For this piece, I’ll utilize my current Top 10 rankings indicating the team’s “X-Factor” for next season. Last year, I did this in tweet form, labeling guys like Kai Jones, Adam Flagler, and Oumar Ballo the “key” for their respective teams. It’ll be a mix of roster makeup, potential lineup construction, what could be a weakness, or a player I project making a significant leap that could change the outlook of a team.
1.) Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga
When Nembhard announced his transfer last season, the initial plan had been to sit out for 2020-21–however, his waiver got approved, and eventually, every transfer became eligible by the NCAA. Nembhard started 16 of 32 games as Mark Few changed the lineup, putting Corey Kispert at the four, putting a three-guard lineup of Suggs-Nembhard-Ayayi on the floor. As the other two bolted for the NBA, Nembhard’s role is vastly more important than last season. Look, last season, Gonzaga played with house money! Nobody expected Nembhard to play a role until the NCAA started passing out waivers like candy. Now, the offense runs through Nembhard, who sported a lavish 4.4/1.2 AST/Turnover ratio last season, so the upswing in expectations won’t be an area of concern, but Nembhard must produce from the jump if the Zags championship run is on. Shooting is an area where Nembhard could sprout from “Valuable cog for a title contender” to “Legitimate All-American.” In three seasons (two at Florida, one at Gonzaga). The Candian guard brings Defense, Size, IQ, and passing ability, leaving shooting as the main snuggled that limits Nembhard’s output.
2.) Marcus Carr, Texas
6’1 Point Guard
Firstly, the Longhorns are my second-ranked team in the country, based on the unreal talent and Chris Beard. Secondly, picking the X-Factor wasn’t easy, considering many unknowns coming to this Texas team. The “unknowns” are the crazy amount of gifted transfers entering the program. Carr filled up the stat sheet at Minnesota during his two seasons there, but two issues were evident: lack of efficiency and lack of winning. Both forced Carr to play hero ball at times, especially last season, due to injury issues for the Gophers and lack of shooting. Carr could catapult the Longhorns into being the top team in the country with his mix of scoring, underrated passing, and leadership. Coach Beard isn’t known for his offensive chops, but the senior guard from Canada could be the best scorer he’s coached.
3.) Jaden Ivey, Purdue
This one is clear-cut. Ivey, a player I liken to be a contender for National Player of the year, could bring Purdue to their first Final Four, but Purdue won’t be in that conversation if they’re 6-foot-4 burgeoning superstar doesn’t breakout. Ivey is a tremendous asset on both ends of the floor, always active on the defensive end, constantly blowing past defenders on the offensive end. For Ivey, picking his spots better is paramount — when driving right by a guard, instead of driving against a rim-protector at the bucket, pass out the perimeter. There isn’t a more prominent “breakout superstar” in America than Purdue’s gifted guard.
4.) Myles Johnson, UCLA
UCLA lacked a defense anchor at the rim last season. Cody Riley is skilled offensively but lacks on defense. Do you know who doesn’t lack on defense? Incoming Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson blocked 2.4 shots per game while sporting a dazzling 5.7 defensive box plus-minus, who now assumes a sizeable role for Mick Cronin. The vision of Drew Timme slicing and dicing his way for 25 points in the Final Four sits in the nightmares of Bruins fans everywhere that’ll be less of a worry next season as Johnson’s a premier defender. Johnson will be on the floor late in games when the Bruins try closing out victories.
5.) DeVante Jones, Michigan
The 6-foot-2 senior won Sun Belt player of the year following a season averaging 19 points, seven rebounds, three assists, prompting Coastal Carolina to an 18-win season. It’s not unfamiliar territory for Juwan Howard needing a graduate transfer point guard — last time Columbia’s Mike Smith filled the void graciously. Jones possesses a 6-foot-6 wingspan, provides peskiness on the defensive end, making him a difference-maker in Ann Arbor. Outside of Jones, Michigan doesn’t have any veteran guards on the roster as Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins, and Zeb Jackson have sky-high potential, however, they’re all inexperienced at this level. The veteran Jones only shot 33.6 percent from three during his three years in College; looking ahead, Michigan’s talent level is far bigger than Coastal Carolina, which should allow Jones to score on lesser volume, and take on a facilitating first role.
6.) Remy Martin, Kansas
Seeing a player of Remy Martin’s pedigree was surprising — an All-Conference high-major player leaving a school where he’s beloved by fans doesn’t happen regularly. Still, Martin fills a need that killed the Jayhawks last season. Lack of playmaking and scoring halted Kansas’s offense last season as Marcus Garrett struggled running the strings on offense. The Jayhawks point guard won’t have to shoulder the scoring load he did during his days in Tempe — the question is, can Martin be a facilitator who makes teams better rather than having a score-first mentality. If the exciting play of Martin leads to victories, Kansas could be cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
7.) Bryan Antoine, Villanova
The college career of Antoine hasn’t gone to plan throughout his first two seasons — widely regarded as a top-15 recruit, expectations were lofty. These past two seasons, injuries have been a thorn in Antoine’s side, but brighter days are ahead. The 6-foot-5 athletic guard could form into a key player for Villanova — Should the explosiveness once showed off during his high school days returns, Antoine could contribute to a national title-contending team.
8.) N’Faly Dante, Oregon
Dante, similarly to Antoine, had massive expectations entering College but hasn’t lived up to them as of yet. Dante reclassified into 2019 from 2020, enrolling late made him ineligible until the second semester of the season, which didn’t bring the early-season experience many freshmen have. Oregon having upperclassmen across the board didn’t help get Dante in the mix either. Only eight games into the 2020-21 season, Oregon’s starting center tore an ACL, ending his season before conference play. Now healthy following the injury, Dante’s mixture of length and athleticism makes him dangerous at the basket for Dana Altman, but playing time isn’t guaranteed — Oregon has two other top-40 recruits, Franck Kepnang (2020), Nate Bittle (2021). Dante rounding into form could put a strong Oregon team on another level.
9.) C.J. Fredrick, Kentucky
The Wildcats typically don’t have elite shooting teams, despite the consistent success excluding last season. Iowa transfer C.J. Fredrick makes a massive difference, widely regarded as a top shooter in the nation, shooting 46.6 percent from deep in two years in Iowa City. The consistency Fredrick shows with his shooting keeps the defense on their heels because of his ability to make shots and is exquisite at moving defenders on shot-fakes. When Fredrick dealt with foot injuries last season, Iowa went on a losing streak, which shows how valuable having a pure shooter on the floor is. Fredrick’s struggled to stay healthy thus far in College, missing game in both college seasons due to leg issues that got repaired last month.
10.) Lester Quinones, Memphis
Defensive is Quinones’s calling card, whether it’s shutting down Quentin Grimes, Tyson Etienne, or D.J. Stewart — it’s been showcased on numerous occasions how game-changing his defense can be. There’s unlimited attention for Penny Hardaway’s squad as assistant coaches Rasheed Wallace and Larry Brown join the staff, five-star recruit Jalen Duren committed last week, and Emoni Bates should announce his decision soon. Quinones brings winning plays, energy, rebounding, defense, and shooting are areas where his game succeeds. Lack of point guards could be problematic for the Tigers as Damion Baugh and Boogie Ellis left, forcing Quinones into playing the point sporadically.