The 2020-21 men’s basketball season gets underway on Wednesday, November 25, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on nationwide. The COVID-19 shutdowns began in March of this year as all postseason basketball — and then the rest of NCAA sports — were canceled en masse.
Well, we’re back, baby!
Kind of. There are already myriad teams that have paused their seasons due to outbreaks within their programs — including No. 2 Baylor, No. 12 Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Florida — causing some reshuffling of multi-team events or canceling season openers.
But we will have some men’s college basketball action starting, so we’re here to prepare you for the season. We reached out to the experts across our NCAA team communities to get the low-down on the 25 teams that are ranked in the 2020-21 preseason AP Poll.
Let’s get to it!
Projected lineup: G Mike Smith, G Eli Brooks, F Franz Wagner, F Isaiah Livers, C Austin Davis
This should be a deeper team with an influx of young talent in the form of Juwan Howard’s first recruiting class (No. 1 in Big Ten, No. 15 nationally) and Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith entering the fold as immediately-eligible transfers. Smith and Eli Brooks will handle primary ballhandling duties, while fifth-year senior Austin Davis is expected to have an expanded role as freshman Hunter Dickinson comes along. What this team does still have is one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten with Isaiah Livers and a still-ascending Franz Wagner, who was arguably Michigan’s best player at the tail end of last season.
— Anthony Broome, Maize n Brew
Projected lineup: G Geo Baker, G Jacob Young, G Montez Mathis, F Ron Harper Jr., F Myles Johnson
Great expectations have arrived for the Scarlet Knights. After winning 20 regular season games for the first time in 37 years and producing a winning record in Big Ten play for the first time since joining the league, they have the potential to be even better this season. They are ranked in the preseason for the first time in 42 years. Six of the top eight contributors from last season return and they’ve added a top 40 recruiting class that includes 4-star big man Cliff Omoruyi, as well as 3-star wings Mawot Mag and Oskar Palmquist.
After finishing 6th nationally in defensive efficiency last season, their increased size and versatility give hope they may be even better on that end of the floor. The ceiling for this season will likely be determined by how much they improve offensively, particularly from the free throw line and three-point range. However, Baker is one of the best closing playmakers in the country and Harper Jr. is poised to become a star, giving the program the potential to have its best season since the Final Four run 44 years ago.
— Aaron Breitman, On the Banks
23. Ohio State
Projected lineup: G CJ Walker, G Duane Washington Jr., F E.J. Liddell, F Kyle Young, F Justice Sueing
Having trouble keeping up with who currently plays basketball for Ohio State? Us too. The Buckeyes saw three players leave via transfer during the offseason and three others graduate, leaving a whopping five scholarships open for the taking. Chris Holtmann pulled in combo guard Jimmy Sotos from Bucknell and former Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns from Harvard, in addition to the freshman class of Zed Key, Eugene Brown, and Meechie Johnson. While there are still a few holdovers from last year’s team, it may take a little time for fans to get familiar with the new faces.
The main question for Ohio State this season will be the health of key contributors such as Towns, Kyle Young, and Justice Sueing. The Buckeyes have four players who are recovering from various surgeries (yikes), so how they hold up over the course of a full season will largely dictate OSU’s success in the Big Ten conference this season.
Projected lineup: G Tyger Campbell, G Johnny Juzang, G Chris Smith, F Jaime Jaquez, F Jalen Hill
Everyone’s back for UCLA, PLUS they receive the services of Johnny Juzang who received clearance to play immediately this season from the NCAA. The backcourt should be nearly impossible to defend against as such with Campbell who can penetrate on any defense in the country, Juzang who is probably the best pure shooter on the team and Smith, who spurned the NBA for another run at it with UCLA. Smith is a true guard who just so happens to stand 6’9 and averaged 13 points while making nearly 50% of his shots. Jaime Jaquez is a star-in-the-making and Jalen Hill may very well be the Pac-12’s best offensive rebounder. Add in the fact that Mick Cronin’s crew was the hottest team in basketball when the season was canceled last year, the fact that there’s 14 starts from last year sitting on the bench with David Singleton and also a top 75 recruit in Jaylen Clark waiting in the wings, and this team is afraid of no one, but everyone should be afraid of it.
