College Hoops Barometer: Team Stock Check

College Hoops Barometer: Team Stock Check

This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.

The calendar has turned to November, and with the cold chill in the air comes a fresh season of college basketball.  Most weeks, this article will focus on the ups and downs of individual players.  Which players are surging, and which players leave something to be desired?  However, to begin the 2021-2022 campaign, the College Hoops Barometer will conduct miniature team previews.  Which noteworthy programs will be trending up this season, and which could be sliding back down to irrelevancy?  Some schools are here to stay, while others will be fading into oblivion.  Christmas isn't here just yet, but this is truly the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

Let the Madness begin.

UPGRADE

 Gonzaga – The 'Zags were the presumptive favorite for most of last season, went to the Championship Game, then lost Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert to the NBA.  Is it possible the Bulldogs are better this season?  In large part, the hype is due to Chet Holmgren, the expected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.  Holmgren is 7-1, hits three-pointers, handles like a guard and swats shots with reckless abandon.  Gonzaga also returns Drew Timme at center and Andrew Nembhard will continue to run the show as a distributing point guard.  Gonzaga is the preseason No. 1 in the polls, and the upside here is downright frightening.

 Memphis – Speaking of hype, the Tigers will premiere Emoni Bates, arguably the top high school phenom since LeBron James.  Earl Timberlake

The calendar has turned to November, and with the cold chill in the air comes a fresh season of college basketball.  Most weeks, this article will focus on the ups and downs of individual players.  Which players are surging, and which players leave something to be desired?  However, to begin the 2021-2022 campaign, the College Hoops Barometer will conduct miniature team previews.  Which noteworthy programs will be trending up this season, and which could be sliding back down to irrelevancy?  Some schools are here to stay, while others will be fading into oblivion.  Christmas isn't here just yet, but this is truly the start of the most wonderful time of the year.

Let the Madness begin.

UPGRADE

 Gonzaga – The 'Zags were the presumptive favorite for most of last season, went to the Championship Game, then lost Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert to the NBA.  Is it possible the Bulldogs are better this season?  In large part, the hype is due to Chet Holmgren, the expected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.  Holmgren is 7-1, hits three-pointers, handles like a guard and swats shots with reckless abandon.  Gonzaga also returns Drew Timme at center and Andrew Nembhard will continue to run the show as a distributing point guard.  Gonzaga is the preseason No. 1 in the polls, and the upside here is downright frightening.

 Memphis – Speaking of hype, the Tigers will premiere Emoni Bates, arguably the top high school phenom since LeBron James.  Earl Timberlake never lived up to his lofty promise at Miami, but he gets a second chance at Memphis to tag-team with Bates.  Freshman Jalen Duren will anchor the defense and comes in as another highly recruited neophyte for coach Penny Hardaway.  The coaching staff should also be bolstered by the additions of Hall of Famer Larry Brown, along with NBA veteran and former North Carolina product Rasheed Wallace.  The expectations are extremely high, but there is simply too much talent on this team to ignore.  The Tigers are ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll to begin the season.

 Duke – Coach K's last hurrah will center upon the exploits of freshman sensation Paolo Banchero, who is expected to dominate in what is likely to be his only season with the Blue Devils.  Trevor Keels and A.J. Griffin are two freshmen being overlooked, though.  Wendell Moore and Mark Williams played better as the season went on last year as well.  There have been rumblings that the ACC has been knocked down a peg or two in recent years.  Duke did not even make the tourney last season, and last clinched a berth to the Final Four in 2015.  This team may not be strong enough for those heights, but the Blue Devils should be much better than a season ago.

 Texas – Expectations could be at an all-time high for the Longhorns.  Chris Beard makes his way over from Lubbock after an extremely successful tenure at Texas Tech.  Marcus Carr headlines a banner transfer class, which saw Texas land a staggering six top transfers.  Remaking the entirety of the frontcourt will be first on Beard's list, with Greg Brown, Kai Jones and Jericho Sims all leaving for the NBA.  Utah transfer Timmy Allen will provide a huge boost; Allen averaged 17.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per tilt last season.  UMass transfer Tre Mitchell will also provide some interior presence after managing 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per tilt for the Minutemen as a sophomore.  Add in returning veteran starters Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones, and the Longhorns have a talented, experienced, deep squad with legitimate Final Four aspirations.

