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College Basketball Preview 2021-22: Top 25 & All-America Teams

Johnny Juzang, UCLA


1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

After coming agonizingly close to the first perfect college basketball season in decades, Gonzaga should be back with a vengeance in 2021-22. They have an ideal blend of returning experience and highly touted newcomers, much like last year's team. Forward Drew Timme is the most notable returnee, coming off a 2020-21 in which he averaged 19.0 PPG, but guard Andrew Nembhard may be the most important. Nembhard is an ultra-efficient combo guard who will have to take over primary playmaking duties in the backcourt now that Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi move on. Other returnees included forward Anton Watson and guard Julian Strawther, two guys who could see a major increase in minutes this year.

As for the highly touted newcomers, they don't get a lot larger than Chet Holmgren (literally). The lanky seven-footer is the top player in the Class of 2021 and a dynamo on both ends of the court. He will pair with Timme to immediately create one of the most fearsome frontlines anywhere in America. Also coming in is freshman Hunter Sallis, who was a consensus five-star recruit. Sallis is a pure scorer, and the type of player that you can run an offense around. Rounding out a dazzling freshmen trio is Nolan Hickman, a former Kentucky commit who is a natural point guard. He might not start right away, but it will be difficult for Mark Few to keep him off the court. Add in Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton, who totaled 15.5 PPG for Iowa State, and the Bulldogs bring ample reinforcements.

Prediction: National Title

Few has now brought Gonzaga to the National Championship Game twice, and come up short both times. I don't envision that happen a third time; this Gonzaga program is operating at an incredible level right now, in terms of both player development and recruiting. Winning a National Title is the only thing they have left to do to go from lovable "underdog" to a truly elite national power.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

It was an uncharacteristic season last winter for Kansas, in a variety of ways. It wasn't just the obvious wackiness of the COVID year, but the fact that the Jayhawks went 12-6 in the brutal Big 12 and didn't win either the conference regular season nor tournament title. The "down" campaign for the Jayhawks should provide plenty of motivation for a program that is still one of the true blue bloods left in the sport. It also helps that just about everyone is back in Lawrence, with the notable exception being veteran Marcus Garrett.

The Jayhawks will be feisty up front, as senior David McCormack, sophomore Jalen Wilson, and swingman Ochai Agbaji all return. McCormack is a load to handle underneath who has displayed steady progress throughout his KU career, while Agbaji is probably their most complete offensive player. Wilson has the potential to be a really tremendous combo forward, but an off-season arrest for suspicion of DUI has put his future in question. Expect longtime veteran Mitch Lightfoot to also see minutes, as he enters his sixth season in Lawrence.

Kansas has long had a tradition of at least one dominant guard, going back to Sherron Collins, Devonte Graham, Frank Mason, and more. They lacked that in 2020-21, but are hoping Arizona State transfer Remy Martin can be that guy. Martin isn't your typical Bill Self guard; he's an electrifying scorer who sometimes gets himself into trouble with poor shot selection or ball-handling. He was an All-Pac-12 player twice at ASU and flirted with the NBA before moving on to Kansas. Another transfer, Joseph Yesufu, will also play an important role. Yesufu is a powerful offensive player who averaged nearly 13 per game with Drake a year ago. Providing much-needed floor spacing will be Christian Braun, who came on strong in the season's second half in 2020-21. Braun can defend multiple positions and moves incredibly well without the ball.

Prediction: National Runner-Up

Despite being one of college basketball's most consistent programs, Kansas has not hoisted a National Title since Mario Chalmers and company back in 2008. This team is talented enough to do so, but they don't quite have the depth of Gonzaga, which could hold them back in a hypothetical 40-minute showdown. However, I still like their chances to return to their first National Championship Game since they came up short against Anthony Davis and UK in 2012.

3. UCLA Bruins

UCLA just barely snuck into the Field of 68 last spring, and then proceeded to go on a magical Final Four run that was ended by a miraculous buzzer beater by Jalen Suggs. That taste of success has Mick Cronin and the Bruins thinking big this season, as they return most of the core that came up just short in a quest for a National Championship berth.

Former Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang is one of the sport's superstars. He entered his name into the NBA Draft and seriously looked like he might leave, but instead decided to return at the last minute. He's a fearless offensive player with a knack for hitting tough shots. Don't be surprised if he plays his way into NBA lottery consideration. While Juzang is more of the finesse scorer, fellow guard/forward Jaime Jaquez is all about power. Jaquez loves fighting through contact and finishing at the rim, although his shooting numbers are better than most would assume. That 1-2 combination gives UCLA one of the best pairings anywhere in the country.

In addition to Juzang and Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, and Jules Bernard all played big minutes on last year's Final Four team. Campbell is one of the best distributors in college basketball who runs the offense expertly, while Riley is the necessary paint punisher this team needs. Bernard came on strong down the stretch in 2020-21, and may be one of college basketball's best players. In addition to those three, expect two newcomers, Myles Johnson and Peyton Watson, to see huge minutes. Johnson comes over from Rutgers and is an instant impact rim protector, while Watson is a five-star prospect with jaw-dropping athleticism.

Prediction: Final Four

Was last March a fluke? The Bruins are hoping to show that the program has returned on a national level, and they have all the tools they need to do so. With that being said, this team was fairly underwhelming for most of 2020-21 until the March run. Can they carry that magic into the regular season this time around?

4. Michigan Wolverines

Juwan Howard continues to prove himself as a tremendous hire, as he delivered a Big Ten Title and Elite Eight berth in Year Two. Now, his Wolverines are looking for even more, and the return of Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner Hunter Dickinson puts them in a good spot.

