College football hasn’t even concluded yet but it’s time to dive into college basketball season. There are some relative newcomers in the preseason top ten this year, along with your traditional blue bloods. Per usual, Kentucky brought in the best 2020 recruiting class.
Kentucky’s class includes number five overall prospect of 2020, Brandon Boston Jr. who plays shooting guard, but will also handle some point guard duties for the Wildcats. Kentucky’s number one ranked class is followed by North Carolina’s class, and then Duke’s. After one of the worst seasons in Tarheel history, Roy Williams hit the recruiting trail, bringing in five stars Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler.
Kessler and Sharpe are both post players, and will join what could be the best front-court in all of college basketball, joining up with sophomore Armando Bacot and senior Garrison Brooks.
Before we dive into the preseason rankings and awards let’s go over some news and notes leading up to the season.
- The NCAA has decided that the entire NCAA tournament bracket will be played in one location, possibly Indianapolis. Instead of spreading out region by region, the NCAA decided they would be better off holding the tournament at one singular location. Indianapolis is supposedly in talks with the NCAA to be that location. By playing in one location, it keeps players and coaches in one spot, so as not to contract COVID-19 from travel. (247Sports)
- In rather shocking news, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall resigned on Tuesday, after being the focus of abuse allegations. The school and Marshall agreed to a $7.75 million buyout. In early October, Wichita State confirmed it had hired a St. Louis based law firm to conduct an internal investigation into Marshall’s behavior. Assistant coach Isasc Brown will serve as the team’s interim head coach. (ESPN)
- Emoni Bates of Ypsi Prep Academy is the best player in the 2022 recruiting class. He has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant. Others in the college basketball world have said that Bates is the best prospect to come out of high school since LeBron James. Those are some lofty comparisons, but it seems Bates is ready for the challenge. On June 29, 2020, Bates committed to Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. He also heavily considered Michigan and Kentucky. Although he has committed to the Spartans, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he decided to take a year off and then enter his name in the NBA Draft in 2023.
- USA Today released their rankings for the season last week. Those rankings have Baylor at number one, followed by Gonzaga, Villanova, Virginia, and Kansas to round out the top five.
Pre-Season Top Ten (BackSportsPage):
- Baylor Bears: Head Coach Scott Drew’s Baylor team was near the top of the rankings for most of 2019. Expect more of the same from the Bears. They lose only one starter from a year ago, big man Freddie Gillespie. However, this Baylor team is a perimeter driven team. Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague all return on the perimeter for the Bears. Scott Drew’s team also brought in ESPN 100 recruit L.J. Cryer and Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler. Finally the Bears bring back Mark Vital who is arguably the best defender in college basketball. This team thrives of perimeter scoring and tough defense. The Bears schedule will be no walk-through as they have scheduled Gonzaga and Illinois, not to mention they are competing in the Empire Classic, which includes Villanova and Arizona State. Prediction: Number 1 Seed, National Champion Contender
- Gonzaga Bulldogs: This might be Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team during his tenure. They would’ve taken the top spot, however Filip Petrusev decided to turn pro instead of returning to Spokane. Even without Petrusev, Mark Few still has the pieces to win it all this year. Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi return on the perimeter for the Bulldogs. Drew Timme is taking over for Petrusev down low. He averaged ten points a game last year, to go along with five rebounds a game. The big reason Mark Few believes his team is poised to win it all, is point-guard play. Gonzaga brought in ESPN 100 number five overall recruit Jalen Suggs to run the offense. Suggs will be a one and done prospect, but in his one year at Gonzaga, he will be one of the top freshmen to watch. Mark Few also brings in ESPN 100 guard Dominick Harris and Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cooke. The Bulldogs depth and experience should lead them in a fantastic season ahead in Spokane. Prediction: Number One Overall Seed, National Championship Favorite
