With the 2018/19 NCAA Men’s Basketball season kicking off later tonight, I’ve done my best to hone in on the most important teams and players to keep an eye out for this season.
That being said I have a good feeling that this year will be a good year for March Madness brackets (I said that last year and then number one seed Virginia lost in the first round for the first time in history).
The ACC features the best freshman out of any conference; Duke alone has the top three players from the Class of 2018 according to ESPN. If you want to be entertained, Duke is your team. Zion Williamson is a 6’7, 285 pound behemoth who has a 45 inch vertical leap. I was lucky enough to see him (and Duke) live this summer in Mississauga, and left the building wowed, as well as seriously questioning my athletic ability as our birthdays are four days apart.
Mississauga native R.J. Barrett continues the tradition of elite one-and-done wings Duke has had for the past six years. Barrett and Williamson are the current one and two picks in most mock drafts, and it’s easy to see why. Barretts’ game is mature beyond his years, and plays with a confidence and swagger that few display. Barrett has all the makings of a superstar – on and off the court – and if his jump shot can turn from good to great, there’s no stopping him. Barrett was the lone freshman on ESPN’s Preseason All-American Team this year.
The Barrett/Williamson pairing is a wildly fun one; with thunderous alley-oops and volleyball swats into the third row, the two share a unique combination on the floor. Barrett plays with a smoothness and finesse that is rare for an 18 year old, while Williamson is a freight train of pure power and strength. I haven’t even mentioned future lottery picks Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, who would be superstars on any other team. Whether inexperience cripples them or not, nobody can say they weren’t entertained by a Duke game.
North Carolina features another Preseason All-American in Luke Maye. The hero of the 2017 National Championship team, Maye will be playing in his final season at UNC, and along with freshman (and likely top five pick) Nassir Little, The Carolina-Duke rivalry will once again be in full effect.
UCLA looks to bounce back from a disappointing season, one that was filled with controversy surrounding a shoplifting incident in China almost a year ago today. A backcourt of Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes is an incredibly exciting one, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. Shareef O’Neal’s Bruin debut will have to wait another year, as the forward is redshirting this season while he recovers from an unfortunate heart surgery.
Another star freshman to keep an eye out for is Oregon’s Bol Bol. The 7’2 son of Manute Bol has already impressed in the preseason, with an above average outside shot as well as his ability to protect the rim with his ridiculous 9’8 standing reach. In a draft class with very few big men (compared to last year where five of the top seven picks were bigs), Bol Bol’s draft stock may rise if an NBA team is in need of a centre.
Romeo Langford (Indiana), Quentin Grimes (Kansas), Tyus Battle (Syracuse), and Keldon Johnson (Kentucky) are all intriguing players who could be serious impact players come March and April.
The four month regular season begins tonight, eventually leading up to March Madness – the greatest sports holiday of all time (the Super Bowl is like Christmas, one unbelievable night with family and friends, but March Madness is like Hanukkah, an extended holiday that gives you something amazing each and every night). Enjoy.