College Basketball’s Return: Road to March Madness

Kyle Ward, Writer

  With NCAA Basketball having returned Tuesday, November 9th with big matchups of Kansas vs Michigan State and Kentucky vs Duke, it’s time to look at the preseason top 25 AP polls for this season of college hoops.

 

  1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Toughest Opponent: @UCLA 11/29/21

Potential Upset Alert: @BYU 2/5/22

Gonzaga returns after a shattering loss in the finals of March Madness to Baylor. Much of the team is returning, but two big losses were in the backcourt with both Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi leaving for the NBA, this will make the Bulldogs offense rely even more on the front court with Drew Timmie and freshman top recruit Chet Holmgren.

 

2. UCLA Bruins

Toughest Opponent: vs Gonzaga 11/29/21

Potential Upset Alert: @Oregon State 2/29/22

UCLA has had their expectations shoot up due to their spectacular run to the final four last season, which ended in heartbreak to a half court buzzer beater from Jalen Suggs. The Bruins will have Johnny Juzang coming back, who was the catalyst to their success in this past March, as well as in coming 5-star freshman Peyton Watson to start on the wing beside him, they are favorites to win the pac-12 at minimum and are also projected to go on a deep run in March.

 

3. Kansas Jayhawks

Toughest Opponent: @Baylor 2/26/22

Potential Upset Alert: @St. John’s 12/3/21

Kansas will have a very similar team to that of last year, their only major loss being that of Devon Dotson. Ochai Agbaji will likely be the main source of offense for the Jayhawks this year, and will be who they look to in clutch situations, which is a big step up from his previous roll as system 3&D wing. 

4. Villanova Wildcats

Toughest Opponent: @UCLA 11/12/21

Potential Upset Alert: @Syracuse 12/7/21

The Wildcats return lucky that Collin Gillespie both came back for his senior year and that he isn’t still injured after the ankle injury sustained during the big east tournament. Freshman additions Jordan Longino and Trey Patterson should also help the cause for this teams run at the national title.

5. Texas Longhorns

Toughest Opponent: @Gonzaga 11/13/21

Potential Upset Alert: @West Virginia 2/26/22

Texas returns after more of their trademark misery. But coach Chris Beard has revamped the roster with transfers and freshman, the biggest names being Marcus Carr from Minnesota and 5 star wing Dillon Mitchell. Not to mention the head coaching change should revitalize the longhorns program, and maybe make it past the first round.

 

6. Michigan Wolverines

Toughest Opponent: @Illinois 1/14/22

Potential Upset Alert: vs San Diego State 12/4/21

Michigan made a quality effort to the elite 8 last year, but lost key players in Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner and Chaundee Brown. They added Caleb Houston most notably in their recruiting class, who should help fill the void left by one of the forwards who were lost. Michigan is still a favorite to take the Big Ten alongside schools like Illinois, Ohio State and Purdue, but they will have issues due to the stacked teams at the top of the conference.

 

7. Purdue Boilermakers

Toughest Opponent: @Michigan 1/11/22

Potential Upset Alert: vs Rutgers 2/20/22

Purdue comes into this year after a disappointing first round loss to North Texas, but they are still heavy favorites for the Big Ten, mostly because of the scoring provided by Jaden Ivey. Purdue will likely run and offense centered around Ivey for the regular season, but come conference tournament and NCAA tournament time, they will need to play a more team oriented style, which could be their downfall.

 

8. Baylor Bears

Toughest Opponent: @Kansas 2/5/22

Potential Upset Alert: vs West Virginia 1/31/22

The reigning defending national champions come into this season without much of their core from their championship roster. They will have to make do with five star forward Kendall Brown and returning Matthew Mayer. While they may no longer be the favorites to win the conference, that could put a chip on their shoulder and inspire them to win games they aren’t expected to.

 

9. Duke Blue Devils 

Toughest Opponent: vs Gonzaga 11/26/22

Potential Upset Alert: vs Syracuse 1/22/22

In the final season of the legendary career of coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils will have a fire lit under them, especially after the lackluster performance from last season, not even making the tournament. This year is all in for Duke, as it will be their last chance to give Coach K that final championship to his name. 

 

10. Kentucky Wildcats

Toughest Opponent: @Alabama 2/5/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Arkansas 2/26/22

Kentucky’s 2020-21 season was similar to Duke’s, a disappointing year capped off by missing the NCAA tournament. They will look different after the losses of Terrance Clarke and BJ Boston, as they also gained transfer center from West Virginia Oscar Tshiebwe. Calipari will look to hone in on his guys skills and get the best out of this Wildcats team.

 

11. Illinois Fightin Illini

Toughest Opponent: vs Purdue 1/17/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Maryland 1/21/22

Illinois comes into this season with a different run offense due to the loss of Ayo Dosunmu to the NBA, they will run a more slow, paint centric offense built around Kofi Cockburn. The loss of shooting could take them down in the long term, but Cockburn is definitely ready to dominate schools without a superstar center 

 

12. Memphis Tigers

Toughest Opponent: vs Alabama 12/14/21

Potential Upset Alert: @Cincinnati 2/3/22

The Memphis Tigers have the key to winning in the regular season, star power. Emoji Bates, Jalen Duren and Earl Timberlake lead this star studded squad and they should have an easy time of it in the American Athletic Conference, as a few teams in the conference took steps back from previously or just aren’t good enough to hang with this group. 

