Connect with us

Basketball

2020-21 NCAA Basketball Season Predictions/Top 25 Team Rankings

It is unclear as of right now what the 2020-21 college basketball season will look like, or if it will even occur this year. But with every commitment and NBA draft decision made, the rosters of the powerhouse programs are taking shape. So we now shift our collective focus to what we could see this season given the makeup of each of the top schools.

There are many questions to answer, and given that we have not seen a National Champion crowned in 16 months, the world of college basketball is eager to solve every puzzle. So, here to attempt to give some clarity to what should be a crazy year of hoops, and give predictions for some of the top teams and players in the country are three TWSN analysts: Michael Vasconselos, Tom Seipp, and Oliver Glass, with their guide to the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball season.

Player of the Year

Tom Seipp: Luka Garza (Iowa)

If you know me, you know I believe Luka Garza should’ve won the Player of the Year this past season. Garza is the best big-man in the nation while being one of the most consistent and most efficient players all of last season. Garza returning immediately makes Iowa a Final Four contender and the favorites in a loaded Big Ten. There’s not much to say here, as the race won’t be that close come March for Garza.

Michael Vasconselos: Evan Mobley (USC)

With the departure of Onyeka Okongwu for the NBA Draft, the question of who will fill his massive shoes on both offense and defense for the Trojans is one that is yet to be answered in practice. In theory, Mobley is a model pick to not only achieve this, but to go on to accomplish much more than most freshmen do.

The consensus 5-star recruit out of high school is already reminding scouts of a young Chris Bosh with his smooth touch from range that complements incredible athleticism in above-the-rim situations. On the other end of the floor, he has fantastic instincts off the ball and has long, wiry arms that can snag errant passes and swat shots ad nauseam. Picking a freshman to be a player of the year is bold, but Mobley has everything at his disposal he needs to make it happen.

Oliver Glass: Luka Garza (Iowa)

No surprise here. Very rarely does a player have the kind of season that Luka Garza had last year and return to school for another year. As the runner-up for the Wooden Award, Garza averaged nearly 24 points and 10 rebounds a game, leading Iowa to one of their best seasons in the program’s history, despite the premature ending. He is the only Consensus All-American from 2019-20 to not enter the NBA Draft this summer, and is poised for another dominant season for the Hawkeyes.

Consensus All-Americans

Tom:

Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois)

Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma St.)

Scottie Barnes (Florida St.)

Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton)

Luka Garza (Iowa)

Dosunmu broke out in a big way for the Fighting Illini in the 2019-20 season. As a First-team All-Big Ten selection, Dosunmu proved to be one of the best guards in the conference, and if given the chance last March, Dosunmu could’ve had the chance to lead Illinois on a run. With Kofi Cockburn returning as well, Dosunmu will have a right-hand man to work with like they did together last season. 

Cunningham is the best high school recruit coming into college basketball this season; in my opinion, it’s not even that close of a debate. The five-star recruit was the consensus National Player of the Year in high school (Montverde Academy) last year where he averaged 13.9 points-per-game while walking to a 25-0 record. While Oklahoma St. may not be making any postseason appearances this season, Cunningham has expressed how comfortable and happy he is staying at OKSU. If given the chance, Cunningham may have been able to perform at an incredibly high level on the biggest stage there is in March. 

Barnes, teammate of Cunningham last season in Montverde, is another guy who is expected to break out in a huge way this season with Florida State. Leonard Hamilton has always been regarded as quietly one of the best coaches in the nation, and it should be exciting to see what he is able to do with Barnes in Tallahassee. 

Zegarowski took a big step under Greg McDermott last season with Creighton and expect him to do the same entering his junior season. Although different players, their production could be comparable: Ty-Shon Alexander started at Creighton comparable to how Zegarowski established himself. Each season Alexander took that next step, finishing his junior year All-First Team in the Big East. With Alexander gone, Zegarowski’s production will be increased substantially and you could see him run away with the opportunity to take Big East Player of the Year.

Mike:

Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State)

Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois)

Scottie Lewis (Florida)

Evan Mobley (USC)

Luka Garza (Iowa)

A now-sophomore who is coming off a season where he averaged less than 9 points per game would typically not be a trendy pick to become an All-American. For as uneven and even occasionally ugly as his freshman year was, Scottie Lewis showed plenty of promise. He demonstrated that he could be as athletic as anybody in college basketball, and was fearless on defense against a crafty crop of ACC swingmen. The Gators’ head coach Mike White has promised to play a faster, less deliberate style of basketball than last season, which is a change that should favor Lewis in both the half court and offensive transition. If any player were to blossom in his second year, the former McDonald’s All-American from New Jersey is as good a pick as any. 

