Time to gaze into the crystal ball and figure out what 2013 holds for the college basketball world. Here are 10 predictions. Some are silly, some are serious and some may be a mix of both. It’s your challenge to figure out which is which. Happy New Year!
UCLA will change coaches
Ben Howland won't last much longer at UCLA at this rate.
Ben Howland’s seat is hot. Very hot. It seems safe to say that Bruins boosters have had enough of the dysfunctional family wearing UCLA uniforms. The Bruins lost to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (I mean, how in the name of the Madonna Inn could that happen?).
Forget the trips to the Final Four. Donors and fans want to know what a coach has done for them lately -- and lately it has been mostly embarrassing with transfers, losses, and eligibility issues. The recent win over Missouri may be an indication that the program is getting back on track, but a slow start in the Pac-12 could still signal the end of Howland’s tenure. There are rumors now he could be fired before the end of the season.
If there is a change, UCLA will want to make a big splash. Look for Butler’s Brad Stevens and VCU’s Shaka Smart to lead the list of candidates -- even if they don’t want to leave their schools.
The freshman power forward from UNLV will be a household name by the time March Madness rolls around -- if not sooner. Bennett is off to a tremendous start.
Perhaps most impressive is his efficiency rating, which is right there with Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Creighton’s Doug McDermott -- three of the best players in college basketball. Bennett is averaging 19.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 28.3 minutes per game. He is shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the line.
Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings show Bennett is similar to Kevin Love in 2008. With Mike Moser now back from his elbow injury, the Rebels should continue to improve. Bennett and Co. could go deep into the NCAA tournament.
Pitt will be a surprise team in conference play
Pittsburgh was my choice for preseason sleeper in the Big East. Jamie Dixon’s team has not let me down. The Panthers had to elevate their record to 12-1 before they moved into the Associated Press Top 25.
Now that Pitt is there, better days may be ahead. Talib Zanna, a 6-9 junior, has been terrific, averaging 13.2 points and 6.3 rebounds heading into Monday's game against Cincinnati. Tray Woodall is healthy and Steven Adams keeps improving. Pitt will make major noise in the Big East -- despite the 70-61 loss to the 14th-ranked Bearcats.
The Final Four will be ...
Michigan, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. That’s right, the Big East may be imploding but the conference is going to party in Atlanta like it’s 1985. St. John’s, Georgetown and Villanova went to the Final Four in 1985 and that’s the only time one conference has sent three representatives to a Final Four.
There’s only one problem with repeating the feat in 2013 -- the ACC will claim credit with Louisville, Syracuse and Pitt all moving to Tobacco Road in the future. At least that’s the plan right now.
You haven't seen the last of conference realignment
Despite disclaimers denying that they have any interest in leaving the ACC, Duke and North Carolina join hands and skip off to the Big Ten. ACC commissioner John Swofford becomes enraged and his face turns multiple shades of red as he dangles millions of dollars in front of Penn State and Ohio State.
When the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes stay true to the Big Ten, Swofford gives in and offers full membership to Cincinnati and Connecticut. But before the Bearcats and Huskies can say yes to the ACC, Florida State and Clemson bolt for the SEC, muttering something about the academic opportunities in the SEC.
The ACC dissolves, leaving Connecticut and Boston College to band together as the anchor schools in a new version of the Yankee Conference.
The national player of the year will be ...
Look for Mason Plumlee to win player of the year honors in 2013.
In one of the most controversial votes ever, Mason Plumlee of Duke sweeps all the major POY awards even though Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Jeff Withey of Kansas all have remarkable record-breaking seasons.
Voters rationalize their choices, saying that Plumlee is the clear-cut go-to-guy on the No. 1 team in the nation. Several voters offer the explanation that “every Duke game is on television somewhere” and that gave Plumlee more than enough chances to be exposed to the media.
Other voters admit they might have been brainwashed by Dick Vitale, the analyst on all of those Duke broadcasts. Vitale can be hypnotic that way.
The national freshman of the year will be ...
Danny Manning’s records at Kansas have withstood the test of time but it seems likely Ben McLemore, the new stud in Lawrence, will erase Manning’s name from the freshman scoring category -- and who knows what else.
Manning, now the head coach at Tulsa, scored 496 points as a freshman in 1984-85. He averaged 14.6 points on the way to being named Big Eight Newcomer of the Year. McLemore, a partial qualifier who practiced with the Jayhawks during the second semester last season but didn’t play until this season, has scored 190 points through 12 games and leads No. 6 Kansas with a 15.8 points per game scoring average.
Paul Pierce, Brandon Rush and Xavier Henry took their best shots but couldn’t pass Manning’s freshman record. McLemore, who keeps getting better every game, will get the record, be named freshman of the year, and then become the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
We think Bruce Weber learned his lesson in 2003. At least we hope so.
Weber was in his first season at Illinois when he dressed all in black and held a mock funeral to lay Bill Self’s memory to rest once and for all with the Illini. When the popular Self left Illinois to replace Roy Williams at Kansas, Illini fans took it hard.
“I never could understand, people were mad at me because he left,” Weber said.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
Weber led the Illini to the Big Ten title and advanced to the national championship game the next season, but fans insisted he did it with Self’s players. Now Weber is in his first season at Kansas State, following another popular coach -- Frank Martin. It appears Weber’s popularity ranking improved greatly with a win over Florida and a move into the AP poll.
Martin, who now coaches at South Carolina, reportedly has given Weber his frightening and patented “stare.” So scratch the funeral plans. But mark Jan. 22 on your calendar. That’s when Self’s Jayhawks travel to Manhattan to play Weber’s Wildcats.
Louisville will wear the crown
The Cardinals might not reach the top spot in the rankings during the regular season, but Rick Pitino’s team is best equipped to win it all in March.
Peyton Siva and Russ Smith combine to give Louisville the best backcourt in the nation. Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear are the other offensive threats. Luke Hancock has been a good addition and when center Gorgui Dieng is healthy, Louisville has the total package.
It’s tough to prepare for Pitino’s defense in March, and the Cardinals have last year’s Final Four experience to draw upon this season.
Kentucky will be young again in 2013-14
John Calipari and his Wildcats are off to a slow start and that’s highly unusual. Even with all of Calipari’s recruiting success, the defending national champions couldn’t just pick up where they left off after winning it all in 2012.
Look for Cal’s Kids to be a factor in the NCAA Tournament again. Then Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin can head to the NBA, Calipari can bring in another top-ranked recruiting class, and everyone can start all over.
“You’re not gonna believe this, but we’re gonna be young again,” Calipari will say. And then it will be time for the 2013-14 season.