Blair Kerkhoff

Early college basketball forecast for 2018-19: Is the sport on the bubble?

The college basketball season is in the rear-view mirror with Villanova’s impressive run to the national championship, capped by Monday’s 79-62 triumph over Michigan. As confetti and streamers fell on the Wildcats, the lookahead to 2018-19 began.

With next season’s opening games moved ahead to Nov. 9, the offseason will be shortened. There’s a mere 348 days remaining until Selection Sunday. Who’s on the bubble?

For starters, the sport itself, as it deals with an FBI investigation, adding a cloud of uncertainty and angst as the offseason and look-ahead begins. Here's how things might shape up on and off the court heading into 2018-19.

The nation

Is Villanova poised to become to college basketball what Alabama is to college football? The Crimson Tide don't win it every year, but they’ve captured five of the previous nine national championships and are always in the mix under Nick Saban.

Jay Wright could be building something similar. Monday’s title was his second in three years. And to carry the Tide-Cats analogy one step further, Alabama’s victory over Georgia in the College Football Playoff title game was sparked by freshmen quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench.

Villanova’s hero on Monday was reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo, who poured in 31 points, the most ever by a nonstarter in an NCAA title game. In both cases, the system worked beautifully.

The Wildcats likely will lose Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, but plenty of power returns to a team that won all of its NCAA Tournament games by double digits.

Duke has cornered the market on top prospects, bringing in the top three: R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson.

If Moe Wagner returns, Michigan will have four starters back, and Kentucky will have another stocked roster, especially if some like P.J. Washington, believed to depart after their freshman season, stick around.

But Kansas is getting early love by Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and others as the top choice entering next season.

Big 12

Kansas will be favored, duh. The Jayhawks don’t know who is returning among such players as Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike, but on the strength of transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore and a stud freshman class, Kansas will be the choice to win consecutive conference title No. 15.

Kansas State might return all five starters from a regional finalist. Barry Brown has announced he’s entering the NBA Draft but not hiring an agent. If Dean Wade stays, he will be the only returning member of the All-Big 12 team.

West Virginia loses its terrific backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., but shot-spiking menace Sagaba Konate is back.

A solid corps returns at TCU, including guard Jaylen Fisher, whose season ended early because of a knee injury.

Chris Beard is armed with a new six-year contract after producing Texas Tech’s best Big 12 season. The Red Raiders lose Keenan Evans but could become an upper-division fixture.

In regular season and postseason success, the Big 12 is coming off one of the top five years in its history, and being the only conference to produce a football (Oklahoma) and basketball (Kansas) national semifinalist is no small achievement.

With most of the established stars — and new ones like the Sooners' Trae Young — moving on, the league could take a step back next season.

Off the court

Although the Final Four games lacked drama (the men's, that is; the women’s semifinals and title game produced the greatest championship weekend in that sport’s history, and just wow Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame), the NCAA Tournament allowed fans to set aside the FBI investigation that hangs over the sport.

But the uncertainty that developed when the investigation resulted in the September arrests of four assistant coaches among 10 people has returned.

With that announcement and a report in February by Yahoo Sports, violations have been alleged at 28 schools and exposed an underground economy for influencing top prospects to certain schools.

The next big day is April 25 with the announcement of findings of a committee led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The committee has been charged with investigating the culture of college sports, focusing on the concept of amateurism in sports that generate billions for the NCAA, the major conferences, coaches and just about everyone but those who produce the revenue, the athletes.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said at the Final Four that recommendations by the committee will be enacted for the next school year.

Could those be an adaptation of the Olympic model, where athletes can endorse products without losing amateur status? Or can the panel work with the NBA players’ union to alter the league’s 19-year-old minimum age requirement that has produced the “one and done” era of college basketball?

Whatever is in store, an exciting NCAA Tournament capped by a dominant and admirable performance by Villanova is why college basketball should strive to get it right.

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