Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Ranking all 358 D-I programs for 2021-22 season

Oct 15, 2021; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) dunks as his jersey is pulled by forward Theo John (12) during Duke Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2021; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) dunks as his jersey is pulled by forward Theo John (12) during Duke Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /
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NCAA Basketball Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

10. Duke Blue Devils – Last Season Ranking: 7

Conference: ACC

This is the last ride for Coach K. He announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season and the team will be handed over to Jon Scheyer. No one expected Duke to struggle as badly as they did last year. They still had a winning record and still ended up at .500 in the league, but they just never seemed to play Blue Devil basketball. Duke battled injuries all year and the players they were relying on to carry them just never showed up on a consistent basis.

Heading into this season Duke is dangerous because they do have something to play for. The Blue Devils want nothing more than to send their legendary coach out a winner. Duke is a preseason top 10 team again just like every year and they may very well have the top pick in the NBA draft and the National Player of the Year.

Paolo Banchero was the third-ranked recruit in the country, and he is dominant. Early reports in camp and in the exhibition, game have shown that Banchero is all the hype and that he is perfect in the Duke offense. He can lead the Blue Devils to a top of the ACC finish and a top 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. Don’t get too attached though as he is going to be a lottery pick in the draft.

9. Purdue Boilermakers – Last Season Ranking: 41

Conference: Big Ten

Purdue is a top 15 team in the preseason, and they are a very trendy pick to win the Big Ten regular season. I don’t have them as the Big Ten champion, but they are going to be very good and have a roster that many suggest could lead coach Matt Painter to his first final four as a coach.

The Boilers had a young team last year and some of their key pieces were injured at the start of the season, which held the offense back a little bit, but they got it going late in the year to make a run to the NCAA tournament where they were upset by North Texas because they again couldn’t score. No one in the country is going to have more dominant big men than the Boilers, but that is the way coach Painter coaches. He always seems to find tall and skilled big men to patrol the paint.

The entire team presents a matchup problem for just about every team in the league and most of the country. Purdue is good, and they are going to make a deep run in March if everyone stays healthy. Jaden Ivey wasn’t listed as the preseason player of the year in the league, but he is likely going to win it. He also is going to see his name on the final list for the Wooden Award. Ivey may take one of the biggest leaps from year one to year two of any player in the country.

8. Illinois Fighting Illini – Last Season Ranking: 10

Conference: Big Ten

Welcome to the most polarizing team in the entire Big Ten this season. The Illini have the talent to win the league, and honestly have the talent to win the National Championship, it just likely won’t happen. Why?  It’s hard to say why, but Illinois just doesn’t have the “it” factor it seems. The Illini are on a collision course with Michigan for Big Ten supremacy this year and the league race could very well come down to when those teams play each other.

Illinois has got to stop playing to their level of competition for them to really reach their goals and that has not happened yet. The Illini are going to score points especially with two of the best players in the league and the entire country. It all comes down to defense. When the Illini win games their defense is tough, but when they lose or play a team much closer than they should their defense struggles. It almost always never comes down to the offense.

Illinois is a top 10 team and is likely going to get a top 8 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but I still have mixed opinions on how far that will get them. Kofi Cockburn should be a household name by now. He is the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, he is an extremely efficient monster in the low block, and he is a great rebounder. Cockburn is going to be in the mix for the National player of the year as well and Illinois will go as far as their big man takes them.

7. Baylor Bears – Last Season Ranking: 3

Conference: Big 12

The reigning National Champions were one of the best teams the sport has ever seen. Head coach Scott Drew had been on the cusp of winning the school’s first title for the last few seasons and was finally able to get it done. Had it not been for a long Covid pause for Baylor they would have likely gone undefeated and finished the year as an undefeated champion.

The Bears were the best three-point shooting in the country, and they played fast, they were unbelievable on the defensive end and had to make teams work for everything they get. This year the Bears lost a ton of production from the title team, but coach Drew has such a good thing going and is such a good coach that Baylor is going to be just fine. The Bears were able to secure the fourth-best recruiting class in the country, which puts them right there with the blue blood programs. Baylor is not going to go through a rebuild at all. It is going to be more of a reload.

They are still a top 10 team in the country and are going to be one of the best teams in the country all year. Adam Flagler was a bench player last year for the loaded Baylor squad. This year he gets his chance to start and is going to run the offense. He can shoot, pass, rebound and play defense and the offense will be in good hands with Flagler.

6. UCLA Bruins – Last Season Ranking: 19

Conference: Pac-12

UCLA made a run to the final four last year and provided basketball fans with the greatest game of the basketball season when they took Gonzaga to the wire and barely lost the game. It took a last-second three-pointer by Gonzaga to win the game. UCLA returns most of their production from that team and has a great coach in Mick Cronin. Those are reasons why the Bruins find themselves just outside the top 5 to start the season.

All five starters were in double figures for the Bruins a season ago. They also shot the ball well from deep and had an efficient offense. As a signature of every Cronin-coached team, the Bruins were a good defensive team but could be better and if they get better on defense, they will make another Final Four.

Johnny Juzang had a coming-out party in the NCAA tournament and he enters the season as my favorite for the Pac 12 Player of the Year, an All-American, and a wooden award finalist. He is an exceptional player and is going to provide the leadership to hopefully let the Bruins take a long run in the NCAA tournament again.