The Redshirt Senior: A Way-Too-Early Prediction of the 2021 NCAA Bracket
In my last column, I looked to the past as a form of comfort; now, I want to look to the future as a way to find some excitement within the monotony of quarantine. I’ve been passing my time a few ways this term — the golf courses opened back up too (thanks Cuomo!) — including following college basketball news to try to get a better idea of how the landscape might turn out next year. Here’s my real quick Ivy League prediction:
- Yale will win.
- Harvard will still be good.
- Princeton will still have insane depth.
- Dartmouth will make the Ivy League Tournament!
- Penn will struggle after losing everyone.
- Cornell will still have Jimmy Boeheim, at least.
- Brown will have a team.
- Columbia will miss its transferred stars.
Now, let’s move on to an early look at what the NCAA Tournament might look like next year. This is in no way set in stone, and it may certainly change as players continue to move around. Bolded teams are my projected conference champions.
First, I want to talk about my four projected No. 1 seeds. I expect Gonzaga University to be the best team in the country next season. I’ll say the following many times in this column, but many of my rankings are “dependent on the draft decision of …,” and this contingency relates to three Bulldogs starters: Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev. All three declared for the draft but preserved their NCAA eligibility by opting not to hire agents, and they are all expected to return to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ championship hopes increase tremendously if five-star recruit Jalen Suggs decides to honor his commitment to Gonzaga over a potential trip to the G-League or playing overseas. Gonzaga should have an all-star frontcourt with Kispert, Petrusev and rising sophomore Drew Timme returning to bolster a Gonzaga team that only lost two games this past season and was my pick to reach the national title game, though I thought Kansas University would win the whole thing.
Villanova University is also returning a few players, the most critical of whom will be forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Villanova’s best player last year was Saddiq Bey, and he is expected to stay in the NBA draft. Robinson-Earl was projected as a late second round pick, but his decision to stay will fuel the Wildcats’ run to continue its post-realignment Big East dominance, with a team featuring 17 points-per-game Tulane University transfer Caleb Daniels and healthy wing (and potential Bey replacement) Bryan Antoine.
An easy way to predict the best teams for next year is to find the good teams that are returning many of their players. The Baylor University Bears fit this description. Guards Jared Butler and MaCio Teague are testing the NBA waters, but both may return to school. Even with the center position now a bit of a question mark with Freddie Gillespie graduating, the Bears — coming off a 26-4 season and with all three of their top guards returning — should at least take the Big 12 title.
The last team in my top four is the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Again, the only main contributor that the Cavaliers lost is big man and NCAA champion Mamadi Diakite, but Virginia will get a great replacement for him in Marquette University transfer Sam Hauser. Hauser — whose brother Joey will play for projected No. 2 seed Michigan State University next year — will provide some inside presence as well as great perimeter shooting. He put up a 65 percent true shooting percentage two years ago at Marquette. Virginia has a very strong incoming freshman class in addition to Hauser, and it’s difficult to imagine Virginia stepping back defensively even without Diakite.
Let’s turn our focus to some surprising teams that either were bubble teams last year or were not expected to make the tournament. I want to start with the Arizona State University Sun Devils. I am 100 percent drinking Bobby Hurley’s Kool-Aid for the upcoming season, slotting a team on the bubble as a No. 4 seed and the Pac-12 Champion next year. Much of this has to do with Josh Christopher — a five-star recruit and the 10th overall player in the country (per 247Sports) — surprisingly committing to Arizona State over the University of Michigan. Funny enough, the day after Christopher committed to ASU, Michigan commit Isaiah Todd decommitted from the Wolverines to play in the G-League; it’s been a tough offseason for Michigan. Projected by ESPN to be a first round pick next year, Christopher is likely a one-and-done, but it’ll be a fun season for ASU fans. Another top high school recruit who made a surprising decision was Ziaire Williams, who committed to Stanford University. With Williams, Stanford has a chance to compete with Arizona State and the University of California, Los Angeles for the top spot in the Pac-12.
Other than Gonzaga, one mid-major team to watch this upcoming season is the University of Houston Cougars. As another team on the bubble last year, Houston will bolster its roster next season with the continued development of Kansas-transfer guard Quentin Grimes. The thing is, Grimes may not be the best guard on the roster. Houston’s top six scorers last year will all return, barring a surprise transfer or NBA draft declaration, so I expect a lot from the Cougars next season. I have them slotted as a No. 3 seed at the moment. Richmond will also be a mid-major team to watch after going 24-7 with no seniors on the roster last year. With University of Dayton’s Obi Toppin leaving for the NBA draft, Richmond may be the class of the Atlantic 10 next year; I have them slotted as a No. 8 seed next year.
At the end of the day, this is all speculation. Hopefully, Syracuse University can move up in the rankings a bit.