The NCAA Basketball season is less than two months away. The schedule is slowly beginning to come together, and teams are figuring out how to navigate what will likely be a fragile season. The infrastructure of this year may look a whole lot different, but the principles of winning remain the same. This year is as rich with talent as ever, with many of them on teams with legitimate National Championship hopes. Here are my picks for the top 15 college basketball players heading into the 2020-21 season.
- Luka Garza – Iowa
There is little debate coming into this season as to who is the best individual talent in college basketball. Luka Garza is the clear frontrunner for National Player of the Year, and the preseason poll should reflect that. Deciding to return for his senior season instead of entering the NBA Draft, the expectations on him and Iowa couldn’t be higher. He is the only returning Consensus All-American, and is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on 54.2% shooting, finishing as the runner-up for National Player of the Year right behind Obi Toppin. There is no reason to think that he can’t repeat this kind of season, and lead the Hawkeyes to a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- Jared Butler – Baylor
Baylor is not one of the first programs you think of when pondering National Championship contenders in basketball, but coming into this year they are one of the preseason favorites to cut down the nets. That is due in no small part to their standout guard entering his junior year. Jared Butler averaged 16 points per contest last year and was a huge part of Baylor’s top ranked defense in the country, earning himself an All-American bid. He, along with transfer guard MaCio Teague, created one of the best backcourts in the country last year. With another year under Scott Drew’s system as the focal point of the offense, expect Butler to assert himself as the best guard in the country.
- Ayo Dosunmu – Illinois
The only player that might challenge Jared Butler for the title of best backcourt player in college basketball, Ayo Dosumno had quite the year for the fighting Illinis, putting up almost 17 points per game at a very efficient clip for a primary scorer. He and Kofi Cockburn have both opted to return this season, making Illinois a strong candidate to challenge Iowa for the top spot in the loaded Big Ten. The program is adding two four-star freshman guards to their team this season, but the offense will still run through Dosunmu. A Consensus All-American season for the Junior guard is definitely in the cards this season.
- Cade Cunningham – Oklahoma State
Ranking a freshman as the fourth best player in the entire country is considered a bold take most years. Cade Cunningham is no ordinary freshman though. The 6-foot-7 guard has a combination of size, athleticism, and playmaking that already has NBA scouts salivating over him. We will most likely not get to see him in March due to Oklahoma State’s ban from the tournament this year, but he should make the Cowboys quite entertaining to watch on a night to night basis in regular season play. It is unlikely that OSU will be a major contender in the Big-12 regardless of tournament eligibility, but expect Cunningham to look the part of a lottery caliber NBA prospect, and possibly push himself into the National Player of the Year Conversation.
- Collin Gillespie – Villanova
Probably the most experienced player in college basketball, few players have had a career like Collin Gillespie’s. He was a freshman on the National Championship team in 2018, and has played alongside countless NBA players. Last year he took center stage as the starting point guard for the program, and had a very productive season, averaging 15.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. With a very talented group of players returning, Gillespie is expected to be the rudder for a team that has National Championship aspirations. Expect Jay Wright to put a lot of trust in his senior, and give him a lot of freedom to create offense. With Saddiq Bey gone, he is the unquestioned best player, and is capable of being what Payton Pritchard was for Oregon last year. If he can make that jump, the Wildcats are going to be hard to beat.
- Evan Mobley – USC
The second freshman to crack our list, Evan Mobley has about as polished of an offensive game as you will find out of an 18-year-old big man. His ceiling projects to be incredibly high, and is fully expected to go one-and-done in the college game. However, he may have some trouble competing with the strength of big men in the college game. Given that he is in the Pac-12 though, expect him to put up some dominant numbers. USC is another team that doesn’t project to be anywhere near the top 25 next season, but Mobley should have some monster nights, and carry the team to a respectable record in the conference.
- Marcus Zegarowski – Creighton
One of the most overlooked season’s last year was that of Marcus Zegarowski. With all of the guard talent in the Big East, it was easy to forget how effective of an offensive player he was. Playing alongside NBA Draft commit Ty-Shon Alexander in the backcourt, he was still able to put up 16.1 points and 5 assists per game on 49% shooting, and was arguably the better of the two guards for Creighton. This season he will not be overlooked, and should have the ball in his hands an awful lot for the Bluejays. Other than the loss of Alexander, much of their roster returns this season, and they come in as one of the favorites to win the Big East, and expect to rank somewhere in the top 10. Zegarowski could be the catalyst for a historic year for the program.