Dickinson briefly considered the NBA but instead decided to return for his sophomore season after notching 14.1 PPG and 7.4 RPG in '20-'21. He's a skilled offensive big with a versatile game, but his defense doesn't get enough attention. He regularly had to go up against the elite big men of the Big Ten as a freshman and played well. Dickinson does have a healthy amount of production returning alongside him, including guard Eli Brooks and forward Brandon Johns. Brooks is an elite shooter who can run the offense when needed, while Johns had a great NCAA Tournament and fearlessly attacks the rim.

In addition to the solid crop of returnees, Howard went out and landed the top group in the Class of 2021 (they were recently passed by Memphis due to several players reclassifying). Four freshmen could see big minutes right away, but none were more important than Caleb Houstan. Houstan is one of the most hyped recruits in Michigan history, and brings immediate scoring punch. He's joined by big Moussa Diabate, guard Frankie Collins, and four-man Will Tschetter. Plus, Howard and staff landed Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones, who can also score in a hurry.

Prediction: Final Four

Few programs in college basketball are as consistent as Michigan has become, but can they break through? They've played for the National Title twice in the last decade, only to come up short. This year's edition has the blend of talent and experience to do so, but surviving the rugged Big Ten is hard enough. A Final Four trip, which would be the first of the Howard era, would be a success. 

5. Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns made one of the splashiest hires in recent college basketball history when they lured Chris Beard away from in-state rival Texas Tech. Beard had completely transformed the Red Raider program in a short amount of time, and now sets out to do the same in Austin. He has plenty to work with, as the Longhorns were a No. 3 seed before a shocking first-round loss to Abilene Christian.

Texas is absolutely loaded in the backcourt, as they return their top two scorers from last year in Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. Jones is a tremendous story as a leukemia survivor who has become one of the best guards in the Big 12, while Ramey showed significant improvement last season and flirted with the NBA. That pair will be helped by two big-name transfers, as Marcus Carr arrives from Minnesota and Devin Askew comes over from Kentucky. Carr averaged 19.4 PPG and nearly five assists per as the Gophers top player last year and is one of the most clutch players in college basketball. Askew is slightly unproven after making 20 starts as a freshman in Lexington a season ago, but he has star talent.

There will be reloading to do in the frontcourt, as the Longhorns lost their top three bigs in Greg Brown, Jericho Sims, and Kai Jones, who are all playing in the NBA. The additions of Timmy Allen from Utah and Christian Bishop from Creighton were huge. Allen is a potent scorer who is only getting better, while Bishop is active around the rim and plays larger than his 6'7" frame. However, Texas is still looking to identify a true center or forward they can play through in the post. Perhaps UMass transfer Tre Mitchell could acclimate quick, or Vanderbilt transplant Dylan Disu.

Prediction: Elite Eight

Beard didn't just come in and add a transfer or two. He dominated on the transfer portal over the off-season, with Allen, Carr, and Askew being some of the most sought-after names on the market. That trio, along with Jones and Ramey, give UT enough to seriously contend for a Final Four. The key will be finding a big or two that can help the Longhorns compete with Kansas and the other names in the Big 12.

6. Villanova Wildcats

Villanova's 2020-21 season took a massive turn when star guard Collin Gillespie tore his MCL at the very end of the regular season. Gillespie was the heart-and-soul of the Wildcats and unquestionably a massive loss. Villanova still fought valiantly to reach the Sweet 16, but you felt like this program had so much more to offer with a healthy Gillespie. Good news, the veteran point guard is back for one more season with the 'Cats, and has enough talent around him to once again win the Big East.

In addition to a stat-line of 14.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 4.6 APG, Gillespie has proven his worth as a knockdown shooter and excellent leader. His return immediately gives Villanova a star to carry them wherever they need to go. Joining him in the backcourt is junior Justin Moore, oft-injured Bryan Antoine, and senior Caleb Daniels. Daniels and Moore are steady contributors who can shoot and defend, but Antoine is really fascinating. He was a former five-star recruit who came in with plenty of fanfare, but he simply hasn't been able to stay healthy. If he could this season, the Wildcats have a bouncy athlete who can defend multiple positions. Also back is Chris Arcidiacono, the younger brother of former 'Nova great Ryan. Arcidiacono filled in for Gillespie last season and was solid, likely increasing his role this winter.

Villanova will need to find a new face of the frontcourt now that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is in the NBA, but this should still be a strong frontline. Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels are a quality trio with different skill sets. Cosby-Roundtree will be eager to get back on the court after missing all of last season with a stress fracture. While those three will play major minutes, all eyes are on freshman Trey Patterson. Patterson enrolled early last year and got valuable practice time against the Villanova forwards. That should serve him well as he prepares to break into the ultra-physical Big East.

Prediction: Elite Eight

Villanova remains the class of the Big East, and Jay Wright has another National Title contender on his hands in Philadelphia. This isn't a roster filled with big-name recruits or future NBA superstars, but is instead a typical Wright lineup. There's experience, shooting, defense, and plenty of depth in both the backcourt and frontcourt. With Gillespie leading the charge, a Final Four berth is a real possibility.

7. Baylor Bears

Prior to last spring, Baylor and Scott Drew had earned somewhat of a reputation as a quality Big 12 program, but one that struggled to breakthrough and "get over the top". That all changed with the 2020-21 team, as the Bears lost just two games on the year and dominated en route to their first National Title in decades. As they prepare for their title defense, they lose several key cogs, but still have a roster that can carry them to a Final Four berth.

The backcourt loses three key characters in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague. Butler and Mitchell in particular are big losses; Butler was their best pure scorer and a clutch contributor, while Mitchell was a pesky on-ball defender. Baylor will now rely on junior Adam Flagler, and returning sophomores L.J. Cryer and Jordan Turner. Flagler is their top returning scorer and a great shooter, but will have to adjust to a new role in the offense. Cryer and Turner didn't see a ton of playing time last season, but learned quite a bit from watching Butler and Mitchell before them. Expect a pair of newcomers, Arizona transfer James Akinjo and freshman Kendall Brown, to also feature heavily. Akinjo began his career at Georgetown before a pit stop at Arizona, and now begins work on his third basketball program. Brown was a highly touted recruit who can contribute at multiple spots. 