— Cam Mellor, Bruins Nation
21. Florida State
Projected lineup: G Scottie Barnes, G MJ Walker, G RayQuan Evans, F Malik Osborne, F Balsa Koprivika
Sure, the defending ACC champions are the only team in the country forced to replace multiple lottery picks. And yes, they must also replace Trent Forrest, who left FSU having played in more wins (104) than any other player in school history.
But the ‘Noles still return seven guys who played at least 20 percent of the total possible minutes during last year’s 26-5 campaign, including 3 starters. Oh and FSU just happened to add a 5 star point guard (Scottie Barnes) and one of the top JUCO recruits in the country (Sardaar Calhoun). Leonard Hamilton’s squad is long, deep, athletic, and play with a chip on their shoulder—overlook them at your own risk.
— Matt Minnick, Tomahawk Nation
Projected lineup: G Will Richardson, G Chris Duarte, G Eric Williams Jr., F Eugene Omoruyi, C N’Faly Dante
Payton Pritchard may have graduated, but don’t expect the Ducks to drop off a lot from the squad that went 24-7 last season. Guards Will Richardson and Chris Duarte will be crucial for Dana Altman’s squad, and the Ducks bring four-star recruit Jalen Terry into the mix. KenPom expects the Oregon defense to improve (they finished the season No. 76 last season) but the offense to slip just a tad.
The Ducks are an extremely experienced team with nine players listed as upperclassmen on the roster. That said, Pritchard played 35.5 minutes per game (88.8% of available minutes) and Oregon will need someone to step up as the leader in the backcourt.
— Caroline Darney, SB Nation
Projected lineup: G Matt Coleman, G Courtney Ramey, G Andrew Jones, F Greg Brown III, F Jericho Sims
After inheriting an experienced team from Rick Barnes in 2015-16, Shaka Smart has spent the ensuing seasons building an experienced roster. Now Texas has a senior point guard, returned every player from last year’s team, and added Brown, a high-flying top-10 prospect. Not only is this team Smart’s most experienced in years, it’s also his deepest and most talented group, which could finally mean a return to the pressing, fast-paced Havoc style that Smart used to make a Final Four appearance at VCU.
— Wescott Eberts, Burnt Orange Nation
18. Arizona State
Projected lineup: G Remy Martin, G Alonzo Verge Jr., G Joshua Christopher, F Marcus Bagley, F Jalen Graham
This team is by far Bobby Hurley’s most talented since his arrival in Tempe. Associated Press preseason All-American Remy Martin decided to return for his senior season. He is joined by Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year Alonzo Verge as well as the highly touted freshmen Joshua Christopher and Marcus Bagley. Martin, Verge and Christopher certainly have the talent to make Arizona State “Guard U” again.
There’s a ton of depth on this team as well. Jalen Graham came on strong late last season. Taeshon Cherry and Jaelen House are both guys that contribute from the three-point line and on defense. Kimani Lawrence, Ohio State transfer Luther Muhammad, Portland State transfer Holland Woods all bring in a veteran presence too. Then there’s Pavlo Dziuba, a european freshman who as a pure athlete might be the most dynamic. There’s been a lot of buzz about the Sun Devils, and for good reason.
— Brady Vernon, House of Sparky
Projected lineup: G DeJon Jarreau, G Marcus Sasser, G Caleb Mills, G Quentin Grimes, F Justin Gorham
Houston returns all of the major players from a Cougars squad that went 23-8 last season. Redshirt sophomore Caleb Mills is a player to watch this season after leading his team with 13.2 points per game last year en route to being named to the AAC All-Freshman team. Fellow double-digit scorer Quentin Grimes (12.1 points per game) returns for Kelvin Sampson’s squad, and the Cougars add four-star recruit Tramon Mark to the mix.
Expect a high-flying offense that can make up for any deficiencies on the defensive end of the court.
— Caroline Darney, SB Nation
16. North Carolina
Projected lineup: G Caleb Love, G RJ Davis, G Leaky Black, F Garrison Brooks, F Day’Ron Sharpe
After an extremely disappointing 2019-2020 campaign, Roy Williams has reloaded his roster with a number of talented freshmen in hopes of returning things back to normal. The engine of this team is preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks, and he will be surrounded with a lot more talent than last year in Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler. The big question will be whether or not this team will be able to gel together well enough to return to the NCAA tournament, but the odds of that happening look pretty good. Roy Williams certainly hasn’t let them forget what happened last season, and that may be more than enough motivation for this team to make a deep tournament run.
