What is certain to be an unsteady and unpredictable 2020-21 NCAA men’s basketball season will kick off this week for most teams, including 19 games scheduled for Wednesday that feature teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
COVID-19 is playing no favorites with the schedule-makers. Prognosticators and bookmakers have excuses for their early-season outlooks, as coaches and players are in catch-up mode after a mostly secluded offseason. Big-time programs — and all the rest — will be greeted by mostly empty arenas due to social distancing and other first-time health-safety protocols.
Coaches are already saying that the most important tests their players will take this semester might be those given by the medical staff, not teachers in a classroom.
Yes, bettors should be cautious about looking for any true locks in lockdown nation.
Where is that “No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed” level wager? Pennsylvania players don’t have to look far, for the only team in NCAA tournament history to do that is a mere 25 miles south of the state border at University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMB), who turned the trick a couple of years ago.
So maybe the next team to shock the nation will play in the Keystone State or next door in New Jersey. Surveying the programs in these areas set for this season turns up a few contenders outside of Villanova (ranked third nationally), which stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Following are capsules of each school, including their national ranking according to analyst Ken Pomeroy, and odds (if available) for the teams to win their conference titles. Division I teams’ odds of winning the National Title (from DraftKings Sportsbook) are also provided where applicable. For additional and updated odds, visit your favorite Pennsylvania sports betting apps.
A popular college basketball wager is total wins for the season. Given the rising number of regular-season tournament cancellations and the potential for canceled regular-season games, full consideration should go to the under on any win totals.
Note: The Patriot League (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lehigh) is not scheduled to begin until Jan. 2.
Pennsylvania college hoops
- -109 to win the Big East
- +600 to win the National Title (+950 at FanDuel Sportsbook)
- Ranked fourth nationally by KenPom
The Wildcats are positioned to seriously vie for their third national title since 2016. They return four double-digit scorers and eight of the top nine overall scorers from last year’s 24-7 campaign.
Reigning Big East Conference freshman of the year forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, guard Collin Gillespie, national attention-getter Justin Moore and former five-star prospect Bryan Antoine — now healthy enough to play after missing most of last season (shoulder) — lead the lineup.
Last year’s leading scorer Saddiq Bey was taken 19th overall by the Detroit Pistons in last week’s NBA Draft. Tulane guard transfer Caleb Daniels is now eligible.
- +30000 to win Big Ten
- +10000 to win National Title
- Ranked 64th
Talk about unsteady. Head coach Pat Chambers’ abrupt resignation one month before the 2020-21 season leaves the Nittany Lions in a tough spot. Chambers resigned after an internal investigation uncovered allegations of inappropriate conduct by Chambers toward players.
Penn State was coming off a breakout season (21-10), but the transition to life without Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins was already challenging enough even before former Duquesne coach Jim Ferry had to step in as the interim head man.
The backcourt, paced by junior Myreon Jones, will key the offense. Hard to believe, but the men’s hoops team could earn its first victory before the 0-5 football squad scores one of its own.
- +10000 to win Atlantic Coast
- +10000 to win National Title
- Ranked 84th
The Panthers, who haven’t had a winning conference record since 2013-14, were picked 13th out of 15 teams in the ACC. Last season, they tied for last in the league at 6-14.
Rebuilding Pitt returns important players Xavier Johnson (11.7 ppg, 4.9 apg), Justin Champagnie (12.7 ppg, 7 rpg) and Au’Diese Toney (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Talented transfer Nike Sibande, who scored more than 1,400 points in three seasons at Miami (Ohio), had his request for immediate eligibility denied.
- +5000 to win American Athletic
- +10000 to win National Title
- Ranked 147th
Picked last in the 11-team American Athletic Conference, the Owls must deal with the departure of their two best players (guards Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis) among four of the Owls’ top-five scorers no longer available.
Jake Forrester and De’Vondre Perry are leading returners, but neither has averaged 6 ppg during their careers. Guard Khalif Battle (Butler) and Sage Tolbert (Southeast Missouri State) are incoming transfers. Another is Dartmouth transfer grad student Brendan Berry, a prolific three-point shooter.
- +1000 to win Atlantic 10
- Ranked 75th
The Bonnies announced on Nov. 19 that a member of the program tested positive and began a 14-day mandatory quarantine. St. Bonaventure returns five starters from a team that went 19-12.
They will be led by inside-out duo Kyle Lofton (14.1 ppg, 6.1 apg) and Osun Osunniyi (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg). Three transfers will look to fit in: Jalen Adaway (Miami-Ohio) and juco players Eddie Creal and Jalen Shaw. Lofton will compete for the A-10 Player of the Year honors.
- +1500 to win Atlantic 10
- Ranked 84th
The Dukes bring four players back who averaged double digits in scoring. Marcus Weathers led the way with 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Dukes return all five starters and lose only one key piece from last season’s squad that won its first 10 games before falling off to a 21-9 final mark. Weathers (14.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Sincere Carry and Michael Hughes are key returners.
