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NCAA Basketball: 2021-22 Christmas wishlist for each top 25 team

Dec 22, 2021; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski talks to players AJ Griffin (21) and Paolo Banchero (5) during a break in the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 76-65. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2021; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski talks to players AJ Griffin (21) and Paolo Banchero (5) during a break in the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 76-65. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /
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NCAA Basketball Christmas Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Nolan Hickman James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball Christmas Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Nolan Hickman James Snook-USA TODAY Sports /

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs – Freshmen continue to grow

Gonzaga is led by All-American big man Drew Timme and senior point guard Andrew Nembhard, who has led them to wins over Texas, UCLA, And Texas Tech in the non-conference. They look every bit of a national title contender but it likely will come down to the trio of five-star freshmen. No. 1 overall prospect Chet Holmgren has been elite defensively and averaging 13.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg. The other two are guards Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman, who have combined to average 11.5 ppg and 2.5 apg off the bench.

These three have been good overall but can get even better, which is why the Bulldogs were the No. 1 preseason team. The ceiling of this team may be as high as anyone’s in the nation but it will ultimately depend on what the guards and Holmgren do going forward. If these guys take the next step, Gonzaga may be the favorite to cut down the nets in April.

3. UCLA Bruins – A healthy and effective Cody Riley

The Bruins have just the loss to Gonzaga on its resume and statistically looks the same as last season, with four double-digit scoring starters. Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez once again lead them in scoring, while Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell also are contributing at a high level. The difference is Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson starting at center in place of Cody Riley, who has been out so far with a leg injury.

The difference between those two has been that Riley is a much better offensive player, averaging in double figures a year ago. With him set to come back, that will only make UCLA’s offense even harder to stop, while also adding more depth overall. It may take a little time to get the senior big man back into the fold but the hope is that he’ll be 100% down the stretch in time for the Pac-12 team to make another Final Four run.