It’s been a rollercoaster eight weeks since UNC won the National Championship over Gonzaga in Phoenix, but things have finally settled down enough to start looking forward to 2018 with some degree of informed insight. The deadline to declare for the NBA draft is past, the Division I national signing period is over, and we have some idea what these rosters will look like in March.
The big stories revolve around who’s not going to the draft. Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo figures he can improve his draft stock by, y’know, playing college basketball, and elected to withdraw from the draft. This is little solace for a team that loses De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and what feels like the entire second round of the draft, but with a stellar recruiting class coming in, Diallo could be that extra piece that pushes this team to a Final Four.
Similarly, Jonathan Williams’ decision to return to Spokane improves Gonzaga’s prospects greatly. Make no mistake, this will not be the same team that gave UNC a run for its money in the finals — Williams was the fourth-best scorer on a team that loses the rest of its top five — but keeping Williams means keeping some of the magic that made Gonzaga elite in 2017.
Perhaps most importantly, Miles Bridges has decided that he enjoys college, isn’t seduced by the siren song of NBA money, and will stay in East Lansing for another year, where he could be the preseason national player of the year. Bridges would have been a lottery pick if he decided to go to the draft, but putting on a show for Sparty is more important to Bridges, it seems. It’s one of those risky decisions we love to see amateur athletes make, for no other reason than it makes Michigan State a serious contender, a favourite even, and dispels the increasing suspicion that the top players aren’t interested in NCAA results. You do you, Miles Bridges, and we’ll love you for it.
In an era dominated by teams of one-and-dones, recruiting is more important than ever. Leading the charge are Duke and Kentucky (again) who each add a handful of the top prospects to their rosters. Duke picks up the #2 point guard and the #3 power forward in Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter, while Kentucky grabs the #2 and #3 small forwards in Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Speaking of recruiting, two mercurial talents signed with schools that have never won a National Championship, and a third signed with Arizona. Michael Porter Jr, the consensus #1 prospect and McDonald`s All-American MVP, is headed to Columbia, Missouri, after a Kubrickian hallway of a recruiting journey. He will immediately improve the Tigers, who fell off the map under Kim Anderson (26-67), in Cuonzo Martin’s first year.
Mohamed Bamba, a seven-foot power forward that looks vaguely like the future of basketball, committed to Texas for what’s sure to be his first and last year of college ball. He`ll be joined by four-star guard Matt Coleman and a couple of other top-flight recruits, in what is surely the biggest recruiting class in living Texas memory. Arizona adds Phoenix local DeAndre Ayton, another seven-footer with remarkable skills and no discernible weaknesses. There’s not a lot you can say about Ayton that he didn’t prove when he led a squad of Bahamian nationals to victory over the University of North Carolina as a 15-year-old.
Last year’s tournament saw a real shakeup of the traditional conference order. One year out of sending two teams to the final four, the ACC sent nine teams to the tournament, but only one to the Sweet Sixteen. Despite UNC carrying the torch brilliantly for the conference, the early exit of ACC blue bloods could encourage the committee to look elsewhere for lower-seed teams. The SEC acquitted itself well (South Carolina made the Final Four!), as did the PAC-12 (so did Oregon!), so look for the gap to close a little in terms of March Madness bids. The Big East will probably send Butler, Villanova, Marquette, Xavier, and one or two more. The Big Ten looks to be back in a big way, with five teams likely to, not just compete, but contend.
The ACC is still the best conference in basketball, certainly, but the gap is closing. Look for a little more even representation in the 2018 tournament.
Odds to win 2018 National Championship
- Kentucky: 10/1
- Michigan State: 10/1
- Arizona: 12/1
- Louisville: 12/1
- Duke: 12/1
- Villanova: 14/1
- Kansas: 14/1
- North Carolina: 15/1
- Gonzaga: 20/1
- Michigan: 20/1
- Texas: 20/1
- FIELD: 9/2
2018 March Madness Bids Per Conference
- O/U ACC teams in NCAA tournament: 8.5
- O/U BIG TEN teams in NCAA tournament 5.5
- O/U Big 12 teams in NCAA tournament 5.5
- O/U SEC teams in NCAA tournament 4.5
- O/U Big East teams in NCAA tournament: 4.5
- O/U PAC-12 teams in NCAA tournament 3.5
2018 National Championship Props
- A team called the “Wildcats” wins: 4/1
- A team with a bird mascot wins: 5/1
- A team that has not won a National Championship before wins: 4/1