There is more returning experience in the frontcourt, as holdovers like Matthew Mayer, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba are back in Waco. Mayer in particular is a major returnee; the senior showed significant improvement over the course of last season and at  6'9" with a smooth jumper, he's a tough guard. Expect two second-year players, Zach Loveday and Dain Dainja, to also see an increase in minutes. Loveday played in 13 games as a freshman, while Dainja redshirted. 

Prediction: Elite Eight

It's always tough to go from the "hunters" to the "hunted", but Baylor still has a chance to be a real factor on the national level. They have a solid core of returnees that gained valuable experience in the NCAA Tournament run and Scott Drew's underrated recruiting efforts continue to lure names to Waco. They seem a step below Kansas and Texas right now, but the gap isn't very wide.

8. Purdue Boilermakers

2020-21 was supposed to be a rebuilding year in West Lafayette, but instead the Boilermakers went 13-6 in the nation's toughest conference and earned a four seed. The eventual NCAA Tournament loss to North Texas showed there was work to be done, but it was an impressive showing by Matt Painter and the entire program. With nearly everybody back for another run this winter, Purdue is thinking bigger than a four seed.

Trevion Williams made the decision to return for one more year with the Boilermakers, ensuring Purdue has one of the best bigs anywhere in the country. Williams is an absolute bully around the basket with great instincts for the ball, but does he have the stamina to continue to play big minutes at a high level? Having a quality big next to him like Zach Edey will prove to be huge for Williams. Edey is the next in a lone line of Painter mammoths, and the 7'4" center is more skilled than most that have passed through Purdue. He could be a serious breakout candidate, as he sees a likely increase in minutes.

There's a lot to like about the Purdue backcourt, with a nice blend of experienced, shooting, and depth. The biggest name is sophomore Jaden Ivey, who is an electrifying scorer who showed immense potential last season. Ivey has to become more efficient, but he has the physical gifts to be a dominant top scorer. Also back are veterans Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, and Isaiah Thompson. Expect Brandon Newman, who had a strong first half last year but tailed off down the stretch, to see a larger role.

Prediction: Elite Eight

Painter is one of the best coaches anywhere in America, and it isn't often he has a team with this much raw talent. Williams and Edey may be the most imposing frontline in the nation, and the Boilermakers have plenty of scoring punch in the backcourt. They definitely have the potential to go toe-to-toe with Michigan near the top of the Big Ten.

9. Duke Blue Devils

Coach K begins his farewell tour at an interesting time for Duke basketball. The Blue Devils shockingly missed the Big Dance after going .500 in the weakest ACC in recent memory a season ago, and now lose four contributors from that team. However, the Blue Devils might end up getting better, if their big-name additions prove to be worth the hype.

The backcourt is razor thin, which doesn't give Coach K and this Duke staff much room for error. Sophomore Jeremy Roach proved to have potential a year ago, but he was incredibly inconsistent. He now becomes the alpha in this backcourt, which could prove to be a transition for a guard without a ton of games under his belt. Outside of him, the roster doesn't have very much experience at the guard spots. Jaylen Blakes and Trevor Keels arrive as highly touted freshmen, but how fast will they adjust to the college game? Keels has serious two-way potential and could move around a bit positionally.

The frontcourt is in much better shape, with a couple proven commodities and plenty of other big names. Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, Joey Baker, and Marquette transfer Theo John all bring experience to the table. Williams may be the most important of the quartet as an elite shot-blocker and quality rebounder who seemed to really come into his own at times last year. John will contribute as well after a lengthy and productive career with the Golden Eagles. Joining John on the list of newcomers is Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin, two combo forwards with superstar upside. Banchero might be the most highly hyped freshman not named Chet Holmgren, while Griffin should see major minutes right away.

Prediction: Sweet 16

This Duke team should be better than last year's group, but you have to wonder if the Coach K farewell will end up being a major distraction. Even if it is, the pure talent on this roster should keep them in the ACC Title hunt, but the lack of proven guards will inevitably hurt them come March. A National Title Hollywood send-off for Coach K just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

10. Oregon Ducks

Even as they suffered through a brutal injury bug all 2020-21, Oregon still managed to finish first in the Pac-12 and earn a trip to the Tournament's second weekend. It was yet another reminder of what a program Dana Altman has built on the West Coast, and the staying power of the Ducks. Another group of defections hit over the off-season, but the stability around the program should keep the Ducks atop the league.

Senior wing Will Richardson is the team's most identifiable star now that Chris Duarte is in the NBA. Richardson has shown real growth in his game over the last few seasons, going from a pure athlete into a productive all-around scorer. Can he take the next step and develop into a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate? Two notable newcomers surround Richardson in the backcourt, in former Rutgers Scarlet Knight Jacob Young and Oklahoma Sooner De'Vion Harmon. Harmon averaged 12.9 PPG for the Sooners, while Young averaged over 14.1. Both of these players have proven experience in top-tier conferences, and they should have no trouble adjusting to the pace of play out west.

There are losses in the Duck frontcourt, but also a key major returnees. Chief among them might end up being junior center N'Faly Dante, who started the first six games of last season before tearing his ACL. At 6'11" with a powerful frame, Dante could be a really dominant force in the low post. Also back up front is senior Eric Williams Jr. and sophomore Franck Kepnang. Williams is a superb rebounder despite being undersized for his position, while Kepnang filled in nicely for Dante and is a constant around the rim. Add in big-name recruit Nathan Bittle, and Oregon has more than enough to have an elite frontcourt.

Prediction: Sweet 16

Chris Duarte might have been one of the country's most underrated players, but Altman's ability to reel in Young and Harmon should be able to replicate that production. With a whole host of other characters back in the fold, Oregon could challenge UCLA for Pac-12 supremacy.

