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

1 year ago 121

College hoops fans, players and coaches merit this. Last year’s COVID-impacted run was a struggle, played successful mostly bare arenas and without a existent non-conference season. It was astatine times joyless — lacking the passion, enthusiasm and strength that marque the athletics great.

But everyone persevered and got done it. And present a caller play has arrived that promises to beryllium memorable. Sold-out arenas are back. So are galore large players.

Some returned aft being fixed an other twelvemonth of eligibility, others opted to travel backmost — oregon successful the lawsuit of apical freshmen, to be assemblage successful the archetypal spot — owed to the NCAA greenlighting name, representation and likeness usage aft dragging its feet for longer than 1 of its never-ending investigations.

Gonzaga and National Player of the Year campaigner Drew Timme are chasing that elusive rubric aft falling abbreviated past April. Mike Krzyzewski is looking to spell retired a victor successful his 42nd and last play arsenic Duke caput coach. Kentucky has reloaded aft its archetypal losing play successful 32 years. Memphis mightiness beryllium the astir absorbing squad of all, with a star-studded coaching unit and loaded roster featuring elite NBA draught prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren.

There are caller coaches astatine North Carolina (Hubert Davis) and Texas (Chris Beard), and the instrumentality of championship-or-bust expectations astatine UCLA.

There is overmuch acquisition nationwide and overmuch young, next-level talent. And, for the astir part, nary much Zoom, thankfully. It’s the assemblage hoops we person been waiting for with bated breath. The roadworthy to the Final Four successful New Orleans starts connected Tuesday.

Here is The Post’s preseason apical 25:

1. Gonzaga

One of these years the Zags volition chopped down the nets connected the archetypal Monday of April. The longer you lb connected the door, the much apt it yet volition autumn down, and Gonzaga again has arsenic overmuch endowment arsenic anyone. The Bulldogs instrumentality 1 of the champion large men successful the federation (Timme) and adhd the imaginable No. 1 prime successful the NBA draught (Chet Holmgren). They besides diagnostic a supporting formed that includes high-level transportation Rasir Bolton (Iowa State), skilled returning players Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson and the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports.com.

2. Texas

The Longhorns person truthful overmuch depth, their 2nd portion could marque the NCAA Tournament. Managing egos whitethorn beryllium Beard’s toughest task successful his archetypal play astatine his alma mater aft adding six transfers — including 3 large difference-makers successful Tre Mitchell (Massachusetts), Timmy Allen (Utah) and Marcus Carr (Minnesota). Combine that with the instrumentality of starters Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey and the beingness of top-40 freshman Jaylon Tyson, and the Longhorns are flooded with talent.

3. UCLA

The full starting 5 from the stunning Final Four tally returned. Mick Cronin was capable to adhd to that formidable radical by landing antiaircraft ace Myles Johnson from Rutgers to complement Cody Riley successful the overgarment and blue-chip helping imaginable Peyton Watson. The expectations successful Westwood are done the roof. It’s title oregon failure.

4. Kansas

For astir schools, a second-place decorativeness successful 1 of the champion leagues successful the state and an NCAA Tournament triumph is crushed to celebrate. In Lawrence, it’s a dismal year. The ceiling for this radical is considerably higher, aft bringing backmost its apical 3 scorers: Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson. That explosive trio volition beryllium tougher to defend, present that they volition beryllium joined by experienced playmaking guards successful Remy Martin (Arizona State) and Joseph Yesufu (Drake) who volition agelong opposing defenses.

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

5. Purdue

Expectations successful West Lafayette, Ind., commencement with getting to New Orleans. Purdue returns its apical 8 scorers aft finishing 4th successful the rugged Big Ten — a radical led by double-double instrumentality Trevion Williams, on-the-rise defender Jaden Ivey and 7-foot-4 game-changer Zach Edey.

6. Michigan

Experience and elite freshmen: That’s the beardown premix Juwan Howard has enactment unneurotic for his 3rd play successful Ann Arbor. Back is the anchor, Associated Press preseason All-American Hunter Dickinson, alongside glue-guy elder Eli Brooks. They are joined by intriguing postgraduate transportation constituent defender DeVante’ Jones (Coastal Carolina) and a big-time recruiting people headed up by five-star forwards Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabaté.

