Stuckey: The Three College Basketball Futures I Bet for the 2020-21 Season
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Ayo Dosunmu.
We are one day away from the start of the college basketball season, which will amazingly tip off at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The primary storyline ahead of the season is very similar to what we saw prior to the start of college football: uncertainty due to COVID-19 complications. We’ve already seen games canceled, and I expect to see many more throughout this unprecedented season. It’s a lot easier for a football team to play once a week outdoors without a handful of guys than it is for a college basketball team.
That said, I think continuity may end up being extremely valuable. Teams like Kentucky and Duke, which reload with five-star freshmen each season, not only had an interrupted offseason but will also start later than usual and won’t have as many live games leading up to March in order to build chemistry and gain invaluable experience.
With so much uncertainty surrounding this season and whether or not we will even finish the season (fingers crossed), I don’t want to tie up too much money in the college basketball futures market, so I decided to roll with just three teams for a total of two units. That doesn’t mean I won’t add during the season — and if I do, you all will be the first to know.
As always, please make sure you shop around for the best futures price as they can differ (sometimes significantly) depending on the book.
The Primary Horse
Illinois 16-1 (PointsBet)
Total risked: 1.25 units
I think I’m higher on the Illini than just about everybody heading into the season. It all obviously starts with the inside-out duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, who each decided to pull out of the NBA Draft to come back for this season. Dosunmu is one of the best point guards in all of college basketball, and Cockburn is an absolute monster down low whose overall game has continued to progress over time. That’s as good of a duo as you will find in college basketball this year.
The continuity and experience should also be there as Illinois returns three other additional contributors in addition to Ayo and Kofi.
- Senior Da’Monte Williams is your ideal role player who really does a little bit of everything. Plus, he actually started to make some outside jumpers toward the end of last season. And outside shooting was the primary weakness of the Illini in 2019. They shot just 30.3% from beyond the arc, which ranked outside the top 300 nationally.
- Senior Trent Frazier returns for his fourth year as a starter. He struggled at times with his outside shot and finding where he fits with Dosunmu, but we know the 3-point shooting is there. If Frazier can duplicate the 40% clip we saw in 2018-19, that will provide an enormous boost to this Illini offense.
- Junior Giorgi Bezhanishvili is also back in the mix. He has started 56 games over the past two seasons but will likely come off the bench this year, which I think is a perfect role for the high-energy Georgian. He also couldn’t have played any worse offensively last year. I lost count of the amount of missed open layups, so expect an increase in production for the big man who shot 42.9% from the floor just one year after finishing at 54.2%.
Those are three upperclassmen who had down years offensively last season as they tried to figure out where they fit offensively with Dosunmu and Cockburn dominating the touches. I expect better performances from each this year for an Illini team that also seemed to figure out late last year that its offense worked best when it went smaller around Cockburn to open up space.
Illinois also has three promising additions who could contribute right away this year and address their primary need of outside shooting:
- Adam Miller is a top-50 recruit who brings a smooth lefty jumper, which is exactly what the Illinois offense needs on the perimeter, especially if Frazier and Williams can’t find their range. And from a chemistry standpoint, Miller and Dosunmu were ex-high school teammates who won a state championship together in 2018.
- Austin Hutcherson transfers in from D3 Wesleyan University. He also adds much-needed shooting. Plus, he’s versatile and athletic enough for a D3 player to not cause any concerns on the defensive end. If he can stay healthy (dealing with some back issues), he could be the missing piece on offense.
- Brad Underwood will have another promising transfer in Jacob Grandison, who came in from Holy Cross after leading the Crusaders in scoring two seasons ago. The junior guard can do a little bit of everything and has the ability to help stretch the floor.
- Andre Curbelo is another top-50 recruit, who could provide nice depth at point guard.
Bottom line, I love this team. I have the Illini as a top-10 preseason team with many of the intangibles that could make all of the difference in 2020, especially since many of the other top teams have questions when it comes to experience and continuity.
