The 2018-2019 NCAA basketball season was one that saw the Texas Tech Red Raiders reach heights and exceed expectations nobody saw happening except for maybe head coach Chris Beard. Before he found himself as the head coach of the Red Raiders, Beard was the coach for Arkansas-Little Rock.

During his tenure in Arkansas, the team finished with a 30-5 record, ranking 4th in the nation out of 351 teams for points allowed per game (60.8) The previous season, before Beard took over the head coach position, the Little Rock Trojans ranked 276th in the nation in points allowed per game (70.3), almost 10 points lower and surpassed 272 teams in the process all in just one off-season.

Fast forward to Coach Beard arriving at Texas Tech; he proceeded to do exactly as he had done to the previous teams he coached. When Beard arrived in Lubbock, the Red Raiders were ranked 122nd out of 351 teams for points allowed per game (69.9).

Last season, the team was ranked third in the nation, allowing 59.5 points per game, meaning another 10-point decrease. Making these changes as quick as Beard has is something that can be difficult to do when working with an entirely new roster and staff. This is only one statistic out of the many great changes coach Beard has made.

All things considered, the Red Raiders no doubt had an amazing 2018-2019 season, making it all the way to the Final Four and eventually losing in the NCAA championship game to No.1 ranked Virginia, 85-77. So, as the new basketball season is getting ready to tip-off on Nov. 5, there should be plenty of exciting games and moments headed the Red Raiders’ way.

Aside from Texas Tech’s recent success, there are many other teams scratching and clawing their way into the college basketball mix. Here are my takes on who I believe will make some noise this upcoming season. And no, Virginia is not on my list.

First off, let me start with one team that may or may not be a surprise, but is coming off a relatively sub-par last few seasons and a first round exit in the 2019 March Madness to 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, Minnesota. Entering his second season as head coach, Chris Mack and the Louisville Cardinals are a team I believe haven’t shown their full potential yet. With three returning starters and a very talented six new additions including four four-star players, one five-star player and one three-star player.

Along with their new additions to the roster, I believe Mack will continue to improve his team’s defense as he did from the 2017-18 to the 2018-19 season as the team went from ranked 123rd out of 351 and allowing 70.4 points per game to ranked 88th out of 353 teams, allowing 68.4 points per game.

So all in all, a coach in his second season, six new faces (including four four-star players), a team that’s getting better on defense and adding more firepower on offense, the Cardinals may take a few games to get chemistry going, but once they do, I believe we have an underdog sneaking its way into the Final Four.

Next is a team that has been really good for many years and, I believe, will continue onto next season due to its great coaching and recruiting. Mike Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans have been a model of consistency amongst college basketball, and if it weren’t for Tech’s stellar play, would have played in the final against Virginia.

The Spartans are only losing three players and have four of their five starters returning from last season along with three new additions to the team (two four-star players and one three-star player). The Spartans won the Big Ten Title in 2018 and 2019 along with the Big Ten tournament in 2019, and I believe will win the 2020 Big Ten conference as well. No matter who they play, they are more than likely always going to make a lot of shots from beyond the three-point line and find ways to score in the lane with their size in the power forward position.

The third team who I believe will continue off of last year’s success and who I consider my “dark horse” is none other than University of California- Irvine. The Anteaters, much like the Red Raiders, had success last year not many could have predicted. One major commonality the previous two teams, and UC-Irvine also has is a strong defense. During the 2017-18 season, the Anteaters were ranked 48th out of 351 teams, averaging 67.1 points allowed per game.

That’s not entirely bad by any means, but they, like Louisville and Michigan State, made a big improvement for the 2018-19 season. Last season, UC-Irvine finished the season ranking 21st out of 353 teams, allowing 63.6 points per game. While an almost four-point drop may not be as significant as a 10-point drop, it still allowed the team to pass up 27 spots in the process. Their offense last season was inconsistent and their defense was good enough to allow the offense some mistakes, but with a roster in which 11 out of the 15 players are sophomores or younger (meaning most were freshman during last years’ success), I believe they will grow from last year and proceed to do great things.

Lastly, the final pick for my early Final Four prediction is none other than the Big 12’s own Kansas Jayhawks. Although coming off of a relatively tough season and a loss in the second round to eventual Final Four member, the Auburn Tigers, the Jayhawks are always a threat to anybody who plays them.

Due to their schedule being amongst the top three hardest in college basketball since 2015 as well as coach Bill Self (who has won 11 conference titles out of the 12 seasons that he’s been at Kansas) attracting one of the top recruiting classes each year, the Jayhawks are always prepared to match any tough competition that comes their way.

According to ESPN’s coaches poll, Kansas is ranked No. 3 entering the season. Even though they didn’t have a great season last year, coaches still respect their talent and what the Jayhawks are capable of (which is winning NCAA championship each year).

With many roster changes, coaching changes, upsets bound to happen and arenas packed with loud and proud fans there is no doubt this upcoming season of college basketball is going to be both an exciting and nerve-wracking one. Whether you agree or disagree with the teams selected above, when it comes to college basketball, anything can happen.

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