Every analyst makes bold predictions before the start of the NCAA basketball season. How did my predictions hold up?
The dust has firmly settled following the 2020-21 NCAA basketball season, and what a ride it was.
Some of it was expected as Baylor and Gonzaga, the preseason top two teams, stayed that way all season and met in the national championship. But plenty of the season’s headlines were unexpected, and that’s one of the many reasons why we love this crazy sport.
Every preseason, I try to predict those unpredictable things. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m half-right, and sometimes I’m just flat-out wrong.
But too many people in this business throw out truly insane predictions just to gain clicks and/or notoriety and aren’t held accountable after the fact. That’s why I started doing this article a few years ago — we’re not doing that here! I will hold myself accountable for my stupidity and, occasionally, maybe my genius (wishful thinking, I know).
As a refresher, I made a bold prediction for every conference at the start of the season, which you can find here. How did I do?
UMBC WILL RETURN TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
UMBC did win a share of the America East regular-season title, splitting it with Vermont. I did write in the preseason that I thought this would be a split title, but the Retrievers would win the conference tournament. They did not, losing to UMass Lowell in the conference tournament semifinals, UMBC’s first game of the tournament.
MEMPHIS WINS A CONFERENCE TITLE
I thought this would be the breakout year for Memphis. I thought Houston would be vulnerable without Fabian White for most of the year (LOL) and Memphis would fill that void. The Tigers did win the NIT, though, so I’ll take credit for saying they won something! Now they have serious momentum going into the offseason.
ROB PERRY WINS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year put up a solid season (14.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg) but saw his scoring and efficiency dip. Stetson struggled as well, and Perry failed to make an all-conference team.
RICHMOND FINISHES 4TH OR WORSE IN CONFERENCE PLAY
This felt extremely bold at the time given that the Spiders had some preseason top 25 buzz and felt even bolder after they beat Kentucky. But then Richmond struggled against the better teams they faced and dealt with some COVID issues, which certainly derailed things. Richmond finished 8th in the A10, which means we have our first correct prediction!
GEORGIA TECH FINISHES TOP 3 IN CONFERENCE AND IS A TOP 20 TEAM NATIONALLY
I will call this one partially correct? The Yellow Jackets finished fourth in the ACC regular season but won the conference tournament, so they technically finished both inside and outside and top three. Georgia Tech also may have made an NCAA Tournament run if Moses Wright had been eligible to play but, alas, the top 20 prediction falls short.
SHAKA SMART RETURNS FOR 2021-22 SEASON
This prediction was essentially me saying “Shaka Smart won’t get fired.” And guess what? He didn’t! He may have been in line for an extension had the Abilene Christian upset not happened. Instead, he read the tea leaves and took the Marquette job. Maybe another partial credit?
SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI MAKES AN ALL-AMERICA TEAM
Mamukelashvili was one of the Big East’s three co-Players of the Year, which is a ludicrous thing to type but that’s another conversation for another day. He was productive individually, but Seton Hall wasn’t good enough for him to get All-American recognition.
EASTERN WASHINGTON GOES UNDEFEATED IN CONFERENCE PLAY
Eastern Washington won the Big Sky, but they did not go undefeated. They lost two games in January after a month-long COVID pause and once on March 3 after being off for two weeks. We’ll blame it on the times, as this group showed their worth with an excellent showing against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
WINTHROP WILL HAVE THE CONFERENCE’S BEST OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
Winthrop cleared this with ease! There was also this little nugget in the prediction:
I expect that to happen again as they are clearly the best and most balanced team in the conference. A team may clip them once or twice — UNC Asheville should have a really potent offense — but the Eagles should cruise to a conference title.
UNC Asheville was the only team to beat the Eagles prior to the NCAA Tournament. Feeling pretty, pretty, pretttttty good about that one.
RUTGERS FINISHES AHEAD OF WISCONSIN
OK, so, they both finished with a 10-10 record in Big Ten play, but Wisconsin got the edge because of a better overall record. I’ll argue that was due to Rutgers being bit with the injury bug in January. Both reached the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, too.
CAL ST. NORTHRIDGE FINISHES LAST
The Matadors were bad — 9-13 with a 5-9 conference record — but had Long Beach State (6-12, 4-8) and Cal Poly (4-20, 1-15) bringing up the rear. A miss for me here.
COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON EARNS CONFERENCE’S AUTOMATIC BID
Charleston finished third in the CAA with a 6-4 conference mark. However, they were also 9-10 overall and lost in the first round of the conference tournament. Earl Grant was somehow able to parlay that into the Boston College job, but CofC might be the real winner of that transaction as they hired Pat Kelsey away from Winthrop.
CHARLOTTE AND NORTH TEXAS TIE FOR CONFERENCE TITLE
Let’s talk about North Texas, shall we? The Mean Green did not win a share of the regular-season title but won the CUSA Tournament and upset Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Good for the prediction!
As for Charlotte, well, let’s just say they lost to D-II Belmont Abbey and closed the season on a nine-game losing streak. Bad for the prediction!
ANTOINE DAVIS LEADS NATION IN SCORING
Davis finished second behind March Madness star Max Abmas with 24 points per game (Abmas averaged 24.2). It was the lowest scoring average of his career, but he also shot a career-high 42.4 percent from the field and recorded his 2,000th career point (he has 2,040 after three seasons).
