The college basketball season kicks off today including two marquee matchups in the 2021 Champions Classic. Mike Krzyzewski begins his final season as the Head Coach of the Duke Blue Devils. The Def Pen Sports team has put together a 2021-22 Men’s Top 25 for Opening Day. Contributors to this list include Stephen Kalayil, Austin Reed, and Dylan Hargis.
2021-22 NCAAM Top 25
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Mark Few just retools instead of reloads at this point. They bring in the number one recruit in the country in Chet Holmgren while bringing back National Player of the Year favorite Drew Timme. Gonzaga is the clear preseason number one team in the country the second year in a row.
2. Villanova Wildcats
Jay Wright seemingly always has the Wildcats up near the top. The team returns Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, and Jermaine Samuels this year. While there isn’t Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on the roster they are still a cohesive unit that will win plenty of games.
3. Texas Longhorns
The great Chris Beard has arrived and college basketball will be put on notice. Beard has been one of the more successful coaches in recent years and now he is paired with a power school with deep pockets, phenomenal campus, and NIL opportunities galore. The Longhorns will win big and early in his tenure. Doesn’t hurt that instant impact transfers Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop along with holdover veterans Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey will be a force.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
After a down year that ended in a 2nd round blowout loss to USC, Bill Self re-tooled his roster with a couple of explosive guards to compliment the core of wings from last year’s team. Preseason All-American transfer Remy Martin will be handed the keys to get Kansas back to the top of the Big 12 and possibly all the way to the Final Four.
5. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins swept through the NCAA Tournament last season and returned the entire main rotation including Johnny Juzang. Five-star forward Peyton Watson also comes in this year to make the team even more dynamic.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue returns nearly everyone from a team that was bounced in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament. The veteran team got a welcomed surprise when All Big Ten forward Trevion Williams decided to return to the Boilermakers. Look out for sophomore studs, Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey to make the leap and help the Boilermakers make a legit run at the Final Four for Matt Painter.
7. Michigan Wolverines
The job Juwan Howard has done in his short time at Michigan has been quite impressive and he once again possesses a Final Four caliber squad. He has the second-best recruiting class to mesh with some of the returners from his Elite Eight squad that is right there with Purdue as conference favorites.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari and the Wildcats are coming off a disappointing season, but that won’t discourage them. The team is bringing in three talented recruits and reloaded with some big-name transfers. This new look Kentucky roster should be back on top of the SEC this year. Kentucky lands in the top ten of the 2021-22 NCAAM Top 25.
9. Duke Blue Devils
In Coach Krzyzewski’s swan song, coach in waiting Jon Scheyer will be learning the ropes of being the head man at one of college basketball’s best jobs. Duke missed the tournament last year, but they reloaded in a BIG way with freshman and ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Paolo Banchero leading the way. Look for sophomore forward Mark Williams to make the jump from serviceable to a good/great player for the Blue Devils.
10. Baylor Bears
Coming off a National Championship, they bring back quite a bit from that squad but are missing their starting backcourt. Arizona transfer James Akinjo will be relied on but Scott Drew has really seemed to have found something to get his program to the next level.
11. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats has put Alabama basketball on the map and continues to win on the court and on the recruiting trail. The team keeps Shackelford and Quinerly from last year’s team and adds some talented recruits to replace what they lost. Oats and his coaching keep them in the top 15.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini
Kofi Cockburn is back and that was the jolt Illinois needed after being bounced by in-state rival, Loyola Chicago from the NCAA tournament. Head coach Brad Underwood will rely on rising sophomore guard Andre Curbelo to play second to Cockburn. The losses of Adam Miller and Ayo Dosunmu will be mitigated by 5th-year guards Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams.
13. Oregon Ducks
Dana Altman has done a great job re-tooling a team that lost six guys including stud wing Chris Duarte. Once again Altman has brought in a loaded class of transfers that should give them the chance to battle with UCLA for the crown in the Pac 12.
14. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Razorbacks lost a lot from last year, but Eric Musselman is a wizard on the court. Talent won’t be an issue this season and the team should be a top team in the SEC this year. JD Notae will lead the way for the team this year.
15. Ohio State Buckeyes
After getting bounced by Oral Roberts last season, Ohio State will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Chris Holtmann’s team has 10 seniors, led by junior EJ Liddell. Look for grad transfer Cedric Russell (Louisiana) and sophomore Zed Key to be X factors for the Buckeyes.
16. Houston Cougars
What Kelvin Sampson has done at Houston has been truly remarkable. Coming off a Final Four appearance last year Houston is expected to once again be a threat after bringing back stud guard Marcus Sasser along with a host of transfers including Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards.
17. Memphis Tigers
Penny Hardaway has a LOADED team, lead by mega recruits Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. Bates and Duren are both considered top-five draft picks in the upcoming NBA draft are paired with experienced players in Lander Nolley, Lester Quinones, and Miami transfer, Earl Timberlake.
18. North Carolina Tar Heels
The new-look Tar Heels begin their first season with Hubert Davis as the team’s Head Coach. A more modern offense should help the Tar Heels be near the top of the ACC. Caleb Love needs a bounce-back season and transfer Dawson Garcia could be the difference-maker for the team.
19. Tennessee Volunteers
The Volunteers lost a couple of draft picks in Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer but bring in a five-star in Kennedy Chandler to run the show at point guard. John Fulkerson will be a key to giving them a post presence and as always Rick Barnes should have a stout defense.
20. Florida State Seminoles
Leonard Hamilton is probably one of the most underrated head coaches in NCAA history. He continues to field talented rosters and gets his guys to the NBA. The team lost a lot, but Anthony Polite and transfer Cam’Ron Fletcher will lead the way.
21. Maryland Terrapins
Mark Turgeon, a perceived underachieving coach has his team appearing in the Def Pen 2021-22 NCAAM Top 25. Weirdly, the buzz around Maryland isn’t the players but the coaching staff changes. Turgeon hired DMV native Bruce Shingler and former Kansas great, Danny Manning. Both ought to help Turgeon land the DMV recruits and top grad transfers. Will be interesting to see how good Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and veteran Eric Ayala mesh.
22. Auburn Tigers
After an excellent run of seasons, Bruce Pearl finally came back down to earth last year as the team dealt with some struggles and ultimately took a postseason self-ban. They are expected to be back in the mix as a top 25 squad but a preseason Achilles injury to junior Allen Flanigan certainly has put a damper on the hype.
23. UCONN Huskies
James Bouknight is gone and that leaves a hole on the roster that needs to be filled. Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole are both still on the roster and should lead the way. Experience will be the top tool for the team in the Big East.
24. USC Trojans
Andy Enfield’s team should be tournament bound again, despite losing Evan Mobley to the NBA Draft. Look for Mobley’s brother Isiah to take a step forward. The Trojans make the cut for the Def Pen 2021-22 NCAAM Top 25.
25. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo isn’t used to having seasons that are as much a struggle as last season was. They slipped into the tournament in the First Four last year after a handful of top 25 upsets they pulled off. They return a handful of starters and role players but will rely on transfer Tyson Walker to elevate the team back to where always seem to be.