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April 17, 2024

Predictions for the 2021-22 NCAA basketball season

By ERIC LYNCH | November 11, 2021



This year’s college basketball season is bound to be another exciting one.

It’s that time of year again: NCAA men’s basketball is returning. The season is already underway after some big games from this past Tuesday to lead it off. But with only a few games already behind us, there is still so much to look forward to. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines to track this season. 

National Player of the Year 

The biggest individual award in all of college basketball, the National Player of the Year (NPOY) goes to, predictably, the best player in the sport. Last year, I correctly predicted that Luka Garza would win the award, but that isn’t too impressive considering he was the preseason favorite by far. This year, the distance between the top few contenders isn’t nearly as large.

Drew Timme of Gonzaga University is the experts’ pick for the award. Timme is returning for his junior year on a team that went undefeated for the entire year until losing to Baylor University in the national championship. 

In that season, Timme started every game and averaged 19 points and seven rebounds per game. Gonzaga is nearly everyone’s preseason number one team, making Timme the best player on the best team; that’s usually a good recipe for this award.

Still, there’s one thing working against him: He is going to end up sharing that spotlight with freshman Chet Holmgren, who is also a NPOY candidate for some. Splitting stats with a freshman may end up hurting both of their individual cases.

Johnny Juzang, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who had breakout performances in the NCAA Division-I Men’s Basketball Tournament last year, has also been thrown around as a contender for this award. Like Timme, though, he will be sharing the spotlight with Jaime Jaquez Jr., another NPOY candidate. 

Additionally, I don’t think UCLA will end up being as good as current preseason rankings have them.

This leads to my choice for the award: Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot-tall center for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign averaged over 17 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds per game last season. 

After being upset by the criminally underseeded Loyola University Chicago in the NCAA tournament last year, Illinois has gained a lot of valuable postseason experience. With leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu out of the way, Cockburn will be able to shine and wreak havoc on the Big Ten Conference.

Expect Cockburn to be averaging a double-double, which is much rarer in college than in the National Basketball Association. Although the Big Ten is perhaps the toughest conference in the country this year, you can still expect to see Illinois at the top. I tend to put lofty expectations toward tall, traditional centers in the college game, and I’m sure that Cockburn will show everyone why.

NCAA tournament champions

Last year, I predicted that the University of Virginia would win it all. They didn’t come very close. However, in my NCAA tournament preview, I correctly predicted that the Baylor Bears would win the NCAA tournament despite the Gonzaga Bulldogs being nearly every expert’s favorite by a wide margin. Hopefully I can get it right the first time this year.

One popular pick is the University of Michigan. After placing first in the Big Ten last year, Michigan brings back its leading scorer, Hunter Dickinson, a 7-foot-1-inch center who will be in contention for the NPOY award as well. 

Eli Brooks, an experienced returning guard, will help with that load as well. DeVante’ Jones is an incoming transfer who actually scored more points per game than anyone on Michigan’s roster last season. Altogether, this team has the talent and experience to take on anyone. 

But I won’t entertain too many teams here, because I’m picking the favorite this year. Gonzaga will win the national championship this year, and here’s why: Even after a run like last year, the team retained their top scorer and brought in one of the best freshmen in the nation. Playing in a mid-major conference should help Gonzaga have a great regular season, and that has translated to relatively successful postseasons in the past. 

In the last two NCAA tournaments, Gonzaga has been a number one seed. They have been to the Elite Eight four times since 2015 and have been the runner-up twice. I don’t think head coach Mark Few is going to let another opportunity slip from his hands. Given the experience of his staff and the players, I think this team has all the tools it needs to finally make the most out of its top-level talent. 

That being said, there’s 358 teams that play Division-I basketball. Theoretically, any of them could end up on top at the end of the season. Realistically, there are still at least 25 teams that could reasonably win it all in the crazy single-elimination format of the NCAA tournament. There are plenty of players and teams to watch, so the season will surely be fun.

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