- +10000 to win Atlantic 10
- Ranked 150th
The Explorers are a young squad but do return last year’s leading scorer David Beatty (10.6 ppg), rebounder Ed Crosswell (7.3 rpg) and assist-maker Ayinde Hikim (3.4 apg). La Salle seeks a point guard but gets guard Jack Clark back after he missed all of last season with an injury. Indiana transfer Clifton Moore Jr. (nearby Ambler, PA) will provide an added punch to the frontcourt.
- +10000 to win Atlantic 10
- Ranked 161st
The Hawks have a star in guard Ryan Daly but are very young other than that. Daly led the team in scoring in 22 of 32 games a season ago (20.6 ppg overall), which included wins over UConn and Davidson. Their final mark, however, was 6-26, including 2-16 in the A-10. Having guard Taylor Funk (right-hand injury seven games into the season) for a full season will help. Incoming freshman Jadrian Tracey should see significant playing time.
- Ranked 227th
The Colonials’ debut in the Horizon League after 30 years competing in the Northeast Conference will have to wait. On Nov. 19, the team had to pause its practice schedule when a member of its program tested positive for COVID-19, postponing its season opener scheduled for Nov. 25 against NAIA’s Point Park University. Guard AJ Bramah (13 ppg, 7.9 rpg) leads a solid core of returning players.
- Ranked 162nd
The Dragons struggled to a 6-12 record in the Colonial Athletic Association and a 14-19 mark overall. But they do bring back each of their top three players, including double-double machine James Butler, star guard Camren Wynter and senior wing Zach Walton (12.2 ppg).
St. Francis (PA)
- Ranked 236th
The Red Flash is coming off back-to-back appearances in the Northeast Conference Championship (NEC), but will be hard-pressed to do so again. It lost its top two players (Keith Braxton and NEC Player of the Year Isaiah Blackmon). One or the other led the team in scoring in 28 of 32 games. Forward Miles Thompson (10.2 ppg) is the only returning double-digit scorer. It has been 30 years since the team last reached the NCAA tournament.
- Ranked 225th
The Leopards are picked to finish third in the Patriot League, which doesn’t begin its season until Jan. 2. The conference will play only on Saturdays and Sundays at sites TBD. The backcourt is the strength of this squad, led by Justin Jaworski (17.1 ppg, 86.7 FT%).
- Ranked 297th
Picked eighth in the 10-team Patriot League, the Mountain Hawks graduated their top two scorers from an 11-21 squad. They do return last year’s leading rebounder, Jeameril Wilson (10.6 ppg).
- Ranked 240th
The Bison are no longer the sure-thing, top-of-division contender in the Patriot League and will look to this season to build momentum with a young squad. Bucknell was 14-20 a season ago, failing to win three games in a row at any point. Forward John Meeks and guard Andrew Funk each averaged double figures last season.
NJ college hoops
- Ranked 27th
The Scarlet Knights are loaded with talent little known in the national press. Rutgers, coming off its first 20-win season in decades, ranks 20th in the country in returning minutes played. Only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg) is gone from its rotation. Enter the school’s top recruit in more than a decade, Cliff Omoruyi, a 6′ 10″ center ranked in the top 50 overall.
He and junior big man Myles Johnson give the team the strong frontcourt needed to battle in the Big Ten Conference. The physical, defense-minded Scarlet Knights return their entire backcourt, headed by leading scorer Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 ppg) and point guard Geo Baker, who hope to give the school its first NCAA tournament berth since 1991.
- Ranked 50th
The Pirates went into a mandatory 14-day quarantine on Nov. 11 after a member of their program tested positive for COVID-19. Seton Hall brings back experience even though it is without All-America first-teamer Myles Powell.
The Pirates lost scoring and size with the exits of Powell, guard Quincy McKnight and big man Romaro Gill, but they have upside entering the season with the addition of Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken. Meanwhile, senior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili should break out after averaging 11.9 points and 6 rebounds in 20 games last season; he then was considering entering the NBA draft.
- Ranked 182nd
The Hawks have a First-Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selection in Deion Hammond and return a large amount of their roster. Hammond led Monmouth in scoring (16.3 ppg) and three-pointers made (82) and scored in double figures 27 times for the Hawks (18-13). The losses of Ray Salnave, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder (transferred to DePaul) and leading rebounder Musta Traore present challenges. Keep an eye on guard Samuel Chaput.
- Ranked 284th
The Broncs are picked to finish last in the nine-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Out with the old and in with the new. The Broncs lost nine players from last year’s team and brought in 12 new players for this season. That’s a lot of players to figure out how to put into a rotation, but also a lot of talent to display in several positions.
Head Coach Kevin Baggett is high on his incoming talent and is now armed with a chip on his shoulder after being picked last in the preseason coaches’ poll. A step forward from Christian Ings and Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson will be crucial for Rider this season. Since becoming head coach, Baggett has never finished lower than seventh in the MAAC.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum