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BTD’s Way-Too-Early 2020-2021 College Basketball Top 25

Should the Zags be the early favorites?

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Whether or not WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrusev leaves for the NBA, Mark Few will still have a super talented group in Spokane. Five-star guard Jalen Suggs adds to a core of Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme who all return. A healthy Anton Watson, an eligible Oumar Ballo and two four-star prospects in Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther make this squad deep and loaded.

2. Villanova Wildcats

Since 2020 failed to name a true National Champion, Villanova has still claimed two of the last four titles and is one of college basketball’s top programs. They’ll add transfer guard Caleb Daniels from Tulane, who averaged 16.9 PPG in 2018-2019, to a back-court that includes Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore. If forward Saddiq Bey spurns the NBA, the Wildcats will be among the best.

3. Virginia Cavaliers

The Cavaliers aren’t the most enjoyable group to watch, yet you can’t knock Tony Bennett as his style of play has yielded favorable results in past years. While Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key will be departing, point guard Kihei Clark, late-bloomer Tomas Woldetensae and big man Jay Huff will be back. Marquette transfer Sam Hauser will bring a huge scoring lift to a well-rounded outfit.

4. Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari’s name is synonymous with the infamous “one-and-done” rule, but in recent seasons, Kentucky has thrived with the timely decisions of many top-level college talents to stay on campus. If Cal can get Immanuel Quickley and at least half of the Tyrese Maxey/Ashton Hagans duo to stick around, another insanely talented recruiting haul will make the Wildcats elite.

5. Creighton Bluejays

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Creighton
Ty-Shon Alexander is the Big East’s highest-scoring returner.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a Big East title season, Creighton will bring back all of their starters and most of their rotation pieces sans center Kelvin Jones. If Villanova’s back-court isn’t the conference’s most talented grouping, the Bluejays’ guards could be, as Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski are a headache to handle. The 6’ 5” pairing of Denzel Mahoney and Mitch Ballock in complimentary roles will be names to know. Omaha should be rocking in 2020-2021.

6. Baylor Bears

The Bears return their top three scorers from 2019-2020’s breakthrough campaign, led by All-Big 12 performer Jared Butler and a duo of guards in MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Scott Drew will miss heart-and-soul players like Freddie Gillespie and Devonte Bandoo, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Transfer Adam Flagler, a 15.9 PPG scorer in 2018-2019, should add a nice scoring punch.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes

If center Luka Garza finds himself in Iowa City again this winter, the Hawkeyes are legitimate contenders to claim a Big Ten crown and potentially play into the last weekend of the season. A trio of gifted guards in Joe Wieskamp, CJ Fredrick and Jordan Bohannon (pending his health) will be a year improved and polished, as will reserve talents like Connor McCaffery and Joe Toussaint.

8. Kansas Jayhawks

Doubt the Jayhawks at your own risk as Bill Self showed once again last season why the Big 12 still runs through Lawrence. Assuming Devon Dotson doesn’t return to campus, Self will have a team that needs to find scorers and a full-time operator to lead a group of players who will be asked to do more than expected. If Dotson returns though, the sky is truly the limit for Kansas.

9. Florida State Seminoles

The fact that Leonard Hamilton could seriously have Devin Vassell and MJ Walker at the helm of his long, lanky, athletic and aggressive program for one more go-round means we should be pretty comfortable seeing the Seminoles among the ACC’s finest. Patrick Williams’ return is vital and five-star prospect Scottie Barnes living up to the hype will help a deep depth chart flourish.

10. Wisconsin Badgers

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at St. Mary’s
Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers and D’Mitrik Trice will anchor a veteran Wisconsin team.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The names on this Wisconsin team may not be household ones, but that doesn’t discredit the ability of this Badgers team to really put together a breakout season. The Badgers bring back five of their top six scorers, led by their interior combo of Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter, two of the best bigs in the Big Ten. Aleem Ford, a 6’ 8” talent will help in the equation inside, while Brad Davidson and D’Mitrik Trice will lead the back-court attack. Long-term depth though could be this team’s main cause for concern.

11. Duke Blue Devils

Like Kansas, even on their worst years, it’s hard to see Duke sliding too far down the mountain. No, on paper, Duke probably won’t have the Vernon Carey and Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley that they so loved, but Wendell Moore will finally step into the spotlight alongside Matthew Hurt and six impact newcomers, including five-star commits Jalen Johnson and Jeremy Roach.

12. Tennessee Volunteers

Playing for most of last year without Lamonte Turner in some ways may have helped this Vols group to be ready for the roster overhaul coming this winter. Rick Barnes landed a stellar recruiting class, topped by two five-star guards in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, who will join key players like John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Santiago Vescovi and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey.

13. San Diego State Aztecs

The question for Brian Dutcher, who has posted a 71-26 in three seasons as a head coach, is how he ensures Malachi Flynn doesn’t leave college basketball behind for the bright lights of the NBA. If Flynn is back in tow, the Aztecs will have three of their top four scorers returning between the 6’ 6” duo of Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel. San Diego State is still the Mountain West favorites.

14. Michigan State Spartans

The loss of arguably the country’s best guard in Cassius Winston leaves a void in both production and leadership that can’t be filled by one player. Michigan State has moved on from talent like this before and Tom Izzo should have little issues doing it again. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser will help the cause, but Xavier Tillman needs to come back to East Lansing to complete this team.

15. West Virginia Mountaineers

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Iowa State
Forwards Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver will be ruthless to handle on the interior for West Virginia.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Swingman Jermaine Haley will be the one true impactful loss for West Virginia, meaning most of this group gets another season to grow under the tutelage of Bob Huggins and his in-your-face style. Up-front, there’s not too many opponents who will be able to (or want to) handle the combo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, especially in the waves that the Mountaineers can hit you with. Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are both rising stars who will find their time to shine. Newcomers Isaiah Cottrell, a four-star power forward recruit, and JUCO guard Kedrian Johnson will add the depth that they need.