Mobley, as has already been mentioned, has the potential to be a high-octane player by every definition of the term. The Temecula, CA native can score from all 3 levels with a high degree of proficiency and has the defensive acumen to be a menace in front of the rim and on the help line. It would not be a coincidence for USC’s seeding come March to improve drastically if Mobley were to average a stat line of something like 19 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.

Dosunmu’s uncertain return to the Fighting Illini is one to certainly be welcomed with open arms, as they keep their lightning quick guard who was responsible for nearly 17 points per game last season. His athleticism is most apparent on defense, where he uses his lanky arms and overwhelming lateral movement skills to stifle opposing point guards. Although his efficiency could fare to improve from deep, his mechanics are solid enough on film, which suggests a likely possibility that he can become a better scorer on all three levels with some hard work over an unusual offseason. 

With the recent court decision to bar an Oklahoma State entrance to the NCAA tournament in 2020-21 due to the conduct of former associate head coach Lamont Evans, it was expected that Cunningham, high school basketball’s best prospect in the 2020 class, would elect to play in the G League. However, citing faith in his head coach Mike Boynton, he made the choice to remain a Cowboy, even if it means no basketball in March.

However, the regular season should provide plenty of time for Cunningham to make his case to become an All-American. The Montverde Academy product is 6’7” guard with what some scouts have described as “generational” passing IQ, coupled with the ability to finish through traffic absolutely effortlessly. Jerry Meyer, the director of scouting for 247 Sports, said on record that “I haven’t scouted many prospects as polished, mature, and talented as Cade Cunningham…He has that powerful, functional athleticism. It’s not going to win you a dunk contest but it is going to get you an and-one.” Although he is likely to take the stage next June and shake Adam Silver’s hand as a number one overall pick, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to become an All-American first. 

Not including Garza in preseason predictions would be borderline blasphemous, as the Iowa big man is coming off the most prolific campaign of his career with one more statement season to make in his unexpected return. His footwork inside is nearly immaculate as he routinely bested stiff competition in conference such as Kofi Cockburn, Daniel Oturu, and Xavier Tillman. He has a soft touch on his shot that perhaps hints at stretch big potential going forward as well. With a chip on his shoulder after losing the Naismith Player of the Year award to Dayton’s Obi Toppin, it’s fair to expect another otherworldly campaign from the Hawkeye big man.

Oliver:

Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois)

Jared Butler (Butler

Corey Kispert (Gonzaga)

Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia)

Luka Garza (Iowa) 

Last year’s crop of All-Americans featured almost exclusively upperclassmen. With the increasing number of top high school prospects opting to choose other routes than the NCAA to get to the NBA, don’t expect that to change this season.

Starting off this list is one of the most dynamic guards in college basketball in Ayo Dosunmu. The incoming junior was the driving force behind Illinois’ fourth place finish in the extremely competitive Big Ten last year, averaging close to 17 points per game on 48% shooting. With another year under his belt, he should be an electrifying player to watch. 

At the other guard is the only other returning All-American (third team), Baylor’s Jared Butler. He is undoubtedly the leader of this Bears team, a squad that should contend for a national title this year. Look for him to be one of the top scoring guards in the nation, and expand his role as a playmaker. 

Another guy who could be in-line for a big season scoring the ball is Corey Kispert. Last year for Gonzaga, he took a backseat to Filip Petrusev, who decided to play overseas next season in a surprising turn of events. Kispert should now be the go to guy for the Bulldogs, and improve greatly on the 13.9 points per game average he had last year, putting his three level scoring ability on full display. 

With the first surprise pick of the list, Oscar Tshiebwe of West Virginia makes the cut in the frontcourt. Of all the incoming sophomores, he may be the one most ready to have a true breakout year. He has the perfect frame for a modern big. He is 6-foot-9, but with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, and a physical freak of nature. He can run the floor gracefully and is a terror for opposing bigs on the boards. With a long summer to work on his offensive game, he could be a dominant force in the Big 12. 

Last but certainly not least is of course Luka Garza. Not much can be said that hasn’t been already about this smooth operating big man. With his size and skill he should be the single most unstoppable force on the offensive end in college basketball this year. You would like to see improvement from him on the defensive end, but overall there is no player in the country you would rather have.

National Champion

Tom: Iowa

Led by Luka Garza, this is the best roster the University of Iowa has put together since 1980. Jordan Bohannon is returning healthy for a full season as he’ll be alongside CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp, two guys who showed the ability to score at incredibly efficient rates in the 2019-20 season. Jack Nunge is returning from an ACL tear and Joe Toussaint showed in Bohannon’s absence his elite ability to get to the basket and score. The Hawkeyes only minor hole is who can step in behind Garza, although hopefully they won’t need to worry about that too much. Ryan Kreiner left after he was the perfect tandem playing alongside Garza last season, if Nunge is able to have a full recovery, he could potentially provide major depth for Fran McCaffery. Expect the Hawkeyes to win the Big Ten for the first time since 1979 and make a run deep in March.

