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Evans Seven: Bold predictions for 2019

RANKINGS: 2019 Rivals150 | 2020 Rivals150 | 2019 Team Rankings

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Zion Williamson (AP Images)

THREE-POINT PLAY: UCLA opening, Anthony update, best scorer in America

The New Year brings a fresh slate of predictions of what is to come over the next 12 months. In the first Evans Seven installment of 2019, we offer up seven bold predictions for the next calendar year.

ZION GOES NUMBER ONE

What is more dangerous? A team picking Zion Williamson first overall in June’s NBA Draft over a more sure-fire prospect like R.J. Barrett, or a team not picking the unicorn and seeing him transfix the league with his highlight plays and uber production? That is the dilemma already on the table and we are still six months from seeing Williamson’s smile light up the green room.

Williamson is a unique prospect with no easy comparison. He is not LeBron James, Charles Barkley or Larry Johnson. He is the one and only Zion Williamson. His sparkling play and across-the-board production (19.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.9 bpg) is supreme and while he has been nitpicked for his shaky shooting numbers, Williamson offers an interesting conundrum for NBA front offices. For a franchise like the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls or New York Knicks - organizations that need an immediate shot of entertainment and hope - Williamson will be too much of a package of what-if to pass on.

NORTH CAROLINA AND KANSAS WILL MEET FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE

For all of the talk this winter about North Carolina's toughness, or lack thereof, and Kansas' ability to find consistency from its guard play, I expect the two basketball powerhouses to play for the national title in April. I get it, it seems foolish to pick against Duke and its four-headed monster of Tre Jones-Cam Reddish-R.J. Barrett-Zion Williamson. You could make a similar case for Gonzaga, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee and Virginia.

However, as long as everyone stays healthy, this analyst expects Roy Williams to face his former employer in hopes of winning a fourth national title while Bill Self will try for his second. A battle of Dedric Lawson and Devon Dotson, up against the Nassir Little/Cam Johnson wing-forward duo and Coby White will not be short on fireworks or storylines.

NBA COACH TAKES A COLLEGE JOB

I made this prediction last year around this time and I'm doubling-down in 2019. The likeliest to make the move is Fred Hoiberg who is the consensus option for taking over the UCLA program. However, if not Hoiberg, could Billy Donovan leave the comfortable confines of Oklahoma City and instead take a shot at another college job this spring? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike Brown get a shot as he has been in the mix for a few college openings in recent years. Could Luke Walton jump at the chance to lead his own program compared to being led by LeBron James in Los Angeles? Keep an eye on the coaching carousel as someone is due to leave the NBA bench for a college job.

KENTUCKY ENTERS 2019-2020 AS NUMBER ONE

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Tyler Herro (AP)

While negativity has seemingly surrounded the Kentucky basketball program of late - whether it was this summer’s decommitment of D.J. Jeffries, the Wildcats' bizarre struggle to land elite frontcourt talent this fall, the abysmal performance against Duke at the Champions Classic and the rare out-transfer of Quade Green - John Calipari's program has more than a fighter’s chance of reaching another Final Four. Whether the Wildcats do or don’t is not the point in this space, as I think the momentum will flip in Kentucky's direction during 2019 and the program will enter the 2019-20 campaign ranked No. 1 in the country.

We hear this story every summer that Kentucky will enroll a number of highly lauded prospects only to see its lack of early cohesion and untimely shooting nip them in the bud. Next year will be different. Tyler Herro, Immanuel Quickley, E.J. Montgomery, Jemarl Baker and Nick Richards will all return, and PJ Washington and/or Ashton Hagans could do the same. Kentucky will enroll alpha-males in Tyrese Maxey and Khalil Whitney and will land another five-star talent and grad-transfer between now and September, setting the Wildcats up to be the top-ranked team in America.

DUKE WILL FINISH THE FALL SIGNING PERIOD ATOP THE RANKINGS

This past November was a bit unusual for Duke. Sure, the Blue Devils made up for things with the commitment of top-ranked senior Vernon Carey just weeks later, but they also were far from the top of the team rankings during the early signing period. They could end the spring in contention for the top spot if they can land Isaiah Stewart and/or Matthew Hurt but, either way, look for Duke to be back on top of the sport following the 2019 spring signing period.

Jalen Johnson and B.J. Boston are two prospects that Duke has its eye on and both have taken an official visit to Durham. Jeremy Roach is down to a final four and is much closer to a college decision compared to the other elites in his class. The Blue Devils just offered Walker Kessler, remain in contact with R.J. Hampton and have kept close tabs on Scottie Barnes. Not all will commit to Duke, but before next December rolls around, all of the talk about a downturn in recruiting will be forgotten.

RICE COMMISION MAKES A CHANGE

Last year, the Rice Commission made major changes to the 2019 travel calendar. They did the smart thing by keeping the live period in April, and did the same with the first weekend of July, allowing adidas, Nike and Under Armour to host their teams for championship events.

The good just about ends there as the Rice Commission clearly didn’t think the process through with the June high school camps that will practically lock out all of the programs that do not belong to their state’s federation, and who will choose which prospects receive the invitation to the four regional camps in July.

This summer won’t be fun for anyone involved but it will be more of a one-year hiatus from what we had been accustomed to rather than a new way of doing things. Change just for change’s sake is useless and what we are about to embark on is mind-numbing. Maybe this is a hopeful analyst crossing his fingers that the people in charge will come to their senses but this can, in no way, be the end game for travel ball. By the time next year comes around, a much more enviable calendar of events will be in tow for the spring and summer of 2020.

ANOTHER FIVE-STAR JUNIOR WILL RECLASSIFY

We see it every spring, a elite prospect from the junior ranks receives the proper credits, speeds up his clock towards the professional realm and jumps into college a year early. Anthony Edwards has already done this and at least one more five-star prospect from the 2020 class will make a move into the 2019 class before the fall begins.

Jalen Green, the nation’s top junior prospect, could make the jump, as could N’Faly Dante, Addison Patterson and Kyree Walker. The topic of reclassification has been a thoroughly discussed topic in recent years and it will come to the forefront again this spring. Therefore, at least one, if not two, five-star prospects from the current junior class will be leaving a mark on the college basketball world this time next year.