5 NCAA Basketball Contenders to Watch in 2021-22

We’ve still got a couple of months to go before college basketball is underway. In some ways though, it feels like we’ve been gearing up for the season. Shifting transfer rules and the NCAA’s adoption of NIL led to an offseason of unprecedented player movement, leading teams to fine-tune their rosters throughout the summer.

At long last, though, it feels as if rosters are essentially set in stone. So now that we know which players are suiting up for which teams, it seems a good time to work our way through an early top five.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Like a lot of traditional “blue-bloods,” Kansas had a fairly rough go of things during the 2020-21 season. Reloading for 2021-22 though, head coach Bill Self arguably made greater use of the newly frenetic transfer portal than any other coach. The Jayhawks are bringing in two experienced scoring guards in Arizona State’s Remy Martin and Drake’s Joseph Yesefu. Kansas will also return two stars who very well could have turned pro in David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji, and will boast a deep collection of role players led by Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson, and four four-star freshmen. There is no clear-cut, runaway favorite in NCAA basketball on paper, but Kanas will have experience, versatility, and depth in spades.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs

While there may not be a runaway favorite, the early projections have pegged Gonzaga as the likeliest winner for the second year running. The basketball odds on Bwin Sports have the Bulldogs at +600 to win the NCAA Tournament in 2022, with no other team getting better than +1000. This doesn’t position the Zags as quite the juggernaut they were in 2020-21, but it’s a justifiable position. Despite the losses of Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Joel Ayayi, Mark Few will return a Player of the Year candidate in Drew Timme and an experienced guard in Andrew Nembhard. He’ll also add a potential number one draft pick in Chet Holmgren, and additional freshman standouts in Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman. On pure talent, Gonzaga may have the best team.

3. UCLA Bruins

UCLA is a little bit of a tricky team to figure. The Bruins made an unforgettable March Madness run in 2021, but did so as an 11-seed. This makes it fair to wonder whether the regular season or postseason Bruins were “real.” Either way though, UCLA will return its entire core from last March’s lovable squad — led by sharpshooter Johnny Juzang and point guard Tyger Campbell. Throw in a very strong two-man freshman class of Peyton Watson (who could star immediately) and Will McClendon, and a little bit of added depth in Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson, and Mick Cronin will have a very complete team. UCLA should be in the mix once again.

4. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan may not have the depth of some of the other contenders, but its leaders have the ability to carry the team to the Final Four. Hunter Dickinson’s decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft means the Wolverines will have a Player of the Year contender manning the paint. Juwan Howard also brings in a veteran point guard in Devante’ Jones, who averaged nearly 20 points per game for a solid Coastal Carolina team in 2020-21. And then there are incoming five-star prospects Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabete — both dynamic forwards who will make an immediate impact. We’ll have to wait and see how this group meshes, but the talent is there for Michigan to have a special season.

5. Duke Blue Devils

Duke had a particularly rough time during the pandemic-altered 2020-21 campaign. Its vaunted freshman class underperformed, eventual first-round draft pick Jalen Johnson left the team, and when Sports Illustrated reported that head coach Mike Krzyzewski was questioning playing during the pandemic, the response was more critical than thoughtful. Fast-forward to the current preseason though, and things seem to be heading in the right direction once again. The Blue Devils have a potential number one draft pick in big man Paolo Banchero, who will partner with Mark Williams (who emerged as a potential star late last season) and Marquette transfer Theo John to form a vaunted frontcourt. Additional five-star freshmen AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels bring even more talent, and returners Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore make up an experienced backcourt. Throw in the fact that it’s Coach K’s final season, and it’s hard to imagine Duke not being in the mix.

Frankly, it’s tricky to keep it to five. There are a lot of teams that look like potential contenders at this stage, with Villanova, Texas, Memphis, and Kentucky in particular just missing our list here. That may make things a little turbulent in early rankings and results, but ultimately it should make for a great season

How might the landscape of US college football drastically change with Oklahoma and Texas moving from the Big 12 to the SEC?
How might the landscape of US college football drastically change with Oklahoma and Texas moving from the Big 12 to the SEC?
Read More: