- ESPN Insider college basketball contributor
- First began covering college hoops in 2004
- Has written for Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal
In an ordinary time, this ranking of next season’s top 25 players would be posted while confetti is still raining down on the winning team in the national championship game. This is no ordinary time, but we can still look ahead with hope.
Of course, even during regular times, looking ahead is tricky in early April. The players in question are still deciding what they’re going to do next season.
So, let’s keep this simple and make one big assumption. Based on projected draft order as determined by ESPN.com and on the comments and signals coming from players and coaches, I’ve come up with a list of 35 or so freshmen, sophomores and juniors I expect to leave early or who have declared for the NBA draft and hired an agent. We’ll just assume we won’t be seeing this group of players at the college level again.
Those players are: Precious Achiuwa, Cole Anthony, Saddiq Bey, Tyler Bey, Jared Butler, Vernon Carey Jr., Devon Dotson, Anthony Edwards, Josh Green, Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Haliburton, Elijah Hughes, Mason Jones, Tre Jones, Kira Lews Jr., Isaiah Livers, Nico Mannion, Tyrese Maxey, Jaden McDaniels, Aaron Nesmith, Zeke Nnaji, Jordan Nwora, Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro, Daniel Oturu, Immanuel Quickley, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Jalen Smith, Cassius Stanley, Isaiah Stewart, Xavier Tillman Sr., Obi Toppin, Devin Vassell, Kaleb Wesson, Patrick Williams and Robert Woodard II. None of the above are included in the rankings below.
It’s unlikely every single one of those guys will go pro, and we also might see some players listed below leaving the college ranks to take a shot at the next level.
In the meantime, here’s your way-too-early look at the top 25 players of 2020-21.
1. Luka Garza, Iowa Hawkeyes
When was the last time a national player of the year-type standout returned to school and played the next season? It has been a while. Tyler Hansbrough won the Wooden and Naismith awards in 2008, came back in 2008-09 and led North Carolina to a national title — but had to watch Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin take top individual honors that season.
Which brings us to Garza, who lost out on the Naismith award to Obi Toppin last week. Perhaps the Iowa star will even that score when the Wooden honors are announced. In any event, 6-foot-11 Garza combined volume with efficiency and was the only major-conference player in the nation to average at least eight made 2-pointers per contest. While it was common to knock his defense (and true, he’s not exactly fleet afoot on D), Garza’s individual numbers for blocks and defensive boards were commendable enough within a Hawkeyes defense that played (more or less by necessity) a good deal of zone.
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