College basketball is a sport known for its unpredictability. The upsets, Cinderellas, breakout players, and surprise teams are all things that make it as exciting as it is.
So, despite all the preseason analysis and projections that are done, we know unexpected things will happen. No one thought UNC, a preseason top 10 team, would finish last in the ACC last year. No one thought Baylor, Dayton, and San Diego State would be competing for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament either. Luka Garza and Obi Toppin were not household names.
This is where we will try to predict those crazy things for every conference because, as we know, madness does not discriminate by region or conference size. Here are my bold predictions for every conference in 2020-21:
UMBC will return to the NCAA Tournament
There should be three or four teams vying for the America East regular-season title, and that group may only be separated by a couple of games. In today’s climate, a positive COVID-19 test or two could determine who comes out on top of that group. But, when it comes conference tournament time, I’m taking UMBC to get back to the dance.
Darnell Rogers, at just 5-2, is a beast and could win conference Player of the Year if he’s healthy all season. In all, the Retrievers have five returning players who averaged at least 8.8 points per game and should have a reliable defense again.
Memphis wins a conference title
I don’t know if it will be the regular season title or the AAC Tournament, but Penny Hardaway’s squad will end the season with an American championship of some kind. There’s just too much talent for them not to. The Tigers were the least experienced team in the country and still had the nation’s fifth-best defense per KenPom. Five-star freshman Moussa Cisse should be a star on the inside and this group’s talent on the perimeter should shine through — particularly Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones — with all those freshmen entering their sophomore seasons
Houston deserves to be considered the class of the American in the preseason, but losing Fabian White Jr. to an ACL injury and Nate Hinton to the NBA Draft will keep them from beating a conference juggernaut, especially if Memphis starts to put it together as the more talented team.
Rob Perry wins player of the year
This isn’t a huge reach as Perry was last season’s freshman of the year in the conference, but all signs point to him improving as a sophomore. The 6-4, 210-pounder averaged 15.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while leading the conference in three-point shooting. Not bad, right? He should be the centerpiece of continued surge from the Hatters, which improved from 7-24 to 16-17 in head coach Donnie Jones’ first season.
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