Your 2019 Final Four teams will be ...
College basketball writer Marcus Fuller already knows which four teams will be coming to Minneapolis in April to play for the national championship. Amazing, right? They are:
Coach Bill Self broke UCLA’s record for consecutive league titles with 14 last season — and it could be 15 if a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans and high-profile transfers can mesh, most notably former Memphis standout F Dedric Lawson and five-star Gs Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson. The trio combined for 57 points in Tuesday’s opening victory against No. 10 Michigan State.
Coach K is the One-And-Done king now, especially after landing arguably the top recruiting class ever with Fs Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. The nation’s three best freshmen combined for 83 points in Tuesday’s opening 118-84 blowout over No. 2 Kentucky. Look out for those three and Apple Valley native Tre Jones.
How does Tony Bennett’s team respond to the historic NCAA tournament loss to 16th-seeded UMBC? The Cavaliers have the firepower with Gs Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter returning from a team that went 17-1 in the ACC.
The Zags couldn’t get back to the Final Four after a runner-up finish in 2017. Mark Few’s team again returns most of its talent, including F Killian Tillie and Gs Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins. Tillie is out a couple of months because of ankle surgery, but fellow big man Rui Hachimura had 33 points in his first game Tuesday.
Or maybe ...
If for some wacky reason Marcus is wrong about one of those teams, expect the replacement to come from these four:
John Calipari lands high-profile freshmen every year. This season it’s G Keldon Johnson, who had 23 points in the Duke loss. But it’s been a long time since the Wildcats had a senior All-America candidate such as Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis from Minneapolis. How the freshmen gel with Travis after a tough loss will be key.
The defending SEC champs have all of the pieces back, including conference player of the year F Grant Williams and leading rebounder G Admiral Schofield. All five starters return for coach Rick Barnes, but the Vols are still searching for consistent point guard play. Enter Jordan Bowden.
The Ducks were a surprise Final Four participant in 2017, but they won’t sneak up on anyone this season. G Payton Pritchard is the only returning double-digit scorer, but Oregon boasts a top-five recruiting class led by Manute Bol’s 7-3 son Bol Bol and Fs Louis King and Francis Okoro. King is out until December because of a torn meniscus.
Tar Heel fans will be giddy if they can watch Duke get all the early hype but fall short in the end. UNC boasts a conference player of the year candidate in F Luke Maye and a top-rated freshman of their own with F Nassir Little, the McDonald’s All-American game MVP.