Experience and continuity are two important factors towards success in college basketball. Even in the age of skyrocketing transfer numbers and draft declarations, championship teams are often led by upperclassmen.
As indicated below, some of the nation’s strongest teams in recent years were built upon returning starters and upperclassmen contributors.
—Jubrile Belo is taking college basketball by storm
—Big Ten power rankings
In fact, each of the past ten national champions had at least two returning starters. Meanwhile, seven of the ten champions returned over half of their minutes from the previous season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ten teams with the most projected returning minutes for the 2020-21 season. Data is courtesy of BartTorvik.com.
Returning minutes: 89.0%
Returning starters (4): Dru smith, kobe brown, javon pickett, mark smith
Cuonzo Martin is still searching for his first breakout year with Missouri and this might be his best opportunity. For that to happen, the Tigers will have to be much better offensively.
Mizzou had one of the SEC’s worst scoring attacks this past season, and will look to turn the corner under the defensive-minded Martin. Hawaii grad transfer Drew Buggs should help ease the scoring load in a potentially deep Missouri backcourt.
Returning minutes: 89.8%
RETURNING starters (5): RUOT MONYYONG, BEN COUPET, JOVAN STULIC, KAMANI JOHNSON, MARKQUIS NOWELL
The defending Sun Belt champs have a firecracker at point guard in Markquis Nowell, one of the nation’s stat sheet stuffers. At just 5-7, Nowell led the team in scoring, assists and steals and should once again thrive with his fellow starters back on campus.
Darrell Walker’s squad could be one of the must-watch mid-majors this season, especially if it can iron out its turnover problems. The Trojans are a stellar passing team and have a knack of getting to the free-throw line.
Returning minutes: 90.9%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): DEVON BAKER, L.J. THORPE, TAJION JONES, COTY JUDE, LAVAR BATTS JR.
Asheville is one of two Big South teams on this list, returning all five starters from a team that won 15 games in Mike Morrell’s second season. Morrell had to hit the reset button after Nick McDevitt left for Middle Tennessee in 2018, and the first two years have been rocky.
The struggles can be largely attributed to roster turnover and inexperience. Morrell’s ’18-19 team was almost entirely freshmen, and this past season’s group was remarkably reliant on starters due to lacking depth. Can another year with the same nucleus lead to positive results?
Returning minutes: 91.7%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): cameron krutwig, tate hall, lucas williamson, aher uguak, keith clemons
Porter Moser’s Ramblers might not have Final Four aspirations this season, but Loyola could be a scary opponent once again in March. Cameron Krutwig is back for Year 4 as one of the elite big men in the country and he has plenty of talent around him.
Loyola is a consistently great shooting team and this upcoming season won’t be an exception. Moser’s squads continually work for quality shot opportunities with spacing and ball movement. Krutwig does it all with scoring, passing and rebounding and seniors Tate Hall and Keith Clemons are capable marksmen.
Returning minutes: 91.8%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): JORDAN GOODWIN, HASAHN FRENCH, JIMMY BELL JR., DEMARIUS JACOBS, YURI COLLINS
The Atlantic 10 figures to be an extremely deep and competitive conference this season. Even with Obi Toppin gone, plenty of stars remain. Saint Louis is a great place to start, returning all five of its starters from a 23-win team.
Travis Ford is turning things around with the Billikens and Year 5 could be the best one yet. Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin both flirted with the NBA before deciding to return for their senior campaigns. Fellow senior Javonte Perkins is the returning A-10 sixth man of the year after tallying 15 points a game coming off the SLU bench.
Returning minutes: 94.3%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): jacob gilyard, nick sherod, nathan cayo, grant golden, blake francis
The second A-10 team on the list is Richmond, which was a bubble team in March and is aiming for much more this season. Chris Mooney will sport a starting lineup made up of only seniors, four of whom averaged at least 12 points a game in ’19-20.
It’s no surprise that the Spiders are receiving plenty of preseason pub given their returning talent. Mooney’s group takes care of the basketball and has a trio of perimeter shooters in Blake Francis, Jacob Gilyard and Nick Sherod. Don’t be surprised if this team assembles a season reminiscent of what Dayton accomplished last year.
Returning minutes: 96.0%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): taevion kinsey, jarrod west, iran bennett, andrew taylor, jannson williams
Dan D’Antoni enters Year 7 with the Thundering Herd eyeing his second NCAA Tournament appearance. Marshall has a great guard duo in Taevion Kinsey and Jarrod West, who lead D’Antoni’s signature up-tempo offense.
If the Herd wants to climb up the Conference USA ladder, it will need to improve its offensive efficiency. The league’s top three finishers all ranked in the top 60 in points per possession this past season while Marshall checked in at No. 199. Familiarity with the bulk of the team returning could turn things around.
Returning minutes: 96.4%
RETURNING STARTERS (4): jayden gardner, tremont robinson-white, brandon suggs, charles coleman
The AAC hasn’t been kind to East Carolina since its arrival in 2014. Jeff Lebo, Michael Perry and now Joe Dooley have won no more than six league games as the program eyes its first March Madness ticket since 1993.
A big reason why this season could be different is Jayden Garner, a returning all-leaguer who nearly tallied a 20/10 average as a sophomore. ECU was low on experience and had almost an entirely new group last season, which could mean a significant turnaround this fall.
Returning minutes: 99.4%
RETURNING STARTERS (5): nevin zink, tommy bruner, everette hammond, josh aldrich, dalvin white
Can a massive returning nucleus send Upstate to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance? The Spartans transitioned to Division-I in 2010 as a member of the Atlantic Sun before realigning to the Big South two seasons ago.
The Spartans will need to be much improved if they hope to flirt with the postseason. Dave Dickerson’s team finished 325th in KenPom this past season, struggling mightily on the defensive end. Is returning everyone from a weak team a good thing? We will find out soon.
Returning minutes: 99.9%
RETURNING STARTERS (4): matt coleman, courtney ramey, jericho sims, jase febres
Lineup shuffling last season means Texas technically doesn’t return five players who recorded at least 20 starts. But if there was ever a team that epitomizes “running it back,” it is this ’20-21 Longhorns squad. Shaka Smart returns everyone except Drayton Whiteside, a walk-on who graduated after playing six minutes last season.
Texas figures to again be a stout defensive group with length and athleticism all across the roster. Where the Longhorns need to improve, though, is on the offensive attack. In Big 12 play, Texas scored fewer than 60 points in nine of its 18 matchups. But a 5-1 streak to end the season — even without contributors Jase Febres, Gerald Lidell and Jericho Sims — has pundits wondering if this Longhorns team can finally live up to the hype.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.
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