Mike: Gonzaga 

As he always tends to, head coach Mark Few has plenty of weapons at his disposal to make a winning team. Even as Filip Petrusev decides to chase a career professionally overseas, the Zags’ frontcourt still has Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi, not to mention the ascending Drew Timme. Their recruiting class is as strong as ever, with a staggering four Top 100 commits including five-star guard Jalen Suggs and four-star center Oumar Ballo. When it comes to defending this team late in the season, it’s not easy for a coach to focus on one specific guy to neutralize their offense. With an experienced leader in Few, there’s bound to be a few tricks up the Zags’ sleeve in April of 2021.

Oliver: Baylor

There is no greater weapon for a team in the NCAA tournament than a great defense. We have seen teams like Villanova and Syracuse make deep runs time and time again because of great defensive coaching and a team that is locked in on that side of the ball. If there is any team in the country capable of locking down the loaded teams this season like Gonzaga, Duke, and Villanova, it’s the Baylor Bears.

They had the best defense in the country last year, running a unique and highly potent four guard lineup. All four of these guards; Maccio Teague, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, and Davion Mitchell, will be returning this season. Vital and Mitchell are two of the most dynamic guards on the defensive end, and the team’s switchability overall can smother pick and roll action. On the offensive end, Butler and Teague might be the best scoring duo in the country next year. Not to mention they are bringing in two four-star recruits, guard L.J. Cryer and forward Dain Dainja.

Their one question mark is at center, where the graduation of Freddie Gillespie could hurt them. But incoming Senior Tristan Clark should be able to at least partially fill that role. With their experience and versatility, it will be very hard to beat this team under the bright lights of March and April.

Surprise Team of the Year

Tom: UCLA

The job Mick Cronin did with the Bruins in his first year (2019-20) doesn’t get talked about nearly as much. After UCLA started off the season with an abysmal 8-9 record, including 1-3 in conference, and ended up finishing second in the Pac-12. The Bruins received huge news this past week when their leading scorer (and only player to average double-digits) Chris Smith announced his return. Tyger Campbell, the most protective ball handler on the west coast, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are two guards who are primed to step-up for the Bruins in their second season.

Former four-star recruit and Harvard-Westlake graduate Johnny Juzang transferred (and received a waiver to play immediately) to UCLA after a tough season at Kentucky. If given consistent playing time, Juzang could be an essential role player for the Bruins. The Pac-12 isn’t strong yet again, so don’t be surprised in a well-rounded team like UCLA is able to take the crown. 

Mike: Illinois 

As a team that hasn’t seen the apex of college basketball success since the days of Deron Williams and Luther Head, Illinois have spent much of the past decade and a half wandering near the thin line between relevance and anonymity, the NCAA’s version of purgatory if you will. However, as the noise gets louder around one of the Big 10’s less-heralded programs, many more should be choosing to buy in. The returns of both Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmo don’t only favor Illinois in terms of unquestionable talent in their starting five, but also in terms of stability.

In a year in which most things on a team’s schedule are uncertain, having pre-existing chemistry will become a factor that is perhaps more important than ever. More specifically, in a conference with lots of teams forced to regroup and integrate new recruits into their systems, Illinois’ strong retention of their team last year is a matter of roster construction that could allow them to exceed their already increasing expectations.

Oliver: LSU

A program that has not won a conference championship since 1980, this may be LSU’s year to break through in the SEC. They were perhaps the biggest winners of the draft withdrawal deadline, with three key players; Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, and Darius Days, all opting to return for another year. Watford was the sixth ranked power forward in the class of 2019, and averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his freshman season.

Smart is a shooting guard going into his junior season, where he averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists per game last year for the Tigers. Days is a versatile wing also entering his junior season, and put up 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest last year. Adding to this strong core are Cam Thomas, a five-star incoming freshman guard, and Mwani Wilkinson, a four-star forward from the same class. They did lose lead guard Skylar Mays to the draft, which has led many to dismiss this team from contention, but Will Wade has one of the most talented squads that this program has seen in recent years. 

Bust Team of the Year

Tom: Oregon Ducks

It’s so incredibly hard to count out Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks’ in a year where there is so much uncertainty. But, with a roster without Payton Pritchard or Anthony Mathis, there aren’t too many bright spots for the Ducks. UCLA and Arizona St. intend to be far more competitive than the Ducks who added just one recruit to their freshman class. It remains unclear if St. John’s transfer L.J. Figueros will be eligible to play for the Ducks this season. If he is, he could be a huge key for the Ducks success. 