- Villanova Wildcats: In six of the past seven years Jay Wright’s Villanova teams have won at least a share of the Big East title. That shouldn’t change this year. The floor general for the Wildcats is returning guard Collin Gillespie, who is one of the best point guards in the nation. The Wildcats also return Justin Moore who came on strong at the end of the 2019 season. The duo of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels should control post play, with Robinson-Earl emerging as one of the best big men in the Big East. The final spot in the starting lineup could go a couple of different ways for Jay Wright. If Wright wants to play a smaller lineup, Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels is a viable option. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Cole Swider are bench players who add depth and strength to the lineup. One name to watch is former five-star recruit Bryan Antoine. Antoine had a poor freshman season, but from Wright’s comments it seems he is no longer playing catch-up and is ready to be a real contributor. Prediction: Number One Seed, National Champion Contender
- Kentucky Wildcats: John Calipari and his Wildcats got some great news this summer. Wake Forest transfer, and former third team all-ACC big man Olivier Sarr received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately this season. Sarr should fill Kentucky’s biggest weakness: Center. Per usual, Calipari’s Wildcats will be headlined by top recruits. This year the Wildcats have three five-star players who all figure to be in the starting backcourt. B.J. Boston, the sixth ranked player from the 2020 recruiting class, will be heavily leaned on to score. Joining him in the backcourt is number nine overall prospect Terrence Clarke at small forward, and Devin Askew, the number 24 ranked prospect, at the point. As seems to be the case every year for Calipari and the Wildcats, they might start out slow because of inexperience, but should hit their stride at the perfect time. Prediction: Number 2 Seed, Final Four Contender
- Iowa Hawkeyes: It is very likely that this Iowa team is Fran McCaffery’s best ever. The Hawkeyes will be the favorite to win the Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes have the highest ceiling of any team in the Big Ten, but also possibly the lowest floor, simply because of their defensive inconsistency. Luke Garza, last year’s runner up for the Wooden Award, returns as the favorite this year. He will be the focal point of the offense, as he averaged 24 points-per-game and ten rebounds per game. The other four starters are also returnees. That includes Joe Wieskamp, who was a third-team all-Big Ten selection last year. It sure feels like Jordan Bohannon has been at Iowa for six or seven years, but he also returns to lead the offense, after only playing in ten games last year due to injury. Bohannon is a player that averaged double-figures in his first three seasons in Iowa City. He should fill in well as the Robin to Luke Garza’s Batman. The key for Iowa will be defense. They ranked 12th in the Big Ten last year in defensive efficiency. If the Hawkeyes can defend above average, and Bohannon returns to his pre-injury form, the sky is the limit for Fran McCaffery and his Hawkeyes. Prediction: Two Seed, Final Four Contender
- Virginia Cavaliers: Those who were hoping to jump on Virginia last year, as they were thought to be rebuilding, had about 12 games to do so last year. As per usual for Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers, they will enter the 2020 campaign as ACC favorites. Last year they finished the tournament-less season winning 11 of their final 12 games, including victories over Louisville and Duke. However, that wasn’t good enough for Bennett, as he called for the cavalry to bring reinforcements. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is an under the radar popular pre-season favorite for ACC player of the year. Joining Hauser will be two ESPN 100 freshmen, in Reece Beekman and Jabri Abdur-Rahim. Both recruits should make an immediate impact for Tony Bennett, especiall Abdur-Rahim who should give the offense a huge boost with his scoring ability. As is well-known, Virginia is known for their lockdown defense, however not surprisingly their biggest issue last season was offensive efficiency. Hauser along with the two recruits should make a huge difference. Returners Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, and Thomas Woldetensae should mesh well with the newcomers. Clark especially, as he is a great defender and above average play-maker. Prediction: Number One Seed, Final Four Contender
