Blue bloods will headline the 2019 college basketball season. However, we all know the main source of excitement and heartache in March will come from random schools beating these powerhouses.
Keep an eye on these mid-majors in the tournament this year.
- Buffalo- Coming off an impressive campaign in 2018 the Bison return 5 of their 6 leading scorers from last year. They wrecked the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA tournament and could be poised for an even deeper run this year. C.J. Massinburg is a stud and their frenetic style of play will continue to wreak havoc on opponents.
- Illinois State- This team features a great coach in Dan Mullen and an impressive lead forward in Milik Yarbrough. A senior, Mailik, had an impressive junior campaign averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. The Redbirds boast an experienced roster that will compete with Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean for the MVC title.
- South Dakota State- Jackrabbits should have an electric offense led by Mike Daum. If you didn’t see him last year this dude can hoop. Averaging 21.5 points and lighting it up from deep making nearly 43% from 3. Look for the Jackrabbits with a better roster and Daum with the greenest light to average over 25 points a night.
- Western Kentucky- The Hilltoppers have potential to make some noise in the tournament this year. 5 Star stud freshman Charles Bassey headlines a talented young core. A good litmus test for this team will be an early November match-up against a good PAC12 team in Washington.
- Marshall- The combo of C.J. Burks and Jon Elmore should strike fear in not only conference USA opponents but all of NCAA. An early season clash with Maryland should give insight on their potential. Not even favored in their own conference, this team has a back-court that will come in handy come NCAA tournament time.
With the AP Poll coming out with their official rankings for college basketball before the season starts you might be asking yourself if they got it right? To that I answer your question with another question, does a fat baby fart? The layperson who keeps up with college basketball their first thought is that a Duke or Kentucky should be ranked number one coming into the season and finding out that they aren’t would obviously be some sort of mistake. The truth is going into this season the Jayhawks of Lawrence Kansas are the top team in the nation and they are in this position for good reason.
Like most years Kansas is coming into the season with an outstanding recruiting class, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson are two of the bigger names that most are excited to see take the court in Phog Allen this year. And while the Kentuckys and Dukes of the country can boast star studded freshman classes as well one area where they have come up short the past ten years or so is in their veteran upperclassman presence. Kansas has repeatedly had experienced players that play major roles that have the conference and tournament experience that helps give them an edge in some of the bigger stage games. This season the biggest of those returners are LaGerald Vick, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. The biggest factor in this duo is without question going to be Azubuike, the 7 footer is without question the most dominant big man in the Big 12 and possibly the country. Staying healthy has been a concern in the previous two years but when he is on the floor. With a 75% field goal percentage (that took place entirely in the paint) Azubuike was close to averaging a double double in points and rebounds. His size and improvement in his feetwork on the low block has allowed for him to turn most matchups in the post to “Barbecue Chicken” as Dr. O’Neal has so eloquently described it. Coach Bill Self has also been able to land some PAC-12 talent as Charlie Moore, a double digit scorer formerly at Cal will join the roster this year as well.
Kansas for the most part ran the tables in the first place voting receiving 37 first place votes to Kentucky’s 19 and while the rosters play a role in that so does the staff that is at the front of the bench. Coach Self not only has the championships and Final Fours to support his resume, he also has been a part of a level of dominance that is rivaled only by that of the Roman Empire. For 14 straight seasons Kansas has been the Big 12 regular season champions and while some might try to “poo poo” this achievement this was done in the conference that put him up against Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Michael Beasley just to name a few. Coach Self has proven that he has the ability to garner the proper mix of veteran players along with younger talent to fit into his system that plays a grit & grind style of basketball that can only be found in the Big 12 and Charlottesville Virginia with Tony Bennett.
The Jayhawks have an interesting non-conference schedule this year so they will put their ranking and experience to the test very early on this year. On top of that the Big 12 won’t be a pushover either as several teams in the conference are in the top 25 and returning key players. Don’t be surprised though when we see that Kansas hasn’t dropped out of the top ten all year and is a lock for a one seed come late April. The reason being Coach Self has the one piece that he has always needed in order to have a successful season which is a dominant big man. Look back on any of his more successful years and you will see there was an outstanding big man on the block. Azubuike fits that description ten times over and he has the surrounding pieces to make this team a juggernaut on both ends of the floor. If you follow any obnoxious Kansas fans on social media you might want to get a head start and block them now because the Rock Chalk Mafia will be out and about flexing their muscles this year.
AP Poll Top 25
- North Carolina
- Michigan State
- Kansas State
- West Virginia
- Virginia Tech
- Florida State
- Mississippi State