Mid-majors 2020-21 predictions: Gonzaga transcends labels, can win title

Because the countdown continues towards the beginning of the 2020-21 faculty basketball season on Nov. 25, ESPN.com’s panel of specialists is making its predictions. After taking a look at the American Athletic Conference, we proceed by breaking down one of the best of the mid-major conferences, together with a league (the WCC) that has a school basketball heavyweight in its midst.

Bounce to: Superlatives | Roundtable | Anonymous coaches speak | Picks


Mid-majors 2020-21 superlatives

Participant of the Yr

Medcalf: Isaiah Miller, UNC Greensboro
Borzello: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
Gasaway: Marreon Jackson, Toledo
Lunardi: Jalen Crutcher, Dayton

Newcomer of the Yr

Medcalf: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Borzello: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Gasaway: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Lunardi: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga


Mid-majors 2020-21 author roundtable

The scale of the 2021 NCAA match bracket goes to be in query till that day in March when (we hope) the brackets are unveiled. Should you have been a betting man, how most of the 9 leagues mentioned on this piece would you anticipate to be represented within the discipline? Title a very good group from these leagues that the world won’t get to see due to a decreased discipline.

Myron Medcalf, senior faculty basketball author: NCAA senior vice chairman for basketball Dan Gavitt has instructed ESPN that the choice committee is ready to supply unprecedented flexibility to each league because the NCAA match approaches. And I imagine that.

The ever-changing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues we have already witnessed recommend the game might face challenges which may stop some groups from reaching the minimal of 13 video games. And it is tough to examine a world wherein each group in every league will one way or the other full the identical variety of video games. With the concept of equity eradicated by the circumstances, I feel the NCAA will work to make sure each league is represented. For many conferences, the NCAA match affords an essential monetary alternative. When Loyola Chicago made its Last 4 run in 2018, the Missouri Valley Convention earned $8.5 million. I do not see colleges passing on that, particularly if the NCAA affords artistic avenues for qualification.

Jeff Borzello, faculty basketball insider: I feel eight of the 9 conferences right here have an excellent probability of seeing themselves represented within the discipline of 68/no matter. The one exception is perhaps the Ivy League. The convention already mentioned it is not enjoying video games in 2020, and assuming the colleges that did distant studying within the fall do not have college students returning to campus till the second semester, an inexpensive timeline for the season beginning can be someplace round February. And if these colleges prolong distant studying into the spring semester? Ivy colleges aren’t the kind to convey athletes again if everybody else is house. There is definitely hope throughout the league that it’s going to determine issues out and have a season, however it’s honest to say that’s up within the air proper now.

If the worst-case state of affairs occurs, the world won’t get to see a very good Yale group that additionally would have probably made the NCAA match final season. Paul Atkinson is one of the best participant within the convention — and provided that he already introduced he plans to graduate and transfer within the spring, the world will see him quickly sufficient. Yale won’t get the identical alternative.

John Gasaway, faculty basketball author: The NCAA has positioned a premium on representing all of Division I in its bracket ever for the reason that match expanded to 64 groups in 1985. Previous to that point, there was some dialogue of denying computerized bids to the weakest conferences. That concept by no means gained traction, nonetheless, and right here we’re. Presumably any league wherein each group performs the required minimal variety of video games might be in line for an computerized bid in 2021. I am going to wax bullish and say all 9 leagues proven right here might be represented within the bracket. But when I am flawed and the pandemic intercedes but once more (hardly a far-fetched state of affairs), I am going to remorse not seeing Northern Iowa get the possibility to bust some brackets. AJ Green and the Panthers are going to attain some factors this season.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketologist: The one means an computerized qualifying convention is excluded from the sphere can be by its personal selection (e.g., the Ivy League state of affairs Jeff mentions above). The {dollars} and the politics merely require illustration from the total Division I membership. I suppose, within the worst of instances, mid- and low-major leagues may very well be granted match shares in lieu of participation, but when issues are actually that dangerous, then we most likely will not have convention championships, both. As for particular person groups — once more, non-Gonzaga division — those with the possibility to take advantage of noise in March are Saint Louis and Richmond from the Atlantic 10 and BYU of the West Coast Convention.


The nationwide consensus appears to be that Gonzaga is one in all three applications — Baylor and Villanova are the others — that may be a bankable and secure Last 4 decide from our vantage level right here within the preseason. Give us one cause the Zags can minimize down the nets in Indianapolis in April, and inform us the one factor that worries you probably the most about their nationwide title candidacy.

Borzello: Put merely, Gonzaga can win all of it as a result of it has the gamers to take action. Corey Kispert is a preseason All-America-caliber participant, Joel Ayayi is a bona fide scorer and Drew Timme ought to take an enormous step ahead. And Jalen Suggs is perhaps one of the best guard coming into faculty basketball not named Cade Cunningham. Suggs is an elite, one-and-done lottery pick-type of participant and might take the Bulldogs to the subsequent stage. The priority is perhaps that we’re placing plenty of inventory into gamers stepping up based mostly solely on the truth that coach Mark Few all the time sees gamers step up. What if among the youthful function gamers from final season do not take the anticipated step ahead?

