2006 College Basketball Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 11/09/2006
College basketball season starts next week, so it's time to pick a winner for the tournament. These picks will almost certainly change as some programs underachieve, and others play way over their heads. Still, it wouldn't be any fun if you didn't give it a try. Here, then, is a look at four teams. If I had to bet now I would say that the National Champion will be one of them. Without further ado, here are my 2006 college basketball predictions.
Before we talk about who is going to win it all, we might as well look at one team that I really don't think stands a chance. Florida is the current favorite in futures betting at +534, but I don't see any value there at all. Sure, they are the defending champs and they are returning all five starters, but I don't see how they will compete this year. They benefited in their tournament run from some lucky draws and key upsets (like almost every champion does). Coming into the tournament they weren't even viewed as the best team in their conference. They will undoubtedly be good, and they will probably be better in the regular season than last year, but a lot of very good teams have gotten much better this year, and I don't think Florida has the weapons to keep up with them. Not enough to justify this price, anyway.
Another team that I think is underpriced is Ohio State, the fourth choice at +1107. They are going to be good, but they lost their veteran leadership from last year, and they are relying very heavily on freshmen. Of course, one of those freshmen is Greg Oden, the best 18-year-old not named LeBron to play ball in a long time. Oden will be out until January with a wrist injury, though, and he will be under an incredible spotlight when he gets back. I'd feel much better about this team next year after they had a season under their belts to grow into themselves, but Oden obviously will be one-and-done, so that won't happen. I'd bet on them to win their conference, and even to win a couple of games at the tournament, but a championship seems too much to ask.
I also don't like Duke this year, but I have never liked Duke, and that has done me no good. They are without J.J. Reddick and Shelden Williams, and it's not immediately clear who will fill those shoes. As always, they have lots of talent and a good incoming class, but the +2148 price is way too much of a gamble for my taste.
While I'm in the mood to be negative, I'll add that Georgetown (+3751) is the most overhyped team in the country and they are doomed to a hard fall because they still can't score and their guards aren't up to snuff. UCLA (+2088) and LSU (+5000) won't be able to overcome what they lost in the draft last year, either. Both will be fairly good, but not good enough.
Kansas - The Jayhawks, if they can finally find a way to not get upset early in the tournament, are my choice for the best team in the country. They are +737 to win the championship. They return all five starters, led by second team All-American Brandon Rush. The loss of C.J. Giles, who was kicked off the team because of legal troubles, will hurt the depth a bit, but his talent wasn't worth putting up with his attitude. The Jayhawks are deep, talented and well coached. If they can keep it together they will be hard to beat.
North Carolina - Two words - Tyler Hansbrough. The preseason All-American may be the best player in the country, and he's just a sophomore. He's an example of why I don't like Ohio State this year. Last year as a freshman he put up huge numbers, but he didn't have the experience or the leadership to take the team to the Promised Land. This year he's a year older and wiser, and the Tar Heels are a much better team because of it. Two sophomore guards, some solid-but-not-earth-shattering seniors and yet another amazing freshman class join Hansbrough. Frosh Brandan Wright should start immediately and will complement Hansbrough in the frontcourt. If Coach Williams can make this team play at its full potential then they could be a bargain at +628.
Pittsburgh - Aaron Gray is really, really good. He was a nobody when the season started last year, but the junior center tripled his career scoring average and dominated the inside for the Panthers. As a senior this year he will only get better. Rebounding margin is a very important stat in my mind, and the Panthers were seventh best in the country last year at +7.6. With Gray older and more confident that could improve. They have two returning starters besides Gray, and a very solid transfer, Mike Cook. He was the leading scorer at East Carolina before switching schools. The team loses some emotion with the graduation of sparkplug Carl Krauser, but with the team playing in the Maggie Dixon Classic -- a tournament named for coach Jamie Dixon's 28 year old sister who died suddenly last year -- early in the season, emotion won't be in short supply. A lot of things would have to go right to see Pittsburgh cut down the nets, but at +2955 they are worth the risk.
Arizona - The Wildcats have the kind of mix of players that I like. They have three solid senior starters, and each will be pressed by freshmen with talent. That will keep the older guys honest, and give the younger players time to develop. Two of those freshmen - guard Nic Wise and guard/forward Chase Budinger - have the potential to be really special. There are few coaches better than Lute Olson if he has a good roster, and he definitely has that this year. There are four or five good teams in the conference this year, so the Wildcats will be well seasoned by the time the tournament gets here. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them playing on the last weekend. They are at +3000.