11. Arkansas Razorbacks

It was a banner year for Arkansas in 2020-21, as the Razorbacks won 25 games, went 13-4 in the SEC, and made their first Elite Eight appearance in over two decades. Can they keep the momentum going? The Razorbacks do have significant losses throughout the roster, but Eric Musselman's work in the transfer portal brought in numerous capable replacements.

The backcourt is a nice mix of returning production and talented newcomers. Expect Davonte Davis, J.D. Notae and Khalen Robinson to see major minutes this season. Davis in particular will play a leading role, as the combo guard is an elite defender and great rebounder for his position, and showed an improved shooting stroke to end the year. A trio of transfers should also compete for minutes right from the get-go, including Miami transplant Chris Lykes. Despite being undersized for an Division I guard (5'7") Lykes is a crafty, proven playmaker who should acclimate quickly to SEC play. Fellow transfers Au'Diese Toney and Stanley Umude, who hail from Pittsburgh and South Dakota, were also impactful additions.

The Arkansas frontcourt doesn't have as many big names, but should still be an imposing group. They don't come a lot more intimidating than 7'3" Connor Vanover, who averaged 6.3 PPG a season ago. Despite being so massive, Vanover moves fairly well and can shoot the three-ball, which is an absolute nightmare for opponents. The key for Vanover will be improving his stamina and staying out of foul trouble, as he was taken out of numerous games last year. Fellow frontcourt mate Jaylin Williams is quite a different player; he's an elite athlete who does most of his work around the rim, but he'll occasionally step out beyond the three-point line. Also likely to see minutes is Wichita State transfer Trey Wade, who can play and defend multiple spots. Wade's not a huge scorer, but he's a good passer and elite rebounder for his size.

Prediction: Sweet 16

Replicating last year's success won't be easy, but Musselman and this program appear to have staying power. They've recruited well in both the high school ranks and transfer portal, and have a nice collection of talent in place. Don't be surprised if they once again finish near the top of the SEC standings and push for a long NCAA Tournament run.

12. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State has become one of the nation's most consistent programs, winning at least 20 games each of the past four seasons. However, their shocking loss to 15th-seeded Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last spring showed the program still has a bit to go if they want to compete for even higher honors. The good news is that there's a bunch back from last year's team, and head coach Chris Holtmann continues to be an underrated recruiter.

Duane Washington Jr. is a massive loss, as the electrifying scorer averaged 16.4 PPG and wasn't afraid to take games over. With that being said, his absence could diversify this Ohio State offense a little more, opening up new opportunities for others. One player likely to benefit is Justice Sueing, who had a productive campaign last season but is looking for even more. Sueing can play on the wing or even run point if needed, and he's an excellent shooter. Other names to watch in the OSU backcourt include Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler, former Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos, and sophomore Meechie Johnson Jr. Sotos was expected to play a role on last year's team but never really got going before a shoulder injury ended his season. Johnson left high school early and played Big Ten basketball essentially as a high school senior. Despite his youth, he showed real promise and should be in store for a massive improvement.

There aren't a lot of big men better than E.J. Liddell, who is coming off a 2020-21 in which he averaged over 16 points per game and nearly seven rebounds. Even though he's only 6'7" consistently playing against longer big men, Liddell is a punishing forward who showed improved shooting touch last year. He could be a serious candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. There are several other key Buckeyes returning alongside Liddell, including glue guy Kyle Young, sharpshooting Justin Ahrens and powerful big Zed Key. Young's absence in that Oral Roberts loss was notable, while Ahrens and Key are important role players. Two more names to watch are former transfers Seth Towns and Joey Brunk. Towns wasn't ever consistently healthy last year but still showed real promise, while Brunk comes from Indiana and brings much-needed size.

Prediction: Sweet 16

This is a really quality program that brings back a lot of experience, plus some star power. They seem a slight step below Michigan and Purdue in the Big Ten, but the gap is not a large one. They're talented and experienced enough to push for a league title and compete for an NCAA Tournament run, perhaps a year later than expected.

13. Kentucky Wildcats

Last season was not kind to the traditional blue bloods of the sport and nowhere was that more true than in Lexington. The Wildcats went just 9-16 overall and finished sub-.500 as they missed the NCAA Tournament by a mile. It was a wakeup call for John Calipari and the entire program, which hopes a different core will result in more success this season.

Davion Mintz was Kentucky's most consistent offensive threat in 2020-21 and he is back to lead the backcourt this year. Mintz isn't necessarily an elite athlete, but has a smooth offensive game and a great jump shot. His experience should also be huge for a team that is always very young. Joining Mintz in returning was Dontaie Allen, who played very well down the stretch last year. He's an excellent shooter, but is hoping to grow more parts of his game in 2021-22. Calipari went out and got a host of reinforcements for this backcourt, including C.J. Fredrick from Iowa and Kellan Grady from Davidson. Fredrick shot 47% from three during his Hawkeye career and will be a key floor spacer, while Grady scored over 2,000 points in his Davidson career but is ready for the spotlight of playing at Kentucky. That pair, plus highly touted newcomer TyTy Washington, will give Mintz and Allen plenty of supporting help.

The frontcourt has slightly more questions than the backcourt, with less proven commodities and a big question mark in the form of West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe left WVU mid-season in 2020-21, and there were reports of him not being focused on the game or in the right head space. He's an extremely talented forward, but could become a distraction if he isn't able to get things right this winter. The good news is that UK still has a pair of returnees in Jacob Toppin and Keion Brooks Jr. who showed real promise even in the midst of a frustrating season. Toppin is the younger brother of former Dayton star Obi and is an insane athlete, while Brooks is a versatile wing with serious scoring potential.

