NCAA college basketball: What to watch for

John Keen, Staff Writer

Villanova’s Kris Jenkins nails the game-winning shot in the NCAA Tournament championship game against North Carolina — Monday, April 4, 2016 (USA TODAY Sports)

While college basketball is synonymous with the month of March with the NCAA Tournament taking things over during the first half of the new year, the start of the 2016-17 season offers plenty of reasons to begin watching even in November.

Traditional powerhouses still reign supreme with Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and last year’s champion Villanova rounding out the top four of the initial Associated Press rankings.

Duke, the reigning champions last season, saw their 2016 tournament run cut short by the Oregon Ducks, who had a historic run through the NCAA Tournament, in last year’s sweet sixteen matchup. Led by junior point guard Grayson Allen and freshman forwards Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, Duke looks primed to regain its place as college basketball’s elite program.

While Allen is arguably Duke’s best player, Giles may be their most important. Giles’s talent is undeniable, but his injury history also well documented.

Giles suffered a meniscus, ACL and MCL tear in his left knee in 2013, while tearing his ACL in his right knee last November.

If Giles stays healthy, look for Duke to be national title favorites.

Kentucky is always a traditional power. This year should be no different as they are led by a loaded freshmen class including De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

Fox’s first game was quite impressive for the Wildcats, setting Kentucky’s all-time freshman assist record with 12 against Stephen F. Austin.

Meanwhile, Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks, like the Duke Blue Devils and John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, sport its own crop of talented freshmen, led by superstar in the making Josh Jackson.

Jackson’s size, length and athleticism will remind Jayhawk fans of former Kansas star and 2014 top overall NBA Draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

With senior guard Frank Mason III’s shot creation and Jackson’s athleticism, Kansas potentially owns the nation’s most dynamic duo.

Moving on to last year’s champion Villanova Wildcats. While most of the nation’s top teams are stacked with freshman phenomes, Villanova’s roster is comprised with talented veterans.

Villanova returns senior forward and National Championship game hero Kris Jenkins, scrappy senior guard Josh Hart and talented scoring threat junior guard Phil Booth.

Under Jay Wright’s leadership, look for Villanova to be right back in championship conversation again this season.

No college basketball preview is complete without mentioning North Carolina.

While the Tar Heels are not expected to be National Title contenders this season, Roy Williams group is still talented.

Junior forward Justin Jackson’s, who scored 27 points in North Carolina’s season opener against Tulane, ability to score at will, always gives the Tar Heels a chance to win.

Combine Jackson’s scoring ability with senior forward Kennedy Meeks’s great rebounding, which generates multiple second-chance scoring opportunities, North Carolina could be sneaky good this year.

A lot of freshman look to make major impacts this season, but none may be as large as Markelle Fultz, Washington’s dynamic combo guard.

Fultz possess great handle, elite quickness and streaky shooting ability.

However, Washington does not have a lot of talent surrounding Fultz, so expect some early struggles until he establishes himself.

Whether freshman phenomes or talented teams, the 2016-17 college basketball season offers something for every fan, even in November.