— Brandon Anderson, Tar Heel Blog
15. West Virginia
Projected lineup: G Deuce McBride, G Taz Sherman, F Emmitt Matthews, F Derek Culver, C Oscar Tshiebwe
The Mountaineers enter the 2020 season with an exceptional combination of talent, size, depth, and experience, losing just one meaningful contributor from last year’s 21-10 squad and adding a trio of freshmen who are all expected to contribute right away. They feature arguably the best front court tandem in America in Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, a rising star in guard Deuce McBride, and an abundance of length and depth on the wing.
The metrics like West Virginia, as well - the Mountaineers are currently No. 8 in KenPom, with the No. 12 adjusted offense and No. 7 adjusted defense. Considering everything they bring back they should again be among the nation’s best at rebounding (1st nationally in OREB in 2019, 5th in rebounding margin) and defending (15th in PPG allowed), and if the 3-point shooting improves as expected, this will be a battle-hardened unit that has everything needed to make a deep tournament run come March.
— Jordan Pinto, The Smoking Musket
14. Texas Tech
Projected lineup: G Mac McClung, G Kyler Edwards, G Nimari Burnett, F Terrence Shannon Jr., F Marcus Santos-Silva
This is by far the deepest and most talented roster Chris Beard has coached in his five years at Texas Tech. The lineup mixes established veterans with highly touted freshmen and capable role players, not to mention one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country. It’ll take some time for the team to come together as a unit, and enduring the gauntlet that is the Big 12 Conference regular season schedule will test the Red Raiders on a weekly basis. But, with a top-5 coach in the country on the bench, this team has every tool it needs to make another deep postseason run.
13. Michigan State
Projected lineup: G Rocket Watts, G Joshua Langford, G/F Aaron Henry, F Joey Hauser, F Marcus Bingham Jr.
Michigan State loses the Big Ten’s all-time leader in assists in Cassius Winston and versatile big man/defensive lockdown specialist Xavier Tillman, which hurts, but still returns a lot of talent. Joshua Langford makes his return after missing the past year-and-a-half due to a foot injury, and Joey Hauser finally gets his chance to play, after having to sit out a season following his transfer from Marquette. Aaron Henry will step into a leadership role with fellow captains Langford and Foster Loyer. MSU has a deep bench, with players like Malik Hall and Gabe Brown able to provide scoring and a spark in a hurry. The Spartans also bring in two true freshmen who could earn immediate playing time in guard AJ Hoggard and center Mady Sissoko.
The question marks come at point guard — will Rocket Watts — much more of a self shot creator than a facilitator — be able to transition to the point guard spot, or will he stick to the two-guard? And at center, the starting spot is up for grabs. Marcus Bingham Jr. likely has the first shot at it, with Sissoko challenging him, and Thomas Kithier and Julius Marble factoring into the rotation somewhere. While there isn’t quite as much hype for Tom Izzo’s squad this year, this Michigan State team is deep, talented, and will challenge for its fourth consecutive Big Ten title.
Projected lineup: G Santiago Vescovi, G Keon Johnson, G Josiah-Jordan James, F Yves Pons, F John Fulkerson
Rick Barnes is ready for another run at an SEC title, now armed with a roster full of experience and elite prospects. Following breakout seasons, Fulkerson and Pons return to the post as seniors. Guards Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James enter year two after taking their lumps as freshmen last season. The real excitement here comes with the addition of five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Oh, the Volunteers also have veteran point guard Victor Bailey Jr. eligible for depth and will add senior grad-transfer E.J. Anosike to the post for some added toughness. This team is deep and brings legitimate NBA talent to the table, the only question is how quickly those freshmen guards come along.
— Terry Lambert, Rocky Top Talk
Projected lineup: G Marcus Zegarowski, G Mitchell Ballock, G Antwann Jones, F Damien Jefferson, F Christian Bishop
If there’s a team that’s going to challenge the Villanova Wildcats for Big East supremacy this season, it’s the Creighton Blue Jays. They return most of their major players from a team that finished 24-7 last season, led by point guard Marcus Zegarowski. The Blue Jays shot nearly 40% as a team from three last year and are projected as the No. 6 offense per KenPom.