- Illinois Fighting Illini: Illinois got some great news in August following the early-entry withdrawal deadline, as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn both decided to return to Champaign. Dosunmu is a pre-season all-American candidate, after a stellar 2019 season at the point guard position for Brad Underwood. Cockburn is still a bit raw, but he showed flashes of being a dominant inside threat for the Illini. Underwood also returns three other starters from last years’ team. On top of that, Underwood brought in two ESPN 100 guards in Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo. Both of the freshman recruits should compete for playing time right off the bat. The Illini were above average on defense last year, and the addition of Miller and Curbelo should create more offensive efficiency this year. Prediction: Three Seed, Final Four Bubble
- Wisconsin Badgers: The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament last year really had to sting the Badgers, as they were on a roll, winning their final eight games to earn a share of the Big Ten Title. The biggest question in Madison this winter will be whether the Badgers can re-capture last years’ late season form. One of the biggest reasons for the surge at the end of the year was the emergence of Ohio State transfer Micah Potter. He adds a new dimension to the Badgers offense. He’s a 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, making it difficult for teams to handle the rising star. He was the x-factor in the Badgers late season form. He shot 47% from three last year, and was very possibly the Big Ten’s best defensive rebounder. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Nate Reuvers, who was an all-conference forward last year. However, Reuvers played his best basketball early on in the season, and kind of trailed off during the Badgers final push. Coach Greg Gard also has experience on his side, as he will start five seniors this year, which is unheard of in today’s college basketball landscape. Prediction: Three Seed, Elite Eight Bubble
- Duke Blue Devils: Relying on freshmen is nothing new for Coach K and Duke. However, this year there’s no Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, or Cam Reddish type players. Duke does have a couple returning players that could make the transition smoother. Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt are two former five-star players who will be looking to have breakout years. Also returning for the Dukies is Jordan Goldwire and Joey Baker who are veterans of the program, and have been there for multiple years. Joining Moore and Hurt in the starting lineup will be Jeremy Roach, Jalen Johnson, and Mark Williams, who are all ESPN 100 recruits. Johnson should make the quickest impact, as he is extremely versatile and can score in bunches. Although Johnson should make the biggest scoring impact, Roach will have the toughest job: filling in for former point guard and team leader Tre Jones. Jones was a one-of-a-kind player who could score, and was one of the top on-ball defenders in the country. With all of the newcomers and returners, look for Coach K to shuffle around his starting lineup based on the opponent. Prediction: Number Two Seed, Elite Eight Bubble
- Kansas Jayhawks: The Jayhawks were the national title favorite before the corona-virus forced the NCAA to shut down the tournament. Bill Self will have some big shoes to fill after losing all-Americans Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Coach Self will rely on David McCormack to hold down the interior in place of Azubuike. McCormack started 17 games last season, but is nowhere near the same player as Azubuike. The Jayhawks will rely on Marcus Garrett to handle the point guard duties. Garrett is a capable offensive threat, but the other side of the ball is where he excels. Many believe that Garrett is the best defender in college basketball, on and off the ball. Joining McCormack and Garrett will be five-star guard Bryce Thompson, and arguably the best junior college prospect last year, Tyon Grant-Foster. Returnees Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson should help shoulder the scoring load. There are a few holes and issues for Bill Self to correct, but as he’s shown time and time again, he is more than capable of conquering that challenge. Prediction: Number Two Seed, Final Four Bubble
The Rest of the Top-25:
11. Creighton Blue Jays 12. Tennessee Volunteers 13. North Carolina Tarheels. 14. Michigan State Spartans 15. Texas Tech Red Raiders 16. Arizona State Sun Devils 17. UCLA Bruins 18. West Virginia Mountaineers 19. Oregon Ducks 20. Houston Cougars 21. Texas Longhorns 22. Florida State Seminoles 23. Ohio State Buckeyes 24. LSU Tigers 25. Memphis Tigers
Preseason All-American Teams
PG: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois (Junior): Proved himself as one of the best point guards in the country last year. Big, strong, versatile floor general who can look to improve his perimeter shot.
G: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State (Freshman): The top overall recruit from 2020 will be heavily relied on by the Cowboys. He’s a big, tough, strong, guard who does almost everything at a high level, and that includes winning.
