The unknowns of an upcoming college basketball season are usually the best part of the college basketball season. Which previous unknown players will become stars? Which teams will come out of nowhere to win their conference? Fun surprises, y’know?
The unknowns of the 2020-21 college hoops season are much more sobering, as the start of the season has already been blemished by high-profile positive COVID tests and postponed/canceled contests. So, everything that follows is said with the idea — the hope, really — that we will actually have a somewhat normal college hoops season, even though that’s far from certain.
With that in mind, here are the Sporting News’ first, second and third-team preseason All-Americans, as chosen by Hall of Fame writer Mike DeCourcy.
College basketball All-Americans: First team
Luka Garza, C, Iowa
Last year’s stats: 23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 54.2 FG shooting, 35.8 3-point shooting
Why he’s here: Garza is here because picking the 2019-20 Sporting News Player of the Year as a member of the 2020-21 Sporting News All-America First Team squad is the easiest of easy decisions. And, just to make official what was probably pretty obvious, Garza is also the 2020-21 Sporting News preseason player of the year. That, too, was an easy choice. His improvement from “solid big man” to “best player in the country” from his sophomore to junior season was pretty amazing, and it’s easy to see why his senior year could be off-the-charts good. Don’t be confused by how he’s rated in mock drafts — most have him as second-rounder — because he’s going to absolutely dominate at the college level again this year.
Jared Butler, G, Baylor
Last year’s stats: 16.0 ppg, 3.1 apg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 spg, 38.1 3-point shooting
Why he’s here: If there’s an “easy” way to make a preseason All-America team, it’s this: Be the best player on a team that’s ranked in the top three of pretty much every preseason poll. Simple, right? Butler led the Bears in scoring last year as a sophomore and considered jumping to the NBA, but opted to come back to Waco for what could be a special season for Scott Drew’s squad.
Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Last year’s stats: Freshman in 2020-21
Why he’s here: He’s just a ridiculous talent — a 6-7 point guard who topped pretty much every recruiting ranking — and a huge get for Cowboys coach Mike Boynton. Cunningham could have jumped to pro ball in some fashion after Oklahoma State learned it wouldn’t be able to participate in the 2021 NCAA Tournament because of a postseason ban, but he chose to stay at school and play for the Cowboys. That’s great news for college basketball fans. Cunningham, if things go as expected, will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Remy Martin, G, Arizona State
Last year’s stats: 19.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 43.2 FG shooting
Why he’s here: Martin’s career at Arizona State has been a joy to watch, as the 6-foot guard has evolved to handle different roles during his first three seasons with the Sun Devils. He was a vital but complementary piece as a freshman on a veteran team, a facilitator with an increased scoring role as a sophomore and then a primary scoring option who teams designed game plans around as a junior. As a senior? He’s a first-team AA choice who is one of the favorites to be Pac-12 player of the year.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Villanova
Last year’s stats: 10.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, 45.4 FG shooting
Why he’s here: He’s not Villanova’s leading returning scorer — that’s Collin Gillespie, at 15.1 per game — but Robinson-Earl is poised for one of those huge freshman-to-sophomore leaps, in terms of both impact and production. His decision to return to Villanova was huge for the Wildcats, who went from could-be title contender to legit title contender with that news. He’s a 6-9 big man capable of stepping out beyond the 3-point line — he made 21 last year — and being a monster inside, both with rebounds and points.
College basketball All-Americans: Second team
Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton
Last year’s stats: 16.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, 48.8 FG shooting, 42.4 3-point shooting
Why he’s here: Last season, Zegarowski and Ty-Shon Alexander (16.9 ppg) teamed up to give opponents fits, and with Alexander now in the NBA — he wasn’t drafted but signed with the Suns — don’t be surprised to see Zegarowski’s numbers tick up for his junior season. He’s coming off knee surgery that ended his 2019-20 season; he almost certainly wouldn’t have been back for the NCAA Tournament. He was named the Big East preseason player of the year.
Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
Last year’s stats: 16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 48.4 FG shooting
Why he’s here: This could be the best Illinois team since the Dee Brown/Deron Williams era, and Dosunmu is the primary reason for those types of hopes and expectations. His scoring was up his sophomore year — from 13.8 to 16.6 — and though his overall shooting numbers were better, his long-range shooting (just 29.6 from 3-point range last season) still left some room for improvement. And if he does improve from deep, he could easily wind up on the first team by midseason and after the year.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, F, Indiana
Last year’s stats: 13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 56.6 FG shooting
Why he’s here: Jackson-Davis was better than most expected as a freshman at IU, and that’s no easy task for a kid picked as Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. But his production was a big reason why the Hoosiers were a solid NCAA Tournament team before the event was scratched last spring; that trip to the Big Dance was anything but a lock last preseason. This year, expectations are higher — he was considered a bit of a project as a freshman — and if Jackson-Davis again exceeds them, this Hoosiers team could easily be the best of the Archie Miller era.
B.J Boston, G/F, Kentucky
Last year’s stats: Freshman in 2020-21
Why he’s here: The top-ranked player in Kentucky’s incoming class, Boston is a lights-out scorer who could lead the Wildcats in scoring regularly. He has all the components you’d expect from an elite prospect — great athleticism, scoring touch, knack for the big moments and excellent production against strong prep competition. Making the jump to college ball will be a challenge this season — the summer schedule for college players was anything but normal during the pandemic — but Boston should make the transition as seamlessly as any.
Marcus Garrett, G, Kansas
Last year’s stats: 9.2 ppg, 4.6 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 spg, 44.2 FG shooting
Why he’s here: With stars Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike on the floor for the Jayhawks last season, shots could be hard to come by for, really, anyone else in a KU uniform. But they’re gone, and this year Garrett’s offensive numbers figure to take a jump. Defensively, he’s as good as anyone in the sport. He’s been a high-impact player for the Jayhawks for three years now, but the opportunity to score more could finally get Garrett into conversations for overall postseason teams/awards.
College basketball All-Americans: Third team
Chris Smith, G, UCLA
Last year’s stats: 13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 45.8 FG shooting, 34.1 3-point shooting
Why he’s here: Smith, a 6-9 guard, had a breakthrough junior season for the Bruins that resulted in first-team Pac-12 honors and also the league’s most improved player award. He toyed with the idea of jumping to the NBA but decided to return to college for his senior season.
Matthew Hurt, Duke
Last year’s stats: 9.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 48.7 FG shooting, 39.3 3-point shooting
Why he’s here: Hurt has reportedly put much-needed extra muscle and bulk on his 6-9 frame, and though it feels like every player says that every season, it’s especially important for that to be true for Hurt, who often struggled to see consistent minutes as he was pushed around on the court during his freshman year. The talent is there, and he has good touch from deep — you see that 3-point percentage close to 40 — and the opportunity is, too. All three of the Duke players who averaged more points than Hurt are in the NBA, and even though the Blue Devils have plenty of talented newcomers who will be vying for shots, Hurt’s numbers could take a big jump this season.
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga
Last year’s stats: 9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 62.1 FG shooting
Why he’s here: The Zags are loaded with talent, which is why they’re Sporting News’ preseason No. 1 team — and why they occupy the top spot for most other rankings, too. Timme might not be the most obvious choice for a Bulldogs player to make an All-America team — Corey Kispert averaged 13.9 points last season and freshman Jalen Suggs is the program’s highest-rated recruit ever — but if the Zags are going to finish the season in the top spot, they’ll need the 6-10 Timme to play like an All-American, dominating in the post. And, yeah, he’s very capable of doing just that.
Yves Pons, G/F, Tennessee
Last year’s stats: 10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 48.9 FG shooting
Why he’s here: As a freshman at UT, Pons averaged a hair over five minutes per game, and he just edged more than 11 minutes a contest as a sophomore. But his junior year was stellar; Pons not only became an effective scorer, but he was a dynamic defensive presence. A 6-6 guard/forward, Pons averaged 2.35 blocks per game. According to the NCAA stats, he was one of only two players listed under 6-7 in the country in the top 75 in blocks per game.
James Bouknight, G, UConn
Last year’s stats: 13.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg,
Why he’s here: A 6-5 guard, Bouknight needed a bit of time to adjust to the college level, but showed during conference play why his overall freshman numbers are a bit deceiving. Look at his 10-game stretch from Feb. 1 through March 5, when he averaged 18.7 points per game and had three games with a FG percentage of 64.3 percent or above.