Unfortunately, the 2020 NCAA Tournament was cancelled last month for the first time in its 81-year history due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the US. In this article, I am going to take a look back at this past season and will be highlighting ten college basketball teams that have the best chances to most likely return back to the 2021 NCAA Tournament. All ten of these teams were either out of contention to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament (if it had happened), or they were on the outside of the bubble during the last official day of the college basketball season when it was called off.
This list is in order of #10 (least likely to return) to #1 (most likely to return) for teams that should be much improved next season to make the jump to the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Teams that just missed the cut for the Top 10 list include: SMU Mustangs, Alabama Crimson Tide, Missouri Tigers, Utah Utes, and South Carolina Gamecocks.
10. Miami Hurricanes (2019-20 Record: 15-16)
After two down seasons in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes should be much improved next season with five seniors on the roster. Miami is loaded with guards for this upcoming season with Chris Lykes (15.4 PPG) and Kameron McGusty (12.5 PPG), who will be the leaders of this season's team as seniors. They will also get back sophomore guards, Isaiah Wong (7.7 PPG) and Harlond Beverly (7.2 PPG). All four of these guards that I mentioned were four-star recruits coming out of high school. The Hurricanes will have size inside with three senior big men, 6' 10" Sam Waardenburg, 7' 0" Rodney Miller, and Cincinnati Bearcats transfer 6' 11" Nysier Brooks (8.1 PPG 2018-19 for Cincinnati). Miami, along with the next two teams I will mention at number nine and eight, should make things interesting in the ACC next season.
9. Syracuse Orange (2019-20 Record: 18-14)
Syracuse was a young squad from this past season that should only continue to get better. The Orange lose zero players to graduation from this past year. The big question will be whether forward Elijah Hughes (ACC's leading scorer with 19 PPG in 2019-20) will come back for his senior season. Hughes already announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft, but he is also keeping his options open to possibly returning back to Syracuse. If Hughes does return to Syracuse, they will be a tournament team. If he goes to the draft, then this team is most likely to be on the bubble. The four starters from this past season (Buddy Boeheim, Joseph Girard III, Marek Dolezaj, and Bourama Sidbe) will all be coming back next season. Three of the four players averaged over 10 points per game this past season; Boeheim (15.3 PPG), Girard III (12.4 PPG), Dolezaj (10.4 PPG). In Jim Boeheim's 44 seasons as head coach, he has only missed the NCAA Tournament eight times; and the only time that his team has missed consecutive tournament appearances was back in 2007 and 2008. Never count out the Orange, even if their leading scorer Hughes leaves for the NBA Draft.
8. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2019-20 Record: 17-14)
Another team that will be overlooked going into next season. Even in a down year in the ACC, it is easy to forget that Georgia Tech finished 5th in the conference in 2020 with a record of 17-14. The Yellow Jackets had no March Madness Tournament to play for in 2020 because of their postseason ban. However, next season they will be eligible for the postseason. It has been a decade since Georgia Tech last made the NCAA Tournament in 2010. The Yellow Jackets will return their top five of six leading scorers from last season. Four of those players will be seniors, while their leading scorer from this past season, guard Michael Devoe (16 PPG), will be a junior. Georgia Tech will be one of the most experienced teams in the country with four seniors and one junior in the projected starting lineup. The Yellow Jackets got on a roll to close out the season, as they won their last six of seven games (including a 64-58 win versus #5 ranked Louisville at the time). With nine of their losses by nine points or less from this past season, this Georgia Tech team is capable of flying under the radar and sneaking into the bracket.
7. Purdue Boilermakers (2019-20 Record: 16-15)
After losing the human bucket Carsen Edwards to the Boston Celtics in 2019, Purdue finished this past season with a record of 16-15 during their rebuild. The Boilermakers struggled to find consistency with an up and down season, which included a 14-point loss to Nebraska, along with blowout wins at home versus Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Purdue will lose 7' 3" center Matt Haarms next season, as he will be transferring. However, the Boilermakers will return their top two scorers in juniors Trevion Williams and Eric Hunter Jr for next season. Guard Sasha Stefanovic should be able to take the step up and build off his terrific season finale with 5 made three-point shots and a conference career high of 22 points on March 7 vs Rutgers. After struggling this past season, guard Nojel Eastern will have to make a positive impact as his development will be crucial towards his final season at Purdue and the team’s tournament chances. Eastern, who was a four-star recruit in 2017, averaged 7.5 PPG his sophomore season at Purdue but only averaged 4.9 PPG during his junior year. As of right now, Eastern is the lone senior on the roster for next season’s Boilermakers. Head coach Matt Painter will look to put his team back into the tournament after a 16-15 record this past season.