Prediction: Sweet 16

Kentucky was probably a better team than their 9-16 record indicated last season, as they lost close game after close game. However, that didn't stop Calipari from going out and flipping most of the roster. His ability to land Fredrick, Grady, and Tshiebwe, along with several key freshmen, greatly improves this roster in just about every conceivable way. It will be difficult to from eighth in the league to a conference title, but the Wildcats should be in the hunt.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini

In many ways, 2020-21 was a golden year for the Illinois Fighting Illini. They went 16-4 in the nation's toughest conference and earned a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2005. But, the Illini simply ran into a tough matchup in the Tournament's second round, as they dropped to an under-seeded Loyola-Chicago foe. It left the team with a bad taste in their mouth, and plenty of motivation for an improved showing this season.

Ayo Dosunmu was one of the best players in college basketball, so replacing him will not be easy. However, sophomore Andre Curbelo was extremely impressive as a freshmen last year and should be in store for a monster campaign. He's the type of skilled guard that can control the entire pace and flow of the game; players like that don't come around in Champaign often. Illinois also got a nice surprise when veteran Trent Frazier decided to come back for one more season. The long-time guard is an elite defender and strong shooter whose leadership will be needed even more now that Dosunmu is gone. Also back is Da'Monte Williams, a terrific spot-up shooter who could see an expanded role this season.

Kofi Cockburn flirted with the NBA and transferring elsewhere before making the surprising decision to come back to Champaign. At seven-feet and weighing 285 pounds, Cockburn is an absolute giant, but he's looking to grow his overall game. If he can develop a mid-range game or become even more efficient around the hoop, he's an All-American. Aside from him, the Illini will also lean heavily on returnees Jacob Grandison and Coleman Hankins, as well as Florida transfer Omar Payne. Grandison isn't much of a scorer but he does the little things well, and Hankins has serious upside. Expect Payne to operate as the team's backup center now that Giorgi Bezhanishvili is gone.

Prediction: Sweet 16

Much like Ohio State, Illinois is trying to prove their early NCAA Tournament loss was a one-time thing. This year's group isn't quite as talented at the top, but the return of Cockburn, Curbelo, and Frazier keeps them in the Big Ten Title hunt. Depth might be a slight concern, but this team does have Final Four potential.

15. Houston Cougars

There is absolutely no denying what a job Kelvin Sampson has done at Houston. He's taken over a program that was mired in mediocrity for a long time and has turned them into one of the premier mid-majors in the country. Last season, the Cougars showed just how dangerous they could be, playing themselves into their first Final Four in nearly four decades.

The backcourt loses two familiar faces in Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, but there are reinforcements waiting in the wings. Marcus Sasser was an All-AAC pick last season and will likely take over as the team's primary scoring threat this winter. He is joined by Tramon Mark and Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards, both who should start. Mark came on as a freshman during the weirdest time in recent college basketball history and still played well, while Edwards was a multi-year contributor at Tech and played in a National Championship Game. Add in UC-Santa Barbara transfer Taze Moore, and there's more than enough in this backcourt to keep the Cougars rolling.

There's loads of depth and experience in the frontcourt, headlined by senior Fabian White Jr. White was expected to miss most or all of the 2020-21 campaign with a torn ACL but returned early and was a huge piece down the stretch. He has the talent to earn All-AAC recognition this season. Fellow senior Reggie Chaney and UConn transplant Josh Carlton are also expected to see heavy minutes. Chaney is slightly undersized for a center but plays inches larger than he is, while Carlton is a proven back-to-the-basket scorer. Freshman Ja'Vier Francis is also going to play a role in some way. He's a long and athletic forward who could become a dominant two-way force.

Prediction: Sweet 16

There's no team in the American Athletic Conference that has been able to match up with Houston the last several seasons. Even with Memphis on the rise, the Cougars are still the team to beat in the league, particularly with so much experience back. Getting back to the Final Four is obviously a tall order, but the Cougars should be able to get to the Tournament's second weekend.

16. Memphis Tigers

Even though Memphis missed the NCAA Tournament last season, few teams enter 2021-22 with as much hype or intrigue as the Tigers. Head coach Penny Hardaway landed two of the biggest recruits in the country in Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren and also loaded up his coaching staff with big names, including legendary NBA head coach Larry Brown and former player Rasheed Wallace. The question is, will it all come together and result in wins?

The backcourt might not have a huge name like Bates or Duren, but has several key pieces returning from last year's team. Junior Lester Quinones, point guard Alex Lomax, and combo guard Landers Nolley II are all back in the fold. Quinones is a rock solid floor general, while Lomax is an elite distributor who is looking to get healthy again after an ankle injury late in '20-'21. Two transfers, Earl Timberlake and Tyler Harris, will also see major minutes. Timberlake was a former prized recruit who comes over from Miami, while Harris began his career at Memphis, took a pit stop at Iowa State, but is now back in town.

All eyes will be on Bates and Duren this winter. Both were highly ranked members of the 2022 Class before deciding to reclassify and instead play this season. Bates is a combo forward with electrifying scoring potential who has been a big name for years, while Duren is your prototypical modern big. He's long and athletic, but also a proven scorer around the basket. The pair may need some time to adjust to the college game (they're extremely young freshmen), but the talent is off the charts. Senior DeAndre Williams may be lost in the spotlight of Bates and Duren, but his return was important for Hardaway and Memphis. When healthy, he's among the best forwards in the American Athletic. Junior Malcolm Dandridge may begin the year as the starter while Duren gets his feet wet. He's not an elite scorer, but operates as a solid rim protector.

Prediction: Sweet 16

With several future NBA stars on this roster, there's loads of hype surrounding Memphis. It may be their most talented team since the group that went toe-to-toe with Kansas in the 2008 National Championship, but there will be an adjustment period. Expect the veteran leadership to carry the team early, while Bates and Duren acclimate. 

