Big man Drew Timme leads Gonzaga once again (Photo: C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Welcome to college basketball 2021-22, hopefully the season where life returns to a recognizable normal.
While COVID-19 is not eradicated, and may never will be, arenas and gyms around the country will be welcoming fans once again. Even along the East Coast. Yes, even the Ivy League will toss the ball up again.
That said this is a brave new world in college hoops. The dawn of the Transfer Age, not to mention Name/Image/Likeness, has radically altered how to look at programs big and small. Everyone from Texas, Kentucky, Northeastern and Marshall will benefit from transfers. Many other schools lost their top returning players.
Making sense of it all isn’t easy but we are here to offer a Magic Johnson-type assist. Oh, here is the Magic Man in action for all you youngsters.
So Gonzaga is my top choice, yet the Zags won’t be as deep or as talented as they were a year ago when they threatened to run the table before losing in the National Title game to Baylor. Could they match their 31-1 record? No, not with tests vs. Texas, Duke, Alabama and more before the West Coast Conference snooze begins.
The Zags beat UCLA in a Final Four Game for the Ages and the Bruins return the bulk of their team and merit top five attention as well. In the East, Villanova brings back Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and more and are easily the pick in the Big East. North Carolina and Duke (shocking!) sit atop the ACC and watch out for St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies need to win games in November/December to merit an attractive NCAA Tourney seed but they are equipped to do so.
The Big Ten and SEC look like the most talented, deepest conferences once again.
That does beg the question of just where the ACC is these days. For years that conference appeared set up to be the consensus top college hoop contingent but the talent isn’t showing up like it used to. While big forward Paolo Banchero is expected to star at Duke, the ACC did not add another top 20 recruit, according to ESPN.
The team that lit it up on the recruit front was Memphis and Penny Hardaway. The Tigers added summer star targets Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, who were originally targeted for the Class of 2022 but instead graduated in four years and chose to enroll in college.
My preseason Top 25:
- Gonzaga – Not as loaded as last year but best inside duo in nation with Timme/Holmgren.
2. UCLA – Just like typing Johnny Juzang.
3. Texas – Chris Beard & Transfer U.
4. Villanova – Is Collin Gillespie 30 years old yet?
5. Kansas – Experience, size and Bill Self.
6. Michigan – Love old school beef like Hunter Dickinson.
7. Kentucky – Don’t expect Coach Cal to be down 2 years running.
8. North Carolina – Hubert Davis inherits veteran group.
9. Duke – Coach K’s last roundup.
10. Oregon – Not many programs set up to land choice transfers more than Ducks.
11. Baylor – Defending champs taking step back but still big time.
12. Memphis – Don’t know if Penny can coach a lick but he’s got an NBA jayvee team.
13. Arkansas – We do know that Eric Musselman can coach a lot. Liking Davonte Davis.
14. Purdue – The Trev Williams/Zach Edey combo will kick butt in Big Ten.
15. Illinois – You need a bruiser in Big Ten and Kofi Cockburn checks that box.
16. Connecticut – Dan Hurley will miss James Bouknight but he has as much talent as anyone in Big East.
17. Ohio State – Could be a little high but I respect Chris Holtmann.
18. Tennessee – Only Duke and Kentucky collect 5-stars like Rick Barnes.
19. Alabama – Thin frontcourt but Tide may have best backcourt in country.
20. Maryland – Okay, I just want to see Fatts Russell and Mark Turgeon co-exist.
21. Houston – Mad props for Kelvin Sampson,
22. Auburn – Shocker: Bruce Pearl is getting Choice Chops. Jabari Smith the latest.
23. St. Bonaventure – Few teams return everyone from a very good team. Mark Schmidt for Mayor of Olean.
24. Florida State – The middle of the ACC has promise (Virg/ND/VaTech) but we’ll go with Seminoles.
25. Syracuse – Two Boeheims (Buddy & Jimmy) and Cole Swider. Orange will fire from deep early and often.