Florida Man: Predictions on an unpredictable 2020-21 season
Each week, Rivals national basketball analyst and very own Florida Man, Rob Cassidy, takes readers around the hoops recruiting world, touching on news, notes and developments that relate to college basketball and college basketball recruiting.
With a most interesting and uncertain 2020-21 season kicking off on Wednesday, let's take a look at how things may shake out on a number of fronts in the months ahead.
NATIONAL CHAMP PICK - Villanova
Ok, so it’s not exactly picking Douglas over Tyson, but sometimes favorites are favorites for a reason. No. 3 Villanova brings back most of the lineup that went 24-7 a year ago -- a lineup that includes senior Collin Gillespie. Gillespie took a massive step forward from both a scoring and distribution standpoint last season and could find himself in the national player of the year conversation should he take another as a senior.
The Wildcats lost just one major player from last year’s roster. And while replacing Saddiq Bey’s 16 ppg is a significant task, doing so by collective effort won’t be too difficult for a team that returns four players that averaged double digits last season. How far Villanova can go may well depend on what Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s sophomore year holds, as the forward only scratched the surface of what he can become during an impressive freshman campaign.
Experience and coaching give the Wildcats an edge over fellow frontrunners Baylor and Gonzaga.
SLIGHTLY LESS TRENDY NATIONAL CHAMP PICK - Illinois
As good as Villanova is, picking a team from inside the top five is admittedly boring. So in true Florida Man tradition, let’s go off the page a bit. It’s worth taking a hard look at No. 8 Illinois as a team that could surprise everyone and win the title.
Brad Underwood’s program returns national player of the year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, but everyone knows what to expect from him. How much sophomore Kofi Cockburn has progressed from last year’s Big Ten Freshman of The Year campaign might determine how far the Illini can go in March.
According to Underwood, Cockburn has added significant lean muscle this summer. So while his offseason progression was definitely slowed by the pandemic, it’s not hard to imagine a situation where Cockburn and, in turn, the team as a whole, hits its stride in February. If that happens, Illinois has the future pros and the supporting cast to be a legitimate contender.
NAISMITH PLAYER OF THE YEAR PICK - Jared Butler (Baylor)
Let’s roll the dice, shall we? You might as well hurl a dart at a list of names here because it seems like this award is going to hinge largely on how many games each star manages to play.
Ideally, you’d like to pick a guy on a team less likely to have to shut down for multiple weeks. But since there's no stat ranking teams by collective immune system, taking a flyer on a guy that sits at +1200 on gambling sites is the next best thing.
Alright, maybe the last sentence doesn’t include great logic, but there’s certainly value in betting on Jared Butler nevertheless. Baylor’s junior point guard took a massive step forward last season from a scoring standpoint. This year, his assist numbers should follow suit. The Bears are loaded, and this award tends to go to the best player on the best team.
If Baylor comes anywhere near matching everyone’s expectations, Butler will be front and center in the player-of-the-year conversation. That’s all you can ask for from a +1200 long shot. Then there’s the fact that Big 12 basketball rules say that as long as each team has six scholarship players available, games will be played. And while that rule is totally bonkers and should probably be altered, it also means Butler is gonna get his shots up.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE - Oklahoma State
Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story, and there’s an expectation that the Cowboys will provide us with some semblance of one this season. Mike Boynton’s program improved to 18-14 a year ago after a 12-20 season in 2018. This year, the roster includes the top prospect in last year’s class, and expectations in Stillwater are getting loftier.
The program’s top returning player is junior Isaac Likekele, but the focus will be on youth. More specifically, all eyes will be on No. 1 overall recruit Cade Cunningham, who figures to be the focal point of the new-look Pokes. Cunningham will likely get the majority of the pub as a likely one-and-done type talent, but fellow four-star freshmen Rondel Walker and Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe should also make an impact on what promises to be a season that will feature its share of peaks and valleys.
The Pokes won’t be the best team in the country, but they may well be one of the more intriguing and exciting ones. The ceiling here is high and the games will be good television.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH - Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa has the makings of a team that will pop up in the Sweet 16. The Panthers are a veteran squad and could be even better than they were when they saw their 25-6 campaign cut short by the pandemic a year ago.
Head coach Ben Jacobson lost some peripheral pieces of last year's rosters, but returns three double-digit scores. Among them is human bucket and reigning Missouri Valley Conference Player of The Year AJ Green, who averaged nearly 20 points per game as a sophomore. Green and fellow sharp shooter Trae Berhow have the skill to take this Northern Iowa team a long way come March because if both get hot on the same night, even elite high-majors could find themselves in the throes of a nightmare.
DARK HORSE IMPACT FRESHMAN - Cliff Omuyuri
Cade Cunningham was discussed above and everyone knows what to expect out of Kentucky’s loaded class led by five-stars BJ Boston and Terrence Clark. Duke’s Jalen Johnson and Florida State’s Scottie Barnes will likely be household names this season as well. The headliners have all been discussed ad nauseam, so let’s dig a little deeper into the bag for a non-five star that could impact the season.
Rutgers’ Cliff Omuruyi could well be that guy. The former four-star could see big minutes in the Scarlet Knight frontcourt this year and possesses the build and strength to control the game on the glass, as well as alter shots on the inside. Omuruyi isn’t going to be a massive offensive force this season, but his scoring ability is maybe a little underrated. The Rutgers freshman does a number of things well and could give experienced Big Ten players fits in the paint on both ends. Omuruyi has NBA upside, so it’ll be interesting to see the speed at which he develops.