By: Kevin Lucas
College basketball is BACK, it will be like everything else in life right now and that is different. As teams get ready as safely as possible and prepare for a season unlike any other. Here are my top ten teams heading into the season and some names to remember throughout the year.
1. Gonzaga: The bulldogs will lose some big-time talent in big men Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev from last year’s team. But with the talent, they have returning plus the freshmen class that is coming in, I have no doubt that this is the No. 1 team in the country. It all starts with a deadeye shooter and one of the best shooting guards in the nation in Corey Kispert returning for his senior season. Coach Few then gets back his lead guard Joel Ayayi to run the offense alongside 5-star recruit Jalen Suggs and a highly underrated freshman in Dominick Harris. Sophomore big man Drew Timme will have a breakout season with Petrusev gone inside the post and will get some help there with 7-foot redshirt-freshman Oumar Ballo now in the mix, he will give the Zags a huge lift in their frontcourt. Anton Watson and another true freshman in 6’7 forward Julian Strawther should give the Zags some perimeter depth that they haven’t had in a few years. The Zags will have their sights on getting that National Championship title this year.
2. Villanova: Jay Wright has yet another Jay Wright-esque Villanova team coming back to reign over the Big East conference this upcoming season. And by “Jay Wright-esque” I mean a tough team that has the experience and a point guard that has been there and done that in Collin Gillespie. Gillespie will undoubtedly lead the attack with Cole Swider being their best shot-maker playing next to him. The perimeter depth they possess is what makes them so unique and hard to guard. From Jermaine Samuels to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to Eric Dixon their coaching staff may have some early season problems trying to solve their rotations but that’s a good problem to have as you can’t go wrong with any of those three guys. Also, do not forget about Justin Moore, who had a fantastic freshman campaign earning his way onto the court last season. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is the only true big man on the roster, but he should be set to take on a huge role for Nova this season. Will this be the year that former 5-star recruit Bryan Antoine gets healthy and earns playing time? We shall see. Nonetheless, the Wildcats will have yet another National Championship contending team.
3. Baylor: Scott Drew and the Bears of Baylor were having a magical season last year until COVID-19 shut things down. But the good thing for the good people down in Waco and bear fans across the globe is that they return almost all of their key pieces from last year’s team. Jared Butler and MaCio Teague will fill out arguably the best backcourt in all of college hoops this season. Then they bring back their energizer bunny/workhorse in Mark Vital to keep them consistent night in and night out. Add in skilled offensive big man Tristan Clark into the mix to establish a presence in the post, and this team is ready to compete for a Big 12 title. Let us not forget that Davion Mitchell was one of the best defensive players in the country last year, and if he can pick things up on the other end, he makes this team that much more dangerous. Baylor is set up to have another big-time season this year led by Jared Butler.
4. Kentucky: Another college hoops season means another Kentucky team filled with future pros and first-year players. And you can honestly make the case that this is the best recruiting class that coach Calipari has ever reeled in. This squad will rely heavily on their star-studded wing duo of BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke to be their main scorers on a nightly basis. The starting point guard spot has still been yet to be earned, but the cats have two good options in Creighton-transfer Davion Mintz and freshman Devin Askew. Keion Brooks will give them some experience as a sophomore at the power forward spot. Rhode Island-transfer Jacob Toppin and freshmen Lance Ware will also be of some help at that power forward spot as well. Wake Forest-transfer Olivier Sarr will probably end up starting at center but do not be shocked if 5-star center Isaiah Jackson, out of Pontiac, Michigan, ends up earning that spot by seasons end. All in all, this is a loaded Kentucky team, and it will be interesting to see if coach Cal resorts back to the platoon system that they used in the 2014-15 season that featured both Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Even so, BBN should expect this team to win a ton of games and repeat as SEC regular-season Champs.
5. Michigan State: This Spartan squad will be the most talented team that coach Izzo has ever had during his tenure in East Lansing. Even though they lost Spartan legends in PG Cassius Winston and last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Xavier Tillman to the NBA Draft, they still return eight players from last year’s Big Ten title team. Aaron Henry will ascend this season and show NBA scouts that he’s worth the pick next year while also being the captain for this team. Joey Hauser adds a new dimension to this team at the power forward spot who can knock down shots from anywhere and everywhere. While Rocket Watts has an offensive skill set that Spartan Nation has simply never seen before and should start at PG with Foster Loyer being an elite backup for him. Joshua Langford is also back for his fifth and final year and will be fully healthy as a 3-and-D player, with Gabe Brown being his backup. Malik Hall, Julius Marble, and Thomas Kithier should all give important minutes off the bench for this stacked roster on the wings and post throughout the season. Finally, it has been rumblings that Marcus Bingham Jr. will start at center, but true freshman Mady Sissoko of Mali, West Africa, is going to be a player that Spartan fans will come to love with his never-ending motor and sheer physicality. MSU will look to win their fourth Big Ten regular-season title in as many years.