17. North Carolina Tar Heels

Roy Williams' decision to retire at the conclusion of last season wasn't necessarily a shock, but it was surprising how quickly it all went down. Now, longtime assistant Hubert Davis will be tasked with building back a North Carolina program that has always has talent, but had slipped a bit in the waning years of the Williams tenure.

Guard Caleb Love runs the backcourt, fresh off a debut season in which he displayed significant upside. Love is a great ball handler and explosive athlete, but to reach his ceiling he has to become a better shooter. If he does, he has a chance to be one of the best guards in the ACC. Along with Love, veterans R.J. Davis and Leaky Black return, as does sharpshooting sophomore Kerwin Walton. Walton seemed to really come into his own down the stretch in 2020-21 and could be one of the more underrated wings in the nation as he enters this season. The wild card in the backcourt is sophomore Anthony Harris, who tore his ACL in 2019 but has been an effective playmaker when healthy. 

The frontcourt loses three key pieces in Garrison Brooks, Day'Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler, but the Heels dipped into the transfer portal for help. Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia and Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek are two major additions. Garcia has an extremely high ceiling as a scorer and put up 24 against UNC when they played against each other. Manek is a proven veteran who is the perfect forward for the modern game. He can shoot the ball, defend multiple spots, and crash the glass. Veteran Armando Bacot also remains in town and is hoping this is the year it all comes together. Bacot has repeatedly shown star potential, but has dealt with inconsistency his entire career. With Garcia and Manek, he won't have to do it all, but you'd like to see him make even more improvement this season.

Prediction: Second Round

Replacing Roy Williams is no simple task, but Davis has a lot of talent on his first roster. Love, Walton, and Bacot give this team a fighting chance in the ACC no matter what, but their ceiling will be determined by how quickly the transfers gel.

18. Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia remains a model of consistency under Tony Bennett, as they won the ACC regular season title in 2020-21. With that being said, this season could be a real challenge for Bennett and the Cavs, as they replace a bunch from a team that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Senior guard Kihei Clark is the perfect player to run Bennett's system. Although he's undersized, he's a superb passer, plus defender, an incredibly efficient floor general. It will be interesting to see how he does this year; he's going from more of a support role into their best overall player. Likely to start next to him is sophomore Reece Beekman, who is a skilled defender but must become a strong shooter to reach his full potential. Also to feature this backcourt is senior Kody Stattmann and Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin. Franklin brings much needed offense to this roster after averaging over 11 PPG for the Hoosiers, while Stattmann missed most of 2020-21 but brings upside.

With Sam Hauser and Jay Huff moving on, along with Justin McKoy transferring, Virginia has a thin frontcourt. Luckily, Bennett managed to land East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner, who finished second in the AAC in scoring last year. It will be a transition for Gardner, who played in a much different system at ECU than the one Bennett and UVA runs. Sophomore Kadin Shedrick and big man Francisco Caffaro are the only other bigs on the roster. Shedrick is a former prized recruit who is ready to show what he can do, while Caffaro is a seven-footer who should become an elite shot-blocker. Behind this trio, Virginia really doesn't have much else on this roster, which could become a problem late in the year.

Prediction: Second Round

The return of Clark and the addition of Gardner should keep Virginia in the ACC Title conversation, but it won't be an easy year. The lack of depth on the roster could haunt them the deeper they get in their ACC schedule, and Gardner will need time to acclimate. But, since this program has been so consistent this past decade, a Top 20 ranking still seems warranted.

19. St. Bonaventure Bonnies

If you're looking for a team outside the mainstream to believe in this winter and spring, look no further than the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. After winning the Atlantic 10 last year, the Bonnies bring back all five starters and have one of the game's most under-appreciated coaches in Mark Schmidt. 

Senior guard Kyle Lofton leads a deep and experienced backcourt, coming off a '20-'21 in which he averaged 14.4 PPG and over five assists per. He's a crafty, intelligent player, but is looking to further grow his game. If he can improve his shooting and get to the free throw line more frequently, he's a serious A10 Player of the Year favorite. Along with Lofton, St. Bonaventure also brings back senior Jaren Holmes and and Dominick Welch. Welch is probably the best shooter on the team, while Holmes is a strong finisher and proven defender. Add in former Miami Ohio transfer Jalen Adaway, and there's no shortage of proven, quality playmakers. In fact, all four averaged double digit points last year and can take over the offensive load when needed.

The Bonnie frontcourt is not as proven, as they'll likely role with four starting guards this season. Senior Osun Osunniyi will operate as the starting center and is already one of the best shot-blockers in the country. He averaged nearly three per game last year and supplemented that by nearly averaging a double-double with points and rebounds. Beyond him, St. Bonaventure will lean on Pitt transfer Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and several freshmen. Coulibaly started 20 games for Pitt last season and shouldn't have too much difficulties adjusting to life in the A10. 

Prediction: Second Round

In this day and age of one-and-dones and transfers, it's rare to see a team with five senior starters. Schmidt has done an insanely good job of building and maintaining stability, and it feels like this could be a special season. There's nobody in the Atlantic 10 that can match St. Bonaventure, but NCAA Tournament success is their goal.

20. Florida State Seminoles

Leonard Hamilton keeps churning out winning teams in Tallahassee, as the Seminoles have been to three straight Sweet 16 appearances. They once again sent several players to the NBA over the off-season but still return enough to battle for an ACC crown.

The backcourt loses several players from the ACC's top scoring offense, namely Scottie Barnes and M.J. Walker. Expect junior Anthony Polite to step up and become one of the team's top offensive weapons after averaging 10.1 PPG last year. Along with him is senior RayQuan Evans and two big-name newcomers in Matthew Cleveland and Caleb Mills. Cleveland is a five-star recruit who could theoretically start right away, while Mills comes over from Houston. Mills was the preseason AAC Player of the Year prior to last season but transferred mid-season. He now brings immediate scoring punch and the ability to play multiple positions. Another name to watch is sophomore Cam'Ron Fletcher, who comes over from Kentucky. Fletcher was a prized recruit but struggled in Lexington, and had issues with the coaching staff that were well documented. If he can figure things out, he should be a very welcome addition.