G: Jared Butler, Baylor (Junior): Butler will be the best player on the nation’s best team, the Baylor Bears. He’s a player who can do virtually everything. Look for Baylor to go the way Butler goes. The Bears have unlimited potential, but it all starts with Butler.
G: Collin Gillespie, Villanova (Junior): Jay Wright’s offense at Villanova paves the way for guards’ success. Gillespie is in his fourth season at Villanova, and should see his offensive opportunities sky-rocket after the loss of Saddiq Bey to the NBA.
C: Luke Garza, Iowa (Senior): The lone senior on the our preseason all-Americans, Luke Garza is a force to be reckoned with. He finished second in a neck to neck race with Obi Toppin for the Wooden Award last year. Garza is a double-double machine. Look for him to average around 25 points-per-game and 12 rebounds-per-game.
PG: Remy Martin, Arizona State (Senior): Martin is the top returning scorer in the Pac-12. He is a true floor general who learned from the best: his head coach Bobby Hurley. Martin is the best scorer and floor general in the west.
G: Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton (Junior): Zegarowski will have some big shoes to fill, in last year’s top scorer Ty-Shon Alexander. However, Zegarowski is more than capable of the task at hand. He averaged sixteen points and five assists-per-game last year. Creighton has Final Four potential, but it all starts with Zegarowski.
F: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga (Senior): Kispert is listed as a small forward, but has the capabilities to do multiple things. He is a high level three point threat, averaging 44% from behind the arc. Look for Kispert to lead the Zags in scoring. He will have some help with freshman guard Jalen Suggs.
F: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova (Sophomore): Robinson was the go to guy in the interior last year for Jay Wright. He earned Big East Freshman of the year, and was a unanimous choice for the Big East All-Freshman team.
C: Garrison Brooks, North Carolina (Senior): Brooks had to carry the offensive load for a poor Tarheel team last year. However, with the addition of five star front court players, Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, his burden should be lightened. With that being said, Brooks is a double-double threat every night. Look for him to average just under 20 points-per-game and 11 rebounds-per-game.
G: BJ Boston, Kentucky (Freshman): Look for Boston to handle most of the scoring for the Wildcats. He will be heavily relied on in the offensive end. Look for him to hit is stride at just the right time, right around tournament time.
G: Marcus Garrett, Kansas (Senior): Garrett is the best defensive player in the nation, without a doubt. He won the Naismith Defensive player of the year last year, and will look to make it back-to-back this year. With Kansas replacing Devon Dotson, look for Garrett to shoulder more of the offensive load.
F: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana (Sophomore): Last year Jackson-Davis led all freshman in the Big Ten in scoring, blocks, and PER. He will be the featured player for an Indiana team looking to crack the top 15 by year’s end.
F: Evan Mobley, USC (Freshman): Mobley was the third highest rated recruit in the 2020 class. Look for him to be a force on the inside offensively and defensively. He does have some big shoes to fill, as he will pick up where Onyeka Okongwu left off before entering the NBA Draft.
F: Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia (Sophomore): Tshiebwe led the Mountaineers in field goal percentage, points, rebounds, and blocks last year as a freshman. He could be the Big-12’s most dominant frontcourt player.
Freshman All-American Team (Writer’s Note: Any Freshman who was included in the previous three all-American teams will not be on this list):
G: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga: Mark Few will hand over the keys to the freshman, as he will be the driving force behind the Zags success.
G: Joshua Christopher, Arizona State: Christopher arrives in Tempe with one of the best offensive packages in the 2020 class. Look for him to mesh well with Sun Devils point guard Remy Martin, to form possibly the best backcourt in the Pac-12
G: Caleb Love, North Carolina: Love has to fill in for Cole Anthony, who missed most of last season with an injury. He is basically on this team because the Tarheels need help in the backcourt, and Roy Williams will heavily rely on him for perimeter scoring and play-making.
