Don't let the idiots and haters fool you: While it's been a tough few days for college hoops with all sorts of negative Covid news (based mostly on positive results) the season is still just a day away, and when it tips off, things will start to feel normal again. It was no different with the MLB, NBA, college football and the NFL, which dealt with all sorts of bumps on the road along the way, but eventually got going, and once they did, all was right in the world again.
SO, with that said, we're all about positive vibes only, and let's kick-off the preseason content with my First, Second and Third team All-American lists.
I also did a full college hoops preview on today's Aaron Torres Podcast, which you can download here.
First Team All-Americans:
Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton: It was a dream season at Creighton last year, and while Ty-Shon Alexander was the Bluejays' leading scorer, it was Zegarowski who was the team's most important player. Well the bad news of last year turns into good news as Zegarowski is back, after he averaged 16 points and five assists per game, while shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Assuming he can stay healthy (Zegarowski has been hampered by injuries each of the last two seasons), Zegarowski not only has a case as the best player in the Big East, but potentially the best pure point guard in college basketball.
Jared Butler, G, Baylor: Baylor was arguably the best story in college hoops last year, as a team that went a staggering 22 games without a loss. Seriously, I don't think people realize how incredible the Bears were, not losing a game from November 8th to February 22nd. That's just insane. Well, Butler was both the best player and emotional leader of that team, averaging 16 per game. Want to know the crazy part? Scott Drew told me this summer Butler - who just turned 20-years-old - is only now starting to scratch the surface of his potential, and came back to school stronger and more athletic this winter. Because of it, Butler is my preseason National Player of the Year.
Cade Cunningham, G/F, Oklahoma State: Yes, I know. Every year we overhype freshmen, especially ones on teams that aren't the traditional blue bloods. We did it last year with Anthony Edwards at Georgia, and Markelle Fultz (Washington) and Ben Simmons (LSU) before that. But Cunningham just feels different. He was not only the best high school player in the country last year, but a proven leader and winner - as a guy who didn't lose a single game his final season of high school. Clearly he won't be undefeated in college, but thanks to a lot of talent around him Cunningham will help the Pokes be better than you expect. Let's hope Oklahoma State somehow convinces the NCAA to lift their NCAA Tournament ban on the Pokes. We need Cade in the Big Dance, and he will get them there if Oklahoma State somehow gets eligible.
By the way, Cunningham recently joined the Aaron Torres Podcast, which you can watch below or download here.
Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga: There are a bunch of players on this list who could have elected to go pro last summer, but for a variety of reasons decided to return to school. I'm not sure anyone who elected to return had more interest from NBA folks than Kispert, who was listed by a bunch of mocks as a potential first round pick before he decided to return. The reason why is obvious, as Kispert was arguably Gonzaga's best player last year, as a versatile wing that the NBA craves, who averaged 14 points last season on 44 percent shooting from three, that also doubles as an excellent defender. After going through the NBA Draft process last summer, folks around Gonzaga tell me he and Joel Ayayi (who we'll get to later in the list) came back even more locked in and focused than last season, which is a scary thought for the rest of college basketball.
Luka Garza, C, Iowa: Look, there really isn't much to say about Garza that hasn't already said, so we'll keep this short. Independent of what his NBA future looks like, he is a HELL of a college player, one who averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, earning consensus First Team All-American honors. There's no reason to think he won't be even better this year for a loaded Iowa squad.
Second Team All-Americans
Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois: Of every player who entered the NBA Draft last off-season, Dosunmu's decision to return was the single most shocking. There was never, at any point during the draft process, a belief that he would be back for his junior year. Only here we are. Dosunmu might be the most complete guard in college basketball this year, as someone who averaged 17 points per game a year ago, and who - if he can improve his jump shot - could legitimately vault to the front end of next year's NBA Draft. That's in the future though, and in the present, he and Kofi Cockburn are the reason that this is the most hyped Illinois team since the team went to the Final Four in 2005.
Remy Martin, G, Arizona State: So much has happened since the end of last college hoops season that it's easy to forget that the Sun Devils were one of the hottest teams in the country over the last few months, winning seven straight in February before faltering late. Well, a big part of that was Martin emerging into one of the most feared players in the Pac-12, as a lightning quick, jitterbug point guard, who finished the season averaging 19 points per game. Between Martin and freshman Josh Christopher, there's a reason that this is the most hyped Arizona State team, maybe of all-time.
