CSN's Buckets' List: Let the season begin!
CSN's Bucket List: Let the season begin!
Each Monday through the Final Four, our own Robbie Buckets -- known in some circles as Rob Snyder, associate producer at CSN -- will take a look at the world of college basketball: Games to watch each week, players who might be on the Celtics' radar come draft time, what's going on locally . . . and, of course, power rankings (which will eventually morph into bracketology). Enjoy!
Welcome back, everyone! It's Season Two of the Buckets' List and that means it's finally college basketball season again. There's truly nothing better than getting locked into the one sporting event with the perfect season length, perfect television watching access, and perfect postseason. If you disagree, just use the hashtag #suckitbuckets and we can rumble on social media.
Anyway, last year couldn't have been more of a pleasure to watch, and it all culminated with the greatest National Championship ever played.
So what will this year bring? Oh, let me tell you.
First of all, we have a loaded ACC, but don't let ANY expert tell you it's the greatest conference ever. It will be stacked and fun to watch, but it won't compare to the Big East in 2011. That conference sent 11 teams to the big dance and NINE of them were top 6 seeds. (Feel free to use that when your friend tries to tell you the ACC IS THE GREATEST CONFERENCE EVER, MAN!) Also, it's shaping up to be a baker's dozen for Kansas -- as in 13 consecutive Big 12 titles. Look for a fun race for second place in that conference, though. Speaking of fun races, the Big Ten has a four-way race to the top as well, with Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue. This will bring watchability back to the Big Ten on most nights. Kentucky and Oregon look to be taking the SEC and Pac 12 by storm once again, and the Big East continues to make a case that it's the Power Six by showcasing Villanova, Xavier, Butler, Creighton as legitimate Top 25 contenders.
Shall we do some Power Rankings?
Power Rankings: 1-5
1. Duke - This is simply one of the most talent-laden teams ever compiled. Does this mean the Blue Devils are runaway champs? No. But they are No. 1 at the moment by a landslide. Two things Duke severely lacked last season -- depth and veteran savvy -- are now stocked. Add in the best recruiting class Duke has ever had and it's an embarrassment of riches at Cameron. Whether or not Harry Giles is at all healthy, this team will come at you in waves with Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Amile Jefferson and plenty of others, like Luke Kennard (left) along the way.
2. Villanova - It was tough picking a team at No. 2, but I have to go with the defending champs based on the fact that I think they have more depth than the other contenders. 'Nova returns Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, who both tested NBA waters, along with well-beyond-his-years point guard Jalen Brunson. Couple that with transfer Eric Paschall and up-and-comers Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges, and the Wildcats should compete again even without 5-star freshman Omari Spellman (academic redshirt).
3. Kentucky -- Kentucky is built like it always is . . . with freshman. This group could be special as John Calipari brings in a five-star point guard (De'Aaron Fox) another five-star guard (Malik Monk) and a five-star big man (Bam Adebayo). Kentucky is built to win.
4. Kansas - This team has potential to be the No. 1 team in America once again when all is said and done, but frontcourt question marks drop the Jayhawks to here. The backcourt is awesome with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, and top recruit Josh Jackson. However, Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas leave something to be desired at the 4 and 5 after Perry Ellis hit 65 and was forced into retirement.
5. Oregon - If Dillon Brooks was 100 percent healthy I would probably have the Ducks at No. 2, but I'm leaving them here for now. Oregon is loaded with talent and returns plenty from last year's team, which earned a No. 1 seed. The only question marks are health (see: Brooks) and replacing Elgin Cook's production.
Power rankings: 6-10
6. North Carolina - The 2016 runners-up lose Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, but are still brimming with talent from returnees. Joel Berry should anchor a backcourt with Nate Britt (left), and Isaiah Hicks is my pick for most improved player in the frontcourt. Kennedy Meeks is back to remind us all what playing below your talent level looks like, but he should protect the rim enough to keep this team a force in the ACC.
7. Xavier - Maybe a little high? Maybe not. The Musketeers lose their frontcourt prowess, but return a couple of players who could form the most dangerous one-two punch in the Midwest. Sophomore guard Edmond Sumner is my dark horse pick to win National Player of the Year (+5000 if, ya know . . . ) and he will be paired with wing Trevon Blueitt, who is also a stud. J.P. Macura also makes noise for a team that could challenge Villanova in the Big East.
