It’s that wonderful time of year when college basketball begins. I’ve taken a look at the area teams (and one not in the area) and will give you what you should watch for this year with each one. In this post I will focus on two team from a state I once called home, the Blue Grass state. That’s the American dream, right? Someone who tells you what to think about?
Northern Kentucky Norse (22-10, 15-3 Horizon), Head Coach – John Brannen
Last season’s landlords for the Bearcats, the Norse will look to build on a great 2017-18 season. They did lose their second, third, and fourth leading scorers, but they return their team MVP, Drew McDonald. He led the Norse in scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg) and was the second leading passer with 2.3 assists per game. He’s back to lead a young Norse team. He, and graduate transfer Zaynah Robinson (Norfolk State), are the only two slated to leave the Norse after this season. This could be a set-the-table season for next year, or they could continue their success.
One interesting player who will fly under the radar will be Jalen Tate. He led the Norse defense last year, averaging over a steal per game and just under a block per game, and he’s a guard. By the way, NKU were the best defensive team in the Horizon League, last season.
Predicting the team MVP – Drew McDonald. Easiest pick of all these teams. The guy pretty much averaged a double-double at 6’ 8”, 250 lbs.
Best game to watch – Either game, be it January 11th at NKU, or February 15th in Dayton, against Wright State. NKU won the Horizon League regular season but lost both times to Wright State. This has become a nice rivalry game, which is why the first game in Highland Heights is on ESPN 2 and the second game, in Dayton, is on ESPN U.
Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – The Norse will celebrate the contributions that McDonald gave to them in his four-year career and they will do better than one-and-done in the Horizon League tournament. That being said, not sure this is a tournament team, but we’ll see.
Kentucky Wildcats (26-11, 10-8 SEC), Head Coach – John Calipari
Cal and the Cats return their greatest percentage of scoring from last year’s team (>30%) since their almost-undefeated 2014-15 season. They also add a very Calipari-like recruiting class and Reid Travis, a graduate transfer from Stanford. Last year’s team underperformed, and Cal will use that as fuel to galvanize a squad that returns its frontcourt and point guard. As opposed to most Calipari-era seasons, this Cats team is well rounded and balanced. They lack the absolute stud (may catch some flak on that) but they can run ten-deep, if they want, and few schools can say that.
Predicting the team MVP – Keldon Johnson. He should be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft and he should be the go-to guy in the Cats offense, come March. It may be a slow development as he gets used to his role, and if that role stays the same all year. Quade Green and Reid Travis may be pretty good, too.
Best game to watch – I wanted to be different and not pick this, but its tonight’s game against Duke at the Champions Classic. A close second will be either game against Tennessee as the Vols are going to be really good, too.
Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – We’ll be talking about how everyone played the entire year, thousands upon thousands of games, and the national championship was just a rematch of the game played on the first day of the season. Kentucky will play Duke for the National Championship (I hope they don’t get put on the same side of the bracket), but I will not pick the winner until March.
Check out the other previews of area college basketball: