College basketball expert predictions for 2020-21 season

College basketball is almost here, which means it’s time to roll out our expert predictions for the 2020-21 season.

It is time to identify which teams are capable of Final Four runs, which ones are certain to disappoint, potential Cinderellas, and everything in between.

Hope & Rauf: Mid-major breakdown, teams to watch
March Madness coming to Indy in 2021
SUBSCRIBE to 
 today!

With the ball set to tip Wednesday, Nov. 25, the longest offseason in modern college basketball history is almost behind us. It is certain to be an unusual season with hiccups along the way.

Nevertheless, we’re ready to get the show on the road. Here are our expert picks for the 2020-21 college basketball season:

SelectionEli BoettgerBrian RaufAndy DieckhoffConnor HopeLukas HarkinsBlake Lovell
National ChampionGonzagaGonzagaGonzagaGonzagaGonzagaBaylor
Final FourVillanovaVillanovaVillanovaVillanovaKansasGonzaga
Final FourVirginiaBaylorIllinoisTennesseeIllinoisVillanova
Final FourWisconsinTennesseeBaylorKansasOregonTennessee
AAC ChampionHoustonMemphisHoustonHoustonHoustonHouston
ACC ChampionVirginiaVirginiaVirginiaVirginiaVirginiaVirginia
Big Ten ChampionMichigan StateIllinoisIllinoisIllinoisIllinoisWisconsin
Big 12 ChampionKansasKansasBaylorBaylorKansasBaylor
Big East ChampionVillanovaVillanovaVillanovaVillanovaVillanovaVillanova
Pac-12 ChampionOregonArizona StateArizona StateOregonOregonOregon
SEC ChampionKentuckyTennesseeTennesseeTennesseeTennesseeTennessee
CinderellaLoyola ChicagoAustin PeayBoise StateSaint LouisLoyola ChicagoBoise State
CinderellaSienaBoise StateAustin PeayUC Santa BarbaraFurmanAustin Peay
CinderellaMontana StateSaint LouisSaint BonaventureNorthern IowaSouth Dakota StateLittle Rock
Surprise TeamSyracuseGeorgia TechStanfordGeorgia TechAlabamaSouth Carolina
Disappointing TeamIowaWisconsinKentuckyTexasUCLAMichigan
No. 1 SeedsGonzaga, Kansas, Villanova, VirginiaGonzaga, Villanova, Virginia, KansasGonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, VirginiaGonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, VirginiaGonzaga, Kansas, Villanova, VirginiaBaylor, Gonzaga, Villanova, Wisconsin


Here’s what our staff is saying about teams highlighted above:

Gonzaga

Is this the Gonzaga team that finally breaks through for a national title? The Bulldogs are loaded on paper and are almost guaranteed to live up to the hype behind legendary coach Mark Few. Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme are All-American candidates while five-star freshman Jalen Suggs is the highest-rated recruit in school history. Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook is next up in a long line of high-quality Gonzaga transfer guards. The Bulldogs are a lock for at least a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament second weekend appearance but anything less than a Final Four will be viewed as a disappointment. —Eli Boettger

Villanova

Villanova is only losing Saddiq Bey from a team that won a share of the Big East for the sixth time in the last seven years. Questions remain about their lack of size — though the return of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl certainly helps — but Jay Wright has shown us that his small-ball approach really works. They are the class of the Big East and will prove so again. —Brian Rauf

Baylor

Baylor has a very good chance to repeat their domination after spending most of last season ranked #1. Virtually everyone is back with the notable exception of big man Freddie Gillespie, but the program has high hopes for Flo Thamba in the middle. Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler should give Baylor even more depth. This could be Scott Drew’s best team yet. —Brian Rauf

Virginia

Virginia will boast three All-ACC caliber players (Jay Huff, Sam Hauser, Kihei Clark) this season and also vastly improved its depth with returning wings and incoming freshmen. Add in one of the best coaches in the country and it’s easy to be optimistic. —Lukas Harkins

Tennessee

With more experienced play out of Santiago Vescovi and Joshiah-Jordan James, Tennessee’s offensive movement should be substantially better. There are also scoring threats all over their roster to dish the rock to. The Vols should get to the foul line at will and their assist rate should once again rank highly. Rick Barnes knows how to build an offensive juggernaut and while we might not see the Vols reach No. 3 in adjusted offensive efficiency like we did in 2018-19, they should be pretty darn good. —Lukas Harkins

Oregon

Despite losing Pac-12 Player of the Year Payton Pritchard to graduation, the Ducks should be reloaded with the addition of transfer guard Amauri Hardy taking the reins. Chris Duarte and Will Richardson form one of the best wing duos, and a fully conditioned N’Faly Dante could be the best center in the conference if he performs to his potential and can stay on the floor. This may not be Dana Altman’s most talented roster, but he is not a coach that should be doubted anymore. —Connor Hope

Kansas

KU’s returning core should keep the Jayhawks at the forefront of the conference race. Everyone will be expected to take on larger roles, but Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack have each shown flashes of star potential (Garrett is already that defensively). With five-star guard Bryce Thompson entering the fold, the Jayhawks will be excellent once again. —Brian Rauf

Illinois

Illinois was among the biggest winners of the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline. With both Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu returning to Champaign for at least one more season, the Fighting Illini bring back two stars to a roster that was already at-large caliber. Head coach Brad Underwood now has a loaded group to work with and expectations will be at their highest since the Deron Williams/Dee Brown days. —Lukas Harkins

Wisconsin

Wisconsin ended last season on a tear, winning eight straight to secure a share of the Big Ten title. The team’s impressive finish came after losing four of their previous six games to fall toward the bubble (they were 13-10 at the time). As a result of the strong finish, Greg Gard received the Big Ten Coach of the Year award. Now, looking ahead to this coming year, the Badgers are set to face sky-high expectations with four returning starters and increased depth thanks to a strong incoming recruiting class. —Lukas Harkins

Houston

Houston would’ve been a top 10 team prior to Nate Hinton’s decision to stay in the draft and Fabian White’s torn ACL but, even without them, it is still a worthy top 20 team. Four of the top six scorers will be back from a team that went 23-8 and was really good on both ends of the floor. The Cougars are a guard-heavy team with some question marks in the middle, but their guards are really good. Don’t be surprised if Caleb Mills becomes a national star by March. —Brian Rauf

Arizona State

It is time for Bobby Hurley to deliver on the promise his teams have shown over the last three years, and this may be his best roster ever. Point Guard Remy Martin returns as the Pac-12 Player of the Year favorite, five-star wing Josh Christopher joins the roster, and Alonzo Verge should be expected to build on his meteoric rise to stardom. —Connor Hope

Kentucky

Yes, Kentucky is going to be uber-talented again given the number of elite prospects that will step foot on campus whenever they’re able. But John Calipari’s best teams have always had some sort of veteran experience (often returning sophomores) and this team doesn’t. Keion Brooks is the only rotation piece returning, meaning their six freshmen will all be relied on in a significant way. Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr gives them a boost, though not one that erases the amount of questions. —Brian Rauf