Here’s what March Madness could look like if the preseason polls are correct
You know what they say about preseason polls. That and $3.99 will get you a hamburger at any fast-food chain. Plus tax. But here’s a question.
What if they’re all right this season – every conference, every poll? This is what March would look like:
The sun will rise in the east over Lawrence and Kansas will be Big 12 champion, not necessarily in order of certainty. It will be the 14th title in a row for the Jayhawks, breaking UCLA’s record. Never mind the loss of national player of the year Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson. Or the trouble-making intentions of West Virginia. The voters would clearly be disoriented if they ever had to vote for someone besides Kansas.
“That’s a lot to replace,” Bill Self said “But somehow people are optimistic we should always be better.”
The surprise on the Big 12 ballot was TCU finishing third – two spots higher than the Horned Frogs were picked in football.
Kentucky will win the SEC, as voters hardly blinked at 93 percent of the scoring not coming back. Just bring in the next bunch of future draft picks. Round up the usual suspects for the other power leagues, too. Arizona in the Pac-12, Duke in the ACC, Michigan State in the Big Ten.
Villanova will rule the Big East. Again. The league was reborn in 2013, and the other nine teams are still waiting to win a regular season basketball title.
Rhode Island will be in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row – and only the second time this century – as Atlantic 10 champion.
Missouri State will wriggle through the big hole in the Missouri Valley left by Wichita State, and get its first NCAA Tournament trip in 19 years. The school had never been picked first before in the MVC.
Speaking of Wichita State, the Shockers won’t win the American as the new kids on the block, even if they were in most preseason national top-10s. The ballots went for Cincinnati. By one point. Guess Wichita State has to pay its dues with American voters.
If you really want uncertainty at the ballot box, consider the MEAC. Yeah, Morgan State will win, but the electorate was obviously conflicted. Six different teams got first place votes.
Then there’s the Southern, where the media and coaches voters are further apart than Democrats and Republicans. Mercer will win, if the coaches are right. But the media picked the Bears sixth. Furman will win, if the media is correct. The compromise choice? Samford. Both sides picked the Bulldogs second.
Vermont will have its way in the America East. Hard to imagine otherwise, with four starters back from a 29-6 team that won 21 in a row, and suffered half its losses against Sweet 16 opponents – Butler, Purdue and South Carolina.
Florida Gulf Coast will win the Atlantic Sun again. Figures. The Eagles put two players on the 10-man all-conference team. Then again, NJIT also had two, and was picked to finish last.
UC Irvine will win the Big West. Disregard the fact not one Anteater was on the six-man preseason all-conference team.
Saint Francis — the Pennsylvania one — will be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 years, having won the Northeast. The Red Flash were on the move last March, with their first national postseason victory — in the CIT — in 62 years. Four returning starters got Saint Francis picked first, but coach Rob Krimmel dusted off an old adage: “It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.”
Harvard will return to the top of the Ivy League, but not without an argument from Yale. Been that way since, what, the 18th century?
Bucknell will be back in the tournament as Patriot League champion, bringing 93 percent of the scoring that chased West Virginia to the wire before losing 86-80 last March.
Grand Canyon will take the WAC and land in the NCAA Tournament in its first year of eligibility. Coach Dan Majerle will be asked a lot about the time he led Central Michigan there as a player.
South Dakota State will be at the summit of the Summit. And if not the Jackrabbits, their neighbors from South Dakota, since the first place voting was split 13-12. It was South Dakota State by a nose, and that nose belongs to Mike Daum, whose 25.1 average makes him the nation’s leading returning scorer.
Stephen F. Austin will be back in charge of the Southland, Middle Tennessee repeating in Conference USA – yep, Giddy Potts is still putting up 3-pointers — and same for Texas Southern in the SWAC. Belmont has owned the Ohio Valley regular season, but the conference tournament? Lately, not so much. The Bruins aim to finish the job this time. Same for Oakland in the Horizon.
UT-Arlington will get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years out of the Sun Belt. It’ll be Charleston in the Colonial, UNC Asheville the Big South, Idaho in the Big Sky — getting picked for the first time in nearly two decades. Iona in the MAAC, though taking that regular season title is apparently like trying to swim with a bowling ball in the league tournament. The No. 1 seed hasn't won since 2010. Western Michigan in the MAC, Nevada in the Mountain West, where Caleb Martin will be the league’s top newcomer of the year, having transferred from North Carolina State. Meaning he has gone from the Wolfpack to the Wolf Pack.
And finally, there’s the West Coast, where of course it will be Gonza . . . Gonza . . .Gonza . . . wait a minute. It won’t be Gonzaga. It’ll be Saint Mary’s, with the top three scorers back from a 29-5 team. Seventeen years. That’s how long it’s been since Gonzaga was not the top preseason pick.
“It doesn’t sit well,” the Zags’ Johnathan Williams said of this flipping of the universe. “But Saint Mary’s is a great team.”
So the leagues are all set. The top NCAA Tournament seeds, too. Arizona, Duke, Michigan State. Plus Kansas or Kentucky or Villanova. The voters have spoken.
They’ll probably still go ahead and play the season, though.
Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 38 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.