College basketball preview: Our Final Four picks, All-Americans and more


By Andy Katz and John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writers

The college basketball season is quickly approaching, with all 25 teams in the AP Top 25 preseason poll scheduled to take the court on Monday.

Our college basketball reporters Andy Katz and John Fanta asked some burning questions before the season in our first edition of our college basketball roundtable.

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The best college basketball stories

Mark Titus and Tate Frazier join Andy Katz to discuss exciting preseason storylines.

Who are your preseason All-Americans? And who will be the player of the year?

Fantasy:

In a season where returning big men dominate college basketball, size is the theme of my preseason All-American team. But it’s a guard game, and I think Houston can win it all in April. That means I’m lining up with Cougars senior Marcus Sasser. Had he not been limited to 12 games by a foot injury, we can only wonder what Sasser could have done last season. Even without him and Tramon Mark, who both suffered season-ending setbacks last December, the Cougars still made it to the Elite Eight. Now both players are back, along with a rich core of talent. Sasser averaged 17.7 points on 44% from beyond the arc. He has a chance to be the best guard in the country and Houston has a chance to be the best team in the country. I’ll side with Sasser.

Catz: I’m going with the same five. And right now, my pick for Player of the Year is actually Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. Tshiebwe will need to produce similar monster numbers to win it in back-to-back seasons. Timme will have to lead the Zags to a conference title and a higher seed than any other player on this list. Of course, Sasser and TJD will also carry heavy loads. But cargo handling in Timme is immense and up to the challenge. If there are any candidates who could easily crash this All-America match, they are: Jaime Jaquez Jr. UCLA’s Mike Miles Jr. of TCU and Nick Smith Jr. from arkansas The Bruins are the pick of the Pac-12 and have the goods to be a top seed. If that happens, expect Jáquez to produce. Miles is the 12th Preseason Player of the Year, and if the Horned Frogs win the conference, it will be difficult to keep him out of the first team. Smith might be the best freshman in the country, is a candidate for SEC Player of the Year and a reason the Hogs are in SEC title contention.

What are your Final Four picks? And who will win the national championship?

Catz: North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, TCU. National Champion: UCLA.

The Bruins have made a great run over the past three seasons and have two of their key players back: Jáquez and Tyger Campbell. Campbell is a money maker and the guards win titles. Had Jáquez been healthy, the Bruins could have finished off Carolina for good in the Sweet 16 and then faced Saint Peter’s for a second consecutive Final Four appearance. I love the 1-2 punch of these two. But they are hardly alone. Freshman star Amari Bailey could have an All-American season. Jaylen Clark and Adem Bona are poised to have breakout seasons. The Bruins defend. And they have experience and an advantage. So why not?

Fantasy: Houston, Baylor, Kentucky, Virginia. My national champion: Baylor.

The Ossos will cut down the nets for the second time in three years. Last season, this team was bitten by injuries. A first-weekend outing in North Carolina is the kind of thing Scott Drew can use as fuel for the upcoming campaign. Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer will carry one of the best backcourts in America, and standout freshman Keyonte George is one of the players I’m most excited to see this season. With West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges in the crease and Flo Thamba under center, the Bears are well-rounded and will once again be one of the best defensive teams in the country. Add a five-star talent in George to what the other Bears guards are doing, and the offensive possibilities can be scary. It will be interesting to see how the bench develops for this team, but their makeup is very strong.

Which coaches are you buying shares in?

Fantasy: I’ll buy stock on a trio of first-year coaches, plus two coaches who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament last season but should be back on the dance floor this season.

First-year coaches: Florida’s Todd Golden, Xavier’s Sean Miller and UMass’ Frank Martin.

Two coaches who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament but will this season: Oregon’s Dana Altman and Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton.

I’ll dig into these: Miller has won over 73% of the games he’s coached. It’s a winner and has one of the best rosters in the Big East. Talent has not been Xavier’s problem. The topic was coaching. Not anymore. As for Florida, Golden hit the transfer window hard with Kyle Lofton, Will Richard and Alex Fudge. He also kept Kowacie Reeves, and I think he’s the right fit for the Gators.

