The college basketball season tips off today.
It is too early to start college basketball season. But start it will.
Nobody ever asks me.
Anyway, the race for March starts for 306 Division I teams. That used to be a ludicrous statement, but over the last decade teams like Loyola(Chi), Florida Atlantic, and Saint Peters have proven that all 306 teams indeed have a chance.
Having said that, I have things to do. It is November, and I’ve got Christmas decorations to get in place. In no way, shape, or form can I look at 306 teams. With all due respect to the little guys, who become our favorite guys to pull for come March, I am going to take a look at the big boys for my college basketball preview.
On paper this seems fairly straight forward. It is Duke and everyone else. I picked Duke to win it all last year —which anyone that knows me understands how painful that was for me — and they failed me. I think Kyle Filipowski came back to Duke to right this wrong.
The ACC falls under “how the mighty have fallen” mantra. Duke clearly has the best roster in the league. North Carolina has a quality roster as well. Big time transfer Harrison Ingram and freshman of the year candidate Elliot Cadeau should give the Tar Heels a different look. My concern is Hubert Davis is still the coach. I love Davis, but I am not sure he has the toughness as a coach to get the most from his players.
I literally say this every year, but don’t sleep on Miami. Jim Larranaga has quite a thing going in Coral Gables. Nigel Pack is back, and NIL money has a steady funnel of talent finding its way to Miami.
The rest of the league? Eh.
Clemson and Virginia are probably the next two best teams. Teams have learned to combat the Cavaliers slow down game the last couple of years. Clemson is always good enough to be on the bubble. Someone among Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Pitt, NC State, or Florida State will probably step up into that second tier of teams.
Syracuse will have a different look. Jim Boeheim’s always interesting press conferences are gone. Former Orangeman and Boeheim understudy Adrian Audrey takes over.
Notre Dame was the landing spot for former Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry. I loved what Shrewsberry did at Penn State, and he brought a lot of those players and recruits with him to South Bend. The Irish may be better than most think.
My Louisville Cardinals could have a new coach by Christmas. The Kenny Payne experience has been an absolute disaster, and if losing to another division II team in the preseason is any indication, it won’t improve anytime soon. Such a shame for a historic program. More importantly, such a shame for me.
Final Four Shot: Duke.
This is the home of the defending national champs.
UConn is going to be good again. But how good? The Huskies lost a lot of talent of their championship squad, and it will be hard to replace all of it. Look for the Huskies to slip back a bit and raise head coach DannyHurley’s blood pressure just a bit.
Shaka Smart was a bad fit in Texas. He is a great fit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His Marquette Golden Eagles will be the team to beat in the Big East in large part because of player of the year candidate Tyler Kolek.
Creighton should be in the hunt as well. A lot returns for head coach Greg McDermott, but he has to replace his point guard which is sometimes a dicey proposition.
Three other teams will be interesting to watch.
Villanova doesn’t stay down for long, and it will be important for second year coach Kyle Neptune to show marked improvement. Nova fans are used to a certain level of play. The Wildcats should be a 6-9 seed type tournament team this year.
Providence is now led by Kim English after Easy Ed Cooley slithered his way to Georgetown to bury his career. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare for English, so the Friars should be at least a bubble type team.
The biggest news came out of the biggest city. Rick Pitino takes over at St. John’s. Pitino gutted the roster ala Deion Sanders. One returner, center Joel Soriano, will mix with a bunch of transfers from Rinky Dink U. If Pitino can mesh these guys into a contending team then he will cement his reputation as one of the greatest coaches of all time. Just keep him out of the NYC restaurants late at night.
Final Four Shot: Marquette, Creighton
The Big 12 was already loaded, and then the conference added Houston to the mix. Cincinnati, UCF, and BYU bring at least a little bit to the table as well.
I am not sure Houston will look as strong playing big boys night in and night out. So, make no mistake, this conference still runs through Lawrence, Kansas. Bill Self lost some talent, but he added one huge piece in Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson. My guess is that Self won’t waste Dickinson quite the way Juwan Howard did. Wash, rinse, repeat. Kansas is a Final Four contender.
I think the next tier of teams could come in any order.
I like Texas, with head coach Rodney Terry getting the full time gig, to be a contender. The Horns return plenty of talent and add Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas. People seem to sleep on TCU, and I don’t know why. Jamie Dixon adds Jameer Nelson’s kid to the mix this season. Nelson will join a good core of returners in Fort Worth.