Gasaway: The Bulldogs can win the nationwide title as a result of Few has created the equal of a perpetual movement machine on offense. Each season with out fail, Gonzaga is among the greatest 2-point taking pictures groups within the nation. Timme, Kispert and Ayayi will see to it that this streak is prolonged in 2021. What worries me most concerning the Zags’ title probabilities, nonetheless, is that the protection took a step again final season. The Bulldogs blocked fewer photographs and compelled fewer misses within the paint as soon as Brandon Clarke was now not round.

Lunardi: Gonzaga has constructed the proper template for nationwide championship rivalry. The Bulldogs schedule their method to a superb seed on an annual foundation, then hope to peak in March with probably the most favorable matchups doable. The method labored in 2017, because the Zags have been one of the best group within the nation earlier than dropping a heartbreaker to North Carolina within the NCAA closing. With No. 1 seeds in two of the previous three tournaments — and one other on the way in which — it is solely a matter of time earlier than Gonzaga returns to and wins the final sport of the season. Accidents, dangerous luck and scorching opponents are all the time a threat, however the Bulldogs are doing every little thing proper to maximise their probabilities.

Medcalf: Gonzaga can attain the Last 4 as a result of it has one of many 5 greatest coaches within the nation and one other spectacular fleet of elite gamers. That was obvious once more final season, when it felt as if Few may get his first nationwide title, after which the pandemic arrived. The priority for 2020-21? How rapidly Suggs will determine all of it out after a pandemic-affected offseason. I feel we have underestimated the impression this wild chapter might have on incoming freshmen all through the nation. In most years, there’s a vital studying curve, even for the five-stars. That may very well be compounded by the unknowns and canceled video games. Suggs is an outstanding participant who won’t get a good probability to mature and develop along with his new group resulting from circumstances which are out of his management, and that might have an effect on the group’s probabilities to make a run.


Jeff Borzello lately despatched a textual content to his ESPN editor that mentioned: “One factor I’d say is that Austin Peay is perhaps one of the best mid-major this season not named Gonzaga.” We do not have the OVC (twenty ninth in KenPom final season) listed right here as a result of our cutoff was the highest half of KenPom’s 2020-21 convention rankings. However Borzello, please defend your assertion. Borzello’s colleagues, please inform us why you agree or disagree with Borzello’s bullishness on the Governors, and inform us who you assume is the foremost challenger to Gonzaga’s mid-major throne.

Borzello: Taken out of context! I wasn’t together with the Atlantic 10 in my ideas, in order that takes out Richmond and Saint Louis. Each ought to be higher than Austin Peay, however I do assume APSU has an actual probability to be one of the best group from a one-bid league this season. The Governors completed one sport out of first within the Ohio Valley final season after beginning 10-0 in convention play, and picked up victories over each Belmont and Murray State. They’ve two of one of the best gamers within the convention in Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams and are bringing in some impression newcomers. Belmont and Murray will nonetheless be good, but when there is a group to interrupt the Belmont-Murray State hegemony atop the league for the primary time since 2009, it may very well be Austin Peay.

Gasaway: Feels like complete faculty basketball deprivation has taken its toll on Jeff. Hey, I get it. I actually as soon as spent the higher a part of a roundtable blathering on about Marreon Jackson and AJ Green. However again to Jeff’s daring assertion: Gonzaga’s a nationwide energy in a mid-major convention. The very best mid-major not named Gonzaga is, by my lights, one of the best mid-major interval, and this season that title will go to Richmond. Even with Nick Sherod misplaced for the season resulting from a knee harm, the Spiders have sufficient returning expertise to make a run on the Atlantic 10 title. Who is aware of, some or all of UR’s “seniors” may return subsequent season, too, because of the NCAA granting an additional 12 months of eligibility. If coach Chris Mooney ever embraces fortieth (and even thirtieth!) percentile normalcy on offensive rebounding, look out.

Medcalf: Nicely, I suppose Borzello thinks Isaiah Miller and UNC Greensboro aren’t enjoying this season. However I like Austin Peay’s Taylor and Adams, who made 43% of his 3-pointers in league play. Undoubtedly a superb group. However the group gave up a 36.3% clip from the arc in league play, regardless that two-thirds of the league shot beneath 35% on common. Will taking pictures enhance throughout the league and make life harder for the Govs? We’ll see. I feel a wholesome Charles Bassey, nonetheless, might do fantastic issues with an intriguing Western Kentucky group. The unhappy half about all of this? Waning confidence that these promising applications will get a shot on the powerhouse colleges in nonconference play resulting from COVID-19.

