Post’s Top 25, Final Four picks for 2021-22 college basketball

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School basketball followers, gamers and coaches deserve this. Final yr’s COVID-impacted marketing campaign was a battle, performed in largely empty arenas and with no true non-conference season. It was at instances joyless — missing the fervour, enthusiasm and depth that make the game nice.

However everybody persevered and bought by it. And now a brand new season has arrived that guarantees to be memorable. Bought-out arenas are again. So are many nice gamers.

Some returned after being given an additional yr of eligibility, others opted to return again — or within the case of high freshmen, to attend faculty within the first place — because of the NCAA greenlighting title, picture and likeness utilization after dragging its ft for longer than certainly one of its unending investigations.

Gonzaga and Nationwide Participant of the 12 months candidate Drew Timme are chasing that elusive title after falling quick final April. Mike Krzyzewski is seeking to exit a winner in his 42nd and last season as Duke head coach. Kentucky has reloaded after its first dropping season in 32 years. Memphis could be probably the most attention-grabbing group of all, with a star-studded teaching workers and loaded roster that includes elite NBA draft prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren.

There are new coaches at North Carolina (Hubert Davis) and Texas (Chris Beard), and the return of championship-or-bust expectations at UCLA.

There’s a lot expertise nationwide and far younger, next-level expertise. And, for probably the most half, no extra Zoom, fortunately. It’s the faculty basketball we’ve got been ready for with bated breath. The highway to the Remaining 4 in New Orleans begins on Tuesday.

Right here is The Put up’s preseason high 25:

1. Gonzaga

Considered one of these years the Zags will reduce down the nets on the primary Monday of April. The longer you pound on the door, the extra probably it will definitely will fall down, and Gonzaga once more has as a lot expertise as anybody. The Bulldogs return the most effective huge males within the nation (Timme) and add the potential No. 1 choose within the NBA draft (Chet Holmgren). In addition they function a supporting forged that features high-level switch Rasir Bolton (Iowa State), expert returning gamers Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson and the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class, in accordance with 247Sports activities.com.

2. Texas

The Longhorns have a lot depth, their second unit might make the NCAA Match. Managing egos could also be Beard’s hardest activity in his first season at his alma mater after including six transfers — together with three main difference-makers in Tre Mitchell (Massachusetts), Timmy Allen (Utah) and Marcus Carr (Minnesota). Mix that with the return of starters Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey and the presence of top-40 freshman Jaylon Tyson, and the Longhorns are flooded with expertise.

3. UCLA

All the beginning 5 from the beautiful Remaining 4 run returned. Mick Cronin was ready so as to add to that formidable group by touchdown defensive ace Myles Johnson from Rutgers to enrich Cody Riley within the paint and blue-chip wing prospect Peyton Watson. The expectations in Westwood are by the roof. It’s championship or failure.

4. Kansas

For most faculties, a second-place end in the most effective leagues within the nation and an NCAA Match victory is motive to have fun. In Lawrence, it’s a dismal yr. The ceiling for this group is significantly greater, after bringing again its high three scorers: Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson. That explosive trio will probably be harder to defend, now that they are going to be joined by skilled playmaking guards in Remy Martin (Arizona State) and Joseph Yesufu (Drake) who will stretch opposing defenses.

Kansas’ David McCormack (33), Ochai Agbaji (30) and Mitch Lightfoot (44).
AP

5. Purdue

Expectations in West Lafayette, Ind., begin with attending to New Orleans. Purdue returns its high eight scorers after ending fourth within the rugged Large Ten — a gaggle led by double-double machine Trevion Williams, on-the-rise guard Jaden Ivey and 7-foot-Four game-changer Zach Edey.

6. Michigan

Expertise and elite freshmen: That’s the sturdy combine Juwan Howard has put collectively for his third season in Ann Arbor. Again is the anchor, Related Press preseason All-American Hunter Dickinson, alongside glue-guy senior Eli Brooks. They’re joined by intriguing graduate switch level guard DeVante’ Jones (Coastal Carolina) and a big-time recruiting class headed up by five-star forwards Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabaté.