The frontcourt isn't quite as proven or deep, but there's still enough here to feel good about the Seminoles. Junior Malik Osborne should take on a leading role as a strong scorer and elite rebounder, while junior Wyatt Wilkes is an absolute sharpshooter who should handle wing duties. The name to watch is probably senior center Tanor Ngom, who will become the starting center now that Balsa Koprivica moves on. Ngom is a load to handle at 7'2" and has regularly flashed potential, but can he put it all together this year? Freshman John Butler will also see minutes at the center spot, considering the lack of depth elsewhere.

Prediction: Second Round

Florida State has become an underrated NBA factory, as they sent several more 'Noles to the Association this off-season. Even so, there's still a lot to like about this roster, with a healthy amount of experience and some big-name additions. Fighting for the ACC crown will be difficult, but I expect Florida State to be firmly in the hunt.

21. Michigan State Spartans

It was an uncharacteristic season for Michigan State in 2020-21, as they needed a late run just to gain entry into the Field of 68, where they were promptly dispatched by UCLA. They then watched as several notable pieces either went pro or hit the portal, including Aaron Henry, Josh Langford, and Rocket Watts. However, Tom Izzo has enough returning, and is too good of a coach to stay down for long.

The Spartans were never able to identify a true natural point guard last season, flipping between Watts and Foster Loyer, who are both better off-ball. Now that both are gone, expect Izzo to turn to Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker. Walker was the Colonial Athletic Association's Defensive Player of the Year and brings a proven pedigree to East Lansing. He'll also be supported by sophomore A.J. Hoggard and newcomer Jaden Akins, a talented combo guard. At the two-guard spot, the Spartans will lean on several untested, but talented, young pieces. Max Christie is one of the most highly touted freshmen arriving in the Big Ten this year, and should see big minutes from the get-go, while Pierre Brooks II was Michigan's Mr. Basketball. Overall, the backcourt lacks a ton of experience, but could see legitimate improvement if the newcomers can come together quickly.

Michigan State's frontcourt is an interesting collection of bigs and forwards hoping to reach their full potential. The two best weapons are Joey Hauser and Gabe Brown, who both played big minutes last winter but will be expected to do even more. Hauser was tremendous after coming over from Marquette early on, but seemed to lose confidence over the course of the season. If he can regain his shooting stroke, he has All-Big Ten talent. Beyond those two, center Mady Sissoko, veteran Malik Hall, and senior Marcus Bingham Jr. will fight for minutes. The trio has all shown upside, but it just hasn't all come together just yet. Hall seems like the closest right now, but Sissoko might have the highest ceiling.

Prediction: Second Round

Michigan State is out to prove they're still the premier basketball program in the state, which won't be an easy task. The good news is that they should have more stability on their roster this year, and the frontcourt is talented enough to make a jump. A Big Ten Title is too much to ask, but finishing over .500 in the league and gaining entry to the Tournament's second weekend seem like reasonable goals.

22. Alabama Crimson Tide

It was not Kentucky, Arkansas, or any of the other traditional SEC powers that went 16-2 and took home the conference crown last season. No, it was the league's football powerhouse, Alabama, who showed they still have a lot to offer as a basketball school. They're hoping to follow it up with another strong showing, and with three starters back, that seems doable. 

The Crimson Tide will have one of the SEC's best backcourts, thanks in large part to the return of former Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford. Quinerly is a tremendous floor general that doesn't turn the ball over and hits threes at an efficient clip. He's hoping to round out his game in 2021-22 and become an NBA Draftee next summer. Shackelford initially entered the transfer portal, but had a change of heart and returned to Tuscaloosa. He averaged 14.0 PPG in '20-'21 and can score any way necessary, whether it be from three-point territory, or at the rim. Also sure to see playing time in the backcourt is senior Keon Ellis, who is back, and newcomers Nimari Burnett and J.D. Davison. Burnett comes over from Texas Tech after one injury-riddled campaign, while Davison is one of the highest-rated recruits in program history. 

Nate Oats will primarily run a three or four-guard lineup, although this Crimson Tide team will have more size than past editions. Alex Tchikou was expected to play a role on last year's team but missed the entire year due to a torn Achilles. At 6'11", with surprising mobility, he fits the Oats system perfectly. Sophomores Darius Miles and Juwan Gary are two holdovers looking to break out with more opportunities this season. Both are wings with different skill sets, but Miles' shooting could be a tremendous asset in 2021-22. Also expected to play a role is seven-footer Charles Bedlako, who has a raw offensive game but the tools to be a real force. With a 7'2" wingspan and good instincts, he should be a great shot-blocker.

Prediction: Second Round

It's always hard to follow up such a magical year, but Alabama was no one-hit wonder last winter. They have legit NBA talent throughout their backcourt and while the frontcourt isn't super experienced, there are pieces ready to step up. I don't see them going 16-2 in the conference this year, but shouldn't have too much troubles returning to the Big Dance.

23. Oklahoma State Cowboys

It really is a sign of the great job head man Mike Boynton has done that Oklahoma State loses the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, and is still considered a contender in the rugged Big 12. That's what happens when you return four starters from a team that went 21-9 and finished tied for fourth in the league last year.

Obviously, Oklahoma State won't be able to replace Cunningham, but the backcourt still has a lot of pieces to like. Senior Isaac Likekele is the type of player that doesn't come around too often in Stillwater. He won't go out and score 20 a night, but he's a tremendous distributor, quality defender, and an elite rebounder for his position. He will once again play a key leadership role, while junior Avery Anderson III will evolve into the Cowboys best pure scorer. He took a backseat to Cunningham at times in 2020-21, but Anderson should have the full green light this year. Junior Chris Harris Jr. is also returning after missing most of last season due to injury, while newcomer Bryce Thompson has brought plenty of attention with him. Thompson was a big-name recruit at Kansas coming into last season, but struggled with the Jayhawks before deciding to head elsewhere in the league.