7. Kentucky

This isn’t the Kentucky our pre-pandemic selves would recognize. It is old, but successful a bully way, with 7 contributors entering their inferior oregon elder seasons. After their archetypal losing play successful much than 3 decades past season, the Wildcats should beryllium a vastly improved shooting squad — pursuing the additions of sharpshooting transfers Kellan Grady (Davidson) and CJ Fredrick (Iowa) — and they person a perchance elite two-headed constituent defender tandem successful Georgia transportation Sahvir Wheeler and five-star freshman TyTy Washington.

8. Illinois

The Illini whitethorn boast the nation’s apical inside-out duo: carnal halfway Kofi Cockburn and dynamic constituent defender Andre Curbelo. The elite tandem volition beryllium counted connected to pb Brad Underwood’s squad aft the departures of All-American starring scorer Ayo Dosunmu on with contributors Adam Miller and Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

9. Villanova

Nobody played nationalist champion Baylor tougher successful the NCAA Tournament than Jay Wright’s Wildcats, and that was without Associated Press preseason All-American Collin Gillespie. Only guardant Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is gone from that group, making Villanova a fashionable Final Four pick. Fifth-year seniors Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels volition pb this team, but versatile inferior defender Justin Moore is the key. Expect a large leap from him aft a somewhat underwhelming sophomore season.

10. Baylor

Baylor won’t regenerate the accumulation of MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, the trio of guards who led the Bears to the nationalist championship. But they bash person plentifulness of firepower, whether it’s the instrumentality of Matthew Mayer, LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler oregon the additions of Arizona transportation James Akinjo and top-15 enlistee Kendall Brown. The frontcourt could beryllium a strength, with Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua back, and the imaginable emergence of 7-foot sophomore Zach Loveday.

11. Duke

Krzyzewski’s last play is 1 of the starring storylines of this twelvemonth successful the sport, arsenic Duke hopes to nonstop Coach K retired a victor with his 13th Final Four and sixth nationalist title. There is imaginable for a peculiar play — led by the fantastic freshman trio of imaginable No. 1 NBA draught prime Paolo Banchero, White Plains autochthonal AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels. Sophomore constituent defender Jeremy Roach volition tally the show, and if helium tin instrumentality the adjacent measurement aft a coagulated freshman year, the Blue Devils are positioned to beryllium a threat.

12. Oregon

Nobody turns implicit a roster much often and with arsenic overmuch occurrence arsenic Dana Altman. Oregon seems to diagnostic a importantly caller squad connected an yearly basis, yet has reached the Sweet 16 4 times successful the past 5 tournaments. This play is nary different. Gone are stars LJ Figueroa, Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte. In are interaction transfers Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Jacob Young (Rutgers), joining holdovers Will Richardson and Eric Williams Jr. Somehow, Altman volition marque it work. He ever does.

DukeDuke manager Mike KrzyzewskiGetty Images

13. Alabama

The run-and-gun Crimson Tide volition again beryllium a must-watch, a 3-point-happy, perimeter-oriented squad that volition airy up the scoreboard. Leading scorers Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly are joined by five-star freshman JD Davison and Texas Tech transportation Nimari Burnett successful a loaded backcourt that volition support SEC coaches up astatine night.

14. Arkansas

The Razorbacks mislaid 4 of their apical six scorers from the program’s archetypal Elite Eight squad successful 26 years. That would mean rebuilding for astir schools. For Eric Musselman, it simply meant hitting the transportation market. He landed constituent defender Chris Lykes (Miami), defender Au’Diese Toney (Pittsburgh), helping Stanley Umude (South Dakota) and guardant Trey Wade (Wichita State). They volition articulation cardinal returners JD Notae, Davonte Davis and Jaylin Williams successful Fayetteville.

15. Memphis

Penny Hardaway returns his apical 2 scorers, Landers Nolley II and DeAndre Williams, added premier recruits Duren and Bates and a large transportation successful Earl Timberlake (Miami). Oh, and his coaching unit present includes Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace. It’s going to beryllium a fascinating play astatine Memphis.

16. Auburn

Between 7-foot-1 North Carolina transportation Walker Kessler, inferior holdover Jaylin Williams and five-star freshman Jabari Smith, Auburn’s frontcourt has sky-high potential. If the transfer-heavy backcourt produces, the Tigers could beryllium Final Four sleepers.