7. Kentucky

This isn’t the Kentucky our pre-pandemic selves would acknowledge. It’s previous, however in a great way, with seven contributors getting into their junior or senior seasons. After their first dropping season in additional than three many years final season, the Wildcats needs to be a vastly improved taking pictures group — following the additions of sharpshooting transfers Kellan Grady (Davidson) and CJ Fredrick (Iowa) — they usually have a doubtlessly elite two-headed level guard tandem in Georgia switch Sahvir Wheeler and five-star freshman TyTy Washington.

8. Illinois

The Illini could boast the nation’s high inside-out duo: bodily middle Kofi Cockburn and dynamic level guard Andre Curbelo. The elite tandem will probably be counted on to guide Brad Underwood’s group after the departures of All-American main scorer Ayo Dosunmu together with contributors Adam Miller and Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

9. Villanova

No person performed nationwide champion Baylor harder within the NCAA Match than Jay Wright’s Wildcats, and that was with out Related Press preseason All-American Collin Gillespie. Solely ahead Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is gone from that group, making Villanova a preferred Remaining 4 choose. Fifth-year seniors Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels will lead this group, however versatile junior guard Justin Moore is the important thing. Anticipate a significant leap from him after a considerably underwhelming sophomore season.

10. Baylor

Baylor gained’t substitute the manufacturing of MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, the trio of guards who led the Bears to the nationwide championship. However they do have loads of firepower, whether or not it’s the return of Matthew Mayer, LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler or the additions of Arizona switch James Akinjo and top-15 recruit Kendall Brown. The frontcourt may very well be a energy, with Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua again, and the doable emergence of 7-foot sophomore Zach Loveday.

11. Duke

Krzyzewski’s last season is without doubt one of the main storylines of this yr within the sport, as Duke hopes to ship Coach Okay out a winner together with his 13th Remaining 4 and sixth nationwide title. There’s potential for a particular season — led by the incredible freshman trio of potential No. 1 NBA draft choose Paolo Banchero, White Plains native AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels. Sophomore level guard Jeremy Roach will run the present, and if he can take the following step after a strong freshman yr, the Blue Devils are positioned to be a risk.

12. Oregon

No person turns over a roster extra regularly and with as a lot success as Dana Altman. Oregon appears to function a considerably new group on an annual foundation, but has reached the Candy 16 4 instances previously 5 tournaments. This season is not any totally different. Gone are stars LJ Figueroa, Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte. In are affect transfers Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Jacob Younger (Rutgers), becoming a member of holdovers Will Richardson and Eric Williams Jr. One way or the other, Altman will make it work. He at all times does.

Duke
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
Getty Photographs

13. Alabama

The run-and-gun Crimson Tide will once more be a must-watch, a 3-point-happy, perimeter-oriented group that can gentle up the scoreboard. Main scorers Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly are joined by five-star freshman JD Davison and Texas Tech switch Nimari Burnett in a loaded backcourt that can hold SEC coaches up at night time.

14. Arkansas

The Razorbacks misplaced 4 of their high six scorers from this system’s first Elite Eight group in 26 years. That might imply rebuilding for most faculties. For Eric Musselman, it merely meant hitting the switch market. He landed level guard Chris Lykes (Miami), guard Au’Diese Toney (Pittsburgh), wing Stanley Umude (South Dakota) and ahead Trey Wade (Wichita State). They are going to be part of key returners JD Notae, Davonte Davis and Jaylin Williams in Fayetteville.

15. Memphis

Penny Hardaway returns his high two scorers, Landers Nolley II and DeAndre Williams, added premier recruits Duren and Bates and a significant switch in Earl Timberlake (Miami). Oh, and his teaching workers now consists of Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace. It’s going to be a captivating season at Memphis.

16. Auburn

Between 7-foot-1 North Carolina switch Walker Kessler, junior holdover Jaylin Williams and five-star freshman Jabari Smith, Auburn’s frontcourt has sky-high potential. If the transfer-heavy backcourt produces, the Tigers may very well be Remaining 4 sleepers.

