The 2017-18 college basketball season begins Friday, our preseason Basketball Power Index (BPI) rankings and projections debuted last week (and can be explored at espn.com/bpi), and now it's time to further dissect the numbers and make some bold predictions.
It's important to remember that the BPI and all of its derivative metrics offer probability of outcomes, never predicting things with 100 percent certainty. As fans, we're seldom rational, so let's ignore the uncertainties for now and dive in:
Duke will not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament
At first glance, who would pick against top-ranked, mega-talented Duke ending up on the 1-line on Selection Sunday? The Basketball Power Index, that's who.
To grade teams before the season, one factor BPI uses is what we call adjusted minutes returning, which accounts for injuries and transfers, taking the most optimistic view of minutes returning for each Division I team. The only teams returning less than Duke by this metric are Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State. Thus, of the 10,000 season simulations run by BPI, only 7 percent of them included Duke as a No. 1 seed.
While the 2018 recruiting class is indeed stellar, you'll remember that terrific young talent was a large reason why the Blue Devils were No. 1 in Preseason BPI in 2016. Mike Krzyzewski & Co. ended up a 2-seed after a very up-and-down season, and this season's young Duke team could encounter more of the same.
Wichita State will reach the national championship game ... where North Carolina could await
Last season, Gonzaga made its transition from the darling Cinderella of yesteryear to an NCAA runner-up. Though Wichita State has a Final Four on its résumé (losing to eventual champion Louisville in the 2013 semifinals), look for the Shockers to follow a similar script to the Zags. BPI gives the Shockers a 17 percent chance to get to the title game, the highest of any team.
Who might the Shockers face in the national championship?
BPI's projections give the best chances to Villanova (15.3 percent), Kansas (15.1 percent), Purdue (8.7 percent), Cincinnati (8 percent) and North Carolina (7.8 percent), and there's plenty of reason to fear the Tar Heels on that list.
UNC showed last season that elite shooting isn't required to win it all when you can attack the offensive glass. If Roy Williams can get this team to dominate in that area the way the last one did, we could see the first repeat champion since Billy Donovan's Florida Gators in 2007.
The Pac-12 and West Coast Conference will each earn three NCAA tournament bids
The Pac-12 has received only four NCAA bids in two of the past three tournaments, including last season when USC squeaked into the First Four. This season looks even more bleak. Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Dillon Brooks (Oregon), and Lauri Markkannen (Arizona) are all gone from the league's three best teams of a year ago. BPI sees an average of 3.1 teams from the Pac-12 earning 2018 bids, with Arizona (No. 11 in preseason BPI) leading the way after returning most of its team.
In the WCC, meanwhile, Gonzaga nearly won the NCAA title last year and hasn't missed the tournament since 1998. BPI projects Saint Mary's as the nation's 16th-best team. Beyond those two, Dave Rose of BYU and Herb Sendek of Santa Clara have plenty of experience coaching in March, and BPI sees at least one of those two making the 2018 field in 53 percent of simulations.
The Pac-12 is a deeper league than the WCC, but at the top, the conferences are similar and could have nearly equal profiles come March.
TCU will make its first NCAA tournament since 1998
This might seem out there, but it might end up looking like the most conservative pick here. The reigning NIT champion Horned Frogs landed just outside the top 25 in total votes received in both preseason polls. BPI likes them even more, pegging Jamie Dixon's squad as a projected top-10 team with a 99 percent chance of making the NCAA tournament after two decades in the wilderness.
Kansas will extend its Big 12 championship streak ... by sharing the title
Kansas has won at least a share of the every conference regular-season title since 2004, and while you shouldn't expect that to end anytime soon, don't be surprised if there are Big 12 co-champions in 2017-18. TCU, West Virginia, and Baylor have a combined 50 percent chance to win at least a share of the title, and BPI gives the Jayhawks a 58 percent chance of winning at least a share of the crown. Look for a heated race down the stretch in the Big 12.
Northwestern will keep on dancing
Northwestern reached its first NCAA tournament in program history in 2017, but you shouldn't expect the Wildcats to revert to their more familiar non-tourney legacy. Chris Collins' squad is projected as the nation's 29th-best team per BPI, and figures to be a factor in a crowded Big Ten race that includes nine of the BPI's preseason top 50.
Every Big 12 Team will enter the conference tournament at .500 or better overall
Is there a better league from top to bottom than the Big 12? To help answer that question, let's look at the bottom, shall we?
Oklahoma (11-20) and Texas (11-22) were the only two Big 12 teams that did not finish .500 or better last season. BPI sees much improvement in both the Sooners and Longhorns, who are ranked 31st and 57th, respectively, in preseason BPI. In fact, Oklahoma State has the worst projected record in the Big 12, with their average winning percentage in the regular season at a .508. That means the entire Big 12 could descend upon the Sprint Center in Kansas City on March 7 with something to play for.
The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft won't play in the NCAA tournament ... again
Ben Simmons and LSU missed the NCAA tournament in 2016, and some wondered how the presumed top NBA draft pick couldn't guide his team to the dance (many blamed coach Johnny Jones, who was fired).
In 2017, Markelle Fultz and Washington took it further, as the Huskies failed to win 10 games (coach Lorenzo Romar, also fired).
This season the attention is on Michael Porter Jr., who is the top U.S. player in ESPN's NBA draft rankings (No. 2 overall). Porter's Missouri team projects as the 53rd-best according to BPI -- meaning Cuonzo Martin's Tigers will need to beat expectations for fans to have a chance to watch Porter participate in March Madness.