Super-Mega 2021-22 College Basketball Preview
I love this sport
I’ve been writing a lot about football this year, mainly college with a little NFL mixed in, but boy do I love college basketball just as much if not more than college football. One has the best regular season in sports, one has the best postseason in sports. While we got a nearly-full season last year, and the decision makers in the sport did the very best they could under the circumstances in terms of making the NCAA tournament happen, it just wasn’t the same. Every regular season there were big games getting cancelled, teams went on pause for weeks and didn’t look the same after, and a very limited amount of fans in arenas. Imagine the Jalen Suggs Final Four shot with a full crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium? That would’ve been absolutely nuts.
All that is to say, man I am excited for this season. There’s teams that feel this is their chance to break through, big time programs with new coaches, transfers galore that will be elevating programs even if we can’t see it yet, and arenas that will be absolutely rocking with enthusiastic fans looking to get back in their groove. For this season preview blog, I’m going to go through my preseason top 25, predicting the standings for the top 7 conferences, picking my All-American teams, my first team all conferences, and finally predicting the 68 teams that will make the 2022 NCAA tournament. As my good friend Jon Rothstein would say; Here. We. Go.
Preseason Top 25
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Mark Few’s squad will be right back in the thick of it in 2022. Drew Timme is the favorite for National Player of the Year, and incoming recruit Chet Holmgren is a contender to be the number 1 pick. Pair them with experienced point guard Andrew Nembhard, and top tier recruits in Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman, plus some depth provided by Anton Watson, Rasir Bolton and Kaden Perry, and you’ve got a squad that can pick up right where they left off.
2. Villanova Wildcats
On paper I like a couple other rosters better than Nova’s, but Jay Wright has built up enough credibility to where I can almost blindly trust him, especially when he has a senior point guard who was leading one of the best teams in the country before he got injured in Collin Gillespie. With Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon rounding on the core, Villanova will be the class of the Big East and could win their 3rd title in the last 6 tournaments.
3. UCLA Bruins
I am a little cautious with my UCLA optimism, they were very close to not making the tournament last year and if they don’t have their magical Final Four run nobody ranks them anywhere close to here. But on the flip side, they did have that run, they did beat Alabama and Michigan, and they did take Gonzaga to overtime. And now they return every meaningful player from last year and add five-star Peyton Watson. UCLA is a strong contender to make back to back Final Fours.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
This is Matt Painter’s best chance to get to his first Final Four, they could wind up have two of the 10-15 best players in the sport between Trevion Williams and Jaden Ivey. Ivey looked like a million bucks in FIBA competition over the summer, as did Purdue teammate Zach Edey whose incredible size creates matchup nightmares for other teams, and as he becomes more skilled and experienced the sky is the limit. The Big Ten will be loaded again, and Purdue is my pick to win the conference and be a 1 seed.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
In the Bill Self era, the best Kansas teams have come when they have a veteran point guard and don’t rely heavily on freshmen. This team fits that bill with Arizona State transfer Remy Martin handling the ball, and a projected starting five that goes Martin (senior), Ochai Agbaji (senior), Christian Bruan (junior), Jalen Wilson (junior), and David McCormack (senior). The Jayhawks are one of three teams with a good shot to win the Big 12 but their expectations don’t stop there.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
I’m higher on Illinois than most, but I think they were written off too quickly after a disappointing tournament loss and Ayo Dosunmu going pro. This team doesn’t have as good of a player as Ayo, but they could be deeper than last year’s team. Kofi Cockburn will be one of the best players in the entire sport, and Andre Curbelo is about to explode onto the scene. They also return super-senior Trent Frazier, got good value out of the transfer portal with Omar Payne and Alfonso Plummer. Illinois is primed for another great season.
7. Texas Longhorns
Perhaps nobody combed the transfer portal in the offseason as well as Chris Beard did in his first year at Texas. Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey are the experience, and transfers Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop, Tre Mitchell, Dylan Disu and Devin Askew provide depth along with talented freshman Jaylon Tyson who will gain experience and get better with so many good players around him.
8. Michigan Wolverines
I have Michigan a hair lower than most due simply to how much they lost and they’re primarily relying on freshmen to replace them (I know Gonzaga is in the same spot, but Mark Few has built up enough credibility in terms of handling roster turnover). Hunter Dickinson will be one of the best big men in the country, and if their talented recruiting class clicks they can compete with anyone in the nation.
9. Baylor Bears
The defending champs check in at number 9, they lose a lot of what made them an all-time great team in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, Macio Teague and Mark Vital, but there’s enough talent and good enough coaching to survive that and contend for the Big 12. Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua return with much bigger roles this year. If Arizona transfer James Akinjo and five star freshman Kendall Brown can pair with those guys to fill in the massive shoes left behind, look for the Bears to make serious noise again.
10. Memphis Tigers
Memphis has to be the team with the most variance between their ceiling and their floor in 2022. If Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates are what they are billed as, they’re a bonafide national title contender. If they don’t click, this team could be struggling to crack the field of 68. I tend to lean closer to the former, with some trepidation. Fortunately for Penny Hardaway, the Tigers have enough depth to where those two guys won’t have to carry the team from day 1, with DeAndre Williams, Landers Nolley, Lester Quinones and Alex Lomax. Bates may not even play at the start of the season due to how late he reclassified and enrolled at Memphis, so this will probably be a team that struggles early but could hit their stride later.
11. Arkansas Razorbacks
They lose a lot, mainly Moses Moody, Justin Smith and Jalen Tate, but Eric Musselman loves building talented rosters through the transfer portal and this year will be no different. JD Notae and Davonte Davis are the key returners, while Chris Lykes from Miami and Au’diese Toney from Pitt are the key newcomers. They’ll have plenty of depth between the 7’3” colossus Connor Vanover and transfers Stanley Umude, Kamani Johnson and Jaxson Robinson.
12. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky and Duke being down was a major storyline in 2021, and unlike most I like Kentucky more in 2022. Coach Cal has hopped aboard the load-up-on-transfers game, as opposed to a bunch of freshman (although Cal can’t completely abandon his old ways, what with five start freshman point guard TyTy Washington). However it’ll be Oscar Tshiebwe from West Virginia, Sahvir Wheeler from Georgia, Kellan Grady from Davidson and CJ Frederick from Iowa that carry the load along with returners Keion Brooks and Davion Mintz.
13. Alabama Crimson Tide
It wasn’t intentional putting three SEC teams in a row, but I do think the league is a three team race and if you told me any of them win the conference I’d have zero surprise. The big news for the Tide was the late return of Jaden Shackleford, who pairs with Jahvon Quinerly as the key returners from a year ago. The supplement the roster with talented freshmen JD Davison and Charles Bediako along with transfers Nimari Burnett from Texas Tech and Noah Gurley from Furman. Nate Oats could go back to back in the SEC.
14. Duke Blue Devils
I guess I can’t put them much lower. The hype for Paolo Banchero is getting off the rails, he’s being talked about as an NBA star in the making. If he is what he’s billed as, the other two five star freshmen in AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels contribute, and Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, and Joey Baker all step their games up from a year ago, the sky is the limit. But with so much youth this is a season that could certainly disappoint.
15. Houston Cougars
Kelvin Sampson has built a program at Houston that I gave the benefit of the doubt to even if I don’t love their roster on paper, and if Memphis has some turbulence they should cruise to the AAC title. Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, Fabian White and Reggie Chaney are the top returners, and they’ll be joined by Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards to round out the starting 5. I don’t see a second straight Final Four run in their future, but I also wouldn’t rule it out.
16. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks lose first round pick Chris Duarte among other starters, but replenish that talent with transfer portal value as Dana Altman seemingly always does. De’Vion Harman comes over from Oklahoma following the retirement of Lon Kruger, and is joined by Quincy Guerrier from Syracuse and Jacob Young from Rutgers. The Ducks also return point guard Will Richardson, and talented freshman Nate Bittle rounds out a core that could potentially end up pushing UCLA for the conference title.
17. North Carolina Tar Heels
If Hubert Davis is worth his salt as an in-game head coach, he could comfortably exceed this ranking because there’s plenty of talent. Caleb Love returning for his sophomore season is huge, he could surge into being one of the best point guards in the nation. Armando Bacot returning is also great news, and snagging Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia out of the transfer portal will give the Heels one of the better backcourts in the country.
18. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
If you’re a program like St. Bonaventure that doesn’t get high caliber recruits, your path to success is having a great coach and returning all your best players. Well, Mark Schmidt is among the best coaches in the nation that we don’t talk about, and the Bonnies return all of their top 5 scorers from a team that made the tournament a year ago. Kyle Lofton runs the show for a team that starts a four-guard-and-a-big lineup. This team will run the Atlantic 10 and could make real noise in March.
19. Ohio State Buckeyes
During the offseason when Ohio State wasn’t sure if Duane Washington and EJ Liddell were coming back, I said they’d be a Big Ten contender if both came back and would be unranked if both left. Well they went 1/2, with Liddell coming back as one of the best players in the Big Ten and Washington departing. He returns to a team with lots of depth, mainly Kyle Young, Jamari Wheeler, Justice Sueing, among others. If a role player or two step up into becoming a very good player, they could easily exceed this ranking.
20. Florida State Seminoles
Not going to let their roster turnover dissuade me from ranking Mr. Consistency Leonard Hamilton in the top 25. Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne are the top two returners from a Sweet 16 team a year ago, and Houston transfer Caleb Mills is easily the biggest fish they grabbed from the portal. They’ll need a big season from stud freshman Matthew Cleveland, and if they get it this team will contend for the ACC.
21. Maryland Terrapins
Scott Van Pelt would be disappointed in me for not having the turtles higher, but I think this is certainly fair for a team that will help make up tier 2 of the Big Ten along with Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Rutgers. Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell will make a great 1-2 punch with returner Eric Ayalla, while Hakim Hart, Donta Scott, and transfers Qudus Wahab and Ian Martinez add depth.
22. Oklahoma State Cowboys
It’d be easy to write this team off with the loss of number 1 pick Cade Cunningham, but look deeper and this team returns every other meaningful contributor with quality players ready to take on bigger roles. Isaac Likekele is a great do-everything guy even if he doesn’t put up huge scoring numbers, the Boone brothers will have another year of experience, and while Bryce Thompson disappointed at Kansas, he’s still a talented player that could find his way at Oklahoma State. Cowboys can make noise in the Big 12.
23. Virginia Tech Hokies
The return of star forward Keve Aluma for his senior season was the biggest offseason news for the Hokies, followed closely by the transfer of Storm Murphy from Wofford to run point guard. They lost a heartbreaker to Florida in the very first game of the Round of 64 a year ago, but with four of their top five scorers returning plus a quality transfer who Mike Young has coached before, this is a surefire tournament team that could make the second weekend.
24. Wichita State Shockers
Call me a homer, I don’t care. This team returns the conference player of the year in Tyson Ettiene who’s fueled by a disappointing tournament performance, Morris Udeze who’s one of the best big men in the conference, Ricky Council is a breakout guy to watch, and they are loaded with depth between returners Dexter Dennis, Craig Porter Jr, Chaunce Jenkins, and transfers Joe Pleasant and Qua Grant. This team will turn heads this year, hop aboard before it’s too late.
25. Tennessee Volunteers
I loved the Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden Tennessee teams, it’s a shame how painfully boring they’ve become since the losses of those guys. However, boring or not, they’ll still be a good team with the return of John Fulkerson, Victor Bailey and Santiago Vescovi coupled with five star freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler and Auburn transfer Justin Powell.
