Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 04/07/20
We are at least seven months away from the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season, but it’s always a great time to preview the upcoming campaign.
Next season could be a special one for a number of programs across the country. Below you will find seven head coaches who are set to lead their best squads ever.
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Chris Mooney — Richmond
If you’re looking for a non-power squad that could break out next season, look no further than the Richmond Spiders. Chris Mooney’s group finished second in the A-10 behind Dayton, winning 24 games despite having zero seniors on the roster.
Now, Richmond is set to bring back every major piece this fall, including a double-digit scoring quartet of Blake Francis, Jacob Gilyard, Nick Sherod and Grant Golden. Tulane sit-out transfer Connor Crabtree, who started 15 games in ’18-19, will also join the fold.
Steve Pikiell — Rutgers
Besides Dayton, Rutgers might wind up being the program most impacted by the canceled 2020 NCAA Tournament. Steve Pikiell finally mustered a winning season with the Scarlet Knights, which were positioned for their first tournament bid since 1991.
Rutgers should bring back most of the nucleus from this past season’s 20-win team. Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker are excellent bucket-getting wings, sophomore starters Montez Mathis and Myles Johnson are also set to return, and Pikiell welcomes in center Cliff Omoruyi, the second-highest rated commit in program history, according to 24/7Sports.
Dan Hurley — UConn
It’s fair to say that Dan Hurley’s UConn teams haven’t blown anyone away yet. In two seasons with the Huskies, Hurley has gone 35-29 and would have missed the NCAA Tournament barring an American tournament title last month.
UConn finished the 2020 season strong, though, winning five straight to end the regular season. This late-season momentum should set the table for a promising ’20-21 campaign, led by breakout candidate James Bouknight, who averaged 13 points a game as a freshman. Bouknight will team up with Howard sit-out transfer R.J. Cole (22.5 ppg in 67 career games) in what figures to be an electric Husky backcourt.
Greg McDermott — Creighton
It could be hard to imagine that a coach who guided a team with Doug McDermott could wind up with a better roster years later, but that’s exactly the case for the ’20-21 Creighton Blue Jays.
After reaching as high as No. 7 in the AP poll this past season, Greg McDermott expects to bring back each of the team’s top six scorers while adding Antwann Jones, a Memphis transfer who was a four-star recruit out of high school. Creighton could have the best offense in America.
Brian Dutcher — San Diego State
Even if it doesn’t seem possible, San Diego State could be better in ’20-21 than it was in ’19-20. A massively important draft decision awaits for point guard Malachi Flynn, who came over from Washington State to win Mountain West player of the year and lead the Aztecs to a 30-2 season.
If Flynn returns, SDSU is in business. Brian Dutcher brings in Cal State Northridge grad transfer Terrell Gomez, who tallied nearly 20 points a night last season while finishing fifth in the nation in made three-pointers (111 in 32 games). Also returning for the Aztecs are double-figure scorers Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, while SDSU hopes forward Nathan Mensah can come back after missing over half the season with a blood clot in his lung.
Fran McCaffery — Iowa
Assuming he returns, Luka Garza could be one of the biggest preseason favorites to win national player of the year in recent memory. The Iowa center averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting over 35 percent from deep in ’19-20.
Garza isn’t alone, though. Joe Wieskamp chips in 14 points a night and CJ Fredrick is in position for a breakout sophomore campaign after starting each of his 25 appearances in his first year. The health of Jordan Bohannon will be the key factor for Iowa’s season. Bohannon has battled injuries throughout his college career and was shut down after 10 games this past season. When healthy, Bohannon is one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters and would create an unstoppable inside-out combo with Garza.
Mark Few — Gonzaga
April 2021 could be a special month for Gonzaga fans, but it largely depends on what happens with the roster this summer. First off, Mark Few’s team is awaiting several pro decisions with starters Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi drawing next-level interest. Jalen Suggs — a consensus five-star recruit from the 2020 class — might skip college altogether and play overseas. None of these players are even locks to be drafted, though, which could be enough incentive for them to return to Spokane.
Elsewhere, Few’s staff has been all over the transfer market. Mike Smith, Matt Haarms, Jalen Tate, Charles Minlend, Drew Buggs and Jordan Bruner are among the laundry list of grad transfers who have already heard from Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have one more scholarship to work with, and it will almost certainly be spent on an impactful grad transfer. If everything goes to plan, Mark Few could have the preseason No. 1 team heading into November.
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.