At UMass, Martin takes the bull by the horns, and I’ll buy any stock that sells. Prior to last year, Altman had reached seven of the previous eight NCAA Tournaments. With Will Richardson leading the way, the Ducks won’t stay down. They will come back and challenge for the top of the Pac-12. As for Boynton, the Cowboys were disqualified from the NCAA Tournament last year due to a harsh set of penalties. I think that has only fueled the fire of what this year’s team will be. Moussa Cisse is an elite rim protector. If the Pokes’ backcourt is in sync, they can be a Big 12 dark horse.

Catz: Jon Scheyer, Duke; Hubert Davis, North Carolina; Todd Golden, Florida; Jeff Linder, Wyoming; Micah Shrewsberry, Penn State; Shaheen Holloway, Seton Hall; Darren DeVries, Drake; Shantay Legans, Portland.

Scheyer and Davis will keep the Duke-Carolina rivalry strong for years to come. They are still going to gather some of the best talent in the country. Golden can work analytics to their advantage by getting the right adjustments. He will win in Gainesville. Linder could have the Pokes in the Sweet 16 and be on his way to another job. Shrewsberry could be the next Matt Painter in the Big Ten. He will build a winning program and could have the Nittany Lions in position for a bid. Holloway will have his alma mater in the middle of Big East bid contention. DeVries has a winner in Drake and will be a hot commodity. Legans, like Golden last season, could take the third WCC bid and will be highly coveted.

Who are your picks to win each conference?

Catz: Big Ten: Indiana; Great East: Xavier; ACC: North Carolina; Big 12: Kansas; SEC: Kentucky; Pac-12: UCLA.

I’m not going against my preseason picks here. The Hoosiers return the best player and the most talent. They can also have the best freshmen. They must be the pre-season selection. The same goes for the ACC with everything that is returning for the Tar Heels. The addition of Pete Nance is a solid replacement for Brady Manek. I won’t go against the reigning champions in the Big 12, although I could definitely see TCU, Baylor or Texas winning the league. Kansas is Kansas. And there is enough return to justify a selection. Kentucky is poised to avenge last season’s first-round upset of St. Peter’s. The 1-2 punch of Sahvir Wheeler and Oscar Tshiebwe along with a host of newcomers should put the Wildcats in position to avoid Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn. UCLA is the clear favorite in the Pac-12. See above.

Fantasy: Big Ten: Illinois; Big East: Creighton; ACC: Virginia; Big 12: Baylor; SEC: Tennessee; Pac-12: UCLA.

I’ll go “off the map” with the Southeastern Conference, but the Volunteers are a top 15 team. Having Santiago Vescovi back is invaluable, and returners Josiah Jordan-James and Olivier Nkamhoua give Tennessee experience and length. I’m very intrigued to see what acclaimed freshman Julian Phillips brings to the table from the wing position. He is very dynamic and should play well against Vescovi. Rick Barnes’ teams always defend. If they find enough offense, watch out for flights.

As for Virginia, Tony Bennett returns all of his top contributors and I think the Hoos are just as good as North Carolina and Duke, if not better. They don’t necessarily get national attention, but that’s exactly what Bennett would prefer. Look for 6-foot-6 wing Jayden Gardner to have a big fifth season after he averaged over 15 points last season.

As for the Big Ten, Brad Underwood’s team has tons of versatility, major transfers in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer and a loaded recruiting class. I also expect RJ Melendez and Coleman Hawkins to make big leaps.

Which conference will be the toughest from top to bottom?

Fantasy: For me, it’s the Big 12. Baylor and Kansas could end up being top five teams in the country, while TCU is poised for a potentially historic year for the program and Texas is loaded with Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter carrying the Longhorns. Texas Tech could be a top-20 team if they figure certain things out, and Oklahoma State is a team that defends at a high level. When Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Kansas State are in the lower out of your league, this is ridiculous. The Big 12 has the last two national champions and the league has been represented in the last four Final Fours. It is also the only conference in which three different teams play in three consecutive national championship games.

Not only is this league deep, it’s racking up hardware.

Catz: big 12

I have to agree with John here. The Big 12 is still the league to beat. There is competition from the SEC and Big Ten, but the depth of 1-10 in the Big 12 is hard to beat. I expect eight of the 10 to be in bids, with Kansas State and West Virginia likely the odd teams out. But Kansas, TCU, Texas and Baylor are all legitimate Final Four contenders and therefore title chances. Texas Tech is right behind, but not by much. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State all have enough talent to make another run at a bid.

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Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network as well as March Madness and NCAA.com and hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


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