Defensively there may be some questions to answer, but we should get a good glimpse at who Creighton is when they play Kansas on December 8.
— Caroline Darney, SB Nation
Projected lineup: G Devin Askew, G Brandon Boston, G Terrence Clarke, F Keion Brooks Jr., C Olivier Sarr
This Kentucky team has a little bit of everything, but one area they’ll stand out more than maybe anyone in college hoops is their ridiculous size and length. They have nine scholarship players at 6-foot-6+ and nine with a 6-foot-11+ wingspan. And they have the athleticism to go with it, so this has the potential to be one of John Calipari’s best rebounding and shot-blocking teams ever.
There will be the usual growing pains with only two scholarship players returning and nine newcomers, but they have all the tools to become a Final Four-caliber team come March. The key to becoming a team capable of winning it all is how good prized freshmen Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston are come tourney time. That’s the usual big ‘if’ with Cal-coached teams. He always has elite freshmen in Lexington, though they don’t always hit their stride before being drafted into the NBA.
Clarke and Boston both have the potential to be All-Americans and top-10 NBA Draft picks in 2021. If they reach their potential this season, good luck stopping two 6-7 guards capable of scoring at all three levels with an all-conference big man in Olivier Sarr roaming the paint.
— Jason Marcum, A Sea of Blue
Projected lineup: G Jordan Goldwire, G Jeremy Roach, G Wendell Moore Jr., F Jalen Johnson, F Mathew Hurt
The 2020-21 edition of the Duke Blue Devils is a good mix of experience and new blood. They return players like Jordan Goldwire (Sr.), Joey Baker (Jr.), Matthew Hurt (So.), and Wendell Moore Jr. (So.) and add the No. 3 incoming class. Coach Krzyzewski brings four five-star recruits into the program in Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, and Mark Williams and two four-star players in Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman.
Expect the Blue Devils to have a top-10 defense on KenPom and compete for both the ACC and National Championships.
— Caroline Darney, SB Nation
Projected lineup: G Trent Frazier, G Ayo Dosunmu, G Adam Miller, G Da’Monte Williams, C Kofi Cockburn
Simply put, Ayo and Kofi are back. That’s why the Illini are ranked the highest they’ve been in over a decade. Dosunmu averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a sophomore last year, and he’s already been named a preseason All-American for 2020-21. He’s the best closer in college basketball, and he’ll be the catalyst to Illinois’ success this year. Cockburn returns for his sophomore campaign after testing the NBA Draft waters as well this offseason. The Illini’s man in the middle was the difference maker down low that Brad Underwood’s program needed. All the 7-footer did last year was smash program records and average 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game en route to being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Surround those two with veteran role players (Frazier, Williams, Giorgi Bezhanishvili), a couple talented freshmen (Miller, Andre Curbelo) and some promising transfers (Austin Hutcherson, Jacob Grandison), and you have all the makings for what should be an exciting tournament run.
— Tristen Kissack, The Champaign Room
Projected lineup: G D’Mitrik Trice, G Brad Davison, F Aleem Ford, F Nate Reuvers, F Micah Potter
If you enjoyed last season’s Wisconsin Badgers basketball team I’ve got some good news for you! They, except for Brevin Pritzl, are all back and ready to make another run at a Big Ten title. The all-senior starting lineup is not something you see very often in modern college basketball, but the Badgers have one and even feature a senior as the first guard off the bench. This should be a fierce defensive team that has size down low and grit on the perimeter. The offense will be efficient and anyone in the starting five could be the leading scorer on any given night. In an ultra-competitive Big Ten, the Badgers should be in contention all season.
— Drew Hamm, Bucky’s 5th Quarter
Projected lineup: G Marcus Garrett, G Bryce Thompson, G Ochai Agbaji, F Christian Braun, C David McCormack
The Jayhawks, along with Dayton and Florida State, are one of the squads you have to feel absolutely gutted for over losing the postseason this past spring. Kansas finished 28-3 on the season and hadn’t lost a game since January 11 before the rug was pulled out from underneath everyone. Big time names like Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike are gone, but Bill Self returns Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett and adds five-star freshman Bryce Thompson.
This season, there shouldn’t be a huge drop off. They are preseason No. 5 on KenPom and will get two big tests early in the season with No. 1 Gonzaga on Thanksgiving and No. 10 Kentucky on December 1.