CHECK STATUS

 Auburn – The Tigers finished under .500 for the first time in four seasons last year but find themselves back in the Top 25 entering a new campaign.  The chief reason for the bump is freshman phenom Jabari Smith, the highest recruit to sign with Auburn in the history of the program.  Smith comes with all the associated accolades, including being a McDonald's All-American.  Smith is a polished, skilled, versatile forward with exceptional length and the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor.  Like most other top programs these days, the Tigers gained the services of two transfers, point guard Wendell Green from Eastern Kentucky and shooting guard K.D. Johnson from Georgia, who will provide perimeter scoring and distribution.  Add in the size of center Walker Kessler, and the Tigers have a fighting chance to keep pace with the top of the SEC.  The team will only go as far as Smith goes, though.

 Illinois – Kofi Cockburn returns as arguably the top center in the nation, but briefly flirted with both the NBA as well as transferring before ultimately deciding to come back.  He is suspended for the first three games of the season for selling memorabilia before the landmark ruling changed circumstances in Illinois on July 1, allowing for collegiate athletes to profit from their likeness and image.  Then there is the loss of floor general Ayo Dosunmu, who is now in the NBA.  Illinois played well without Dosunmu for stretches last season when he was sidelined, and Andre Curbelo looks primed to take over.  That being said, 2021 was the first NCAA Tournament bid in eight years for the Illini, so it will be interesting to see how the Illini respond after overachieving last season. 

 Alabama – Another program which exceeded expectations a year ago, the Tide lost SEC Player of the Year Herb Jones, lottery pick Joshua Primo and four-year player John Petty.  Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly will once again be tasked with leading the charge on the offensive end, but the aforementioned Jones was also Defensive Player of the Year for the conference, and he will likely be missed even more on that end of the court.  Reigning SEC Coach of the Year Nate Oats does add highly touted recruits J.D. Davison and Charles Bediako to the mix, as well as Furman transfer Noah Gurley.  Still, Kentucky will be heard from this season, which will make a repeat performance from the Tide more difficult as well.

 Maryland – Full disclosure: I really just wanted an excuse to talk about Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell.  In all seriousness, though, Russell's addition to the Terps makes them an intriguing squad in the always-competitive Big Ten.  Russell was dinged up last season with the Rams but still averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per contest.  The scary part is he shot a putrid 23.5 percent from three-point range, a figure that should almost certainly improve.  Leading scorer Eric Ayala returns for Maryland, along with top rebounder Donta Scott.  The addition of another transfer, Qudus Wahab from Georgetown, will give the Terps even more size and strength on both ends of the court.  How the newcomers gel with the returning starters will go a long ways towards determining whether Maryland can be a legitimate threat in the Big Ten.

DOWNGRADE

 Baylor – The defending champs lost a ton of talent from last year's squad, but still find themselves ranked No. 8 to begin the season.  Coach Scott Drew has done an impeccable job turning the Bears into a perennial powerhouse, but this season may be his toughest task in recent memory.  The backcourt triumvirate of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague is gone, and freshman Langston Love suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entirety of the 2021-2022 campaign.  Love was the No. 28 overall prospect in last year's class, according to ESPN.  Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler played complementary roles during the Championship run last season but will be asked to play more integral parts in this version.  The transfer of James Akinjo from Arizona will help, though.  Baylor also lost its top rebounder in the form of Mark Vital, as the duo of Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua will be forced to shoulder a heavier burden in the frontcourt.  There's still plenty of talent at Baylor, but unfortunately there is only one way to go after winning the whole enchilada.

 Houston – Not since Phi Slama Jama had the Cougars been to the Final Four before last season.  Houston had a scintillating year but was still a surprise entry into the prestigious club. Three-fifths of the starting five from Houston's Final Four loss to above-referenced Baylor are gone, and it would be simply unfair to expect the Cougars to be able to reload so quickly like some of the bluebloods.  Marcus Sasser does return, but the remainder of the squad is relatively unproven.  Add in an uber-talented Memphis team, and the American Conference is no longer a walk in the park for Kelvin Sampson's unit.  The Cougars could certainly still make the Big Dance, but much more than that would be a surprise.

Colorado – The Pac-12 will be very strong at the top, with UCLA returning all five starters from their jaunt to the Final Four, and Oregon looking for a three-peat of the conference's regular season crown.  The Buffs finished last season in the Top 25 of the Final Coaches Poll, but are predicted to finish a distant sixth in the Pac-12 by the media heading into this year.  Losing the program's all-time leading assist maker is partially to blame, as McKinley Wright moved on to the NBA.  Wright also led the Buffs in scoring last season and finished sixth in program history in that category as well.  Big man Evan Battey returns, as does defensive specialist Eli Parquet, but otherwise the Buffs will be relying on either grads or inexperienced underclassmen to steer the ship.  Although the program has fared better over the last decade, the Buffs have not been to the Sweet 16 since 1969.  Unfortunately, this year's squad will be lucky to even return to the NCAA Tournament.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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