In a year when there’s no elite team head-and-shoulders above the rest, Illinois can cut down the nets. It has two top-25 players who will play at the next level with the necessary other pieces.
I think this team can make a run to the Final Four for the third time in the past 50 years. Its previous two trips came in 1989 and then 16 years later in 2005. Let’s hope 16 is the lucky number in Champaign and we can toast to another come March 2021.
Lowest price I’d go: 15-1
Arizona State 35-1 (DraftKings/PointsBet)
Total risked: 0.5 units
This is more of an upside play after potentially the best recruiting class in Arizona State program history. Bobby Hurley brought in both Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley, who could give the Sun Devils one of the most potent backcourts in America.
Christopher is a five-star shooting guard who many had as one of the top-10 incoming freshman. He dominated in Nike EYBL games earlier in 2020 and should start right away for Hurley. He’s just a massive get for ASU. He makes up one of the best backcourts in the country with Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, who both came back to school after pondering a jump to the NBA.
And I didn’t even mention Holland Woods, who was granted eligibility after transferring from Portland State, where he led the team in points (17.7), assists 5.2) and steals (2.1). He should fit right in with what Hurley wants to do. Unfortunately, he also struggles to shoot from the outside like too many of the other Sun Devils.
And Bagley, the brother of NBA player Marvin, is a combo guard/forward four-star who could give Arizona State a desperately needed outside shooting threat a year after it shot just 32% from deep.
Guards win in March, and ASU certainly has the talent on the perimeter, especially if Bagley and Christopher live up to the hype. We know ASU can defend, and we know it will force opponents to play at its up-tempo style. If a few more shots can drop from the perimeter and the pieces all fit together, this will be a team nobody wants to face in March.
Lowest price I’d go: 30-1
St. Louis 100-1 (DraftKings/PointsBet)
Total risked: 0.25 units
Those who follow me on Twitter probably aren’t surprised by this one. I loved this St. Louis team last year and backed it to win the A-10 tournament. After trending up toward the end of last season, the Billikens had a really good chance of making the tournament, where they could’ve given teams fits with their physical, bullying style. Just ask Dayton about their meetings last year.
Just like Arizona State and Illinois, St. Louis had two players who tested the NBA waters before deciding to return to school. Senior guard Jordan Goodwin is the do-it-all leader of the team, and senior power forward Hasahn French is a force in the paint. Both Goodwin and French actually averaged a double-double last year.
There are also other returning pieces to be excited about:
- Senior Javonte Perkins comes off the bench and provides immediate scoring. He’s just a bucket-getter that finished second on the team in scoring (15.0) last year.
- Yuri Collins averaged over 30 minutes per game as a freshman point guard. If he can clean up some of the turnover issues, expect a major jump in efficiency in his sophomore campaign.
- Another sophomore to get excited about is Gibson Jimerson, who only played in 10 games before suffering a season-ending injury. He might be the missing piece on this offense that really struggles with outside shooting. Jimerson shot 42.9% from 3-point land and eclipsed the 20-point mark in two of those 10 games.
- Junior guard Fred Thatch returns after playing in only six games last year. If nothing else, he’ll provide more depth to a team that didn’t have much last year.
Outside of mainstays French and Goodwin, St. Louis had a ton of new pieces in the fold last season. You could see the growth toward the end of last year, and I think that continues into this year for this senior-laden bunch.
We know Travis Ford has a team that can defend and rebound at an elite level. If the offense continues to progress, this is a scary team that might be among the most physical in all of college basketball.
Let’s just hope French and Goodwin practiced their free throws in the offseason. Last year, St. Louis finished 353rd out of 353 teams in free throw shooting percentage at 57.2%, primarily due to Goodwin and French, who have the ball so frequently. Goodwin finished at 53.8% and French at an absurdly low 32.9%. Any improvement in that area will provide a nice boost for a team that will likely find itself in plenty of grinders.
The A-10 is a very intriguing conference this season with a number of teams you could argue deserve to be preseason favorites. That team for me is St. Louis, so I’ll take a flier on the Billies.
Lowest price I’d go: 100-1