AAC: 1. Memphis 2. Houston 3. Wichita State 4. SMU 5. UCF 6. Tulsa 7. Cincinnati 8. South Florida 9. Temple 10. Tulane 11. East Carolina
ACC: 1. Duke 2. North Carolina 3. Florida State 4. Virginia Tech 5. Virginia 6. Notre Dame 7. Syracuse 8. Louisville 9. Georgia Tech 10. Clemson 11. Miami 12. NC State 13. Wake Forest 14. Pitt 15. Boston College
Big Ten: 1. Purdue 2. Illinois 3. Michigan 4. Ohio State 5. Maryland 6. Indiana 7. Michigan State 8. Rutgers 9. Iowa 10. Northwestern 11. Wisconsin 12. Penn State 13. Minnesota 14. Nebraska
Big 12: 1. Kansas 2. Texas 3. Baylor 4. Oklahoma State 5. Texas Tech 6. West Virginia 7. Oklahoma 8. Kansas State 9. TCU 10. Iowa State
Big East: 1. Villanova 2. Xavier 3. UCONN 4. St John’s 5. Seton Hall 6. Providence 7. Butler 8. Creighton 9. Georgetown 10. Marquette 11. DePaul
PAC 12: 1. UCLA 2. Oregon 3. USC 4. Arizona 5. Colorado 6. Washington State 7. Oregon State 8. Arizona State 9. Utah 10. Stanford 11. Washington 12. Cal
SEC: 1. Arkansas 2. Kentucky 3. Alabama 4. Tennessee 5. Auburn 6. Mississippi State 7. LSU 8. Ole Miss 9. Florida 10. South Carolina 11. Missouri 12. Vanderbilt 13. Texas A&M 14. Georgia
First Team: Drew Timme, Gonzaga forward. Johnny Juzang, UCLA guard. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois center. Max Abmas, Oral Roberts guard. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana forward.
Second Team: Jaden Ivey, Purdue guard. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga forward. Collin Gillespie, Villanova guard. Trevion Williams, Purdue forward. Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse guard/forward.
Third Team: Hunter Dickinson, Michigan center. Paolo Banchero, Duke forward. EJ Liddell, Ohio State forward. Scotty Pippen Jr, Vanderbilt guard. Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama guard.
First Team All-Conferences
AAC: Tyson Etienne, Wichita State. Kyler Edwards, Houston. Marcus Sasser, Houston. Jeremiah Davenport, Cincinnati. Jalen Duren, Memphis
ACC: Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech. Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse. Caleb Love, North Carolina. Paolo Banchero, Duke. Isaiah Wong, Miami.
Big Ten: Kofi Cockburn, Illinois. Jaden Ivey, Purdue. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana. Trevion Williams, Purdue. EJ Liddell, Ohio State.
Big 12: Remy Martin, Kansas. David McCormack, Kansas. Marcus Carr, Texas. Adam Flagler, Baylor. Nijel Pack, Kansas State.
Big East: Collin Gillespie, Villanova. Julian Champagnie, St John’s. Paul Scruggs, Xavier. RJ Cole, UCONN. Nate Watson, Providence.
PAC 12: Johnny Juzang, UCLA. Tyger Campbell, UCLA. Will Richardson, Oregon. Noah Williams, Washington State. Isaiah Mobley, USC.
SEC: Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama. Iverson Molinar, Mississippi State. Scotty Pipper Jr, Vanderbilt. Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky. JD Notae, Arkansas.
Field of 68
1 Seeds: Gonzaga, UCLA, Villanova, Purdue
2 Seeds: Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Michigan
3 Seeds: Baylor, Memphis, Arkansas, Kentucky
4 Seeds: Alabama, Duke, Houston, Oregon
5 Seeds: North Carolina, St Bonaventure, Ohio State, Florida State
6 Seeds: Maryland, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Wichita State
7 Seeds: Tennessee, USC, Xavier, Indiana
8 Seeds: Notre Dame, Virginia, Colorado State, UCONN
9 Seeds: Arizona, Michigan State, BYU, Auburn
10 Seeds: Belmont, Rutgers, Loyola-Chicago, Mississippi State, St John’s
11 Seeds: LSU, Texas Tech, Seton Hall, San Diego State
12 Seeds: Louisville, West Virginia, Buffalo, Liberty
13 Seeds: Louisiana Tech, UC Irvine, Yale, New Mexico State
14 Seeds: Wright State, Chattanooga, Vermont, Winthrop
15 Seeds: Georgia State, South Dakota State, Southern Utah, Colgate
16 Seeds: James Madison, Iona, New Orleans, Bryant, Texas Southern, Morgan State
Last 4 Byes: Mississippi State, St. John’s, LSU, Texas Tech
Last 4 In: Seton Hall, San Diego State, Louisville, West Virginia
First 4 Out: Richmond, Colorado, Washington State, Ole Miss