Put the college basketball season preview magazines away and pick up the remote control, because the offseason is done, and there have been real games to digest every night for more than a week. The 2021-22 season is in full swing, and it's already taught us some things about what's in store for the months ahead. While early-season marquee games between Duke and Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova and Gonzaga and Texas have headlined the 2021-22 campaign thus far, that's been just the beginning.
Between a strong freshman class, a record-setting number of transfers settling in at new schools and rosters that are stocked with so-called super seniors, the storylines from the beginning of the season are endless. And have we even mentioned yet that this is Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's?
So, with the long march toward the NCAA Tournament underway, let's take a spin around the sport for some overreactions to what we've seen thus far. There is still plenty of time for players, teams and coaches to change these narratives -- for better or worse -- but there are some lessons to glean from all the action.
ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 look weak
Could the Big 12, Big East and SEC find themselves at the top of the conference pecking order this season? The early season struggles of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 suggest it's possible.
The Big Ten enjoyed a phenomenal regular season in 2020-21. At one point in late December, nine of its teams were ranked in the AP Top 25. It's not off to such a hot start this time. The league began 0-4 against the Big East in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Among the defeats were heavyweights No. 4 Michigan losing to Seton Hall and No. 10 Illinois losing to Marquette. Michigan State and Indiana provided some much-needed wins over Butler and St. John's, respectively Wednesday, but the league has a long way to go in order to rehabilitate the damage to its reputation done by its poor 2021 NCAA Tournament performance.
Pac-12 teams already have losses to UC-Riverside (Arizona State), Santa Clara (Stanford), Northern Illinois (Washington), Tulsa (Oregon State) and UC-San Diego (Cal), not to mention No. 12 Oregon's 32-point loss against BYU on Tuesday. Everyone in the conference other than UCLA is replacing its leading scorer, and it's clear there will be some growing pains as the league tries to build off last season's NCAA Tournament success.
The ACC didn't have the Big Ten's regular season success or the Pac-12's postseason success last season, and the league has given little reason to expect a resurgence in the season ahead. Duke's win over Kentucky was nice, but Florida State and Virginia have already fallen out of the AP Top 25. The conference's only other ranked team, No. 18 North Carolina, has been taken to the wire by the likes of Brown and College of Charleston. Meanwhile, other teams in the league have suffered the following losses: to Furman (Louisville), to The Citadel (Pittsburgh), to Navy (Virginia), to Miami-Ohio (Georgia Tech), to UCF (Miami), and to Rhode Island (Boston College).
The AP voters got it right
Gonzaga, UCLA and Kansas debuted as the top-three teams in the preseason AP Top 25, and it appears the voters nailed it. The Zags have been downright dominant thus far, and that dominance includes a 12-point win over a Texas team that was ranked No. 5 at the time.
No. 3 Kansas found another gear in the second half of its season-opening win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic, led by veteran guards Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin. The Jayhawks have the high-end talent, experience and depth to win the national title. And UCLA's win over then-No. 4 Villanova showed the Bruins are building off last season's Final Four appearance. With Jules Bernard playing a starring role alongside Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA simply has too many top-tier playmakers for any one team to reasonably contain.
No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA will meet Tuesday, and it's feasible that the loser could drop from the top three. But if we're being honest, it's clear the Bulldogs, Bruins and Jayhawks are the nation's three best teams at this point in the season.
Some hot seats aren't cooling
A handful ofhave only made their seats hotter with bad early-season losses.
Sixth-year Stanford coach Jerod Haase continues to pull impressive prospects, and five-star freshman forward Harrison Ingram is off to a great start. But an 88-72 loss at Santa Clara last week raises questions about whether the Cardinal have what it takes to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Haase's tenure. That will likely be a Quad 2 loss, at the worst, but Stanford has far tougher nonconference tests coming against Baylor and Texas.
Haase isn't the only struggling Pac-12 coach, as third-year Cal coach Mark Fox began the year 0-2 with losses to UC-San Diego and UNLV. The Bears were in bad shape when Fox took over, but after this start, they face an uphill climb toward showing even slight signs of progress under the former Georgia coach.
Speaking of Georgia coaches, Fox's successor in Bulldog country, Tom Crean, is making the job Fox did look great by comparison. The Bulldogs slipped past FIU in their opener before losing 73-68 on the road against a Cincinnati team led by first-year coach Wes Miller. That could end up being a Quad 1 loss, depending on how good Cincinnati truly is. But it puts the pressure on an overhauled Georgia roster to rack up some wins before it enters what should be a brutal SEC. Even an NIT bid seems like an unrealistic goal this season for Crean, who is 43-50 (14-40 SEC) in his fourth season.
Rounding out the woeful beginnings in the Pac-12 is Washington, as fourth-year coach Mike Hopkins tries to get things turned around after going 9-29 in the Pac-12 the last two seasons. Losing the season opener at home to a Northern Illinois team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 was a terrible start.
Back East, Pittsburgh dropped 15-point games against The Citadel and West Virginia to open the season 0-2 before grinding out a 59-51 win on Tuesday against a UNC Wilmington team that ranked No. 303 in . It's a bad start for fourth-year coach Jeff Capel, who has done nothing of significance with the Panthers and lost two of his best players to the transfer portal from a team that finished 10-12 last season.
