College basketball’s return draws national attention


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

College basketball returns on Nov. 9, and this season has the potential to be one of the greatest ever.

     As the warm weather departs, something else arrives that warms up the environment: college basketball. The 2021-22 college basketball season tips off on Nov. 9, and this season is destined to be an exciting one. After last season was impacted by the pandemic, many teams could bounce back from underachieving seasons, successful teams take a step back and tons of excitement from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Teams We Could See Bounce Back

Duke Blue Devils

     Last season, Duke finished the season at 13-11 and missed the NCAA Tournament, ending a streak of 24 straight appearances in the Big Dance dating back to 1996. This was a very disappointing season for the Blue Devils, who are one of college basketball’s blue bloods. Despite the disappointment of last season, Duke has reloaded their team with two five-star recruits and two four-star recruits in addition to one of their studs from the past two seasons, Wendell Moore. The race for the ACC is wide open this season, and Duke is the betting favorite to win the conference at +200 on Barstool Sportsbook. In legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell season, expect the Blue Devils to win many games during the regular season and have a deep tournament run in March.

Kentucky Wildcats

     Kentucky finished last season 9-16 and finished eighth in the SEC. Similar to Duke, Kentucky is one of college basketball’s blue bloods, so their performance was unexpected. Nevertheless, John Calipari did what he does best: recruit. The Wildcats welcome two five-star recruits and a four-star recruit in addition to multiple key incoming transfers from around the country. Kentucky is in a stacked SEC this season, which includes five teams ranked inside of the Associated Press Top 25. Kentucky is a team to watch, especially after their rough season last year.

Teams We Could See Take a Step Back

Baylor Bears

     By no means am I saying Baylor will have a down year and miss the tournament, that would be crazy, but Baylor will not be nearly as strong as they were last season. Baylor lost multiple key pieces of a team that ran the table and won the national championship, including Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital. Despite losing these players to the NBA, Baylor does have a few incoming recruits that could fill those holes in the team, including Kendall Brown, a five-star recruit, along with a couple four-star and three-star recruits entering the program. Baylor will enter the season ranked eighth, and they are certainly a team that could advance to the second weekend in the NCAA tournament in March but will probably not recreate last season’s magic.

Iowa Hawkeyes

     Iowa is faced with a tough situation this season. Reigning Wooden Award winner, Luka Garza, left for the NBA along with sharpshooter Joe Wieskamp. Additionally, CJ Fredrick transferred to Kentucky and Jack Nunge transferred to Xavier. This will make the Hawkeyes’ season much tougher than last year, but Jordan Bohannon returns along with a few other key players. Iowa has the talent to compete with any team in the Big Ten, but they do not have college basketball’s best player to rely on for a bucket in crunch time. Fran McCaffrey’s squad has a long road ahead of them, and it is likely that they will take a big step back from last season, but look for their scrappy play to win some close games throughout the long season.

Marquee Games on Opening Night

     On opening night, there are top 25 matchups, games featuring teams who are looking to build off of last season and games that could just be flat out fun to watch. Here are a few that I have chosen as the best matchups of the night.

Alcorn State at Washington State – PAC 12 Network – 3:00 P.M. EST

     While this game might not necessarily be the greatest game to watch, it is one of two games that tips off the entire college basketball season. Neither of these teams feature excellent basketball programs, but Washington State was a part of several thrilling games last season, headlined by a win over Stanford in three overtimes.

#3 Kansas vs Michigan State – ESPN – 7:00 P.M. EST

     Kansas and Michigan State will face off in the first game of State Farm Champions Classic in a battle of the blue bloods. While both are considered to be two of the top teams in college basketball, neither of these teams have won a national title within the past decade. The last time Kansas cut down the nets was in 2008, and Michigan State won the Big Ten’s most recent national championship in 2000. Both look to end their droughts this season, and a key trait of a high caliber team is the ability to win big games; this game will be a great indicator of which team has that.

#10 Kentucky vs #9 Duke – ESPN – 9:30 P.M. EST

     This is the big-ticket game on opening night. Duke and Kentucky open up their seasons in the second game of the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. Looking to bounce back from subpar seasons, the two star-studded rosters will square off on national television in what will likely be the best game of the night.

Dixie State at #1 Gonzaga – 9:00 P.M. EST

     This game can almost go into the win column for Gonzaga before the tipoff even happens. Gonzaga enters this game as 40-point favorites, but the reason to keep a close eye on this game is because of the roster Gonzaga has. Gonzaga has one of the scariest lineups in the country with Andrew Nembhard, three incoming five-star recruits, Wooden Award favorite Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, the top recruit of the class of 2021. The ceiling for Gonzaga is very high, as head coach Mark Few looks to bring home his first national championship.

California State University – Bakersfield vs #2 UCLA – PAC 12 Network – 11:00 P.M. EST

     While it is likely that UCLA will win this game by a large margin, we get to see where Mick Cronin’s team truly stands this season. After becoming America’s sweethearts last March during their Cinderella run to the Final Four, UCLA returns every starter from that team, headlined by star guard Johnny Juzang. This game will give a baseline on how good UCLA can be this season. While the tipoff is later than most, it is a game to watch out for.


     This season has all of the components to be a great one. It will be interesting to see who surprises, who disappoints and most importantly who gets the confetti shower at the final buzzer. Claim your team now because it is going to be a wild ride.