Well, it’s that time again. Now that we’re knee-deep in the college basketball offseason, it’s time to reveal our Too Early Other Top 25 Rankings for the 2020-21 season (that is, assuming it happens).
Over the next few days, we’ll release them five at a time until the whole set is out and ready to be blasted by the crazed fans of Twitter. In case you missed it, teams ranked 25-21 in our poll can be found here.
Away we go!
2019-20: 26-8 (12-6), MWC Tournament Champions
Utah State is another one of those teams whose promise was ripped away by the coronavirus pandemic, but they thankfully didn’t lose as many key pieces as teams like Dayton or Saint Mary’s. Yet, they still find themselves entering 2020-21 without Sam Merrill, the outgoing 2019 MWC Player of the Year and back-to back MWC Tournament MVP.
Still, in his absence, the Aggies should host a formidable roster that will likely yield many predictions that they will win third consecutive MWC Tournament title. The biggest indication of this is the return of Neemias Queta, a 7’0 center who only played 22 games last season due to a knee injury. Regardless, his impact remained outsized, and he posted an efficient 13.0 PPG and 7.8 RPG during his sophomore campaign. This summer, there was no will-he-won’t-he about Queta’s declaring for the NBA Draft, something USU fans encountered last season. He now is all-in on his return.
Additionally, Justin Bean will be another junior whose presence is welcome, as the forward averaged a double-double last season en route to a very strong February that saw Utah State claw its way back into at-large contention. Of course, none of that mattered once they took down San Diego State in the MWC title game, something that is once more within the grasp of this experienced, talented squad.
2019-20: 26-7 (14-2)
Anthony Lamb had been a mainstay in college basketball for the past four seasons, and his name had become one that wasn’t just known by fans of mid-major schools. Unfortunately for head coach John Becker, Lamb — who won the America East Player of the Year award in both 2019 and 2020 — has graduated, creating a void that no coach wants to see.
However, Lamb’s efficiency and scoring numbers both took a major hit last season, meaning that Becker was already somewhat acquainted to adjusting his gameplan to fit a team in which his star’s impact was already diminished. Still, the Catamounts managed to roll through America East play, putting four games of separation between them and second place. Much of that can be chalked up to the lack of strength within the conference, which will, in all likelihood, persist into this season.
Despite the loss of his star player, Becker will likely retain his two best players not named Anthony Lamb: Stef Smith (14.2 PPG, 2.6 APG) and Ryan Davis (9.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG). While Smith has declared for the NBA Draft, he seems like a player who will ultimately withdraw before the June 15 deadline. Combine their return with the addition of graduate transfer Tomas Murphy, a former Northeastern Huskies forward who averaged 9.8 PPG last season on 70.8% shooting, and Vermont should once again be the overwhelming preseason favorite in the America East.
18. Furman Paladins
2019-20: 25-7 (15-3)
Furman seemed to play second fiddle to ETSU all throughout the 2019-20 season, but they are poised to once more vie for a SoCon title with the likes of UNC Greensboro and the Steve Forbes-free Buccaneers.
Despite losing Jordan Lyons, the team’s rock and leading scorer last season, Furman is set to return every other major contributor from last year, including Noah Gurley (14.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG), Clay Mounce (13.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG), and Mike Bothwell (10.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG). This team is exceptionally well-rounded, is still led by one of the most promising young coaches in the sport in Bob Richey (whose name was included among many SoCon coaches talked about to take over at Wake Forest after Danny Manning’s firing), and it may even be stronger than the 2018-19 team that was ranked for three weeks after jumping out to a 12-0 start to begin the season.
17. BYU Cougars
2019-20: 24-8 (13-3)
Can you believe it? It’s actually happening. BYU doesn’t have TJ Haws on its roster next season. However, once done accounting for the losses of Haws, Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson, and Zach Seljaas — disappointing, considering the noise that this team could have made in the cancelled 2020 NCAA Tournament — Mark Pope is poised to have another solid season in Provo.
Perhaps the biggest addition during this offseason is former Purdue Boilermakers big man Matt Haarms. Haarms, a 7’3” center who helped bring Purdue within a shot of reaching the Final Four only two seasons ago, provides an array of skills that made him such a highly sought-after graduate transfer (he created an intense recruiting battle between BYU and Kentucky). While Haarms has never scored in mass quantities, he doesn’t fit any mold one would typically expect of a 7’3” player. Sure, he averaged over 2.0 blocks per game in every season with the Boilermakers. But he did a great job improving on his three point shooting, boosting that number to 31.3% last season.
Still, Pope’s offseason work isn’t done, and many seem to believe he’ll be looking for some guards to bolster this roster before the fall campaign gets underway.
16. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
2019-20: 17-15 (12-6)
Despite being one of the only teams we cover that actually has a national title banner hanging in its arena, it has been the better part of a decade since UNLV lived up to its championship history.
Indeed, the last time the Runnin’ Rebels made the NCAA Tournament feels like multiple lifetimes ago even though it was only in 2013, but things finally seem to be on the upswing. Even after losing multiple talented guys to the transfer portal — Amauri Hardy (Oregon), Donnie Tillman, and Jonah Antonio, to name a few — head coach T.J. Otzelberger has already begun rejuvenating this sleeping giant.
Factoring in the loss of three of last season’s top four scorers, the Runnin’ Rebels still return Bryce Hamilton (16 PPG, 5.5 RPG), a rising junior who was able to play all over the floor and make sure that the offense went through him. If you’re looking for a potential MWC Player of the Year candidate this far out, Hamilton’s name is one to be sure to note.
Adding to the optimism is the inclusion of David Jenkins to the UNLV roster. Jenkins played for Otzelberger during the latter’s time at South Dakota State. When Otzelberger left, Jenkins decided to follow. After sitting out for a season, Jenkins, a guard who put up 19.7 PPG in his final season with the Jackrabbits, will finally be able to suit up for his former coach again albeit trading in the blue-and-yellow for red-and-black. Even more reassuring is that Jenkins himself seems to be itching to get to work alongside Hamilton, saying as much to the Las Vegas Sun:
“We’re going to be one of the most dynamic duos in the country,” Jenkins said. “The combination of my shooting with the way he attacks the hole, I just feel like it’s second to none… I feel like we’re going to complement each other well and be one of the top scoring duos in the country.”
It doesn’t seem like he’s going to be proven wrong.