 

13. Oregon Ducks

Toughest Opponent: @UCLA 1/13/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Oregon State 1/8/22

Oregon got some big help from five star recruit Nathan Bittle to man the paint for them, but the loss of Chris Duarte will damage them severely on the wing, both on the offensive and defensive side. Oregon projects to contend for the Pac-12 title, but could run into some trouble with teams like UCLA and Arizona.

 

14. Alabama Crimson Tide

Toughest Opponent: @Kentucky 2/19/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Auburn 2/1/22

While Alabama didn’t get as far as they’d probably have liked to, the Crimson Tide have ample opportunity to make a deep run this season, Jahvon Quinerly will take on a bigger role, no longer coming off the bench and should be able to take command of the offense.

 

15. Houston Cougars

Toughest Opponent: @Memphis 3/6/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Wichita State 2/20/22

Houston team is relatively unchanged, swapping out Quentin Grimes for Kyler Edwards and Ja’Vier Francis. The Cougars will likely fall off a bit because that kind of sustained success doesn’t usually carry over when a key piece is shifted around.

 

16. Arkansas Razorbacks

Toughest Opponent: @Alabama 2/12/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Missouri 2/15/22

The Razorbacks greatly exceeded expectations last season, making it to the Elite Eight and eventually falling to Baylor, and while they did lose their star Moses Moody, they acquired many pieces to replace him. 4 star guard Chance Moore, and transfers Trey Wade, Jaxson Robinson, Au’Diese Toney, and Chris Lykes will fit in quickly and help take Arkansas as far as they can.

 

17. Ohio State Buckeyes

Toughest Opponent: vs Kentucky 12/18/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Indiana 1/6/22

The Buckeyes were major disappointment in last years’ tournament, losing in round one to fifteenth seeded Oral Roberts, but they have brought most of their team, including star forward EJ Liddell. Their only major loss was Duane Washington Jr., who they replaced well with Malaki Branham and Jamari Wheeler.

 

18. Tennessee Volunteers

Toughest Opponent: vs Villanova 11/20/21

Potential Upset Alert: @LSU 1/8/22

The Vols were thought of as a sleeper title contender, but fell in round one to twelfth seeded Oregon State, who would go onto the Elite Eight. The team went through some major changes, losing most of the core that lead them to their seeding in the tournament. Yves Pons, Josiah Jordan-James, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson all gone, replaces by five stars Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, and four stars Jonas Aidoo and Jahmai Mashack.

 

19. North Carolina Tar Heels

Toughest Opponent: vs Michigan 12/1/21

Potential Upset Alert: vs Syracuse 2/28/22

UNC will look to improve to ACC title contender status this year, lead by a core group of Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, Dawson Garcia, as well as new recruits Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn.

 

20. Florida State Seminoles

Toughest Opponent: vs Syracuse 12/4/21

Potential Upset Alert: vs Syracuse 12/4/21

The Seminoles have been very good at producing NBA talent over the last few years, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, and Scottie Barnes all top 10 picks. This boosting of talent has lead to the Noles getting more interest from top recruits and transfers, their two major recruits are Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley, top transfers are Cam’Ron Fletcher and Caleb Mills.

 

21. Maryland Terrapins 

Toughest Opponent: @Michigan 1/18/22

Potential Upset Alert: vs Hofstra 11/19/21

Terps just made the tournament last year, but did manage to knock off the UConn Huskies in round one. Their biggest loss was Aaron Wiggins, who they replaced with transfer from Utah, Ian Martinez, they also added Julian Reese, Ike Cornish, and Pavlo Dziuba. Maryland should be able to marginally improve off of last years success, they seem like a dark horse for the Big Ten title. 

 

22. Auburn Tigers

Toughest Opponent: @Alabama 1/11/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Saint Louis 12/18/21

Auburn looks like they could be great this year with the additions of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, they are a dark horse for the SEC title despite Alabama and Kentucky being the heavy favorites. Their rebounding number will shoot up with the addition of Walker Kessler, and it should help them pull out grinding wins against conference opponents.

 

23. St. Bonaventure Bonnies 

Toughest Opponent: Virginia Tech 12/17/21

Potential Upset Alert: Saint Louis 1/8/22

The Bonnies had minor roster turnover, adding two three star freshman in Karim Coulibaly and Quandry Adams to supplement the depth of the roster. They are easy favorites to win the A10, only VCU and Saint Louis seem to stand up to this team and if they can avoid upset it should be relative smooth sailing. 

 

24. UConn Huskies

Toughest Opponent: @Villanova 2/5/22

Potential Upset Alert: @Butler 1/20/22

UConn looked lost when they didn’t have James Bouknight on the floor last season, now that Bouknight is in the NBA, they will need to play better as a team. Jordan Hawkins, Samson Johnson, Rashool Diggins, and Corey Floyd Jr will attempt to replace the lost production, as well as a returning Akok Akok to man the paint. UConn could have a shot at the Big East title, but they’ll need to figure out who their top scorer is to focus their offense on.

25. Virginia Cavaliers

Toughest Opponent: 

Potential Upset Alert:

The Cavaliers have had a pretty rough 2021, a mediocre 2020-21 season, a first round exit to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, and a lackluster recruiting class and incoming transfer class. Taine Murray won’t be incorporated into the offense as much due to the system. Jayden Gardner and Ahmaan Franklin will need to prove themselves to be key parts of the rotation.

 

Sleeper Teams left out of the Top 25

Syracuse Orange, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Arizona Wildcats, St. John’s Red Storm, San Diego State Aztecs, Brigham Young Cougars