- Corey Kispert – Gonzaga
Even with the departure of Filip Petrusev, many still have Gonzaga as the favorite to win it all this year. The Bulldogs add top-10 recruit Jalen Suggs to their team, and bring back several very good rotational players. Their primary scorer and veteran leader is no doubt Corey Kispert. This smooth, three-level-scoring wing averaged 13.9 points per game last year, but is set to top that by quite a bit this season as the focal point of the offense. He might not wow anyone at first glance, but his shooting ability and craftiness make him very hard to guard. This year if Gonzaga wins a National Championship, it will be because Kispert took that next step in his game.
- Marcus Garrett – Kansas
If you just look at Marcus Garrett’s numbers, you might be confused as to why he is slotted here as the ninth best player in all of college basketball. However, anyone that watches him play on the defensive end for even a half can understand the impact he has on that end of the floor. As the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year last year, he was no small part of Kansas’ number one ranking at the end of the season. This year, with stars Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike declaring for the NBA Draft, Garrett will have a much larger offensive responsibility. He will certainly have to make a big leap on that end of the floor to make Kansas a contender, but he certainly has the tools to do it. He has shown that he is a more than capable facilitator, if he can couple that with an improved jump shot, he could be the best two-way player in the country, and seriously boost his draft stock.
- Oscar Tshiebwe – West Virginia
Most of the attention on the Big 12 last year was paid to Kansas and Baylor, and rightfully so given that both were in the top five of the AP Poll for most of the year. Quietly though, West Virginia had a surprisingly great year behind a stingy defense and a young, talented team. This year they are set to be a breakout team. This is largely due to their talented center entering his sophomore year. Oscar Tshiebwe is a very well rounded big man, and is not afraid to mix it up in the paint. He averaged 11.2 points and a whopping 9.3 rebounds per game. This year, with certainly a larger percentage of the Mountaineers touches, he can prove to be one of the best, if not the best center in college basketball.
- Scottie Barnes – Florida State
Standing 6-foot-7, 210 pounds and a freakish athlete, Scottie Barnes is the prototypical modern power forward. Drawing comparisons to Jabari Parker, he wows with his versatility and activity on the floor. He is the number five recruit according to ESPN 100, and might be the best player for Florida State on day one. The Seminoles lost much of their core that led them to the number four ranking in the nation. Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell, and Trent Forrest all declared for the NBA Draft this summer. This leaves Barnes with a large chunk of offense to make up for. Don’t expect him to be allowed to chuck up shots though, as Leonard Hamilton’s offense is predicated on a lot of motion, and freshmen have to earn everything they get. Nevertheless, expect Barnes to show why he is slated so high on mock drafts, and have one or two electrifying performances.
- Garrison Brooks – North Carolina
Last year was not exactly one to remember for North Carolina. Cole Anthony was injured for much of the year, and the team failed to come together as a unit. The Tarheels finished a pedestrian 14th in the ACC, not something they are used to. The one hopeful sign though was the play of Garrison Brooks. The Junior had a breakout season, averaging 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This year he should have a lot more help, as Roy Williams got himself the number two ranked recruiting class, along with bringing back Armando Bacot. With less of the defensive pressure on him, Brooks should thrive as the leader of this team, and possibly get himself onto some NBA Draft boards.
- Remy Martin – Arizona State
One of the biggest breakout stars last year, Remy Martin went from 12.9 points per game in his sophomore season to 19.1 as a junior. Now, as a senior, he has the most talented roster that he has had in his career with the Sun Devils. ASU managed to grab the sixth best recruiting class in the country, a huge achievement for the program. After finishing fourth in the Pac-12 last year, they are the frontrunners to win the conference. Even with their improved roster though, they need Martin to be the go-to guy if they want to be a top-25 team. Don’t expect that to be a problem for the experienced guard though, and don’t be surprised if he ends the year with an All-American bid.
- BJ Boston – Kentucky
The headliner of Kentucky’s number one ranked recruiting class, BJ Boston is everything you could ever want out of a modern day wing. He can play both the two and the three with great length, has an accurate, smooth looking jumpshot, and has no problem creating his own shot. Kentucky returns very few players, so an even heavier burden will be placed on the freshman class than usual. The program did bring in transfer Olivier Sarr from Wake Forest, but Boston might still be the number one scoring option for this team. Although ranked seventh in the class, he very well could end up as the most productive freshman in the nation.
- Jalen Crutcher – Dayton
Dayton had one of their best years in school history last year, in large part due to an amazing individual season from Obi Toppin. Yet because Toppin had such a dominant season, he was given seemingly all the credit for Dayton being the third best team in college basketball. The year that Jalen Crutcher had as Toppin’s right hand man went completely overlooked. Crutcher put up 15.1 points and 4.9 assists per game, and was a very efficient starting point guard. This year Crutcher will not have the chance to avoid the spotlight. He has the daunting task of trying to match the success of a season where Dayton had one of the best players in their program’s history. The program is unlikely to repeat last season’s success to the same extent, but Crutcher should keep them extremely competitive, and should have a huge individual season in the process.
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