HARVARD WINS SHARE OF CONFERENCE FOR EIGHTH TIME IN 11 SEASONS
RIP to the Ivy League 2020-21 basketball season. We never knew you.
IONA MAKES THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
This was a bet on Rick Pitino and it paid off. Iona earned the MAAC’s auto bid despite getting the tournament’s No. 9 seed and really tested Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
JUSTIN TURNER HELPS BOWLING GREEN END NCAA TOURNAMENT DROUGHT
Not even close. Turner was fine, but not great, during his senior season as Bowling Green finished in the middle of the pack in the MAC (14-12, 10-8). They lost to Akron in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL HOLDS OFF HOWARD
Howard’s season never really got off the ground and they only played five games on the season. NC Central had a rough time with COVID as well. They only went 5-9 and lost in the first round to eventual MEAC Tournament champ Norfolk State.
LOYOLA CHICAGO IS A DOMINANT LEAGUE CHAMPION
If you want to argue against ‘dominant’ because of how good Drake was this year, I’ll give you that. But the Ramblers were excellent, ranked in the top ten in both KenPom and the NET rankings and reached the Sweet 16. They swept MVC regular season and tournament titles, too. That counts as a win to me.
BOISE STATE WILL BE A TOP 25 TEAM FOR MOST OF THE SEASON
The Broncos actually never made it into the AP top 25 (they were in my weekly rankings for a week or two) but always seemed to be on the cusp before they went 5-7 to close the season. That 13-1 start was so, so promising.
MERRIMACK REPEATS AS CONFERENCE CHAMPS
Nope. Merrimack was in the mix before losing five of their final six games to finish with a 9-9 record. Still, not a bad for a team in the second season in Division I!
AUSTIN PEAY WINS LEAGUE AND GETS AT LEAST ONE NCAA TOURNAMENT WIN
I was all-in on Austin Peay having a breakout season, yet they never pieced it together despite having a legitimate star in Terry Taylor. Jordyn Adams took a step back (he transferred to Lamar after the season) and the role players never stepped up. The Govs finished with a 14-13 overall record.
ARIZONA STATE WINS REGULAR-SEASON TITLE
I knew that Arizona State’s lack of interior play would be a problem, but I thought their guards would be more than good enough to overcome that. Nope! The Sun Devils, who dealt with more than their fair share of COVID issues, finished with a losing conference record (7-10).
COLGATE’S JORDAN BURNS BECOMES NINTH PLAYER IN LEAGUE HISTORY WITH 2,000 POINTS
Burns needed 602 points to get to 2,000 for his career, but he didn’t play anywhere near enough games. Colgate only played 16 in their shortened season yet Burns would’ve been right around that 2,000 mark had a full season been played.
FIVE TEAMS REACH SWEET 16
I put this under the SEC? I meant the Pac-12! The conference did get two with Alabama and Arkansas both making the Elite Eight, but preseason favorites like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida really dropped the ball here.
SAY HELLO TO #TWOBIDSOCON
Once Furman and UNCG struggled out of the gate, this was never going to be the case. I had high hopes for both, but Furman never found any consistency and the Spartans suffered some bad nonconference losses.
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN GOES UNDEFEATED IN CONFERENCE, REACHES NCAA TOURNAMENT BEFORE BAN
The Lumberjacks actually moved their postseason ban from 2022 to 2021 (which certainly ruffled some people the wrong way) so they were ineligible for the second part of this prediction, but they didn’t go undefeated in conference anyways. Kyle Keller’s squad went 12-3, with two of the losses coming against Abilene Christian.
THREE TEAMS WILL TIE FOR REGULAR-SEASON TITLE
How about two? Does that work? Prairie View A&M technically won since they played more games than Jackson State, but both programs finished the regular season undefeated in SWAC play and neither made the Big Dance! That was third-place Texas Southern, which won the SWAC Tournament.
DOUGLAS WILSON REPEATS AS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Wilson is another one who had a really good season yet saw his production dip virtually across the board as opponents focused on stopping him. He did make the Summit League second team, though.
COASTAL CAROLINA’S EBRIMA DIBBA WINS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
I still love Dibba’s all-around game, but an average of 7.5 points per game isn’t going to cut it. That average was a career-low for the sophomore, who only played six games in 2019-20 due to a knee injury. It looked at times like he wasn’t fully recovered, yet he still averaged 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
GONZAGA LOSES ONE GAME ALL SEASON AND WINS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Once we got to the title game, I knew it had to be one or the other. The Zags were my pick all year and made me look smart for most of the way, but I figured they’d be less-than-perfect at some point. I thought a loss would come during that hefty nonconference schedule, and maybe it would’ve happened the first time against Baylor if their December matchup didn’t get canceled. Gonzaga picked a bad time to have that off night, though a lot of it had to do with how well Baylor played.
NEW MEXICO STATE GOES UNDEFEATED IN CONFERENCE PLAY AGAIN
This one was done early as the Aggies lost their first three WAC games of the season. The first two came at Grand Canyon, which really set the tone for the season for each of the two programs.