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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | November 24, 2020

College basketball 2020-21: The quick guide to an unusual season

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

The 2020-21 men's basketball season is still scheduled to culminate in a thrilling March Madness experience, but the season schedule will look a little different when games tip off Wednesday.

We've got you covered with some of the best early season events and tournaments and which teams and individual players project to be among the best in the country.

Here's your quick guide to the 2020-21 men's basketball season.

How this season's schedule is different

The first games of the 2020-21 men's basketball season tip off Nov. 25, which is delayed from the previously scheduled Nov. 10 start date. The first day of practice was Oct. 14 and no exhibitions or scrimmages will be held this fall. Teams can play up to 27 regular-season games and the Division I Council recommended a minimum of four non-conference games.

These are some of the best early tournaments and games

Many of this season's early season events and tournaments have changed their locations and dates. Here are some of the headlining events to watch in November and December. These, of course, are all subject to change, including cancellations and postponements. You can find the latest COVID-19 related schedule changes here.

THE TOP 25 TEAMS THAT PLAY ON WEDNESDAY

There are 16 ranked teams in action on the opening day of the season:

Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic – Sanford pentagon – Nov. 25-27, 2020

There are currently eight teams in this event:

  • Memphis
  • Northern Iowa
  • Saint Mary's
  • South Dakota State
  • Utah State
  • VCU
  • West Virginia
  • Western Kentucky

Empire Classic – Mohegan sun – Nov. 25-26, 2020

Originally, two national championship contenders — Baylor and Villanova — will headline this four-team event. However, Rhode Island is replacing Baylor after Bears elected not to travel to the tournament. On Sunday, Baylor head coach Scott Drew announced on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19. Associate Head Coach Jerome Tang will be the interim head coach. No. 18 Arizona State faces Rhode Island at 7 p.m. ET and No. 3 Villanova takes on Boston College at 9:30 p.m. 

Maui Invitational – Harrah's cherokee center – Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2020

This year's Maui Invitational will be held in Asheville, North Carolina, rather than Maui, but it will once again feature a loaded field with Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV. Here is the Maui bracket, schedule and history. Can you name the first Maui champion, from way back in 1984? That was Providence, which defeated Chaminade, 60-58.

Champions Classic – Cameron Indoor Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – Dec. 1, 2020

This event has traditionally helped kick off the entire college basketball season, but now it'll mark the first day of December. This year's matchups are Duke vs. Michigan State in Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kansas vs. Kentucky inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

CBS Sports Classic – Dec. 19, 2020

North Carolina will face Ohio State, and Kentucky will take on UCLA in this year's CBS Sports Classic.

Here are some of the top teams to watch

The preseason AP Top 25 poll was released in early November and for the first time ever, Gonzaga is the preseason No. 1 team, but No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Villanova and No. 4 Virginia also received at least one first-place vote. Here's an analysis of how the preseason AP poll predicts success. Here's the full AP top 25 with first-place votes in parentheses:

  • 1. Gonzaga (28)
  • 2. Baylor (24)
  • 3. Villanova (11)
  • 4. Virginia (1)
  • 5. Iowa
  • 6. Kansas
  • 7. Wisconsin
  • 8. Illinois
  • 9. Duke
  • 10. Kentucky
  • 11. Creighton
  • 12. Tennessee
  • 13. Michigan State
  • 14. Texas Tech
  • 15. West Virginia
  • 16. North Carolina
  • 17. Houston
  • 18. Arizona State
  • 19. Texas
  • 20. Oregon
  • 21. Florida State
  • 22. UCLA
  • 23. Ohio State
  • 24. Rutgers
  • 25. Michigan

Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Illinois and Iowa headline Andy Katz's preseason Power 36 rankings. The 'Zags and Bears were contenders for a No. 1 seed last season, while Villanova's seniors were role players on the Wildcats' 2018 national championship team and their 2020-21 squad could contend for a third title in five years. The Big Ten could be the country's deepest conference with three teams ranked in the top six of Katz's preseason Power 36, five in the top 15, seven in the top 20 and eight in the Power 36 overall.

If you're looking for which teams have the best chance of picking up where they left off last season, NCAA.com analyzed each team in Katz's preseason Power 36 based upon what percent of last season's minutes each team returns, as well as each team's offensive and defensive efficiency in February and March last season.

A handful of notable schools could have their best team in at least a decade, too. Some of the contenders include Rutgers, Howard, Arizona State, Illinois and Iowa.

These are potential All-America candidates

Remy Martin

Iowa senior Luka Garza is the only returning consensus First Team or Second Team All-American from last season, so you're likely to hear as much preseason and early season National Player of the Year buzz for Garza as anyone in the sport. If Garza can play at an All-America level again, that leaves nine open spots for the sport's returning players and newcomers to fill.

NCAA.com has analyzed what to look for in a potential breakout All-America candidate and you can read those criteria here.

Going alphabetically by school, Arizona State's Remy Martin (above), Baylor's Jared Butler, Dayton's Jalen Crutcher, Gonzaga's Corey Kispert, Illinois's Ayo Dosunmu, Viillanova's Collin Gillespie and West Virginia's Oscar Tshiebwe are just a handful of the players NCAA.com identified as preseason candidates who could make a jump to an All-America status. If you're curious who might put up the biggest scoring numbers this season, here are the top nine returning scorers from last season.

As far as potential standout freshmen go, Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs, Kentucky's BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke, and Kansas's Bryce Thompson are some of the talented freshmen who play for a team that could be ranked in the top-five in the preseason.

What are the March Madness dates I need to know?

If you want to start mapping out your spring, here are the key NCAA tournament dates to know. On Nov. 16, the NCAA announced it is relocating the 2021 NCAA Tournament preliminary sites to one location and that the NCAA is in preliminary discussions with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis.

Round Date
Selection Sunday March 14
First Four March 16-17
First/Second March 18 and 20
First/Second March 18 and 20
First/Second March 18 and 20
First/Second March 18 and 20
First/Second March 19 and 21
First/Second March 19 and 21
First/Second March 19 and 21
First/Second March 19 and 21
Sweet 16/Elite Eight March 25 and 27
Sweet 16/Elite Eight March 25 and 27
Sweet 16/Elite Eight March 26 and 28
Sweet 16/Elite Eight March 26 and 28
Final Four April 3 and 5

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