The road to Indianapolis begins this week as the 2015 college basketball season gets underway. The perennial powerhouses, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils, have reloaded and look to get back to the Final Four once again. The Arizona Wildcats from the Pac-12 look to crack the puzzle and win their first title since 1997. Here is your preview for the 2015 college basketball season.
The Associated Press released their preseason All-American team and headlining the list is Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is just the third freshman to ever be given this distinction along with Harrison Barnes (2010) and Andrew Wiggins (2013). Wiggins went on to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Also named to the AP first team were University of North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige, Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet, Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky and Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell. These five stars also headline the list of potential winners of this year’s Naismith Award, given to the most outstanding player.
The Kentucky Wildcats, led by head coach John Calipari, are the favorites to win the national title. Their backcourt is led by twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both of whom passed up on the NBA to return to school with the goal of bringing another national championship to Kentucky. The Wildcats’ front court is led by a pair of seven-foot centers, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
In the preseason, the Wildcats defeated Georgetown College (KY) 121-52. After the game, Tigers head coach Chris Briggs said, “If they play like they did tonight, they’re an NBA playoff team.” That may be a slight exaggeration, but the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats will definitely be the team to beat this year. The only team that has a chance to stop them in the SEC may be the ninth-ranked Florida Gators, who won the conference tournament last year before falling to UConn in the Final Four of the national tournament.
The ACC comes into the season with five teams ranked inside the top 25. The Tobacco Road rivalry may have greater implications this season as Duke and North Carolina are picked to finish first and second respectively in the ACC. Also expected to compete for the ACC title are the Louisville Cardinals, the Virginia Cavaliers and the Syracuse Orange. Marcus Paige, Montrezl Harrell and Jahlil Okafor, along with Syracuse freshman Chris McCullough will battle for ACC player of the year honors.
The Big 10 is led by the Wisconsin Badgers and their player of the year candidates Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. The No. 3 Badgers look to build on last season’s Final Four run and win their first national championship since 1941. The Ohio State Buckeyes, led by freshman D’Angelo Russell, and the Michigan State Spartans, led by guard Branden Dawson, look to make some noise in the conference as well. A sleeper candidate for conference player of the year is Minnesota guard Andre Hollins. The 2014 All-Big 10 honorable mention is a dynamic scorer who had an impressive 26 games with double-figure points last season. He will have to play up to his full potential every time the Gophers hit the court in this crowded conference.
The Big 12 is headlined by the preseason conference player of the year Perry Ellis and the talented Kansas Jayhawks. Ellis looks to bring veteran leadership to a young roster that is led by head coach Bill Self. Five-star high school recruit Myles Turner looks to compete with Ellis for POY and will help the Texas Longhorns challenge the Jayhawks to win their first Big 12 regular season title since 2008. As solid as the Longhorns may be, I pick Kansas to win their 13th Big 12 regular season championship in the last 14 years.
Also in the mix is No. 2 Arizona from the Pac-12. The Wildcats are led by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. Johnson was the seventh-ranked prospect from the Class of 2014 and will be a force in the relatively weak Pac-12. Look for the Wildcats to run through the Pac-12 and earn a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s never too early for predictions, so why not start four months before March Madness begins? My pick for player of the year is point guard Marcus Paige from UNC. The high-scoring point guard would be the first Tar Heel since Tyler Hansbrough in 2008 to win the award. My predictions for the final four teams are the Kentucky Wildcats, the Duke Blue Devils, the Louisville Cardinals and the North Carolina Tar Heels. I have the Tar Heels defeating the Blue Devils in a matchup of Carolina rivals to win their first title since 2009.