Reviewing My Pre-Season NCAA Predictions

Prior to the 2018-19 NCAA season kicking off, I touted 5 teams that would or should have an excellent year and 5 that would significantly fall from the top of the sport. Looking back on these predictions, I wanted to assess right or wrong what happened with each of these programs during the season.

2018-19 Breakout Teams:

Oregon Ducks: This season was supposed to be extremely special for the Ducks. Signing an elite level class, headlined by athletic big man Bol Bol, Oregon had the makings of a powerhouse team. However, Bol suffered a season ending injury very early into the season casting a huge cloud over the remaining schedule. The team was unable to find consistent production and often looked lost without the freshman star. Surprisingly the season was salvaged in conference play, after starting point guard Payton Pritchard led the Ducks to an 8-game win streak and a conference tournament title. The automatic bid was huge for the program, as the Pac-12 was in disarray across the board and would not likely have been a strong enough season otherwise to receive an NCAA tournament invitation. Oregon stormed through the first two rounds of the tournament knocking off #5-seed Wisconsin and #13-seed UC-Irvine. A Sweet 16 birth was a huge surprise for the program, given the injury issues. Result- Hit

– LSU Tigers: The Bayou Bengals had the makings of a team on the upswing in 2017-18’, led by sensational point guard Tremont Waters. However, it was the strong recruiting class (now under question from HC Will Wade’s illegal activities with recruits) added in 2018 that potentially gave this team an outside shot at a national title. The Tigers displayed a well-balanced roster offensively and breezed through the regular season. Finishing with a record of 26-6, LSU’s only kryptonite was strong-minded defensive squads like Florida (lost twice) and Michigan State. The Tigers received their highest tournament seed (#3) since the 1981 season. I’d venture to say this tournament roster could’ve accomplished more, but they ran into a buzz saw in Michigan State (regional Final Four representative) that completely shut down their offense. Result- Hit

– Nevada Wolfpack: In truth, this prediction may have seemed like a no-brainer to true followers of college basketball. However, my expectations for this team were sky-high. A huge surprise in the 2018 NCAA tournament, this team brought back their NBA-caliber wings and then added strong pieces through recruiting and the transfer portal. The added talent to this roster, to me, would have easily placed Nevada in reach of a top 3-seed. A late-season collapse squandered an opportunity for a high seed in an otherwise special year. The Wolfpack rattled off wins in 24 of their first 25 games before dropping 4 of their final 9, including a first round exit in the NCAA tournament. Obviously a 29 win season for any team has to be considered successful, but the seeding in the tournament and failure to finish strong has to be a disappointment. Result- Hit on regular season success, but miss on post-season results

– Indiana Hoosiers: Fans in Bloomington have had several disappointing years, but the program lured in a prime NBA talent in Romeo Langford for the 2018-19 season. The small forward brought in plenty of skill and hype to revitalize the program. An early non-conference win over a ranked Marquette team by 23 was more fuel to the fire about what could possibly happen for this team. Aside from a blowout loss to Duke, the Hoosiers entered conference play with an 11-2 record. The winter hiatus did not do Indiana any favors. An opening conference win versus Illinois was the only bright spot for this team until the final few games of the year, after dropping 12 of 13. Indiana fans caught a glimpse of what could have been too little too late, as the team knocked off ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State in back-to-back outings. These results earned the team a surprising invite to the NIT where they lost in the quarterfinals. There was never a sense of consistency with this program and left a lot on the table. Result: Miss

– Maryland Terrapins and Vanderbilt Commodores: Mark Turgeon took the Terrapins back to the NCAA tournament in 2016-17, before taking a step back last year. Considered a bubble team on Selection Sunday, the team was passed over for other choices and missed a post-season tournament. Recruiting a solid class, Maryland signed a talented duo of Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins to add to current stars Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan Jr. Smith and Wiggins provided immediate assistance and counterparts to Fernando and Cowan Jr respectively in 2018. Smith and Fernando made for one of the more intimidating frontcourt duos in the nation and were a large reason the Terrapins returned to the NCAA Tournament this year. Maryland won their first round game against upset-minded Belmont and was a score away from reaching the Sweet 16 against LSU. Result: Hit