17. Houston

Only Gonzaga (127) has much wins implicit the past 4 seasons than Houston (111). Kelvin Sampson has turned the AAC schoolhouse into 1 of the precise champion programs not successful a powerfulness conference, and contempt losing prima guards Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, don’t expect that to alteration this year. Junior Marcus Sasser, the team’s second-leading scorer past twelvemonth successful its Final Four run, has prima potential, and the carnal frontcourt stays mostly intact.

18. Florida State

Florida State has go a hoops schoolhouse nether Leonard Hamilton, with 3 consecutive trips to the 2nd play of the tournament, a inclination that could proceed this March. The Seminoles volition beryllium heavy and long, featuring a beardown recruiting people highlighted by top-25 freshman Matthew Cleveland, transfers Caleb Mills (Houston) and Cam’Ron Fletcher (Kentucky), and erstwhile relation players acceptable for their prima crook successful Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne.

19. North Carolina

Hubert Davis’ archetypal offseason arsenic a caput manager was a beardown one. Taking implicit for retired Hall of Famer Roy Williams, Davis landed 2 large transfers to restock his frontcourt: Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette). He was besides capable to support his young, promising backcourt successful place. Now, we spot if the erstwhile Knick tin manager these players.

20. Ohio State

The stunning aboriginal exit from past year’s NCAA Tournament — the second-seeded Buckeyes were eliminated by No. 15 Oral Roberts — overshadowed different beardown run by Chris Holtmann’s program. Expect Ohio State to bounce back, peculiarly if transportation guards Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Cedric Russell (Louisiana) tin capable the void near by starring scorer Duane Washington Jr. successful the backcourt. Up front, Holtmann’s radical is stacked — with EJ Liddell, Kyle Young, Zed Key and Justice Sueing each back, and transportation Joey Brunk (Indiana) added to the mix.

21. Tennessee

Rick Barnes wanted to trial his heavy team, and helium didn’t messiness astir — scheduling Villanova, Texas, Memphis and either North Carolina oregon Purdue successful the Hall of Fame Tip-off astatine Mohegan Sun. His fourth-ranked, seven-man recruiting class, led by top-rated constituent defender Kennedy Chandler, volition get an aboriginal sensation of big-time assemblage basketball. Fortunately, that radical volition person plentifulness of experienced teammates to trust upon: guards Victor Bailey Jr. and Josiah-Jordan James, and guardant John Fulkerson.

22. Maryland

Experience won’t beryllium an issue, but cohesion could be. Maryland is moving successful 2 cardinal players: Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) successful the backcourt and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown) successful the paint. The Terrapins besides added graduates Xavier Green (Old Dominion) and Simon Wright (Elon). Getting each these caller players to mesh with prima returnees Eric Ayala and Donta Scott whitethorn instrumentality time. By March, though, the Terrapins could beryllium precise unsafe with a much well-rounded roster than past year’s squad that reached the 2nd circular of the tournament.

College hoopsKyle LoftonGetty Images

23. St. Bonaventure

This has a magical play successful Olean written each implicit it. The full starting five, each of them seniors who averaged treble figures past season, are backmost aft reaching the NCAA Tournament a twelvemonth ago. And the beardown core, led by level wide Kyle Lofton, has much assistance from a brace of transfers: guardant Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (Pittsburgh) and defender Quadry Adams (Wake Forest).

24. Virginia

First, the bully quality for the Cavaliers: Fourth-year starter Kihei Clark returns and volition beryllium joined successful the backcourt by talented underclassman Reece Beekman. Now, the atrocious news: There is simply a ton of scoring to marque up — aft losing the apical 3 of Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Trey Murphy III. Virginia volition thin connected its defence — nary quality determination — and volition number connected 2 caller additions, Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana), making an contiguous impact.

25. Connecticut

There are intelligibly violative questions with this team, and I judge Danny Hurley made a mistake not adding a proven scorer from the transportation market. The Huskies struggled to people past twelvemonth erstwhile James Bouknight was retired with an elbow injury, and determination is nary evident replacement for the firepower they mislaid erstwhile the dynamic defender went to the NBA. But the Huskies are loaded successful the frontcourt, wherever sophomore large antheral Adama Sanogo is simply a sleeper Big East Player of the Year candidate. They besides volition beryllium incredibly hard to people against successful the overgarment and volition instrumentality virtually everyone of enactment speech from Bouknight.

Final Four: Auburn, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Texas

Champion: Gonzaga