Two brothers, Keylan and Kalib Boone, lead a strong Oklahoma State frontcourt. Kalib is the better of the two, as he set the OSU school record for single-season shooting percentage while averaging 9.4 points per game. He's natural at either forward spot, but will likely operate as the team's power forward this year. Keylan can play multiple spots with his 6'9" frame and had his best game of the season when Oklahoma State needed it most in the NCAA Tournament against Liberty. Along with the Boone brothers, sophomore Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe is returning after a solid campaign in which he totaled nine points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Then there's the big transfer, Memphis transplant Moussa Cisse. The former five-star recruit thought about going pro but instead decided to head south to Stillwater. He's the most naturally talented big Oklahoma State has had in years and years.

Prediction: N/A (Ineligible)

The prognosis for Oklahoma State's entire season changed when the NCAA struck down their appeal of a previous NCAA Tournament ban. Now, a team that could've been an interesting dark horse contender in the Big 12 realistically has nothing to play for. Boynton should still be able to keep them focused and they'll be a tough out, but any hopes of a Tournament run go out the window.

24. San Diego State Aztecs

Brian Dutcher and San Diego State enter 2021-22 seeking their third straight Mountain West Championship, fresh off a season in which they went 23-5 overall and 14-3 in the league. It won't be an easy task considering the threat of Colorado State and others, but the Aztecs remain the league's most talented team top to bottom.

The Aztecs have not just one, but two, guards who could compete for Mountain West Player of the Year honors this season. The big name is Matt Bradley, a transfer from Cal who finished third in the Pac-12 in scoring last season, averaging 18 PPG. Bradley should remind SDSU fans of another recent Pac-12 transfer, Malachi Flynn, who helped the Aztecs put together a magical season in 2019-2020 before the season was cancelled. Along with Bradley, holdover Trey Pulliam should be in store for a monster season. He's not as big of a scorer as Bradley, but is a tremendous passer and always finds a way to get his hands in passing lanes. Pulliam's numbers might not jump off the page at you, but his importance to this team can't be overstated. Along with that pair, SDSU also retains sophomore Lamont Butler and Keith Dinwiddie Jr., who is a serious breakout candidate. Dinwiddie didn't get a ton of playing time as a freshman due to the deep Aztec backcourt, but flashed long-term potential when he did play.

San Diego State doesn't have quite as big names in the frontcourt, although senior Nathan Mensah was a massive returnee. Mensah finished third in the league in blocks last season and is your prototypical, back-to-the-basket big man. Along with him, the Aztecs have several rotational players back, and Dutcher also did work in the transfer portal. Seniors Joshua Tomaic and Aguek Arop, along with junior Keshad Johnson, give SDSU plenty of different options to try out together on the court. Veteran Jaedon LeDee, who comes over from TCU, has experience playing in big-time college basketball and should find a way to see minutes.

Prediction: Second Round

San Diego State has won 31 of 35 league games the last two seasons and has more than enough to once more be the MW favorite. Again, they'll face more resistance from others than in the past, but it's hard to imagine them not once again finishing at the top or near the top of the conference standings.

25. Colorado State Rams

Colorado State has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2013, but after narrowly missing the Field of 68 last season, that is undoubtedly their goal in 2021-22. It's certainly not an unrealistic one, as the Rams return just about everybody from a team that went 20-8 overall and made it to the semifinals of the NIT.

There's plenty to like about this backcourt, with a nice blend of experience and star power. Veteran Kendle Moore will run point guard duties after a productive '20-'21 campaign. He really is the type of steady lead guard that any college coach would love to have, and he showcased improve shooting potential a season ago. Juniors Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy are also back and will likely lead Colorado State in scoring. Roddy edged Stevens with a 15.9 PPG average in 2020-21 and is also a beast on the glass, while Stevens is even more terrifying because of how efficient he is from three-point and at the free throw line. There's not a team in the Mountain West that can match this 1-2 combo in the backcourt. Add in junior John Tonje, who does so many of the little things for the Rams, and head coach Niko Medved has an abundance of weapons in this backcourt.

Colorado State is hopeful that their rebounding and interior defense improves this season, which held them back in numerous close games a season ago. That will mean more from returnees James Moors and Adam Thistlewood, as well as others. Moors was a fairly big surprise as a productive freshmen in the wacky COVID year, while Thistlewood is a multi-year starter who can step out and hit the three-ball when needed. Junior combo forward Discon Thomas is also returning after making seven starts last year, but the  more intriguing frontcourt piece is likely sophomore Jacob Jennissen. The 6'11" center is still awfully raw, but showed enough last year to be a factor in 2021-22.

Prediction: Second Round

This has the feelings of a potential special season in Fort Collins. Not only do the Rams return just about everyone, they have two of the conference's best in Roddy and Stevens. Now, the goal is clear: put it all together and don't just compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, but finish the job this year.

Just Missed the Cut

Auburn Tigers

Colorado Buffaloes

Indiana Hoosiers

UConn Huskies

Syracuse Orange

Richmond Spiders

USC Trojans

Maryland Terrapins

All-America Teams

First Team

G Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

G Collin Gillespie, Villanova

G/F Johnny Juzang, UCLA

F Drew Timme, Gonzaga

F/C Kofi Cockburn, Illinois

Second Team

G Marcus Carr, Texas

G Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

G/F Paolo Banchero, Duke

F Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

F/C Hunter Dickinson, Michigan

All-Freshmen Team

G TyTy Washington, Kentucky

G Max Christie, Michigan State

G/F Paolo Banchero, Duke

F Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

F/C Jalen Duren, Memphis

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