This almost feels surreal to write, but the 2020-21 college basketball season is *knock on wood* four weeks away. It’s been as wild of an offseason as anyone could’ve imagined - from the tournament that never happened, to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility. Now, the fact that it’s almost November and we’re still waiting to see what team gets the steal of the draft in Saddiq Bey. But even with all the uncertainties, it appears we have a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a Nov. 25 start date.
In case you forgot, the 2019-20 season ended on a pretty high note for the ‘Cats. They finished the Big East regular season winning seven out of eight, including one of the most impressive wins of the season — over Seton Hall in Newark. The late season surge earned them a share of the Big East crown, extending their regular season run to six of the last seven titles. Jay Wright’s group will look to build off that momentum in what looks to be a very promising upcoming season.
Here’s five key storylines to follow for this year’s squad:
1. Collin Gillespie’s All-American Push
We’ve all heard this story before, but it really is incredible how far Collin has come since his days at Archbishop Wood. A low-end, three-star recruit coming out of high school, he has done nothing but silence the critics since day one. He was a contributor on the best college basketball team I’ve ever seen in 2018, and has taken a major step forward each year since. Last year as a junior, he averaged 15.1 points and 4.5 assists, but most importantly was a terrific leader for an inexperienced team. Gillespie comes into this year with All-Big East and preseason All-American buzz from CBS Sports and Blue Ribbon, and with Bey gone he could certainly wind up the leading scorer for this team. Regardless of the individual awards, he’ll be the floor general and the heart of the Wildcats. But yeah, individual awards are cool too.
2. How Ready is Bryan Antoine?
Last year wasn’t exactly the start we had envisioned for Bryan Antoine. The former top-20 recruit ended up being a non-factor in his first year on the Main Line. But we probably had unfair expectations, all things considered. After getting shoulder surgery the summer before his much anticipated freshman campaign, there was very little time to practice with the team before the start of the season. Jay eased him into a handful of games in the middle of the year but it was clear he wasn’t ready for the speed and physicality of the college game. We figured all he needed was a summer of Coach Shack and some more time to learn the system, but unfortunately 2020 hit. So what will Antoine look like in year two? He has the length, quickness, and athletic ability to be an important part of the rotation, but we just haven’t seen enough. And with the addition of Caleb Daniels, the emergence of Justin Moore, and expected improvement from Cole Swider and Brandon Slater, there might not be a ton of minutes to give.
3. What Should We Expect from Caleb Daniels?
I’m probably setting unrealistic expectations for the junior transfer from Tulane, but I really think this kid will have an immediate impact. There’s been a lot of praise from both the players and coaches about his ability to score (16.9 points per game in 2018-19), his ball handling, and his maturity. Nearly the same kind of another former sit-out transfer had - that guy on the Warriors who turned out to be a pretty good player. We won’t compare Daniels to Paschall by any means, but it just feels like he is going to be a bucket-getter for this team with his ability to shoot the three and create his own shots. If he can be a reliable fourth (?) scorer behind Gillespie, JRE, and Moore, look out. This team could be absolutely loaded offensively.
4. What Will the Rotation Look Like?
This year’s version of the ‘Cats will undoubtedly be the deepest since the 2018 campaign, but how will Jay Wright use his guys? We know Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will be locked in as starters and counted on as leaders for this team. Justin Moore - maybe the most pleasant surprise of last season - returns for his second year on campus and will likely start alongside Gillespie in the backcourt. But outside of those four it’s going to be fascinating to see how Jay uses the bench. He could go with experience - Brandon Slater has played meaningful minutes in big games, albeit not exactly making much of an impact. Cole Swider could shoot his way into the starting lineup, but his inability to guard on the other end probably limits his floor time. The aforementioned Antoine and Daniels will be competing for minutes, but there’s a lot of unknown with those two. Then we have the bigs, where I expect both Eric Dixon and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree to spell JRE’s minutes. Dixon has gotten some rave reviews after his redshirt freshman season, and of course DCR the respected senior captain.
5. The Season
The biggest storyline of the 2020-2021 season is, well, the season itself. As it stands now, the schedule looks strong. Aside from the Big East schedule set to start December 11th, we’ll play in a loaded Empire Classic featuring Boston College, preseason #2 Baylor, and #14 Arizona State. A matchup with #7 Virginia at MSG, a Big East-Big 12 challenge game at Texas, and the Big Five games (minus Penn) round out the non-conference. There will be limited fan attendance at some of these Pavilion home games. The big issue is being able to continue the season as planned. As we’ve seen with the MLB, NFL, and now college football, your next game is no guarantee. Can the Big East get through the conference schedule without any outbreaks and cancellations? Will we see games at the Wells Fargo Center? Is the Big East Tournament still a go? What about the big dance? We are just going to have to wait and see. But all I know is I’m ready to see the boys play, because this team is going to be GOOD.