Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:52 AM

2020-21 Contenders to Watch

This is typically the time of year where college basketball gets underway. However, as with everything else, COVID-19 has shaken up the normal rhythm of college basketball, and the season won’t start until the week of Thanksgiving.

The condensed schedule and shortage of non-conference games will certainly make this one of the most challenging seasons, and the committee will have its work cut out for it on Selection Sunday.

ODDS TO WIN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AT FANDUEL

Gonzaga +950
Villanova +950
Iowa +1000
Baylor +1100
Virginia +1100
Kentucky +1300
Illinois +1500
Duke +1600
Kansas +1800
Michigan State +1800
Wisconsin +1800
Arizona State +2300
Creighton +2300
West Virginia +2300
Florida State +2500
Houston +2500
Field +2800 or More

There are some surprising schools among the list of favorites coming into the 2020-21 season. Iowa is considered the third-favorite to win the national championship despite finishing the 2019-20 season with a 20-11 record.

Illinois is seen as a legitimate contender just two years removed from going 12-21, and Arizona State is the Pac 12’s best hope although the Sun Devils have not made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since the 1994-95 season.

THE CONTENDERS

GONZAGA

This might be the year that Mark Few finally leads Gonzaga to a national championship. The Bulldogs went 31-2 last year, and although they lost Killian Tillie, Ryan Woolridge, and WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrusev, they still have some quality players returning and the top-rated recruit in program history.

Senior Corey Kispert will be Gonzaga’s leader. Kispert averaged 13.9 PPG last season, and he was a dynamite three-point shooter, knocking down 43.8 percent of his threes. Center Drew Timme showed plenty of potential as a freshman, and guard Joel Ayayi is one of the best all-around players in the conference.

Freshman guard Jalen Suggs will determine the potential for the Zags though. He was the first person to be named Minnesota’s Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the same season, and his athleticism is off the charts. If Suggs can play well as a true freshman, the sky is the limit for Gonzaga.

VILLANOVA

Jay Wright has led the Wildcats to two national championships in the last five years. Villanova went 24-7 last season, and this team returns all last year’s starters save for Saddiq Bey.

Collin Gillespie’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he is the leader of this team. He is one of the best perimeter defenders you will find nationally, and he does a great job of making the right decision with the ball in his hands. Fellow senior Jermaine Samuels isn’t a great three-point shooter (27.6 percent), but he is a do-it-all small forward that can make his impact felt in a number of ways.

Two talented sophomores will set the ceiling for what the Wildcats can do in 2020-21. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore were both unanimous selections on the Big East All-Freshman team, and both players scored in double digits as freshmen.

IOWA

Stability and experience will be extremely important this season. That gives Iowa a leg up over other teams, as all five starters return for the Hawkeyes.

Luka Garza was the favorite to be named the Naismith Player of the Year at the end of last season, but he was beat out for the honor by Dayton’s Obi Toppin. Garza will be the frontrunner to win the award once again this year after averaging 23.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG in 2019-20.

Sophomore C.J. Fredrick led the Big Ten in three-point percentage last year, hitting over 46 percent of his threes, and he only turned the ball over 32 times despite averaging 28.7 MPG in 25 starts. Joe Wieskamp was an all-conference selection, and he provides another decent scoring option for the Hawkeyes.

VIRGINIA

It won’t be easy to replace Mamadi Diakite and his exceptional interior defense, but Tony Bennett has done a superb job during his time in Charlottesville. His young team came on strong at the end of last year’s campaign, so there is plenty of optimism coming into the 2020-21 season.

Kihei Clark had some trouble taking on a much larger role last season, but he will have some more help carrying the load in the backcourt this year. Clark averaged 3.8 turnovers per game, yet he was one of the ACC’s assist leaders with 5.9 APG. Sophomore Casey Morrell must improve his shooting though after averaging 27.7 percent from the field and 17.6 percent from three-point range last season.

Marquette transfer Sam Hauser stands to make a huge impact for the Cavaliers. He is a 44.5 percent career three-point shooter, and he is one of the nation’s best from the free-throw line as well.

BEST BET

BAYLOR

The Bears were the third-best team in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings at the end of last season. They won’t bring back Freddie Gillespie or Devonte Bandoo, but Baylor might have the best backcourt in the nation.

Coach Scott Drew scored a big win when Jared Butler announced that he was returning to Baylor for one more season. Butler must be considered the frontrunner to be named Big 12 Player of the Year. He led the team with 16 PPG, and he was the primary catalyst in the Bears’ 23-game winning streak.

Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell both shined after transferring in from other programs, and both players were among the best perimeter defenders in the conference. There is size up front in Mark Vital and Tristan Clark, so Baylor should be one of the best rebounding teams in the nation once again too.

LONGSHOT TO WATCH

TENNESSEE 28/1

Rick Barnes has received a lot of flak over the years, but he has a potential Final Four team in Tennessee this season. Grad transfer E.J. Anosike has received rave reviews from teammates and coaches alike in practices, and that gives the Volunteers a chance to make history this season.

Anosike was one of six players in Northeast Conference history to finish his career with more than 1,000 rebounds, and he dominated the glass despite being 6’7. His presence will allow John Fulkerson to play power forward instead of center.

Point guard Santiago Vescovi has the talent to be a special player too. He wasn’t available to take the court until SEC play was underway last season, but he showed he could compete during his freshman campaign. Vescovi spent the summer working with the Uruguayan national team, so hopes are high entering this year.

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