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NBA Playoffs

 

Expert predictions for the Final Four and national champion of 2020 NCAA Tournament

 

Tuesday represents the start of the 2019-20 college basketball season and is highlighted by a terrific doubleheader featuring the top four teams in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll — namely No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke. It's impossible to launch things in a more perfect way. Madison Square Garden provides an incredible backdrop.

But will those four schools also close the season in the same building?

For what it's worth, none of our experts believe so — although everybody thinks Michigan State, at the very least, will be one of the schools still alive when the Final Four originates from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. Multiple people also like Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas and Florida. And Baylor got as many Final Four votes as Duke and North Carolina — which probably won't play well on Tobacco Road.

Everybody's Final Four is below.

Who has it right? Who is most wrong?

Bookmark this, then check back in April. And, in the meantime, enjoy what should be another fun five-month college basketball season.

Final Four predictions

Baylor: After a tumultuous season between injuries and suspensions, Baylor is finally at full strength and gets its best player -- Tristan Clark -- back from an injury that cut short his 2018-19 campaign. Clark leads an experienced Bears frontcourt that could be among the most talented in the Big 12. He's one of three returning players who averaged more than 8 points per game last season for a Baylor team that won 20 games. With continuity on its side and a bona fide star in Clark leading the charge, Baylor is the best non-Kansas team from the Big 12 to bet on being a legitimate Final Four threat. -- Kyle Boone

Duke: The Blue Devils do not have nearly the star power that they had last season; Zion Williamson now lives in New Orleans. But Mike Krzyzewski still enrolled a top-three recruiting class headlined by 5-star prospects Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, and Duke might have four first-round selections in the 2020 NBA Draft once you add Tre Jones and Wendell Moore to the equation. That is undeniably enough talent to get to what would be the 13th Final Four of Krzyzewski's career — especially considering that Jones, as a sophomore, will serve as the type of veteran presence in the backcourt that most great teams have in some form. -- Gary Parrish

Florida: If you read my piece on the best and worst nonconference schedules in major-conference college basketball, you saw that Florida has the second-hardest out-of-league slate. That kind of challenge will lead to some Gators losses, but you should buy big in November for a payoff come March. Florida's going to have a strong shot at making a Final Four run because of Mike White's deliberate and didactic offense, which does not hurry and will limit turnovers. Andrew Nembhard is the national dark horse pick for All-American. Kerry Blackshear could be a top-10 player in America this season. Five-star talent arrives in the form of Scottie Lewis, and fellow freshman Tre Mann could just as good. Three players in the top 43 is rare air. Florida can match up, size-wise and with athleticism, with Kentucky and win the SEC. This is the best Gators team since the one you might have forgotten about: the 36-3 group in 2013-14 that, yes, made the Final Four.  -- Matt Norlander (also selected by Kyle Boone) 

KansasWeirdly, Kansas -- though it is No. 2 in my 1-353 rankings -- is not receiving quite enough attention and credence for its national-championship potential. Last season, KU entered as the No. 1 team in college basketball, then proceeded to have its second-worst campaign under Bill Self. But Kansas could well wind up as the only team in college basketball to place two players on the three All-America teams come season's end. If Udoka Azubuike remains healthy and rounds out his game around the rim, he'll be a top-three big man in college basketball. Point guard Devon Dotson is a flash of fun with the ball in his hands and can/should make a significant jump as a sophomore. No other team has such a distinct and promising inside-outside duo like the Jayhawks, who oh by the way should be a top-10 defensive unit in the sport. Put all that together, I like KU to take back the Big 12, win that league and in doing so land a No. 1 seed without much debate. That puts them on the path to getting to Atlanta in 2020. -- Matt Norlander  

Louisville: Prying coach Chris Mack away from Xavier to take over the mess left behind by Rick Pitino paid off last year when the Cardinals were able to make the NCAA Tournament, not as a bubble team, but as a No. 7 seed.  It may pay off even better this season.  This team will be largely built around preseason all-American forward Jordan Nwora, the leading returning scorer in the ACC, but he is not alone.  Six of their top seven scorers return, and are joined by grad transfer Lamarr Kimble, who averaged 15.6 points per game at Saint Joseph's and a highly rated recruiting class.  It make take a bit of time for the team to gel, but when it does, Louisville has the talent and experience to get all the way to Atlanta. -- Jerry Palm (also selected by Gary Parrish and Kyle Boone) 

North Carolina: The 2020 Tar Heels have all the familiar ingredients for a Roy Williams-coached team poised to make a deep run in March. I expect North Carolina will take some lumps early on in the season as the different pieces settle into place, particularly the rotation of wing players and different lineup options with both Garrison Brooks and five-star freshman big man Armando Bacot providing reliable options down low. But picking North Carolina to make the Final Four mostly comes from an expectation that come March 2020, Cole Anthony will be the among the most dynamic playmakers in the entire country. Anthony, like many of his Tar Heel teammates stepping up into new or bigger roles, might not show that Final Four potential early, but you can set your watch to UNC teams rounding into form in February in preparation for a postseason run. -- Chip Patterson

National champion predictions

Kentucky: At this point it feels like I'm just playing the odds with a Kentucky program that been stunningly close to returning to the Final Four in two of the past three years. The key to pushing me towards picking this Wildcats team is the returning experience, which hasn't been something we're used to seeing in Lexington. Even more un-Kentucky is the lack of one truly hyped star, as reflected by the fact that not one Wildcat was picked as a first, second or third team preseason All-America here at CBS Sports. It's a deep team that could be elite defensively, with enough size and toughness to grind out wins against tournament foes from all styles of play. -- Chip Patterson

Michigan State: Only 15 coaches in the history of men's basketball have won multiple national championships — and, yes, I'm including Rick Pitino on the list because the fact that the NCAA subsequently vacated his second title doesn't mean he didn't, you know, win it in 2013. So here's the question: Will Tom Izzo be the next to join that club? Answer: Yes, I think so — evidence being that I have his Michigan State Spartans No. 1 in the preseason Top 25 And 1, largely because they return three of the top four scorers from a team that won 32 times last season while advancing to the Final Four. Would I feel better about things if Joshua Langford's health weren't once again an issue? Of course. But, regardless, on paper, Michigan State is the team best equipped to cut nets in Atlanta after the final game of the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Bottom line, the Spartans have a star in Cassius Winston at the sport's most important position — and enough talented and experienced pieces around him to get their Hall of Fame coach the second national championship that has eluded Izzo to date. -- Gary Parrish (also selected by Matt Norlander, Jerry Palm and Kyle Boone)