During his first two seasons at Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes often chose to deflect any attention sent his way. That wasn’t always the case, of course, as Hayes’ fascination with NCAA Tournament stenographers last spring was a hit with fans and media from around the country.
For fans who checked into college basketball last season just in time for March Madness, the sport appeared to be in pretty good shape.
Three of the four regional finals were decided by single digits, as were two of the three games at the Final Four in Indianapolis. Average TV viewership for the NCAA Tournament reached its highest point in 22 years.
Georgia finds itself in new, but positive, territory this year: coming off a good year, and expecting another one.
In the program’s recent past, any positive momentum has been derailed by players leaving early for the NBA (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie), or coaches leaving (Tubby Smith), or NCAA problems (Jim Harrick).
Athlon Sports would be the first to tell you to sit back and enjoy the college basketball regular season from start to finish.
But let’s face it: The big prize — the only prize, it seems — is the NCAA Tournament. And that’s part of the excitement of the season. Essentially every team has a chance to play in the championship event. Finish in last place in your conference? You’ve got the conference tournament to remedy a lost season.
For us, bracketology starts early. Here’s our first projection of the field of 68.
A second-generation Georgetown fan, Kevin Rieffel has been watching Hoyas basketball for his entire life even though he grew up in Philadelphia.
In the days before ESPN2 was in every house, he and his father would drive to sports bars as far away as Maryland to watch John Thompson coach against Syracuse or St. John’s. At least once a year, they’d see a game in person, either in D.C. or near their home at Villanova.
Preseason predictions are an inexact science, particularly in college basketball.
Stars leave. Coaches change. Players develop. That’s always been the case. Now, impact freshmen and transfers have proven to be gamechangers. Teams can turnover their rosters on a year-to-year basis and still compete with teams full of veterans.
This season appears to be especially tricky. For the first time in several years, there is no consensus at the top. As many as four teams have earned a No. 1 ranking from major publications.
Larry Krystkowiak will never say that the Utah Utes have arrived. They climbed from the depths of a six-win season in his first year as Utah’s coach to the Sweet 16 in his fourth year, but Krystkowiak wants more. Rather than viewing an NCAA Tournament loss to eventual champion Duke as a destination, he expects the feeling of that defeat to propel the Utes into the 2015-16 season.
There’s a renewed optimism around Oregon State basketball, and for good reason. The Beavers, who were picked to finish a distant last in the 2014-15 Pac-12 preseason poll, became one of the game’s feel-good stories during Wayne Tinkle’s debut season in Corvallis. Oregon State finished 17–14 overall, captured a program-record 15 home victories and recorded a massive upset of Pac-12 power Arizona.
This is UCLA, and as Steve Alford enters his third season at the helm of the program with 11 NCAA championships, the pressure is on to move past the Sweet 16 following consecutive regional semifinal appearances.
As the Bruins aim higher entering the 2015-16 season, they’re aided by the fact they return plenty of able bodies. The 11 scholarship players on the roster represent the most Alford has had since he arrived in 2013.