Best Gifts of the 2020-21 Men's College Basketball Season During the Holidays

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2020

Best Gifts of the 2020-21 Men's College Basketball Season During the Holidays

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Christmas is coming, the holiday season is here and college basketball fans are in store for a handful of presents.

    While a recent NCAA ruling has bolstered rosters, some programs are nearing their first contest of the 2020-21 campaign. Plus, several Top 25 teams are preparing for a major showdownincluding one in the Big Ten on Christmas Day.

    And in a year focused on health, an encouraging update on a scary incident is a most welcomed gift.

    Everyone needs good news. The following stories are intended to provide a little extra happiness around the holidays.

Season Debuts!

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The conversation of a college basketball season amid a pandemic has many layers. But games are happening, and we hope every program is prepared to do that safely.

    Several teams are still waiting for their moment, though. DePaul and Fordham are 0-0. Vermont hasn't played a game. Neither have Siena, Alabama State and Maryland Eastern-Shore.

    For these programs in particular, simply stepping onto the court is one of the best presents this holiday season can bring.

    DePaul is slated to be the first of the group, hosting Western Illinois on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Blanket Waiver for Division I Transfers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    As college athletics near a one-time blanket transfer waiver in all sports, a recent tweak will have a notable impact on this season.

    The NCAA announced a 2020-21 waiver for all Division I transfers who would normally sit out a full season. Instead of watching from the sideline, they're allowed to hit the court immediately.

    Key players to know are Ben Stanley (Xavier from Hampton), Elijah Olaniyi (Miami from Stony Brook) and DeAndre Williams (Evansville to Memphis). Others are Bo Hodges (Butler from East Tennessee State), Nike Sibande (Pitt from Miami, Ohio) and Alex O'Connell (Creighton from Duke).

    In a season when no player is using a year of eligibility, it's only logical to let transfers play too.

Encouraging Update on Keyontae Johnson

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    Alan Youngblood/Associated Press

    The college basketball world nervously waited for updates after Florida star Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game at Florida State on Dec. 12. Strictly from a personal view, the more time passed, the more anxious I became about his condition.

    I know I'm not alone. But the latest updates are also a chance for everyone to breathe a little easier.

    Johnson posted a brief message on social media, expressing his thanks for prayers and support in recent days. And then, Florida teammate Noah Locke shared a video in which Johnsonwho had been in a medically induced comais dancing.

    It seems fair to suggest everyone is grateful for the encouraging news and hopes Johnson will make a complete recovery.

Big 12 Showdown in Kansas

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    Kathleen Batten/Associated Press

    At the outset of conference play, the Big 12 has four contenders: Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. And without question, Kansas has the most difficult start among that group.

    Last week, the fifth-ranked Jayhawks clipped Texas Tech 58-57. On Dec. 22, they'll host No. 8 West Virginia.

    Both programs will carry a 7-1 record into the matchup, which is slated for a 9 p.m. ET tip. And both are listed in the top 10 of adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.

    Kansas has eight wins in the last 10 meetings, but this is a chance for WVU to defy the trend and compete with Baylor and Kansas for the Big 12 regular-season title.

Christmas Day Clash in Big Ten

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Tipping off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Christmas Day, Michigan State vs. Wisconsin is a battle of Big Ten front-runners.

    The Spartans are 6-1 and ranked in the Top Five nationally. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser is MSU's key scorer, while both Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry are versatile offensive players who average 10-plus points and four-plus assists.

    On the opposite side, Wisconsin is 6-1 and just obliterated then-No. 23 Louisville by 37 points. The Badgers also boast four double-digit scorers, including Ohio State transfer Micah Potter, top guard D'Mitrik Trice and key forward Nate Reuvers.

    Given that the Big Ten might be the nation's most competitive league in 2020-21, this showdown has a national appeal.

Gonzaga vs. Virginia on Dec. 26

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    Josh Jurgens/Associated Press

    Excitement won't stop on Christmas either.

    The following day, top-ranked Gonzaga and its incredible offense will challenge a Virginia program known for its defense. Tony Bennett's squad has the fifth-best defense, per KenPom.

    But the Gonzaga offense is an absolute buzz saw. Opposite a schedule that has included Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia and Iowa, the Zags are putting up 94.5 points per game.

    Drew Timme and Corey Kispert have netted 20-plus points per contest. Star freshman Jalen Suggs has provided 16.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, and Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard has 12.0 and 3.8, respectively. Joel Ayayi is averaging a double-double.

    This is a massive test for Virginia, an ACC front-runner. The game is slated for a 4 p.m. ET tip on Dec. 26.