Vanderbilt posted one of its worst years in 2017-18 under head coach Bryce Drew. It was a shame for the program, after reaching a post-season tournament the previous 3 seasons. Like Indiana, the Commodores were able to recruit program-changing players in Darius Garland and Simisola Shittu. Garland and Shittu led the team in scoring for each of the first 5 games, at no less than 19 PPG, until Garland suffered a season-ending injury 2 minutes into their 5th outing. Vandy showed occasional fight throughout their remaining schedule, but lost every single game in conference and finished with a worse record than in 17-18’ (9-23). Result: Miss

2018-19 Slumping Teams:

Missouri Tigers: Mizzou had difficulty replicating any semblance of their success in 2017-18 this season. The Tigers lacked consistency and were without the services of talented center Jontay Porter the entire year. Missouri did not have the tools to win games as an offensive power, but did have some quality wins over Xavier and UCF. With a top 60 recruit signed for next season, the Tigers will have to wait until next season to find success. Result: Hit

Cincinnati Bearcats: Mick Cronin’s squad was a top seed in the 2017-18 NCAA tournament, behind NBA talent Jacob Evans and Gary Clark. However, Evans and Clark’s departures for the association created questions about how successful this team could be in 18-19’. The answer was pretty successful. Forward Jarron Cumberland took the team on his back and increased his scoring output from 11.5 to 18.8 PPG. As is a staple of Bearcats basketball, the team was a defensive power and could stay in games if offensive output slacked. Cincinnati won their conference tournament and received a 7-seed in the NCAAs, before being upset by Cincinnati. The team still made the tournament, but did not have enough firepower to replicate the success of 2017-18’. Result: Hit

Arizona Wildcats: The Wildcats were gutted after last season, as recruits were scared to attend campus in Tucson stemming from the ongoing ‘Pay For Play’ scandal permeating throughout the nation. Arizona was a participant in this season’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational and had opportunities to accrue resume-building wins. However, Sean Miller was unable to get his squad to excel on a consistent basis. Seemingly Arizona played to the level of their competition and dropped questionable games on numerous occasions. Hope was shortly present, as the team won 5 of their first 6 conference games, before losing 10 of 13 to end the year. A strong recruiting class has already been assembled for next season and the Wildcats will not be down for long. Result: Hit

Oklahoma Sooners: The departure of offensive savant, Trae Young, to the NBA did not provide a ton of hope for the Sooners heading into this season. Oklahoma added several strong pieces in the offseason, but were still very thin offensively. Relying mostly on defense, OU managed to escape their nonconference schedule with only 1 loss to a ranked Wisconsin team. The squad hung tough throughout the year and had only one rough stretch in the middle of conference play, losing 5 in a row. Oklahoma managed to win enough games to earn a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament, destroying Ole Miss in the first round. Making the tournament was a possibility for this team before the year started, but not one I thought would likely happen. Result: Miss

Texas A&M Aggies: Fans in College Station were shocked when 3/5s of the Aggies starting lineup declared for the 2018 NBA Draft. High school teammates and leading scorers Tyler Davis and DJ Hogg left the team early, despite receiving limited interest from the NBA. The guard tandem of Admon Gilder and TJ Starks were the only remaining holdovers from a team that beat North Carolina to reach the Sweet 16 for the 2nd time in 3 years under Billy Kennedy. A significant loss of top-end talent proved to be fatal for the Aggies, as they only won 14 games. Kennedy was fired at the end of the year and the program was successful in luring Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams away from his former post. Next year should see an influx of talent and a renewal of excitement towards the program. Result: Hit

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