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Andy Wittry | | November 9, 2020

36 breakout candidates for the 2020-21 men's basketball All-American teams

Andy Katz makes his first 2021 NCAA bracket prediction for March Madness

Nine of the 10 men's basketball consensus First Team or Second Team All-Americans from last season have moved on to the professional ranks, leaving Iowa senior Luka Garza as the only standout from the bunch to return to college.

That means the sport will experience near-complete turnover from an elite, individual talent standpoint compared to last season.

Gone are Marquette's Markus Howard, Seton Hall's Myles Powell, Oregon's Payton Pritchard and Dayton's Obi Toppin.

Replacing them are ... well, we'll have to wait to find out.

In an effort to identify potential breakout All-America candidates, I analyzed the last five consensus First Team and Second Team All-America teams, honing in on players who hadn't previously been a consensus first- or second-team honoree, in order to identify the kind of seasons All-Americans typically have the year before their All-America campaign.

There are 40 players who returned to college who became All-Americans during this time period, plus nine freshmen. Based on the analysis, here are some returning college basketball players who haven't been a consensus First or Second Team All-American who could potentially have a breakout All-America campaign in 2021, listed alphabetically by school:

University of Illinois Kofi Cockburn of the University of Illinois.
  • Arizona State: Remy Martin
  • Baylor: Jared Butler
  • Colorado: McKinley Wright IV
  • Creighton: Marcus Zegarowski
  • Dayton: Jalen Crutcher
  • Florida: Keyontae Johnson
  • Florida State: Devin Vassell
  • Gonzaga: Corey Kispert
  • Houston: Caleb Mills, Quentin Grimes
  • Illinois: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn (above)
  • Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis
  • Iowa: Joe Wieskamp
  • Kansas: Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett
  • LSU: Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart
  • Michigan: Isaiah Livers
  • NC State: Devon Daniels
  • Oklahoma: Austin Reaves, Brady Manek
  • Providence: David Duke
  • Rutgers: Ron Harper Jr.
  • San Diego State: Matt Mitchell
  • UCLA: Chris Smith
  • Utah State: Justin Bean
  • Villanova: Collin Gillespie
  • Virginia: Kihei Clark, Sam Hauser
  • West Virginia: Oscar Tshiebwe
  • Wisconsin: Nate Reuvers

Based on schools that were projected to make the 2020 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 through No. 12 seed, according to Bracket Matrix, and the statistical parameters I outline below.

Once the 2020-21 preseason AP poll is released, we might be able to whittle down that list of players, since in the last five seasons, 70 percent of the consensus First or Second Team All-Americans who were returning players played for a team that was ranked in the preseason.

The freshmen candidates

In the last five seasons, there have been nine freshmen who have been named a consensus First Team or Second Team All-American. Some of them have since become some of the brightest young stars in the NBA: Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson and Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young.

On average, that's 1.8 freshmen per year who have been a First or Second Team All-American in the last half-decade, and there have been as many as three in one season during that span — Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Trae Young in 2018.

If we're to project which one, two or three freshmen this season might be named an All-American next spring, here are some stats that could help.

Recent history tells us that freshmen who become All-Americans almost always play for teams that are ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 poll and often teams that are ranked in the top five in the preseason.

player school season preseason ranking
Vernon Carey Jr. Duke 2020 No. 4
RJ Barrett Duke 2019 No. 4
zion williamson Duke 2019 No. 4
deandre ayton Arizona 2018 No. 3
marvin bagley iii Duke 2018 No. 1
trae young Oklahoma 2018 NR
lonzo ball UCLA 2017 No. 16
malik monk Kentucky 2017 No. 2
ben simmons LSU 2016 No. 21

March Madness correspondent Andy Katz's preseason Power 36 rankings are headlined by Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Illinois and Iowa, while Virginia, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Creighton and Kansas are other schools that have appeared in the top five of various outlets' preseason rankings since the end of the 2019-20 season.

Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs, Kentucky's BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke, and Kansas's Bryce Thompson are the elite freshmen who play for teams in that potential preseason top-five group.

The team traits used to identify these players

Among the 40 returning college players who were a consensus First Team or Second Team All-American in the last five seasons, 62.5 percent of the time their team was ranked in the final AP poll during the previous season (25 of 40), 70 percent of the time their team was ranked in the preseason of their All-America season (28 of 40), and 87.5 percent of the time their school made the previous season's NCAA tournament (35 of 40).

Among the 35 All-Americans whose school made the previous season's NCAA tournament, their school's average seed in the tournament was 4.9, with more double-digit seeds (six) than No. 1 seeds (five).

It's not a secret that really good players often play for really good teams. Six of last season's 10 consensus First Team or Second Team All-America selections played for a team that finished among the top eight teams on

While the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled, we can use the aggregate of bracket projections from across the industry, courtesy of, in order to identify what teams could have a potential 2021 All-American on their roster.

The player production used

If we take a 10,000-foot view at player development and the career arcs of recent All-Americans, in the season before an All-America campaign, those soon-to-be breakout players average 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 29.8 minutes per game, while starting 86.6 percent of the games in which they played.

Twenty-five of the 40 players started every game they played in the season prior to their All-America season.

Put simply, most breakout All-America players come off of a season in which they played most of their team's available minutes, started the overwhelming majority of their team's games and averaged double-digit points per game for an NCAA tournament team.

If we take our analysis to the next level, by position, here's what recent breakout All-Americans (2016-20) averaged in the season before their All-America campaign. Scroll to the right to view the complete table.

Position Number % of games started minutes/game points/game rebounds/game assists/game
Guard 22 89.7% 32.2 15.1 4.3 3.9
Forward 14 78.5% 27.6 13.7 5.9 1.9
Center 4 98.4% 23.9 13.1 6.9 0.9

If we're to learn from the career trajectories of recent All-Americans, the data listed above tells us that centers who become All-Americans are likely to start almost all of their team's games in the season prior to their breakout season, even if their minutes-per-game isn't particularly high. Guards who become All-Americans likely play more than 30 minutes per game the season prior to their All-America campaign, while averaging roughly 15 points, four rebounds and four assists.

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The complete spreadsheet of my analysis is below. Scroll to view all the data.

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