8. Wisconsin - Beware of experts overrating this team, but yes, the Badgers are very good. The main reason: They lost NO ONE after last season's late heroics. Wisconsin took some time to gain an identity last season, but upset Xavier in the tournament and ended up in the Elite Eight. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are the names to know here.
9. Virginia - If the coach wasn't Tony Bennett I may not have them this high, but the coach IS Tony Bennett. The Wahoos will have to make up for the losses of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, but they always seem to find a way. London Perrantes and transfer Austin Nichols will look to lead the charge.
10. Indiana - The race in the Big Ten will be vicious and I give the Hoosiers the nod at the No. 2 spot. Making up for the loss of Yogi Ferrell will be difficult, but Tom Crean's squad knows how to score in bunches. Also, the return of Thomas Bryant -- who could've easily played NBA basketball this season -- will make Indiana a force inside and out.
Power Rankings: 11-15 (and the near misses)
11. Michigan State - Tom Izzo (left) is turning to the dark side. The days of the Hall of Famer developing talent out of thin air are slowly become the days of IZZO THE RECRUITER. One of his best freshman classes comes to Sparty. (Watch Miles Bridges if it's the only thing you do this season.) The man can jump out of any building.
12. Saint Mary's - The Gaels?? Yes, the Gaels. The team that swept Gonzaga in the WCC last season returns . . . the entire team. They are becoming a popular Top 10 pick amongst the experts and should do what Gonzaga has been doing the past decade.
13. UConn - Kevin Ollie brings in his best recruiting class. Five stud freshman join the Huskies this season as they reload in Storrs. I'm not quite sure if this team is among the actual best 14 teams in the country, but they should smack around their American conference foes and that will give them a fairly high seed in March.
14. Syracuse - This team is all over the map. I've seen the Orange as low as 12th(!) in the ACC, and as high as third. I believe in the talent they have and their incoming freshman (looking at you, Tyus Battle). And Tyer Lydon has no choice but to be a breakout stud.
15. Purdue - The Boilermakers bring back a lot of talent in the frontcourt, even with the loss of A.J. Hammons. Caleb Swanigan returning to school is a big part of that. Their size, and the fact that they're well-coached, will keep them in the Big Ten mix, but a lack of perimeter scoring will ultimately be their undoing.
Just Missed: Butler, Creighton, Arizona (Alonzo Trier suspension is why they're here), Louisville (overrated), Florida State, West Virginia, UCLA
UConn - As you saw, I have them in my Top 15 so of course they will be good. But how good? A lot depends on how well Kevin Ollie can develop his freshman. Losing Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton hurts, but they restock with point guard Alterique Gilbert (great name) and Juwan Durham. Look for Ollie's starting lineup to change constantly as Rodney Purvis may be kept as a sixth man and Durham and Christian Vital will earn starting spots at some point or another.
Rhode Island - I haven't forgotten about the Rams. Last season was tough to swallow as Rhodey looked like a legit contender until E.C. Matthews tore his ACL basically as the season tipped off. Now the Rams return a slew of talent (including Matthews) and are once again favorites to enter the Big Dance. You can currently find them in the AP Top 25, which is something that should excite fans in the Ocean State.
GAMES TO WATCH IN THE FIRST WEEKS
FRIDAY, NOV. 11
Arizona vs. Michigan State
Indiana vs. Kansas
MONDAY, NOV. 14
Villanova at Purdue
TUESDAY, NOV. 15
Michigan State vs Kentucky
Wisconsin at Creighton
SATURDAY, NOV. 19
Saint Mary's at Dayton
POTENTIAL FUTURE CELTICS TO WATCH
Josh Jackson (left) - The No. 1 freshman in the country is at Kansas. Is this a good thing? Bill Self has not exactly been a rocket scientist when it comes to developing freshman. (Cheick Diallo, Joel Embiid, Josh Selby, etc.) Hopefully, the kid gets legit minutes from the start and an opportunity to succeed because he's bursting with talent
Dennis Smith - The point guard at N.C. State is also a freshman, and is projected by many as a top 2 pick in the NBA draft. He had 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Pack's first preseason game. He's no joke.
Markelle Fultz - Another guard who could be selected very high in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, he's stuck in Washington (I mean, not stuck, he picked it) where Lorenzo Romar has overseen outstanding talent as they vacation in March.
Follow me on Twitter @RobbieBuckets for college hoops musings, and off-the-cuff sports takes.