Five teams who could end lengthy NCAA Tournament droughts in 2020-21

Rutgers guard Geo Baker (0) celebrates after hitting a three-point shot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Seton Hall, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights:

No, It’s not cheating because there was no NCAA Tournament last season. The Scarlet Knights technically did not make it. Now, it’s time to end the drought that has gone on for 30 years. 1991 was the last season Rutgers made the tournament, that should change this season. While Rutgers isn’t a top-tier Big Ten squad, they certainly will compete at a high level and should make the tournament. Steve Pikiell is building something special down in Piscataway, NJ. With the underrated force of Ron Harper Jr, being the best player on the team, the versatility of Harper is vital to this team. He can play and defend 2-4, although I prefer him at the four, he excels at all of those spots. There’s so much to like about Harper Jr’s game solid scorer at the rim, but not his biggest strengths shot 34% from three with top-notch defense. The only thing I would change in his game is to be a little more physically going to the hoop leading to drawing more fouls. He can easily shot more than 2.9 Free-Throws per-game. The lead guard and the guy who has the ball in his hands late is Geo Baker. The Senior guard enters his final season at Rutgers having averaged 10+PPG in all three seasons. Dealing with injuries off-and-on last season limited Baker’s ability to be the bonafide star he could have been, but he was still quite the solid player last season. Baker averaged 10.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game while shooting 39% from-the-field, 28% from three. That three-point percentages number doesn’t show how good of a shooter he is. Baker shot 34% from deep in 2018-19, and 36% in 2017-18, I think he lands somewhere in the mid-30s this season. Myles Johnson being a steady piece down-low, very efficient scorer at 60% with elite defense. Johnson has one glaring issue, he cannot make free-throws, he only shot 36% from the charity stripe last season, that just cannot continue, he just has to make more of them. Caleb McConnell has a shot to develop into more than just being another decent piece, the 6’7 G/Wing, McConnell is a great defender but isn’t quite there on offense just yet. He averaged 6 points per game but only shot 41% from-the-field, 29% from three, I think all of that can improve this season and McConnell has a bright future in the Big Ten. Adding the top recruit in Rutgers’ history in Clifford Omoruyi, who decided to stay home in New Jersey and play for Coach Pikiell. He’s a very strong, big force down-low, facing smaller defenders should allow him to get easy baskets at the rim, along with just simply having great defensive tools himself, which will lead to a good first season for Omoruyi. When Rutgers lured Steve Pikiell to Rutgers from Stony Brook, this is the type of thing they would’ve dreamed of, especially with how difficult the past two decades have been for the program.

Penn State Nittany Lions:

I wasn’t sure whether to include Penn State or not due to the drought only being Ten Years, but they’re far from a lock to make it this season so I figured the Nittany Lions should be added. After a season in which Penn State would have been wearing their home jerseys in the NCAA Tournament, they lose the services of star forward, Lamar Stevens, steady center Mike Watkins, and sharpshooter Curtis Jones Jr. This season, one of the biggest up-and-coming stars in the nation with Myreon Jones, Pat Chambers squad looks to be very underrated. Jones averaged 13.3 points per game as a Sophomore while shooting 40% from three last season. With Lamar Stevens having graduated, he’ll be the new face of the team. Myles Dread is now a Junior, he’s had quite a tumultuous career for Penn State. Some games he looks like a future star, and some games he struggles mightily, if he improves on consistency, watch out. The big problem for this team is the post play, losing Watkins and Stevens who could very effectively play in the post, the only true post player on the roster with experience is John Harrar. They’ll need Harrar to be a steady force along with Freshman, Abdou Tsimbila who’s joining the squad this season. The Nittany Lions will be a bubble team, but one that will be knocking on the door of the tournament all season.

Furman Paladins:

Bob Richey’s squad has a very good team once again that’ll be sharing blows with UNCG all season, I think both very well could make the tournament #2BIDSOCON. It’s been since 1980 that the Paladins made the Big Dance. This season, they are returning three of their big four from 2019-20, a roster of Clay Mounce, Mike Bothwell, and Noah Gurley should make for a good season, although losing Jordan Lyons is a tough blow. Mounce is the Paladins best player, he’s a 6’7″ big who can pull out and shoot three’s at a 39% clip. Mounce averaged 13.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game with a staggering 51% from-the-field. Mounce looks to be the best Big-Man in the SOCON this season, and if it weren’t for UNC Greensboro’s Isaiah Miller, Mounce would have his name squarely in the running for Southern Conference POTY. Mike Bothwell had 10 points per game last season, he shot 49% from-the-field, 37% from three, it’s hard to find that many guards that will give you that kind of efficiency. Speaking of efficient players, they have just that in Noah Gurley, the leading returning scorer from last season averaged 14 points per game while shooting 53% from-the-field, and 40% from three. When your three best players show that kind of shot-making ability it’ll be hard to match up with that. The supporting with those three will be headed by Alex Hunter then you have Jalen Slawson, Jaylon Pugh, and Colin Kenney. Hunter is a good player and is the main ball-handler for the Paladins, led the team with 3.7 assists last season. The other starter will likely be Jalen Slawson, who averaged 6.9 points, and 5.1 rebounds per game last season. The bench won’t be great but if they can fill 10-15 minutes when needed without completely faltering this Furman team has a great chance to be playing late into March.

Boston College Eagles:

This is another team that’ll likely be firmly on the bubble for much of the season. Getting a healthy Wynston Tabbs back who missed all of last season, along with Jay Heath could make for one of the more lethal guard duos in the ACC. Along with super glue-guy, Steffon Mitchell who provides so much to a team, elite defender, good passer, decent enough scorer, and could very well be a first-team All-ACC player this season. Jim Christian’s squad did receive some unfortunate news this past week though, Southern Utah graduate transfer Andre Adams suffered an injury and is out for this season. The other transfers being added will play solid roles though, Rich Kelly is a guard out of Quinnipiac. Kelly averaged 16.7 points per game a game last season for the Bobcats while shooting 39% from deep and 89% from the charity stripe, if he can provide that kind of shooting production he will play a solid role for this team in 2020-21. They have the Langford brothers coming, Makai Ashton-Langford, a transfer from Providence, and DeMarr Langford an incoming Freshman. Those two will play some minutes we’ll have to see how many though. It was unsure if Lehigh transfer, James Karnik would apply for a waiver but it appears as if he will with the injury of Andre Adams. The last transfer to bring up here is Rider transfer, Fred Scott. In his sixth season of eligibility after originally starting at DePaul, Scott has become a very good player. He’s a 6’8″ forward who averaged 12.6 points per game, while shooting 46% from-the-field, along with 40% from three. Jim Christian is holding onto his job for dear life, and I think he saves it this season.

Siena Saints:

It’s been since 2010 that the Saints last made the NCAA Tournament and that has a great chance to change this season. Led by one of the best Guards in the country, Jalen Pickett Siena may just roll through the MAAC. As a Sophomore, Pickett averaged 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 45% from-the-field, and 37% from three. When you have that kind of player, you will be good. It’s not just Pickett though, they have Manny Camper who averaged a double-double last season a steady player who will continue to show out in 2020-21. A key Freshman addition who could end up being a pivotal player is Aidan Carpenter, a guard who will play alongside Jalen Pickett and replace Don Carey who left for Georgetown. Then hey add a Rhode Island transfer with Dana Tate, he will play some sort of role, and I think he may start but that’s yet to be decided. The Saints have all the tools to be not only a Tournament team but one that makes noise when dancing.

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