Lunardi: APSU will all the time have one of the best faculty cheer of all time: “Fly (Williams) is open, let’s go Peay!” However the Governors aren’t one of the best mid-major of 2020-21. Even excluding Gonzaga, the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West — none of whom are mid-majors by most definitions — I’d price the next groups forward of Austin Peay: Loyola Chicago, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky, UNC Greensboro and South Dakota State. After all, it did not finish properly the most recent time an ESPN analyst discounted Austin Peay, so I’m absolutely ready to face on my head in March.


Nameless coaches measurement up the mid-majors

Jeff Borzello spoke to mid-major coaches about their expectations for this group in 2020-21.

“San Diego State will once more be the group to beat within the Mountain West. I do not assume they are going to be top-five good nationally, however they are going to be a top-25 group. Clearly dropping a participant like [Malachi] Flynn hurts, however Matt Mitchell might be one of many prime three gamers within the league and a family identify nationally come March. It is them and Boise State 1-2, adopted by UNLV a detailed third.”

“BYU, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco ought to all be [ranked] between 40-80 [nationally]. BYU is optimistic about their group. They love the Utah Valley switch, [Richard] Harward. [Alex] Barcello ought to take a step ahead. I all the time wager on [Saint Mary’s coach] Randy Bennett. USF ought to be strong. Onerous to seek out three guards higher at this stage than [Jamaree] Bouyea, [Khalil] Shabazz and [Damari] Milstead. Pepperdine has two elite gamers in [Colbey] Ross and [Kameron] Edwards. [Josip] Vrankic is a monster for Santa Clara, [Loyola Marymount’s] Eli Scott is among the most proficient gamers within the league. Pacific is hard and gritty, however they misplaced an all-league participant and competitor in Jahlil Tripp. I beloved Tripp. He was powerful.”

“I feel UNCG has just a little extra to them [than Furman]. They’re powerful. They make groups one-dimensional. They’re handsy, they’re bodily, they’re athletic. They bodily and athletically overwhelm a lot of the groups within the league. That zone press is loss of life by 1,000 cuts. You recover from the road with 22 seconds left [on the shot clock], cannot run your s—. You want guys to go break them down. I feel dropping Jordan Lyons will damage Furman. He was form of their solely shot-maker. Furman hasn’t been the identical within the [SoCon] match. They put you in powerful conditions due to the Princeton [offense], they’re opportunistic in transition, however they’re so 3-point-heavy. Can they do it three nights in a row?”

“The SoCon has good basketball applications that put money into males’s hoops. Facilitywise, salaries for coaches, constitution flights. It is a hoops league. It is also applications with custom. Virtually half the league has gained a minimum of a sport within the NCAA match. We have got coaches who perceive the job they’re at and play a method and recruit accordingly.”

“Shedding Nick Sherod hurts Richmond. He is a very savvy participant who’s a knockdown shooter and within the Princeton offense, he actually helps them. [Nathan] Cayo is a nonshooter, so to have one other knockdown shooter is useful. However they have some younger guys coming off the bench which are actually proficient gamers. Their general expertise, it will not damage them, however when it comes to taking pictures, I feel it hurts. However I feel they are often actually good. … All of it begins with Jacob Gilyard. He is an extremely high-IQ, dynamic guard that may do every little thing. After which it is Grant Golden, he may very well be one of the best large man within the league.”

“Saint Louis is extremely powerful. Hasahn French is a really dynamic frontcourt participant who can do so much. They return everyone. I do not know in the event that they anticipated the child [Javonte] Perkins to be pretty much as good as he was, however he was a stud. He ought to get higher and with French and [Jordan] Goodwin, form of their older leaders who’ve been by way of so much. French and Goodwin have been there two years in the past, once they made their run [to the NCAA tournament]. They need to be superb.”

“When it comes to expertise, Rhode Island can one hundred pc compete. There is no doubt their expertise stage is as excessive as anyone within the league. It is simply going to depend upon how these guys mesh. Not having summer time college, not having a full offseason, are they going to have the ability to mesh all these personalities on the courtroom?”

“AJ Inexperienced has nice measurement for his place on this league [Missouri Valley]. He can see over level guards on his shot and his passes. He is bought a excessive launch on his jumper. He is bought an all-league publish participant in addition to snipers round him. He is powerful. Shoots off the bounce simply in addition to off the catch. They run great things, and he is bought plenty of freedom. He could make a [Doug] McDermott-level impression on this league. He is a strolling bucket or help. He is chargeable for so many factors, it is loopy.”

“The MAC may need one of the best assortment of level guards within the nation. I am taking [Loren] Cristian Jackson, Marreon Jackson and Jason Preston over any level guards in faculty basketball. The league proper now, from prime to backside, is at an all-time excessive. Akron, Ohio and Bowling Inexperienced, take your decide [to win the league]. Toledo might be OK, so they may sneak up there due to how weak their division is. Akron, Bowling Inexperienced, Ohio, Kent State and Buffalo are all in the identical division.”

Mid-majors 2020-21 champion predictions

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