Tenth-year South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the Gamecocks off to a 2-1 start, but that one loss came against Princeton, which is likely to be a Quad 3 loss at season's end. That's a bad omen for a squad which finished 6-15 last season.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin has had some big moments, such as landing prized recruit Michael Porter Jr. But he's also had bad luck with injuries during his tenure and is embarking on Year Five without an NCAA Tournament victory to his credit. The Tigers rose as high as No. 10 in the AP Top 25 last season but faded down the stretch, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and bid farewell to most key contributors from that team. There is time for Martin to turn things around, but an 80-66 home loss to Missouri-Kansas City on Monday raises concerns about the program's trajectory.
Freshmen off to fabulous starts
This is the best freshman class college basketball has seen in several years at the top.
Of the eight top-10 prospects from the 247Sports Composite who played college basketball from the class of 2020, only Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley truly stood out as stars last season. That came a season after No. 1 overall prospect James Wiseman was sidelined at Memphis and ultimately withdrew from school amid NCAA eligibility woes. Fellow top-five prospects Anthony Edwards (Georgia), Isaiah Stewart (Washington) and Cole Anthony (North Carolina) toiled outside the spotlight for bad teams in the 2019-20 season.
This season, it finally looks like the Auburn), Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Milwaukee), Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee) and Caleb Houstan (Michigan). There is a long way to go, but each of them have shown tantalizing glimpses of potential, and several of them are playing for teams with aspirations of deep postseason runs.on the big stage. No. 1 overall player Chet Holmgren was quiet in No. Gonzaga's win over Texas but has shown flashes of why he's a likely lottery pick. No. 2 overall prospect Paolo Banchero has reached double figures in his first four games for No. 7 Duke, and the top-10 tandem of Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren are off to solid starts for No. 11 Memphis. Rounding out the top-10 prospects are Jabari Smith (
It's easily the most-exciting freshman class for the sport since the Duke trio of five-star prospects RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson took the sport by storm in the 2018-19 season. And this season's top-10 looks deeper than that 2018 class did behind the Duke trio.
Look out for Arizona and Mississippi State
If you're looking for a couple of bubble teams to latch on with, consider Arizona and Mississippi State. Neither have found the national spotlight yet because of weak early-season competition. But both have thrashed their lower-tier foes and appear to have the talent needed to exceed expectations. The Wildcats were not projected as an NCAA Tournament team in Jerry Palm's preseason Bracketology, but they have looked the part by beating Northern Arizona, UT Rio Grande Valley and North Dakota State by an average of 45 points. Mississippi State let Detroit Mercy hang around for a bit on Wednesday night but won by 13 after opening with a 26-point victory over North Alabama and a 37-point win over Montana.
Bigger tests in the coming weeks will reveal their true colors, but the Wildcats and Bulldogs are impressing so far.
Virginia will miss the NCAA Tournament
Virginia isn't just off to a bad start. The Cavaliers are a bad team. After getting upset by No. 13 seed Ohio in the first round of last season's NCAA Tournament, Virginia already has losses against Navy and a 67-47 road loss against No. 15 Houston on its resume. Sure, 13th-year coach Tony Bennett is one of the best in the business, but it will take some improvement if this isn't the first Virginia team to miss the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Ranked teams who have lost will be fine
Other than Virginia, which was No. 25 when it lost to Navy on the first night of the season, most of the other losses suffered by ranked teams are justifiable. So the overreaction is that you shouldn't overreact to most of the losses taken by ranked teams. No. 4 Michigan suffered an ugly home loss against unranked Seton Hall, but this is a Wolverines squad that ranks 259th in experience, per KenPom. Michigan will be fine once the nation's No. 3 ranked recruiting class gets its bearings and gels with veteran point guard DeVante Jones, a Coastal Carolina transfer.
Similarly, Texas fans shouldn't panic about the then-No. 5 Longhorns' 86-74 loss at No. 1 Gonzaga. For a team relying heavily on transfers, that was a brutal road test to face in the season's first week. First-year coach Chris Beard will get his deep group to play at an elite level soon, and the Longhorns will add another dose of toughness in the coming weeks when 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt transfer Dylan Disu returns from a knee injury.
No. 10 Illinois' loss to Marquette was disappointing, but it came with consensus preseason All-American Kofi Cockburn serving the end of a three-game suspension.
No. 13 Kentucky may have been overrated at No. 10 to begin the season when you consider how bad the Wildcats were last season. But this is an older team than the one coach John Caliari struggled with in 2020-21, and even with sharpshooter CJ Frederick likely out for the season, UK has shown enough in blowout victories over Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary's to suggest its season-opening defeat against Duke was nothing more than one really good team losing to another in a neutral site game that was close for 40 minutes.
If you want to panic about No. 20 Maryland losing at home to George Mason on Wednesday night or No. 12 Oregon getting blown off the court by BYU on Tuesday, go ahead. But the Patriots are going to be a force in the Atlantic 10 under first-year coach Kim English. As for Oregon, just remember that 12th-year coach Dana Altman remakes his roster every year. If you tune the Ducks out because of that loss, don't be surprised if you look up in three months and see them creeping back toward the top 15 as his latest group of newcomers gels together.