6. Tennessee: Rick Barnes and the Vols of Tennessee will have a well-balanced group for Rocky Top this upcoming season. Yves Pons, as a senior will once again prove to be one of the best forwards in the nation and lead this squad to a lot of wins this year. With a full year under his belt, Santiago Vescovi will also show that he is one of the best guards in the SEC as well. Add in the return of Josiah-Jordan James and highly touted recruit Jaden Springer who will both bolster the Vols perimeter immensely. John Fulkerson is a program player that every team could use and is super important for both his rebounding and defensive purposes. Then you throw in a mix of players who can play both forward spots from Sacred-Heart transfer E.J. Anosike to true freshman Corey Walker Jr. to Olivier Nkamhoua, who will all add valuable depth to this team. They will also be in the running to win the SEC, with Kentucky being their biggest competitors in the conference.
7. Duke: Coach K has finally went out and got Duke the most important thing in all of college basketball. It is not a top-ranked recruiting class (even though those do help), but it is experience. Of course, he still got that star-studded recruiting class, but it is going to be players like Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker, and Wendell Moore that help the Blue Devils win an ACC Championship and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Now, we should expect DJ Steward and Jalen Johnson to be the biggest contributors as freshmen on the wings with their offensive capabilities. Harvard grad-transfer Patrick Tape should also help off the bench while another freshman in 7-footer Mark Williams should be the anchor for them on defense inside the paint. Sophomore Matthew Hurt could wind up being the leading scorer for this team, but even so, he is still the best shooter on this roster and should help out in a major way in year 2. Jordan Goldwire and freshman Jeremy Roach alongside Wendell Moore, should all share minutes running the point guard position. Coach K has formed a team that is destined to win a lot of games this year.
8. Virginia: After having a down year last season, Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers will be right back in the thick of things competing for an ACC title this year. Marquette-transfer Sam Hauser should carry the load offensively most nights while another senior in Jay Huff, with his 7’1 frame, should hold them down on the defensive side of things. Already in his third year, veteran point guard Kihei Clark will run the show for coach Bennett. Going back to last season, the main bright spot they had was freshman Casey Morsell who should look to have an even better season this year as a sophomore. UVA fans should be most excited for a couple of freshmen on this squad looking to give them a boost. The first of the two is Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a 6’7 forward who can literally score from any spot on the court and will be an NBA player sooner rather than later. The other freshman is Reece Beekman, a 6’3 point guard from Louisiana who is barely scratching the surface when it comes to his talent offensively and will only get better defensively playing under coach Bennett. This team has all of the makings of winning twenty-plus games this season.
9. Wisconsin: The Badgers, lead by head coach Greg Gard, will have one of the most experienced teams in all of college hoops this year, lead by five seniors. The first of the five being Nate Reuvers, who was their leading and go-to scorer a season ago. The next senior is former Ohio State Buckeye Micah Potter, who should dominate the interior for them. Aleem Ford is yet another senior that can knock down shots and guard the opposing team’s best player. Then you round out their backcourt with Brad Davison, who when healthy is an elite defender and lastly point guard D’Mitrik Trice, who will have his troops marching in the right direction as a score-first guard. Their bench is the biggest area of concern for them, but Ben Carlson, a 6’9 forward, should be ready to contribute immediately. As well, freshman Lorne Bowman, a 6’2 scoring PG out of Detroit, should also give them some quality minutes. The Badgers shot at repeating as Big Ten regular-season champs are alive and well.
10. Texas Tech: Chris Beard has assembled one of the most experienced and deepest teams in the country this season. Kyler Edwards is the longest-tenured player on the roster and should handle most if not all, of the point guard responsibilities while also being one of their best 3-point shooters. Two Chicago products named Terrence Shannon Jr and first-year player Nimari Burnett will give the Red Raiders depth on the wings and who can both make plays for others and score almost at will. Kevin McCullar and Tyreek Smith are two forwards that are interchangeable and versatile at either of the forward spots. Add in a plethora of key transfers named Mac McClung, Jamarius Burton, and Marcus Santos-Silva, and the possibilities are absolutely endless for this squad, and they may not have a single weakness. Micah Peavy and Chibuzo Agbo are two freshmen who will make their names known as well as the season goes on, and of course, you cannot forget about the vet Avery Benson, who can play at either guard position. The Red Raiders will always be relevant as long as coach Beard is steering the ship.
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