Mike: Houston Cougars

The already conceived notion of the Cougars being a top 25 team is one that should be met with a bit more skepticism by the masses. Guard Nate Hinton has made the decision to play overseas professionally and forward Fabian White’s season is in jeopardy with a torn ACL, meaning that 2 of the top 4 producers in points per game from last year have already gone by the wayside for 2020-21. Now, former Kansas commit Quentin Grimes Jr. is left to carry much of the load with a lean recruiting class coming in. Of course, playing in the AAC against the likes of Tulane and East Carolina ought to bolster their record statistically going into the postseason, but nobody should be surprised if this team goes out with a whisper in March.

Oliver: Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky has once again nailed down the top recruiting class in the country. With six four-star or better recruits, they are as loaded with talent as anybody. But what they lack, what most great Kentucky teams have, is a returning starter to be the leader for the incoming freshman crop. Whether it was Darius Miller, Willie Cauley-Stein, or P.J. Washington, these guys have played key roles in the deep runs Kentucky has made into the NCAA tournament. With Nick Richards, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, and E.J. Montgomery all opting to stay in the draft, and Johnny Juzang transferring, John Calipari is starved for veteran leadership. Unless Oliver Sarr, who transferred in from Wake Forest, can get a waiver to be eligible to play this year, this might be quite the bumpy ride for the Wildcats.

Regular Season Top 25 

Tom:

  1. Villanova
  2. Gonzaga
  3. Iowa
  4. Creighton
  5. Baylor
  6. Illinois
  7. Michigan St.
  8. Florida St.
  9. Wisconsin
  10. UCLA
  11. Virginia
  12. Duke
  13. Kansas
  14. Kentucky
  15. Arizona St.
  16. Rutgers
  17. Tennessee
  18. North Carolina
  19. Indiana
  20. Texas Tech
  21. LSU
  22. West Virginia
  23. Florida
  24. Houston
  25. St. Louis

With four in the top nine and six in the top 19, the Big Ten is back again for another year of prominence in College Basketball. While I have Iowa taking the crown, it will be far from a cake walk. Rocket Watts is a player who will be able to take Cassius Winston’s position with ease for Michigan State while Rutgers and Steve Pikiell’s program only continues to trend upward with Geo Baker running things at point. It’ll be another exciting year in the nation’s best conference. 

Mike:

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Baylor
  3. Iowa 
  4. Illinois 
  5. Virginia
  6. Villanova
  7. Creighton
  8. Kansas
  9. Duke
  10. Michigan State
  11. West Virginia
  12. Wisconsin
  13. Texas
  14. Kentucky
  15. North Carolina
  16. UCLA
  17. Ohio State
  18. Tennessee 
  19. Rutgers
  20. Arkansas
  21. Arizona State
  22. Memphis
  23. Texas Tech
  24. Florida
  25. Florida State

Creighton in the top 10 above blue bloods such as Kansas and Duke seems preposterous on its surface, but the real question seems to be a fair bit closer to why not? With the return of prolific combo guard and second-team All-American Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton maintains their scoring and playmaking power in a conference that has lost two of their most prolific guards in Markus Howard and Myles Powell. With a mix of teams on the rise and teams in decline in the Big East, Creighton is arguably in their prime, a potent mix that should put them in contention for the conference title. The only real missed opportunity for them this season is that Duke transfer Alex O’Connell will unfortunately have to sit out the season. Although his struggles at Duke were well-documented, he’s the type of player who could benefit from a fresh start in a less cutthroat environment. 

Oliver:

  1. Baylor
  2. Gonzaga
  3. Villanova
  4. Duke
  5. Kansas
  6. LSU 
  7. Virginia
  8. Illinois
  9. Iowa
  10. North Carolina
  11. Creighton
  12. UCLA
  13. Rutgers
  14. Michigan State
  15. Texas
  16. West Virginia
  17. Louisville
  18. Tennessee 
  19. Wisconsin
  20. Florida
  21. Arizona State
  22. UCLA
  23. Texas Tech
  24. Florida State
  25. Houston

Baylor at the top spot may not even be the biggest surprise of this list. LSU as the sixth best team in the country might be hard to envision for many now, but with the talent returning it is more possible than it may seem. If Will Wade can get his guys to buy in fully, the sky’s the limit for this team. Another pick that may surprise some people is Louisville at 17, especially with the losses of Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch. But the Cardinals have much of the core that created their highly potent offense last year, and they landed top transfer guard Carlik Jones from Radford. Expect them to be in the mix with UNC and Duke for the top spot in the ACC. As for Illinois, Ayo Dosunmo and Kofi Cockburn could create a pick and roll duo not unlike that of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike at Kansas last year. And finally the most notable omission on the list is Kentucky. Unless Oliver Sarr is eligible this season, I don’t think a rotation of almost exclusively freshmen, no matter how talented, can compete in an improved SEC.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Basketball

Subscribe to Newsletter

* indicates required

Recent

Facebook

More in Basketball

TWSN

FREE
VIEW