Chris Smith, F, UCLA: Because UCLA struggled so much early, no one paid attention to them late (when they won 11 of 13 by the way) and a big part of their reason was because Chris Smith turned into a legit college star, with major NBA potential. Outside of Kispert, Smith is probably the player with the most NBA Draft buzz that decided to return to school, as a big, athletic wing who finished the season averaging 13 points per game. If UCLA is as good as expected, having Smith on the second team All-American list might end up being too low.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, F/C, Indiana: Because Indiana was so up-and-down last year, Jackson-Davis's season was largely lost in the shuffle. Still, the guy after averaging nearly 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game last season, and he did it as a freshman. The Hoosiers should be more in the national spotlight in 2020-2021, which should give Jackson-Davis more time to show everyone just how good he truly is.
Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois: The second Illinois player on this list, is another guy who decided at the last minute to return to college. When he did, I can't lie, my first thought was "Man, I feel bad for Big Ten centers." The bruising, physical Cockburn averaged 13 points and nine boards a game last year, doing it by mostly physically beating people up around the basket. It's scary to think how much more effective he might be with a year of college hoops, and a year with a college hoops strength staff, under his belt.
Third-team All Americans:
Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga: There were other guys I considered putting here (most notably, Villanova's Collin Gillespie) but part of putting together an All-American team is trying to project not only who was good last year, but who could break out in a big way the next season. And on a national scale, Ayayi might be that guy. He averaged a respectable 10 points, six rebounds and 2.5 assists last year, but also had some of his biggest games against some of the Zags best opponents, including a 15-point, six rebound, seven assist performance against Arizona at the McKale Center. After testing the draft waters he is back in Spokane, locked and ready to go. For all the Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs hype, Ayayi will have nights where he looks like the team's best player this season.
James Bouknight, G, UConn: Alright, so maybe it's a little bit of my UConn bias showing, but I'm just going to say it: There might not be a single player that fewer people know about, who is as legitimately good as Bouknight is. He finished his freshman season averaging 13 points per game, but put up 17 per night in league play, and NBA people are already talking about him as a potential lottery pick in 2021. Put a different way, while no one at UConn would say it, the Huskies are probably one of the few schools that benefitted from having the season cancelled last March, because there's a legit chance they could have made a run in the AAC Tournament, made the Big Dance and lost Bouknight to the pros. Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying "he's back." And with UConn now back in the Big East, he will have a national platform to show everyone just how good he is.
BJ Boston, F, Kentucky: Throughout the fall many people tried to argue that Terrence Clarke would actually be more important to Kentucky, including me. Then I watched Kentucky's "Pro Day" the other day and realized: "Nope, Boston is the guy." Besides the fact that he has the pedigree - McDonald's All-American, top ranked player, he's at freakin' Kentucky - during Pro Day he just had that look of "I'm a star." Other guys may have their moments. But Boston will be Kentucky's best player.
Yves Pons, F/C, Tennessee: John Fulkerson is getting a lot of preseason love in Knoxville (and deservedly so) but Pons is not only Tennessee's best player, but it's most important one as well. Pons averaged a respectable 11 points and five rebounds last season, which should improve, but is also the team's most versatile defensive piece as well. Also, let's be honest, you really betting a guy that looks like he does (far right) from having a huge season (literally and figuratively)?
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F/C, Villanova: The last player on this list is the only one on my preseason No. 1 team, and that's for good reason: Villanova is kind of one of those "sum is greater than the parts" teams, where the team itself gets all the credit more than individuals. Still, Robinson-Earl had a fantastic freshman season (averaging 10 points and nine boards) and is also probably the best long-term NBA prospect on a really good preseason team. Robinson-Earl showed a lot in just one season at Nova, and like so many others on this list, it'll be scary to see what he does with an extra off-season in the weight room.
JUST MISSED: Jalen Crutcher (Dayton), Marcus Garrett (Kansas), Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Sam Hauser (Virginia), David Johnson (Louisville), Evan Mobley (USC), Trendon Watford (LSU),