Welcome into another College Hoops Mailbag, where we answer all your biggest questions from around the college basketball world — and whatever else — from the past week!
We took a break last week due to the holidays and, now that the calendar has turned to 2021, there has been a definite shift in focus to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA’s official decision to hold the entire tournament in the Indianapolis area has also raised questions about who might benefit and who might be hurt by the new format. We also take our first look at the top of the 2021 NBA Draft!
Let’s get into it.
We will post these mailbags every Wednesday throughout the course of the season, so make sure you join the conversation on Twitter at @brauf33. Thanks as always to those who contributed this week.
I said I thought seven or eight teams would get in during the preseason, but now I think we’ll see nine get in. There are so many highly ranked teams that we’ll see some finish in the bottom half of the conference have excellent tournament resumes because of the wins they had the opportunity to pick up. There may also be fewer bids going to mid-majors than previously thought.
I know there are some bracketologists that have 10 Big Ten teams in the field right now (I’m sure a few have more) but I don’t think that can hold up. Losses will start to mount for programs like Maryland or Purdue and we’ll see them drop off.
I think the highest seed will be received by both Illinois and Iowa. I think both will end up with No. 2 seeds. I’m most confident with the Illini ending up there but, ya know, Luka Garza.
The lowest seed will be Northwestern. I think they do enough to get into the field as a No. 10 seed or something like that.
I think we’ll see most of these tournaments go to a bubble-like format like the NCAA Tournament is doing (except these will still be held at a single site), so I don’t think any will get flat-out canceled. There’s too much money at stake for that.
The least likely, though, would be the American with the conference’s landscape being the sole reasons. There are teams in nine different states in the AAC and you just don’t know what the COVID-19 protocols are going to be in all of those states. It should be fine since there’s only one conference and one site, but I’ve learned not to try to predict anything when it comes to this virus. So that makes them the least likely for me, though I think all get played.
I don’t think we’ll see as big of a swing from the regular season to the postseason bubble like we saw with the NBA, but I do think there will be an impact.
Remember, the NBA went from playing a normal regular season with fans and travel to a long pause to a bubble environment with no fans. Teams that came together, were mentally strong, and were able to focus solely on basketball benefitted.
College teams are already dealing with a good portion of that, being *somewhat* isolated on campus and playing games in front of no fans. It’d be naïve to think staying in one place for an extended period won’t have negative effects on some more than others, but I don’t think we’ll see as many unexpected surprises as the NBA since programs are dealing with a lot of those factors already.
It’ll be coaches with deeper benches and ones who know how to use their rotations to maximize player stamina. For instance, Mark Few and Gonzaga will be at a huge advantage because of how many weapons they have. Tournament experience may matter more than past years, too, because of their knowledge of how to manage do-or-die situations.
I’m sure this will change somewhat as we get more into conference play, again in the NCAA Tournament, then again in the pre-draft process, but there is a pretty strong group at the head of the class right now. I’d go:
- Cade Cunningham
- Jalen Suggs
- Evan Mobley
- Jalen Green
- Scottie Barnes
The order of these players and who finishes out the top five is going to depend on which teams end up with those picks. Cunningham is and will be the consensus No. 1, however.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.