F: Scottie Barnes, Florida State: Barnes is a long and powerful 6-foot-8 forward who is versatile on both ends of the court. Don’t be surprised if you see Barnes running the point-forward for the Seminoles, as he is more than capable of handling the ball
F: Jalen Johnson, Duke: After losing Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish to the NBA Draft, Johnson will be leaned on to shoulder the scoring load for the Blue Devils. He is a versatile offensive play-maker
Player of the Year:
Ayo Dosunmu, PG, Illinois (Junior): Dosunmu proved last year that he is an excellent floor general with lethal scoring ability. If Illinois is to have the season they hope for, Dosunmu will have to play at a very high level, which he will. He will lead Illinois to a Big Ten Championship, and walk away with the Wooden Award in 2021
Others In Consideration:
Luke Garza, C, Iowa (Senior): Garza is the popular pick for the Wooden Award this year, after he finished second last year to Dayton superstar Obi Toppin. Garza will still have an outstanding senior campaign, but he will be the focus of opponents’ defense all year. On top of that, Iowa can’t seem to figure it out on the defensive end, which will hurt Garza’s efficiency, and likely put him in foul trouble in a lot of match-ups.
Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State (Freshman): Cunningham has a real chance to win the Wooden Award this year as a freshman. He can play both guard positions, so don’t be surprised to see the 6-foot-8 Cunningham bringing the ball up the court. He is the most coveted recruit in Cowboy history. He has the best decision making of any prospect in the last 10-15 years. On top of that, all he does is win. He finished his high school career at the legendary Montverde Academy in Florida. He also won a gold medal for the United States at the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup.
Marcus Garrett, PG, Kansas (Senior): Widely viewed as the best overall defender in college basketball, Garrett should put up good defensive and offensive numbers this year. He will take on floor general duties, after Devon Dotson entered the NBA Draft. However, his real impact comes on the defensive end, where he will be matched up with the opponent’s top guard/small forward player every game.
Other Contenders: Jared Zagarowski, Creighton-Jared Butler, Baylor-Remy Martin, Arizona State-Evan Mobley, USC-Sam Hauser, Virginia
Elite Eight: Virginia Cavaliers, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Baylor Bears, Villanova Wildcats, Illinois Fighting Illini, North Carolina Tarheels, Creighton Blue Jays, Kentucky Wildcats
Final Four: Gonzaga Bulldogs, Baylor Bears, Illinois Illini, Creighton Blue Jays
National Championship: Gonzaga Bulldogs Versus Illinois Fighting Illini
National Champion: Gonzaga Bulldogs, 74-68 over Illinois
Final Four Most Outstanding Player: Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga
Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, Illinois
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Garrett, Kansas (Second in a Row)
Newcomer of the Year: Sam Hauser, Virginia (Transfer from Marquette)
Best Game of the Year: Last year Duke hit two buzzer beaters in their February 8th match-up versus rival North Carolina. This year the roles will be reversed. In the last ACC game of the year on March 6, 2021, the sixth ranked Blue Devils will travel down Tobacco Road for eight miles to take on tenth ranked North Carolina. Duke will lead for the entire game until the final minute. With six seconds left, Matthew Hurt will hit 1-2 free throws to put Duke up 89-87. Freshman Tarheel point guard catches the inbound pass while running towards his hoop, he then mistakenly dishes the ball to freshman teammate Walker Kessler, who is sitting in the corner behind the arc. Realizing he doesn’t have time to drive or pass, Kessler lets it go from deep, and it bounces around the rim before splashing through the net. The replay team will look at this play for 5-10 minutes, but determine the ball left Kessler’s hands with 0.01 seconds on the clock. Tarheels rush the court, in their most exciting win since 2018.
Well there you have, the 2020-21 college basketball preview article brought to you by BackSportsPage. Feel free to tweet me on teams or players I missed, or post it into the comment section. On top of everything, we still don’t know for sure if there will be a college basketball season. Let’s hope the players and coaches can stay healthy and give us a great March to remember!
Follow Me on Twitter: @BrownlojCLE
(Writer’s Note: The Mid-American Conference Basketball Preview will be posted later this week)
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