Photo courtesy of North Carolina athletics
From the moment the NCAA Tournament was canceled in early March, the wheels began turning.
The coaches and athletic directors alike began devising a way for the 2020-21 college basketball season to commence. For some schools, the season will be getting underway in the coming days. The season has already started for many teams.
The college basketball season this year will be unlike any other in the history of college sports, with constant twists and turns that will, if nothing else, keep fans guessing as to what happens next. The second part of our 3-part series looks at teams to keep an eye on this season:
Teams to Watch
Very rarely is a team that is coming off a 31-2 season considered a team with something to prove, but Gonzaga is not like other teams. For the past five years, Gonzaga has ruled the West Coast Conference, losing very few games in conference play in that span. The argument against the Bulldogs every year is the same “they are good, but didn’t really play any other good teams”.
The simple ending to this narrative is to win a national title. That has eluded them in past years. They reached the Nationals Championship before falling to North Carolina a few years ago.
This year, Gonzaga returns with a team loaded with top talent. Players like Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Drew Timme look poised to make a deep run and reverse the narrative surrounding the program.
The Bears have had a lot to ponder this offseason, with their best season in recent memory being whisked away like it was nothing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They went 26-4, and were on the verge of winning their first Big 12 title since 1950.
It has been a long time coming for the Bears, but they look ready to make a deep run. The excitement in Waco has never been higher. Leading scorer Jared Butler is returning to the Bears. Look for them to be a second or even third weekend team this year.
With the days of Phi Slamma Jamma long gone, the Cougars look to rekindle the glory of past years in a different way. They have stellar guard play and can shoot the absolute lights out. Players like Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, and former Kansas guard and top prospect Quentin Grimes all are ready to compete.
They will compete for the label as the top mid major. Consider them a team full of “3 and D” players. If Houston is sinking its 3s, it is a tough team to beat.
Potentially the biggest boom or bust team in the nation this year, the Scarlet Knights return the majority of their team that jumped out to an incredible start last season. Last year, Rutgers failed to win often on the road. Not having road games might be its saving grace this season.
The main question for the Scarlet Knights comes in the form of depth. Whether they are comfortable playing with a mere seven-player rotation every game becomes the biggest question mark.
Head coach Roy Williams is coming off a season which he describes as “the worst I have ever had”. He looks to rebound off of that by adding top recruit Caleb Love, and returning players like Garrison Brooks. This team lacks some veteran leadership that is a staple of North Carolina basketball.
The Tar Heels make up for it with youth and pure talent, though. There will be a significant learning curve for the Tar Heels, but like last year, their ability to adapt will be the biggest determining factor.
Unable to do so last season, this year, the Tar Heels are forced to adapt. The ACC is wide open this year. If the Heels can mesh together well, they might become a favorite to win the conference.
The 2020-21 college basketball season will be the most unique season in the history of the sport, without fans, with a central location for the entire tournament (Indianapolis), and without a clear favorite to lead the way. Teams like Baylor and Gonzaga all have high expectations, and both of them have something to prove.
Finally, expect the Big Ten to make a real push for a national championship. There are nine teams who can realistically make a deep tournament run. It is reasonable to think the Big Ten can capture its first title from the conference since 2000 when Mateen Cleaves led Michigan State past Florida.
Nonetheless, through COVID, and all the little alterations to the season that fans have come to know and love, this season will not be lacking for drama. Upsets will still be plentiful and surprise teams will still emerge.
The question is not when, but who. Fans have waited for the past eight and a half months to get back to the hardwood, and that time is now here.
Enough speculating; it is time to play basketball.