Ranking the Most Underrated CBB Teams Heading into the 2020-21 Season
Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova and Virginia stand atop the men's college basketball hierarchy entering the 2020-21 season, but the biggest stories often come from beyond the top of the rankings.
Looking at the AP Top 25, more than a handful of programs stand out as candidates to rise significantly by season's end. The teams may already be ranked or might currently be outside the Top 25.
Yes, this is "disclaimer season" in a normal year. Unexpected absences can always alter the perception of a team, and 2020-21 is no different. But we hardly need to explain why a pandemic may affect the season in a much larger, ongoing way.
If these rosters can stay close to full strength, the following teams are built to outperform their preseason billing.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Although they enter the season at No. 18 in the AP Top 25, the Sun Devils have a great opportunity to rise.
Remy Martin, who averaged 19.1 points and 4.1 assists last season, is the catalyst of an up-tempo, small-ball Arizona State team, and he's a legitimate All-American contender.
Romello White's transfer stung the frontcourt, but ASU has excellent depth on the outside. Alonzo Verge Jr. tallied 14.6 points per game in 2019-20, and transfer Holland Woods averaged 14.3 points and 5.4 assists over 97 games at Portland State.
As long as Taeshon Cherry, Kimani Lawrence and Jalen Graham can hold down the frontcourt, ASU can win the Pac-12.
6. Connecticut Huskies
Leading scorer Christian Vital and top assist man Alterique Gilbert are gone, but UConn otherwise returns a bulk of the rotation.
James Bouknight is the leading returning scorer, while starter Josh Carlton and key reserves Brendan Adams, Isaiah Whaley and Jalen Gaffney are back. The Huskies also brought in transfers R.J. Cole (Howard) and Tyrese Martin (Rhode Island), who scored 21.4 and 12.8 points per game, respectively, last year.
Granted, injuries are a big part of the discussion.
Tyler Polley provided 9.5 per game before a torn left ACL ended his season. Akok Akok averaged 5.8 points and 5.5 rebounds prior to a left Achilles tear. Both injuries require extensive rehab, so they won't be playing at full strength right away.
But if both Polley and Akok are anywhere near their previous levels, UConn would have strong depth surrounding a star in Bouknight.
5. Stanford Cardinal
Led by forward Oscar da Silva, Stanford returns four starters from a 20-12 team. Tyrell Terry leaves a major hole at guard, but it helps to have a 5-star stepping into the void.
The Cardinal signed 6'7" wing Ziaire Williams, the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2020 class. He and da Silva should be the engines of the offense, though Spencer Jones knocked down a scorching 43.1 percent of his three-point attempts as a freshman.
Bryce Wills and Daejon Davis are both plus defenders, which helped Stanford finish as KenPom.com's No. 7 defense last year.
Reserve pieces Jaiden DeLaire, Lukas Kisunas and James Keefe are back, too. "Chemistry" can be a buzzword, but the familiarity of this rotation should not be devalued.
4. Richmond Spiders
No question about it: Nick Sherod tearing his right ACL is a major setback to a rotation that returned every single player. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds last season.
Still, the Spiders return every single player other than Sherod.
The backcourt features top scorer Blake Francis (17.7 points per game) and playmaker Jacob Gilyard, along with downhill force Nathan Cayo and versatile center Grant Golden. Gilyard won A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and Golden tallied 13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game from his interior spot.
Finding a three-point shooter to replace Sherod is important. Richmond has Andre Gustavson, Tulane transfer Connor Crabtree, Tyler Burton and freshman Isaiah Wilson on the perimeter, so two of them making a long-range impact should be enough.
Richmond, though unranked for now, is the A-10 favorite.
3. LSU Tigers
Given that LSU is one spot behind Michigan for No. 25 in the poll, touting an "unranked" label is simultaneously both an accurate fact and a little unnecessary.
The top of this rotation is immensely talented.
Even after losing Skylar Mays and Emmitt Williams, LSU returns three double-digit scorers in Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart and Darius Days. They're the backbone of a starting unit that figures to add Cameron Thomas and Charles Manning Jr. this year.
Manning averaged 7.9 points with a 40.6 percent three-point clip off the bench last season, and Thomas—a 5-star prospect in the 2020 class—should be a starter immediately.
Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc Sr. will be eligible in the second semester, giving LSU a mid-December boost. He provided 8.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in 39 appearances with the Hoyas.
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders
You're not going to believe this, but No. 14 Texas Tech has impactful transfers ready to make a difference.
Two seasons ago, veteran newcomers aided the Red Raiders' national runner-up finish. This year, they're welcoming Mac McClung (Georgetown), Jamarius Burton (Wichita State), Joel Ntambwe (UNLV) and Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU), each of whom averaged 10-plus points at his previous stop.
All four will be vital pieces in a rotation set to include Kyler Edwards (11.4 points per game), Terrence Shannon Jr. (9.8 points per game) and Nimari Burnett, one of the highest-ranked 4-stars in the 2020 cycle. Kevin McCullar averaged 18.6 minutes last year, too.
While the new-look rotation may require a little extra patience because of the limited practice time so far, the experienced Red Raiders should be awfully dangerous in March.
1. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Despite finishing fifth in the ACC last season and only losing shot-blocking ace James Banks III, Georgia Tech received exactly zero votes in the preseason AP poll.
You have our attention, Yellow Jackets.
Starting guards Michael Devoe and Jose Alvarado combined for 30.4 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 steals per game in 2019-20. Moses Wright averaged 13.0 points and, while not at Banks' level, looks like a reliable rim-protector with freshman Saba Gigiberia and Georgia transfer Rodney Howard as capable backups.
Turnovers and three-point shooting—especially turnovers—are concerns. And yes, those are two incredibly important areas.
But if Devoe, Alvarado and Jordan Usher even slightly improve their ability to protect the ball and the long-range efficiency Bubba Parham showed at VMI appears, the Jackets will be a soundly mid-tier ACC team.