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Three Teams to Watch: NCAA Basketball Picks and Predictions

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Three Teams to Watch: NCAA Basketball Picks and Predictions
Luka Garza #55 of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

Is college basketball in danger of never hitting the hardwood in 2020-21, canceling another March Madness for bettors?

Never in all of my years did I imagine there’d come a time when college sports were completely shut down, as they’ve been for the last five months. We already know that, at best, we’re going to have a watered-down version of football after the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced their schools wouldn’t hit the gridiron, and college hoops is very much up in the air and in danger of seeing a second consecutive NCAA Men’s Tournament missed.

If that sounds as impossible to you as it does to me, imagine how very real the absence of bracket mania come next March must be for someone like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. The longtime Blue Devils head coach noted in an interview recently just how devastating it would be financially for the NCAA to cancel the 2021 dance, scheduled currently to conclude with the Final Four in Indianapolis early next April

The Pac-12 has already said it wouldn’t begin playing basketball until January 1, and the uncertainty of it all has forced Bookmaker and other top online sportsbooks to hold off on taking action on the season. NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt says an announcement will be made in mid-September regarding when the season can begin. Whatever date that is, teams can crank up practices six weeks (42 days) before. Assuming there is a season, three teams I’m keen on following are Iowa, Baylor, and Gonzaga. 

In Luka, I Trust

No conference took a bigger hit with the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament than the Big Ten. The league was poised to send 10 of its 14 members into the bracket and will have three teams entering this season – whenever it’s played – as top 10 caliber squads. One of those is the Iowa Hawkeyes who have their best shot since 1980 to reach the Final Four.

The best news Fran McCaffrey received the past five months was that center Luka Garza would return to lead the Hawkeyes in their quest for not only a Big Ten title but a national title. One of five finalists for last year’s Naismith Award, the 6-11 senior is coming off a season in which he became the first player since 1994 to average at least 26 PPG in Big Ten tilts, and scored 20+ in an Iowa-record 18-straight conference games.

It won’t be just a 1-man show for the Hawkeyes with contributors like Jordan Bohannon, CJ Frederick and the coach’s son, Connor McCaffery, surrounding Garza. The Hawkeyes were one of the most efficient teams offensively a year ago, and made plenty of friends with bettors by covering the NCAA basketball odds in 20 of their 31 games.

Guard Jared Butler #12 of the Baylor Bears. John E. Moore III/Getty Images/AFP

Don’t Sleep On The Bears

For a very brief time this past spring, there were come college basketball futures to look at in advance of the 2020-21 season. Many of those odds were set prior to early NBA Draft decisions finalized by players, and ranking right up there with the sport’s blue bloods were the Baylor Bears, fresh off a season in which they were projected to claim a No. 1 seed at the dance.

The two names Scott Drew was concerned with were Jared Butler and Macio Teague, and Baylor’s top two scorers from a year ago ultimately decided to return to Waco for another season. The pair could form the nation’s top backcourt tandem. They’ll be joined in a deep backcourt by Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, and the Bears will also have Tristan Clark and Freddie Gillespie in the post.

The Few, The Proud, The Zags

Though they don’t qualify as one of college basketball’s blue bloods, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been perennial favorites long enough to shuck their small school image. Mark Few had the Bulldogs poised for a No. 1 seed this past March and will be ranked among the preseason favorites once again despite losing three key contributors.

Gonzaga led the nation in scoring by a wide margin, with Duke second and nearly five points a game behind, and there’s no question that Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder, and Filip Petrusev contributed heavily to the Bulldogs being darlings on the free college basketball picks circuit. That trio will be missed, but Few still has major talent to get the school over the hump for its first National Championship.

Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and Joel Ayayi form the returning nucleus for Gonzaga to pick up where it left off. By the end of the season, however, it could be Jalen Suggs who emerges as the true star. Ranked as one of the top 10 guards in the 2020 high school class, the 5-star recruit will also be joined by Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook to add depth to the Bulldogs.