Houston, Kansas State, and Baylor should be in the mix as well. Kansas State will rely heavily on transfers again, which makes me a little nervous. Baylor is also relying more heavily on transfers this year. Houston lost its power duo —Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker— but still has talent.
Iowa State has the best named freshman in Omaha Biliew.
West Virginia will be interesting. They brought in some big time transfers, but will no longer have Bob Huggins positioned on his stool on the sidelines. The Mountaineers could beat some people.
Final Four Shot: Kansas
I am hearing about Tennessee, Texas A&M, and a youthful Kentucky team.
Why am I not hearing about Arkansas?
All Eric Musselman does is go to Sweet Sixteens. The Razorbacks return a bunch of scorers, and through the portal have added some really intriguing pieces. I trust Arkansas more than any of the three teams mentioned above.
Everyone knows I love “The Buzzard” Buzz Williams. It hasn’t taken him long to get Texas A&M on a great trajectory. The Aggies will certainly be right there at the end of the season. Wade Taylor may be the best guard in the country.
I don’t trust Rick Barnes. Tennessee has a tendency to go into long offensive lulls. Barnes will have the Vols in position come tourney time, even with a spotty offense. I just don’t think there will be enough offense, though the defense will be typically strong.
John Calipari hasn’t returned to the Sweet Sixteen in four years nor the championship game in eight years. The young talent keeps arriving on his doorstep --can you say World Wide Wes-- but winning big has eluded Calipari. Led by DJ Wagner, Kentucky has a very youthful roster again this year. I know, shocking. Calipari needs to advance this year, or the wolves of Kentucky will growl even louder.
Alabama and Auburn should be the other upper half teams in the SEC. Nate Oats will be tested this year in Tuscaloosa. He had a huge roster turnover, so it will be a struggle for for Oats and the Crimson Tide to get rolling. Bruce Pearl should have enough up his sleeve to keep the Tigers competitive.
The SEC should be fun this year.
Final Four Shot: Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky
I need Kenny Loggins to fire up his hit song “This is It”. One last run for the Pac-12 before everyone goes their separate ways. Wait, maybe I need Journey to fire up that song.
There won’t be a shortage of good teams for the last season of Pac-12 play.
Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, USC, and Colorado should all be no brainer tournament teams. Only one will reign supreme in the conference.
I think that team will be USC. Andy Enfield just keeps bringing in high end talent. Isaiah Collier will possibly be the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft. He will be paired with veteran Boogie Ellis to form the best backcourt in college basketball. Transfer DJ Rodman —yes, you know who his dad is— and Bronny James --yes, you know who his dad is-- bring legendary names and talent to the team. Returner Kobe Johnson does all of the little things. The key for USC is getting a full season from big man Vincent Iwuchukwu. The Trojans may just be a basketball school this year.
Arizona added North Carolina guard Caleb Love, who needed a fresh start. When he isn’t scoring, he will be feeding player of the year candidate Oumar Ballo. A lack of quality depth that head coach Tommy Lloyd is used to is why I don’t think the Wildcats win the league.
Mick Cronin’s critics will be out in full force. This will be a bit of a rebuild in Westwood. Freshman of the year Adem Bona is the only returner from the starting lineup. I still think Cronin and his freshman class will be good by season’s end.
Colorado is going to be sneaky good. Nobody will pay attention to them, but the Buffs will be good. Cody Williams is the fourth ranked recruit in the class of 2023, and TCU transfer Eddie Lampkin give Colorado a potent lineup.
Oregon also brings in a great freshman class, and I never sleep on head coach Dana Altman.
Final Four Shot: USC and Arizona.
Zach Edey and a few of his sharpshooting friends are back for Purdue. If the Boilermakers can figure out how to play tournament basketball they may be dangerous. I think Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the country.
Purdue will win the Big Ten.
However, the team to watch come March will be Michigan State. It pains me to say that. While the rest of the world finds Tom Izzo engaging and authentic, most of the time I find him pretentious and boorish. He has cast the transfer portal aside. He’s old school. He has been building his roster, and then added three top 50 recruits which he will undoubtedly develop. Come March he will have a team that is tough and hard to beat.
Illinois should be decent. Terrance Shannon is back, but I now have doubts about the mental stability of head coach Brad Underwood.
The rest of this conference is a total question mark. It could potentially be an all-time bad year for the Big Ten.
The teams that could rise to tournament quality teams are Indiana and Maryland. I am not sold on Indiana's Mike Woodson as a coach. He got the least out of the most with Trayce Jackson-Davis. On the other hand, I love Maryland coach Kevin Willard. Willard returns three starters which should be enough to get a tournament bid.
Watching Wisconsin basketball is much like watching Iowa football.
Watching Rutgers basketball is much like watching Rutgers football.
Boo Bouie is back for his seventeenth season at Northwestern. He will most likely have far more degrees than tournament bids.
Nebraska and Ohio State got hot at the end of last year, but both teams probably lost too many pieces to be viable this year.
Juwan Howard may beat Jim Harbaugh out the door at Michigan.
Micah Shrewsberry and Penn State were my favorite storyline last season. Shrewsberry is gone along with most of the roster. Mike Rhodes will have the Nittany Lions win more games than you think. He brought Ace Baldwin with him from VCU and added Puff Johnson and D’Marco Dunn from North Carolina. Both were highly touted recruits a year ago. Rhodes preaches defense, and the easiest way to build is through defense. Many have the Nittany Lions dead last in their predictions. I don’t think it will be that bad.
Final Four Shot: Purdue and Michigan State.
Who Else Should We Watch Out For?
- Florida Atlantic- Dusty May returns just about the whole ball of wax from a 35 win team that fell one point short of reaching the championship game. It would be hard to duplicate that feat, but I wouldn’t look the other way either.
- San Diego St- The Aztecs are the team that put the dagger in FAU. Four big players are back for another run. The Mountain West is always a good league and will have the Aztecs, New Mexico Lobos, Colorado State Rams, and Boise State Broncos postseason ready.
- Gonzaga- The Zags will be good, but I feel like they missed their window.
- St. Mary’s- The Gaels may be the better team in the WCC this year. Tough and hard nosed, St. Mary’s is an uncomfortable matchup.
- Memphis- Penny Hardaway has assembled a band of castoffs that average 23 years of age. They shouldn’t get rattled, and should mesh well enough to make the tournament.
Final Four Picks
My esteemed colleague The Two Cent Cracked Crystal Ball is still working on himself at his retreat. So, I guess I will wing these picks on my own.
It would be so Duke of Duke to win it all the year after I picked them to do so. I hated picking Duke. I do have Duke in the Final Four.
Joining Duke, I like Kansas, Michigan State, and Arkansas.
I think teams like USC, FAU, Texas, Marquette, and Creighton will be in the mix. We all know there will be some team come out of nowhere to make things interesting.
Here is my Final Four bracket:
Arkansas over Duke(I refuse to pick them twice in a row so you should probably put money on the Blue Devils)
Kansas over Michigan State
My National Champion: Arkansas
I wish March didn’t seem so far away. There is nothing like March Madness. The season should start on Thanksgiving weekend, but there is money to be made by networks and athletic departments.
I won’t stand in the way.
I will be tuned in tonight to check out as many games as I can.
The road to March starts now. Enjoy the Pre-Madness.
Two Cent Takes
~Oklahoma ain’t it. I sort of figured that at start of year. It makes me wonder if Texas is it. If it weren’t for a really poor coaching decision, the Longhorns may have been cooked on Saturday by Kansas State.
~Did Penn State fix its offense or is Maryland finished for the year? Probably a combination of the two. One thing is for sure, getting Drew Allar some confidence could not have come at a better time. Up next is Michigan. No word on whether there were spies on the Maryland sideline.
~Don’t look now, but Alabama is back in the mix. Get ready Atlanta, the Tide will be rolling in for the SEC Championship.
~Brian Kelly and Lincoln Riley are realizing rebuilding the defense is far harder than rebuilding the offense.
~Speaking of Riley, he finally fired DC Alex Grinch. This comes approximately nine months too late. Riley’s stubbornness cost USC two chances at a playoff berth with a generational quarterback. Without Caleb Williams, USC is an average team. This was never going to be a quick rebuild, but Riley tried to make it one. Thanks to Williams he almost pulled it off.
~Saturday night the Trojans lost 52-42 to Washington. They gave up 256 yards rushing, 199 of those before contact, to a kid who never ran for 100 yards in a game.
How bad was Grinch’s defense, with better players than last year by the way.
~What was Grinch’s problem? Here was my thought.
Worse than ignoring the film is that his plan was failing miserably, so why not try something different? He stares at that card like it is the Holy Grail. Bad alignments to begin with and zero adjustments. He is the Grinch that stole a championship opportunity. #FightOn #USC https://t.co/21pXSFAdO3— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) November 5, 2023
~Lincoln Riley’s first phone call should be.
~His second phone call should be.
USC needs this energy from Coach O ✌🏼 pic.twitter.com/mLRGnwDjLW— Nico (@USC_Nico) November 5, 2023
~Pitt’s 2023 season encapsulated in one play.
I’ve watched Pitt football my whole life.— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) November 4, 2023
This is the absolute most Pitt football play in Pitt football history (post Dan Marino)
~Notre Dame lost to a 4-4 Clemson team. Head coach Marcus Freeman has a long way to go to get comfortable in South Bend. No conference. No major bowl games. No marquee players. Not great.
~Arizona beat UCLA Saturday night. The Wildcats are a two point conversion vs USC from being 7-2 and right in the Pac-12 race. Jed Fisch will be taking a quality team to the Big 12 next year.
~The Chip Kelly experience just isn’t going well at UCLA. Need evidence?
It's looking like UCLA has one win over a winning team this year (Coastal Carolina, which is going to finish something like 7-5/8-4). If UCLA beats USC, Chip Kelly will be 7-28 against winning teams; if UCLA loses, 6-29.— David Woods (@daviddavidwoods) November 5, 2023
~Two Cent Top Ten:
- Florida State
- Ohio State
- Ole Miss
~The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to pull rabbits out of their fourth quarter hats. They are 5-3, but this method of winning is not sustainable. Kenny Pickett is not the answer at quarterback. He misses so many throws. Just looking at his own division Pickett is the worst quarterback by far, and I don’t even like Lamar Jackson or DeShaun Watson.
~Across the field, Will Levis proved to be a far superior quarterback prospect for Tennessee. Pickett was a reach by a team that had no answers to replacing Ben Roethlisberger.
~Antonio Brown earned the right to be a prima donna. George Pickens has not. He can start with learning to drag his back foot to stay in bounds like every average receiver in the NFL does. His sloppy footwork cost the Steelers a touchdown on Thursday night. And lord knows they are hard to come by.
~Miami is not ready for prime time. Bad teams they beat badly. Good teams have their number. I’m still not sold on Tua.
~I got to watch a Seahawks game in its entirety, and I am even more convinced Pete Carroll is some kind of magician to win as much as he does with Geno Smith as his quarterback.
~The Clayton Tune led Arizona Cardinals gained 99 yards Sunday. In a game. A full game. Does Caleb Williams like Arizona?
~CJ Stroud had five touchdowns in a come from behind win against Tampa Bay. He threw for 470 yards. He is becoming a star in year one. Yet, Stroud was not the best story from the game.
Texans RB Dare Ogunbowale just became the first non-kicker to make a field goal in a regular season game since Wes Welker did it back in 2004.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 5, 2023
The old running back substituting for the injured kicker trick. If either team had a defense that kick would have been the game winner.
~Earlier in the week, Josh Dobbs was traded…again. He may end up playing for every team in the league. Sunday he was forced into duty and played great in leading Minnesota to a come from behind victory over Atlanta. He explained being ready to play.
Josh Dobbs: "In this league, man, there's never an excuse for your circumstance. And I learned that from Coach T [Tomlin]. You know, usually people don't really care about your circumstance, they just wanna see you succeed given the circumstance you're given." #Steelers #NFL 👍 pic.twitter.com/WWq5yTINk0— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) November 6, 2023
It is really hard not to like that guy.
~Daniel Jones May have a torn ACL. The Giants offense may not see a difference. What a horrific contract signing that turned out to be. The Tommy Devito era begins. No word on whether Judd Hirsch will be the back up. If you don't get that, then you are far too young!
~Dallas couldn’t catch a break against the Eagles Sunday. Then as the game was winding down Philadelphia tried to hand it over to Dallas. Alas, Dak Prescott doesn’t take handouts. Neither does Mike McCarthy. I’ve got news for Dallas fans, as long as those two are your coach and quarterback you aren’t winning anything.
~Joe Burrow is healthy and the Bengals look like the best team in the AFC right now.
~Josh Allen just doesn’t look right for Buffalo. Of course, he is being asked to be the quarterback and the running back. Buffalo is close to being off the rails.
~The NFL needs to change its rules on roughing the passer. When referees are being told that defenders need to roll to the side to avoid excessive contact, things have gone too far. I almost feel bad for the referees because they are just calling the games as they are told to.
~The World Series ended with a great storyline, but a giant fizzle. Texas winning their first ever World Series is really cool. Playing a team that only won 84 games was not cool. The playoffs lose steam because there are too many rounds. Baseball has a playoff problem, and it would be wise to find a fix. The ratings back me up on this.