16. Houston Cougars

Houston will be aided by the likely return of their top six scorers from a season ago, with maybe guard DeJon Jarreau sitting as one of the only question marks in that group. They’ll throw Idaho transfer Cameron Tyson and a solid recruiting group into the mix and the wheels like keep turning for Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars. A third straight NCAA Tournament is in sight.

17. Saint Louis Billikens

When Saint Louis hired Travis Ford back in 2016, the Billikens made the right call in finding the right guy to stabilize their program and turn them into regular A-10 contenders. Between guards Jordan Goodwin and Gibson Jimerson and forwards Javonte Perkins and Hasahn French, Saint Louis’ core is one that few teams in the conference or country for that matter can match.

18. Richmond Spiders

After last year’s 24-7 campaign, Chris Mooney has the whole crew back in the fold with the potential to be his best group since 2009-2011, when the Spiders made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. If you want to see a complete and efficient basketball team, you need to check out this Spiders squad now. Blake Francis is the best guard you’ve never heard of.

19. Oregon Ducks

Somehow, Oregon needs to find life after a program-defining player in Payton Pritchard leaves town. The problem for Dana Altman is that Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston are also out, which means Chris Duarte, Will Richardson and N’Faly Dante take on more responsibility and transfers Eric Williams (Duquesne) and Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers) step right into starting roles.

20. Colorado Buffaloes

Tad Boyle has always preached one thing at Colorado and that’s that his Buffaloes team come ready to play each and every night in the Pac-12. The soon-to-be eleventh year head coach will move on from some role players like Shane Gatling and Lucas Siewert, yet the depth chart’s four leading scorers shouldn’t be departing just yet. The good vibes are rolling heavy in Boulder.

21. Stanford Cardinal

Assuming breakout guard Tyrell Terry and veteran big man Oscar da Silva both stay in town, the Cardinal could return every key contributor from last season’s roster that started with a 15-2 mark. Stanford needs to solve why they skidded out down the stretch, but another year of development from Spencer Jones, Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills
 and Jaiden Delaire can only help fix things.

22. UCLA Bruins

Mick Cronin fixed a broken Bruins culture in his first campaign in Westwood and heading into year two, there’s belief that UCLA is ready to return to the big dance. Like most teams, the big question revolves around star Chris Smith and if his NBA Draft decision, yet either way, there should be enough in the tank for Cronin to keep this thing going. UCLA is in the Pac-12 conversation.

23. Texas Longhorns

Unless some players opt to switch numbers around, not a single jersey is going to change for Shaka Smart’s sixth season with the burnt orange. Literally, the whole roster is returning for what could be a boom-or-bust year. The Longhorns have three legitimate Big 12 guards in Matt Coleman, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey
 and forward Jericho Sims is always reliable inside.

24. Illinois Fighting Illini

Assuming guard Ayo Dosunmu leaves Champaign, the focus of Illinois will move from their guards to their front-court, where the towering combo of massive Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili are Big Ten tested. The Illini will need some other pieces, specifically veteran play-maker Trent Frazier, wing Alan Griffin and Holy Cross transfer Jacob Grandison, to take some colossal leaps.

25. Northern Iowa Panthers

NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at Colorado
A local product, AJ Green is one of the best mid-major talents in all of college basketball.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers being stunned in the Missouri Valley Tournament shouldn’t diminish their 25-6 season which had NCAA Tournament at-large potential. Heading into 2020-2021, this Northern Iowa outfit has the potential to be one of the better groups Ben Jacobson has ever had in Cedar Falls. The early MVC favorites return reigning conference Player of the Year AJ Green, all-league talent Trae Berhow and nightly double-double threat Austin Phyfe, but will need to develop some consistency further on in their depth chart to make a run into March.


Ten More To Keep An Eye On

Arizona Wildcats - Few teams have a more fluid roster than Arizona will have over the next few months. Look out as transfers Jordan Brown (Nevada) and James Akinjo (Georgetown) arrive.

Arizona State Sun Devils - Most of the gang returns for Bobby Hurley, led by Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Remy Martin and rising scorer Alonzo Verge. Tempe will be on fire this winter.

Michigan Wolverines - I’m not sold on Michigan just yet, but if Isaiah Livers stays in school, maybe the Wolverines do have enough, as five-star recruit Isaiah Todd and more talent arrives.

North Carolina Tar Heels - Burying the Tar Heels’ disastrous 2019-2020 campaign will take some time, especially as star guard Cole Anthony probably moves on. Roy Williams will have work to do.

Ohio State Buckeyes - Kaleb Wesson could go pro, signaling the end of the Wessons at Ohio State. The Buckeyes will insert California transfer Justice Sueing to an already versatile core.

Oklahoma Sooners - Veteran do-it-all man Kristian Doolittle departs Norman, so the weight of the program falls onto the shoulders of Austin Reaves, Brady Manek and De’Vion Harmon.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights - How fun has the Rutgers basketball revival been? A back-court led by Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker could carry the Scarlet Knights to another twenty-win season.

South Carolina Gamecocks - Program staple Malik Kotsar is gone but the rest of the Gamecocks crew, including nine of their top ten scorers from 2019-2020, should be back in Columbia.

Texas Tech Red Raiders - Chris Beard never falls as hard as he should. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe should fill in for TJ Holyfield. If Jahmi’us Ramsey doesn’t go pro, this is a Top 20 squad.

USC Trojans - The names will be almost all new and with Onyeka Okongwu likely headed to the NBA, USC has some questions to answer. This is a group that will get better as the year goes on.