College Hoops 2021/22: Who’s Best Placed To Be Crowned National Champion?

College basketball season began on Tuesday across the United States with several dozen games in all corners of the country. 

After a weird but successful 2021 season in which the NCAA Tournament was played (unlike 2020), this season will feature a return to relative normalcy. There might be COVID-19 complications in isolated instances, but fans will be back in arenas throughout the sport. 

Last season, the Pac-12 and other conferences did not have fans in buildings for most if not all of the regular season. Many showcase games were played in buildings with few to no fans. This continued through the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four, which had small crowds. The gatherings were a fraction of the size of a normal crowd for each stage of March Madness. This year, we’re going to get the true March experience, and a robust, fully-attended regular season which will carry us into the Madness in 2022. 

Stats Insider has revealed its season-opening national championship odds. Let’s take a look at the top ten teams based on their projections.   

RELATED: Check out all of Stats Insider's 2021/22 College Basketball Projections 

1 – Gonzaga Bulldogs

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 6%

Last season, Jalen Suggs was the breakout superstar freshman who invigorated the Gonzaga offence and gave the Zags a new dimension. This season, that freshman uber-recruit is Chet Holmgren, who joins a lineup which already has Drew Timme (the big man who returns from last season’s national runner-up) and a host of other proven starters. Gonzaga and Baylor were the two best teams throughout the 2021 season; it was simply a question of which team was better. They both reached the national title game and fulfilled the expectations of a collision in college basketball’s ultimate showcase. The game itself was a letdown, but GU and Baylor were elite all season. Expect Gonzaga to similarly be a cut above the rest of college basketball in 2022. 

2 – Michigan Wolverines

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 4.1%

Juwan Howard brings back a lot of pieces from last season’s team, which won the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship and gained a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines reached the Elite Eight and barely missed the Final Four, falling to UCLA on a night when top-10 NBA draft pick Franz Wagner had a nightmare shooting game from the field. Michigan brings back elite big man Hunter Dickinson. He'll be very difficult to handle. Replacing point guard Mike Smith, who beautifully orchestrated the Wolverines’ half-court offence last season, will be a central key for Michigan. 

3 – Villanova Wildcats

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 3.8%

The Wildcats lost guard Collin Gillespie to injury late last season. Yet, they still made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament and gave Baylor a tough battle before finally falling short. Gillespie is back this season, ready to tend to unfinished business. That reality – of having dreams denied last season – should fuel Villanova in ways that other teams won’t be able to call upon. Jay Wright won national titles in 2016 and 2018, and he hasn’t had an elite team in the past three years. It would be surprising if Villanova is not at the forefront of the conversation when the 2022 NCAA Tournament rolls around. As long as this team stays healthy, it should be a very high seed next March, probably no lower than a No. 2. 

4 – UCLA Bruins

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 3.7%

UCLA will be a fascinating team to watch. Why? Because UCLA is a traditional college basketball power, a blue-blood, which fell on hard times for more than a decade, and then reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, when no one expected the Bruins to make a run. UCLA is college basketball royalty, but last season’s team was a true Cinderella. Now that UCLA owns a preseason top-five ranking, the heavyweight identity is expected to return to Westwood. Is this team worthy of that level of hype, or was last March’s run just a magical three-week carpet ride? We will soon find out. It will be a delicious drama, one way or the other. 

5 – Texas Longhorns

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 3.6%

Of all the teams in the country with a new coach, Texas might have hit the biggest home run by landing Chris Beard from nearby Texas Tech. Beard took Texas Tech – hardly a basketball school, and hardly a school with elite-level resources – and guided it within an eyelash of the national championship in 2019. Texas Tech went to overtime against Virginia in a memorable thriller and lost in Minneapolis. Now, Texas – a school with an abundance of resources – has Beard in its corner. Beard immediately hit the transfer portal and landed high-profile stars from power conference programs such as Marcus Carr from Minnesota and Timmy Allen from Utah. Those veteran players give Texas a new but experienced lineup. Beard is set to make Texas every bit as strong as Big 12 powerhouses Baylor (the defending champion) and Kansas. 

6 & 7 – Kentucky and Duke 

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 3% and 2.9%

We’re going to look at Kentucky and Duke (who are scheduled to meet in the season opener; this column was written just before the start of that game) together because these two blue-blood programs both crashed and burned last year. John Calipari had his worst season at Kentucky since 2013, when his team similarly missed the NCAA Tournament. Mike Krzyzewski could not find solutions for a flawed roster which never truly found itself and had a very weak backcourt. Coach K’s appetite for basketball seemed clearly diminished by the pandemic and the disruptions it created for him and his program. It was not shocking when Krzyzewski announced he would step down after this season and hand the keys to former Duke player Jon Scheyer, a member of the 2010 national championship team in Durham, North Carolina. How will Calipari respond to last season? How will Coach K respond in what will be his last season? These two questions will dominate the conversation in college basketball over the next several months. 

8 – Purdue Boilermakers

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 2.8%

Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in college basketball who has never reached the Final Four. He came achingly close two years ago, but Virginia tied the Boilermakers on a buzzer-beating shot and then beat them in overtime to move to the Final Four and eventually win the national title. Purdue always seems to produce an elite big man. The latest one is Trevion Williams, an agile beast in the paint at both ends of the floor. Purdue has veteran role players returning this season to surround Williams. Everything is in place for a deep March run. 

9 – Kansas Jayhawks

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 2.8%

While Baylor won the national title last year, Kansas wasn’t “Kansas.” The Jayhawks didn’t play up to their standard, and they had some roster holes they needed to fill. Enter Remy Martin, a transfer from Arizona State who gives the Jayhawks badly needed scoring punch in the backcourt. KU has an established, veteran front-court. If Martin is the player coach Bill Self thinks he is, Kansas will be a central threat to return to the Final Four and win it all. 

10 – Memphis Tigers

Stats Insider Championship Projection: 2.3%

No team in this top 10 has less of an established identity but more raw potential than Memphis. Coach Penny Hardaway knows how to recruit. He pulled in one of the very best classes in the country, headlined by Emoni Bates, a man believed to be a massive game-changer for the Tigers. Penny can bring players in. The knock on him is his coaching ability. If the Tigers’ coach can move the pieces around the chessboard properly, Memphis’s potential can turn into actual results, but the skeptics will be out in force until Memphis convincingly beats a really good team. We will see how long it takes for that to happen. 

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Matt Zemek

Matt has written professionally about US College Football since 2000, and has blogged about professional Tennis since 2014. He wants the Australian Open to play Thursday night Women's Semi-Finals, and Friday evening Men's Semi-Finals. Contribute to his Patreon for exclusive content here.

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