17. Houston

Solely Gonzaga (127) has extra wins over the previous 4 seasons than Houston (111). Kelvin Sampson has turned the AAC college into one of many perfect packages not in an influence convention, and regardless of dropping star guards Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, don’t count on that to vary this yr. Junior Marcus Sasser, the group’s second-leading scorer final yr in its Remaining 4 run, has star potential, and the bodily frontcourt stays largely intact.

18. Florida State

Florida State has turn out to be a basketball college beneath Leonard Hamilton, with three straight journeys to the second weekend of the match, a pattern that would proceed this March. The Seminoles will probably be deep and lengthy, that includes a powerful recruiting class highlighted by top-25 freshman Matthew Cleveland, transfers Caleb Mills (Houston) and Cam’Ron Fletcher (Kentucky), and former function gamers prepared for his or her star flip in Anthony Well mannered and Malik Osborne.

19. North Carolina

Hubert Davis’ first offseason as a head coach was a powerful one. Taking up for retired Corridor of Famer Roy Williams, Davis landed two main transfers to restock his frontcourt: Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette). He was additionally in a position to hold his younger, promising backcourt in place. Now, we see if the previous Knick can coach these gamers.

20. Ohio State

The beautiful early exit from final yr’s NCAA Match — the second-seeded Buckeyes have been eradicated by No. 15 Oral Roberts — overshadowed one other sturdy marketing campaign by Chris Holtmann’s program. Anticipate Ohio State to bounce again, notably if switch guards Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Cedric Russell (Louisiana) can fill the void left by main scorer Duane Washington Jr. within the backcourt. Up entrance, Holtmann’s group is stacked — with EJ Liddell, Kyle Younger, Zed Key and Justice Sueing all again, and switch Joey Brunk (Indiana) added to the combo.

21. Tennessee

Rick Barnes wished to check his deep group, and he didn’t fiddle — scheduling Villanova, Texas, Memphis and both North Carolina or Purdue within the Corridor of Fame Tip-off at Mohegan Solar. His fourth-ranked, seven-man recruiting class, led by top-rated level guard Kennedy Chandler, will get an early style of big-time faculty basketball. Luckily, that group can have loads of skilled teammates to rely on: guards Victor Bailey Jr. and Josiah-Jordan James, and ahead John Fulkerson.

22. Maryland

Expertise gained’t be a difficulty, however cohesion may very well be. Maryland is working in two key gamers: Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) within the backcourt and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown) within the paint. The Terrapins additionally added graduates Xavier Inexperienced (Outdated Dominion) and Simon Wright (Elon). Getting all these new gamers to mesh with star returnees Eric Ayala and Donta Scott could take time. By March, although, the Terrapins may very well be very harmful with a extra well-rounded roster than final yr’s group that reached the second spherical of the match.

College hoops
Kyle Lofton
Getty Photographs

23. St. Bonaventure

This has a magical season in Olean written throughout it. All the beginning 5, all of them seniors who averaged double figures final season, are again after reaching the NCAA Match a yr in the past. And the sturdy core, led by ground common Kyle Lofton, has extra assist from a pair of transfers: ahead Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (Pittsburgh) and guard Quadry Adams (Wake Forest).

24. Virginia

First, the excellent news for the Cavaliers: Fourth-year starter Kihei Clark returns and will probably be joined within the backcourt by gifted underclassman Reece Beekman. Now, the unhealthy information: There’s a ton of scoring to make up — after dropping the highest three of Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy III. Virginia will lean on its protection — no information there — and can rely on two new additions, Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana), making an instantaneous affect.

25. Connecticut

There are clearly offensive questions with this group, and I consider Danny Hurley made a mistake not including a confirmed scorer from the switch market. The Huskies struggled to attain final yr when James Bouknight was out with an elbow harm, and there’s no apparent substitute for the firepower they misplaced when the dynamic guard went to the NBA. However the Huskies are loaded within the frontcourt, the place sophomore huge man Adama Sanogo is a sleeper Large East Participant of the 12 months candidate. In addition they will probably be extremely troublesome to attain towards within the paint and can return nearly everybody of word except for Bouknight.

Remaining 4: Auburn, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Texas

Champion: Gonzaga