Aaron Craft, Virginia (not Wisconsin) became everyone’s favorite slow playing team to hate, and a whopping one of my Final Four selections actually advanced to Indianapolis.
I’m going to give that another try, but this year I’m making things a little easier for myself. I’ll not only be projecting the players and teams that will come away with awards, trophies, and storylines, but also those that definitively will not.
You may be saying, “But Shane, that is so easy.” And I say, “Stop talking to your computer and just read it. Some of the ‘will nots’ are a lot more bold than the ‘wills’.”
Fred VanVleet WILL Win National Player of the Year
Let’s kick this things off with a blind comparison (all stats being per game):
PLAYER A: 13.6 points, 5.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 43% FG, 36% 3PT
PLAYER B: 20.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 48% FG, 39% 3PT
You’re clearly taking Player B, as you should. That’s Jameer Nelson’s Player of the Year season from 2003-2004.
So why compare VanVleet’s clearly inferior numbers to Nelson’s? Because their styles of play and circumstances are so familiar, that for VanVleet or Shocker fans to start thinking about NPOY, those are the type of numbers he’ll need. Both are point guards listed at 6’0/around 195 lbs, with a talented scoring backcourt mate (the first and last Ron Baker/Delonte West comparison ever made) at a high mid-major school.
This prediction then hangs on whether or not The Double V can increase his scoring output this season. Tekele Cotton is gone, leaving WSU as the VanVleet and Baker show. Every night out, one of those two will need to put 20 on the board, if not both, in order for the Shockers to be a top level team this season.
The opportunity will be there, but so is the capability. In postseason play last year (conference tourney and the Dance), VanVleet averaged 20.3 ppg. He keeps that rolling, he’ll be directly in the conversation during award season.
Kyle Wiltjer WILL NOT win National Player of the Year
Ah, that classic Palestra Back anti-Zags bias.
Wiltjer is among the early favorites for the big awards and rightfully so. He’s a returning second team All-American with another year of experience under his belt.
The problem, however, is unlike VanVleet, his opportunities won’t be growing this year. There will be more shots to be taken without Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Byron Wesley around, but they may not be Wiltjer’s shots to take.
I’ve already written about the Zags obscure front court predicament and it will undoubtedly affect Wiltjer’s production. He’ll be sharing minutes with two other bigs or potentially trying to play some minutes at the 3. Award voters may not love watching quicker forwards blow by him on the defensive end and even if the Zags do figure things out, it may take some time. Early season struggles or simply a period to settle in could prove harmful to Wiltjer’s personal stats.
Wichita State, Oklahoma, and Kentucky WILL make the Final Four
Wichita State: If VanVleet is good enough to win Player of the Year, he and Baker can get hot and return to the Final Four.
Oklahoma: Buddy Hield is capable this season of having the season Jerian Grant had last year. Along with other returning starters, like inside bruiser Ryan Spangler, he and coach Lon Kruger can lead the Sooners on a deep tourney run.
Kentucky: They may be the most talented team in the country and that’s a pretty nice attribute to have. Their three guards will give people fits and Alex Poythress is chomping at the bit to return to the court.
Villanova, Indiana, and Iowa State WILL NOT make the Final Four
Villanova: Sorry boys, JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard aren’t walking through that door. They were the rocks that Jay Wright’s team was built on last year. I worry about a team that is built on the erratic shooting of Ryan Arcidiacono, a freshman (Jalen Brunson), and a big man who can’t score (Daniel Ochefu).
Indiana: It’s just not possible to win four consecutive games against good competition with a coach as worrisome as Tom Crean.
Iowa State: Speaking of coaching worries, there’s nothing to suggest Steve Prohm won’t be successful at ISU, but advancing this far in his first season would be a tall task.
North Carolina WILL NOT win the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
I’ve already laid out my anti-UNC case elsewhere, but I’ll reiterate some of it here, focusing even more on the Marcus Paige injury. Paige broke a metatarsal bone in his hand, and as someone who has done the same thing, I will say that he shouldn’t have slid into home during a wiffleball game on a tennis court. No wait, that was me. He did it while playing basketball.
He will, however, be sidelined for nearly a month, missing crucial games for the Tar Heels. He’ll miss games against Temple, Northern Iowa, and Northwestern, and potentially the huge Big Ten-ACC Showdown matchup with Maryland.
This is certainly better than missing Paige at the end of the season, but the Heels could struggle early on and this could show us chinks in their armor moving forward.
Maryland WILL win the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
If there are three better, more balanced, more complementary players than Jake Layman, Melo Trimble, and Diamond Stone in college basketball, I’d like you to introduce me to them. No team is more capable of beating you in such different ways. Trimble can lead the Maryland guards if you want to run up and down, while Stone is ready to muscle with anyone inside.
Fourteen years after the last title came to College Park, Mark Turgeon and his boys could bring another home this season.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.