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college basketball

The top storylines in Massachusetts men’s college basketball this season

A lot will be expected from Wynston Tabbs (center) at Boston College.
A lot will be expected from Wynston Tabbs (center) at Boston College.Robert Franklin/FR17139 AP via AP

In all likelihood, there’s going to be a college basketball season and an NCAA Tournament.

How college basketball is going to get there, however, is uncertain. One can’t rule out the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic could force another cancellation of March Madness. It will certainly affect a regular season that seems to have been haphazardly pieced together like a pickup game down at the park. “I got next!”

Scheduling is a mess. Most teams don’t even have full schedules yet. Even the games that have been scheduled will be in danger of cancellation. Rules for practice vary from state to state, team to team. Not every team will be prepared in the same manner.

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Despite all that, college basketball is determined to play on. So, with that commitment, here are the top stories in Massachusetts for the 2020-21 season.

▪ Wynston Tabbs’s return from injury for Boston College.

Tabbs looked like one of the best freshmen in the ACC two seasons ago when he averaged 13.9 ppg in 15 games. He has many excellent attributes, including quickness, a willingness to defend, and fearlessness.

Then he hurt his knee, missing the last half of his freshman year and all of last season. He’s healthy now, and the Eagles need him to emerge as their go-to player on offense — a leader, both and off the court — and to combine with Jay Heath for a top-flight backcourt.

▪ BC’s multitude of transfers.

Jim Christian lost six players to graduation and transfers; inbound transfers will be a big factor in how successful this season will be. The most notable transfer is Makai Ashton-Langford, a 6-foot-3-inch guard. His brother, DeMarr Langford, is a freshman with the Eagles.

Ashton-Langford was a highly rated recruit in high school, but his two years at Providence were punctuated by inconsistency. If he could fulfill the potential and promise he had coming out of high school (Cushing, Brewster Academy), it would go a long way.

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The other transfers are the graduate types, moving up to a higher level. They are Rich Kelly (Quinnipiac), Frederick Scott (Rider), and possibly James Karnik (Lehigh) but he still needs a waiver. It’s questionable how much they’ll be able to contribute. Fans shouldn’t expect much from that group.

Tre Mitchell (center) was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year last season and will be a big focal point for UMass in 2020-21.
Tre Mitchell (center) was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year last season and will be a big focal point for UMass in 2020-21. Jessica Hill/FR125654 AP via AP

▪ Tre Mitchell has the potential to be a great player for UMass.

The 6-9 sophomore had a great freshman season, averaging 17.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg. He improved as the season progressed, and he was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year.

This season, he’s regarded as the best player in the A-10 to start the season, and there’s opportunity for more than that if the Minutemen can put together a season that ends with an NCAA bid.

Dominant big men are getting rare, but Mitchell qualifies. Fans should expect a big season from him.

▪ Harvard’s season canceled

The pandemic claimed Ivy League basketball, and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has said he encouraged his seniors to enter the transfer portal. There are only two, Rio Haskett and Danilo Djuricic, but both will be playing elsewhere next season. There’s always the possibility that underclassmen could follow them.

▪ Boston University defends its Patriot League title.

NCAA Tournament appearances don’t happen every year for a lot of schools, and last season’s cancellation was a big disappointment for BU after the Terriers won the Patriot League tournament.

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Last season’s leading scorer, Max Mahoney, has graduated, but there are a lot of players back, notably guard Javante McCoy and forward Walter Whyte.

Javante McCoy and Boston University are back to defend their Patriot League tournament championship.
Javante McCoy and Boston University are back to defend their Patriot League tournament championship.John Munson/Associated Press

The Patriot League will play only league games, and even that is condensed in regions, which means BU will play Holy Cross six times.

Northeastern is in rebuilding mode.

The Huskies lost four of their top five scorers and will be searching for offense. One likely source is sophomore point guard Tyson Walker, who averaged 10.4 ppg as a freshman. He needs to increase his output and be the same passer he was in leading the team in assists.

Another boost could come from Chris Doherty, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Marlborough who transferred from Notre Dame. He barely made a dent at ND, but there is potential for him to become a key player for the Huskies.

Northeastern will be rebuilding around Tyson Walker, the Huskies' top returning scorer.
Northeastern will be rebuilding around Tyson Walker, the Huskies' top returning scorer.Nick Wass/Associated Press

Holy Cross has to be better, doesn’t it?

Maybe not. The Crusaders were 3-29 last year and, just like BU, will play only Patriot League games starting in January. The two best freshmen from last season have transferred, so coach Brett Nelson will have to incorporate a new bunch of young players.

Merrimack might have some magic left.

In their first season in Division 1, the Warriors had a shockingly successful season, winning the Northeast Conference regular-season title. They may not be as good, but coach Joe Gallo still has his pesky zone defense and enough good players to be a contender in the conference.

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▪ UMass Lowell is really young.

The roster has 10 players who are freshmen or sophomores. Senior Obadiah Noel is going to carry a big load for the River Hawks.

▪ The NCAA Tournament outlook.

In the end, this is every team’s goal, but for much of New England, it’s far-fetched. BU is a Patriot League contender. UMass has an excellent big man, but the Atlantic 10 is going to be extra tough this season. Right now, those are the only possible projections.