~KeBryan Hayes won the gold glove for third basemen in the National League. It should be the first of many for this budding Bucco star.
~Starting this week we will see if the Pirates are taking next year seriously.
The Weekly Shiny Penny
AJ Burnett is one of my favorite Pirates of all time, and he was only in Pittsburgh for a few years. This story is hilarious and says a lot about Burnett’s style. It says even more about Bob Nutting.
As if AJ Burnett (@wudeydo34) didn’t endear himself to Pittsburghers enough already.— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) November 4, 2023
Here’s a story he tells of parking in Bob Nutting’s parking spot and not caring one bit about it.
That may top all of the other AJ Burnett stories, and there are some good ones.
A Penny For My Final Thought…
Bob Knight passed away at the age of 83 last week.
There may not be another sports figure in my lifetime that I feel so conflicted about.
I was a little too young to see much of John Wooden coaching. When I was old enough to understand college basketball, Bob Knight was the coach everyone pointed to. He was a winner. Nobody taught the game better. Knight is still the last coach to have an undefeated season(1976), a remarkable feat for any coach.
Knight won 902 games in his 42-year career.
He was a legend with a short fuse who was always going to speak his mind.
As a coach Knight won NCAA titles, Olympic gold medals, and Pan American gold medals. He was engaging and fun to listen to talk about the sport he so passionately loved.
With Bob Knight passing away it’s almost a must to watch his speech where he talks about trying get on Michael Jordan’s ass in the locker room. An absolute classic! RIP pic.twitter.com/U8lh0L0JmV— Lance (@SportsGuyLance) November 1, 2023
And then there was the other stuff.
Knight famously threw a chair across the court in a game against rival Purdue. I had a chance to interview Lanny Frattare, who was doing play by play for the game.
Never forget — Lanny Frattare was on the call for one of the most memorable moments in sports history.— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) November 1, 2023
Frattare said he wasn’t sure what to make of the escapade, but that it surely was entertaining. Entertaining? Absolutely. The AD being forced to come over and escort you away? Not a good look.
He famously berated an NCAA media liaison, grabbed players, berated players and officials, threw a plant at a secretary, punched a police officer, wished death on his former Indiana employers, and had this infamous —yet hilarious— meltdown on his coach’s show.
There are very few videos that encapsulate the full Bob Knight experience like this one from 1996. pic.twitter.com/PSgQEDJHX7— Mike Beauvais (@MikeBeauvais) November 1, 2023
But Knight won.
Therefore, we tend to ignore his boorish behavior.
I had a high school band director who was massively successful with us. We won, and won, and won some more. Our drum instructor was the same. I loved and hated both of them. I came home with handprints on my neck. I was called every name in the book. So were my fellow band mates. He threw a kid against the wall in his office.
We responded by winning.
His behaviors never bothered us. We laughed at most of it. We also worked our asses off to be good.
His methods worked. His methods weren’t necessary.
The current band director at my local high school has destroyed all of our records we set. He doesn’t throw kids around, grab kids by the neck, or belittle and berate his students.
They respond by winning. You don't have to be a tyrant to get results.
A better comparison for Knight is his understudy when they were at Army, Mike Kryzewski. Both were military guys. Both were old school. Both were tough. Both were winners.
There was one difference.
Coach K won even more than Knight, and he did it without all of the boorish behaviors. Oh, he had moments. Nothing like Knight, however. Coach K didn't belittle. Coach K didn't grab kids. Coach K didn't abuse his secretary. Coach K didn't humiliate people.
And that is coming from someone who isn't even a Coach K fan.
Look, I loved watching Knight’s teams as a kid. I also loved his outbursts. I still laugh at the videos I posted above. I loved listening to him talk basketball. He was so engaging when he was talking hoops. I loved watching his former players reunite with him a few years ago. There was clearly a lifetime bond between players and coach.
Upon Knight’s death I thought back on everything about him, as most college basketball fans did.
He won a boatload of basketball games. His teams were fundamentally sound and played hard. He was engaging and entertaining.
He was always right. You were always wrong. He wanted your respect. He wouldn’t give it back to you in return. He was always on the brink of a temper tantrum.
So, I came to two conclusions.
One, Knight was one of the best coaches I’ve seen in any sport and thoroughly entertaining for good and bad.
The other is that Knight was a gigantic asshat that got more passes than he should have because he won games. Often his behavior was intolerable.
Oh, and a third conclusion. Things were always going to be interesting when Bobby Knight was around.