6. UConn Huskies (2019-20 Record: 19-12)
UConn got hot at the end of conference play (winning their last five games in a row for a record of 19-12 overall). It was the Huskies first season with a winning record since the 2015-16 season. Next season will be a new start for Dan Hurley's squad as the Huskies will join as the newest member of the Big East Conference for the 2020-21 season. Hurley will look to get the Huskies back to tournament form like they were during the Jim Calhoun era of the 1990's, 2000's, and early-2010's of college basketball in Storrs. Four of UConn's five starters will be back next season. The Huskies will lose leading scorer Christian Vital to graduation. Third leading scorer Alterique Gilbert announced that he will be transferring to Wichita State. UConn's second leading scorer, James Bouknight (17.3 PPG in the last 9 games), will be back for Huskies as he will look to build off his terrific freshman season. Center and leading American Athletic Conference shot blocker Akok Akok (12th NCAA in Blocks) will be back to play a massive role inside for the Huskies. UConn will also add a key transfer in guard RJ Cole, a transfer from the Howard Bison, who averaged 23.7 PPG as a freshman and 21.4 PPG as a sophomore. Cole will have to make a big jump from his former conference, the MEAC, to now the Big East. The development of two key Top 100 recruits from 2019, James Bouknight and Akok Akok, will have a large impact to get UConn back to the big dance with a 20+ win season for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks (2019-20 Record: 20-12)
This one was tough to predict because we don't know at this point the future of guards Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe. I had the Razorbacks just out of my bracket with their 20-12 record and 7-11 conference record as they struggled down the stretch of the season without Isaiah Joe for almost the entire month of February. Guard Mason Jones (led SEC with 22 PPG) has declared for the NBA Draft. He has one season of eligibility left and has until June 3 to return to Arkansas after going thru the draft process. Even without Jones, this Razorbacks team is more than capable to make the next season a good one. If guard Isaiah Joe returns for his junior year, the Razorbacks will be a dangerous team. Arkansas went 19-7 this past season with Joe in the lineup, but only had a record of 1-5 without him. Next season, the Razorbacks will add to the mix guard JD Notae, a transfer from Jacksonville, who averaged 15.5 PPG in 2018-2019. The Razorbacks will also bring in the #6 ranked recruiting class at this time by ESPN, which has four four-star freshman. Just like his second, third, and fourth seasons at Nevada, head coach Eric Musselman has a good chance to bring Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament in year two for the Razorbacks.