— Caroline Darney, SB Nation
Projected lineup: G Connor McCaffery, G Jordan Bohannon, G CJ Fredrick, G Joe Wieskamp, C Luka Garza
The Iowa Hawkeyes will boast one of the best offenses in the country with a four-, sometimes five-, out lineup built around reigning consensus All-American Luka Garza. Bohannon returns after recovering from surgery in his hip to a group which has seven players (Joe Toussaint and Jack Nunge) with starting experience. The questions are two-fold for Iowa: 1) can the Hawks make strides on the defensive end with a deeper group in 2020-21 and 2) will it matter if everyone struggles to keep pace with this high-octane bunch?
— Harrison Starr, Black Heart Gold Pants
Projected lineup: G Kihei Clark, G Casey Morsell, G Tomas Woldetensae, F Sam Hauser, F Jay Huff
The Virginia Cavaliers are still the reigning champions after no team was crowned in 2020. Bad news for everyone else: the Hoos are going to be good again. After a masterful coaching job that took a team with the No. 234 offense to a 23-7 record and second place finish in the ACC, Tony Bennett is getting some reinforcements on offense. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is finally eligible and is an immediate scoring threat from anywhere on the court. Once you add in the steady hand of point guard Kihei Clark, the three-point shooting of Tomas Woldetensae, and the versatility of big man Jay Huff, you have something cooking.
Virginia will also have some new faces with Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Reece Beekman, and Carson McCorkle joining the fray. The 2020 incoming class — ranked No. 18 nationally per 247 — is Bennett’s best since the class that featured Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome. Because I’m legally obligated to talk about the defense in a Virginia basketball post, just know that they should be very good once again. KenPom has them at No. 1 to start the season, but we’ll see if they’re a little rusty after the wacky offseason.
— Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn
Projected lineup: G Collin Gillespie, G Justin Moore, G Bryan Antoine, F Jermaine Samuels, C Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
The big reason for the excitement? Villanova enters the season as a legitimate national title contender, eyeing its 3rd in five seasons. This team looks more like the 2016 champs (tough and deep across the board) than the 2018 champs (truly elite at the top-end). After only losing Saddiq Bey (admittedly a big loss) to the NBA, the ‘Cats are loaded with plenty of knowns - Collin Gillespie, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore - who are All-Big East talents and will push for national honors. On top of that, throw in the exciting unknowns; Former 5-star guard Bryan Antoine is healthy and the redshirts are off guard Caleb Daniels and forward Eric Dixon. Daniels and Dixon have drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff, making this ‘Nova squad as deep as it is talented.
Even in a COVID-shortened season, the ‘Cats will test their title aspirations early and often with a schedule built for the fans. They could face fellow contender Baylor in the second game of the season and get another Top-25 test at Texas 10 days later. And that’s before the annual gauntlet of the Big East. After peaking right as last season was canceled, this team will have their eyes on the ultimate prize this Spring.
— Chris Lane, VU Hoops
Projected lineup: G Davion Mitchell, G Jared Butler, G MaCio Teague, F Mark Vital, F Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
Get ready for the 2020-2021 Bears: Baylor opens the campaign ranked No. 1 on KenPom and the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Bears return four starters from last season’s likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Jared Butler is the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, and Adam Flagler should slide in well to form the nation’s best backcourt. With Mitchell and Vital back—two finalists for the national defensive player of the year award—the Bears figure to be a monster to score against. You can make an argument for Gonzaga or Villanova, but the Bears should be the national title favorites.
Projected lineup: G Jalen Suggs, G Joel Ayayi, F Corey Kispert, F Anton Watson, C Drew Timme
By now you are probably aware that the AP preseason No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs are the most overrated preseason No. 1 in school history. If you can put aside your existing biases against the Zags, it is important to note that this is essentially the same team that finished the season last year ranked No. 2. Sure, losing Filip Petrusev hurts, but it doesn’t hurt at all when you can slot in future star Drew Timme and welcome the highest-rated recruiting class in school history, headlined by five-star PG Jalen Suggs. Oh yeah, Corey Kispert is also a preseason All-American. The Zags are loaded at every single position. If there was ever a year to bet on Mark Few finally getting that first national championship, this is it.
— Peter Woodburn, The Slipper Still Fits