4. Saint Louis Billikens (2019-20 Record: 23-8)
Coming off a red hot five-game winning streak before the season ended abruptly, the Billikens look to take it to the next level and make a run into next season’s tournament. I thought this team could have been a dark horse in this past season's tournament (if the tournament would've happened and Saint Louis had the chance to compete against Dayton for a third time and got the victory and won the A-10 tournament). This past season, Saint Louis had the match up to compete and stay with the Dayton Flyers (29-2) in both of their games (Saint Louis lost at home 78-76 in overtime at the buzzer and lost at Dayton 71-65). If all goes well this off season for the Billikens, they will be able to retain their top five scorers on the roster. Both three-year starters, guard Jordan Goodwin and center Hasahn French, announced that they will go through the NBA’s pre-draft process. However, Goodwin and French could decide to both return for their senior seasons, which would make Saint Louis a dominant force on the boards. French tallied 16 Points & 18 Rebounds in Saint Louis’ season finale versus St. Bonaventure. French’s career-high in rebounds is 24 rebounds versus Belmont on November 23, 2019. Goodwin and French led the A-10 statistically by going #1 and #2 in the conference with 10.4 rebounds per game respectively. The duo also both ended the season with a double-double in points per game and rebounds per game (Goodwin: 15.5 PPG & 10.4 REB / French: 12.4 PPG & 10.4 REB). Also, back for his senior season will be forward Javonte Perkins, who averaged 20.8 PPG during the last seven games of the season. Point Guard Yuri Collins will be back for the Billikens for his sophomore year. This past season, Collins led all college basketball freshman in assists per game. He averaged 5.5 assists per game and had a career-high 12 assists versus VCU on February 21. Another player that will be going into his second season looking to make an impact is guard Gibson Jimerson. Jimerson (10.8 PPG) played in 10 games before suffering a season ending foot injury in December. Second year player, 6' 10" forward Jimmy Bell Jr, will give opponents problems inside the low post as a rotational piece to provide a bench spark for Saint Louis. Watch out for this team to be a dark horse next season in the tournament. While Richmond may be the favorite this upcoming season in the Atlantic 10, don’t sleep on the Billikens who will be a defensive force on the court that can’t be overlooked.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys (2019-20 Record: 18-14)
It's been three straight seasons for the Cowboys without an NCAA Tournament (taking into account if this season's tournament had happened). Oklahoma State though will have a legitimate shot to get back next season as head coach Michael Boynton will bring in a Top 10 recruiting class for next season, headlined by one of the top freshman entering college basketball in five-star guard Cade Cunningham. Junior guard Issac Likekele will be back for the Cowboys for what could be the best 1-2 duo of guards in the Big 12 with Cunningham and Likekele. Junior center Yor Anei, who was 4th in the Big 12 in blocks per game, will also be back next season. Oklahoma State's younger players (Kalib and Keylan Boone, Chris Harris Jr, and Avery Anderson) who played off the bench as a freshman, will have a chance to prove themselves for starting spots as sophomores for this upcoming season. The presence of Cunningham to lead the Cowboys, along with the experience of Likekele and Anei, will be huge towards the success and tournament chances next season for Oklahoma State.
2. Tennessee Volunteers (2019-20 Record: 17-14)
This past season was an expected one for Tennessee (17-14 record landing just outside of the bracket) as they were in rebuild mode after the departures of Grant Williams, Admiral Scofield, and Jordan Bone (their top three scorers from the 2018-19 season). Jordan Bowden is the only player expected to leave Tennessee, as he will be graduating. The Vols should be able to return four starters next season out of their starting five (John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Josiah Jordan-James, and Santiago Vescovi). John Fulkerson will look to build-off his late season points explosion, as he averaged 20.8 PPG during the last four games of the season (including a career-high 27 points versus Kentucky). SEC shot block leader from this past season, Yves Pons, will also be back for the Vols. Add the experience with their four returning starters and combine it with the #5 ranked recruiting class currently by ESPN, and Tennessee should be back into the tournament. The Vols will add in two freshman five-star guards with Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, along with a key transfer from the Oregon Ducks with Victor Bailey Jr. This team will be deep next season. Head coach Rick Barnes has a lot to look forward to next season with a team that should be able to compete with Kentucky at the top of the SEC.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels (2019-20 Record: 14-19)
After an unfortunate season of disappointment in which UNC had its worst record in Roy Williams 17th season as head coach, North Carolina should be much improved next year and should be able to get back to Top 25 form. UNC finished this past season with a 14-19 record. It was their worst season since 2001-2002, in which the Tar Heels finished with a record of 8-20. Cole Anthony delayed his draft announcement two weeks ago on whether he will turn pro or return to UNC to play another season. I expect Anthony to go to the draft, but UNC will have coming in the #3 recruiting class according to the ESPN Recruiting Class Rankings. The Tar Heels will have three five-star recruits in point guard Caleb Love, and two bigs in Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. Garrison Brooks will be back for his senior year at UNC. Brooks averaged 16.8 PPG & 8.5 REB and will be bound to have a major impact as a leader for the Tar Heels. Armando Bacot should be back for his sophomore season and should continue to improve. The size of Bacot and Brooks is going to be tough to compete with on the boards (along with the two freshman center’s Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler). Guards Leaky Black and Anthony Harris should also be able to take steps up to improve. UNC should be able to challenge Duke, Virginia, and Florida State next season for the ACC Title.
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