Duke and Kentucky are among the six college basketball teams set for bounce-back campaigns in 2021-22.
The 2020-21 season was as unordinary as they come in college basketball. Not only was the campaign significantly altered by the Covid-19 pandemic but some of the sport’s biggest brands – namely Duke and Kentucky – struggled mightily.
As part of Heat Check CBB’s ongoing preseason coverage, we transition our focus towards teams poised to bounce back this year. Per usual, we’re sprinkling in some newfound statistics to paint a bigger picture about what we know heading into November.
A common trend in the NFL over the past two decades is last-place finishers sparking divisional title runs the following season. According to research by the NFL, 17 of the last 19 seasons have featured at least one of the eight last-place divisional finishers experiencing a “worst-to-first” transition the next year.
While a true “worst-to-first” feat in college basketball is exceedingly rare, every season features breakout teams that struggled the previous year.
To similarly measure these bounce-back efforts, our research indicated that every year since 2015, at least two teams that finished .500 or worse in conference play were top-four NCAA Tournament seeds the next season.
This past March, seven of the 16 teams placed on the top-four NCAA Tournament seed lines were .500 or worse in their league in 2020; two (Michigan and Arkansas) reached the Elite Eight and another (Alabama) advanced to the Sweet 16.
Top-four NCAA Tournament seeds after finishing .500 or worse in conference in prior season:
For many college basketball bettors, finding value in futures bets can prove to be hugely profitable efforts. Last year, UCLA and Houston were both outside of the top 20 in preseason title odds, and both teams reached the Final Four. Villanova won the 2016 national championship despite sitting outside of the top 10 in preseason title odds, as did UConn in its title runs in both 2011 and 2014.
Many online casinos and betting outlets have released their preseason title odds for 2022. Given the unusual nature of this past offseason, national dark horses are certain to emerge in the coming months and provide major payouts to fortunate bettors.
2020-21: 13-11 (9-9, 10th in ACC)
What a storybook ending it could be for Mike Krzyzewski, who has a bolstered roster with possibly the nation’s best player in freshman Paolo Banchero. The Blue Devils are fresh off their first tournament absence since 1995, and Heat Check CBB staff writer Lukas Harkins believes this team is capable of cutting down the nets. Mightily improving on the defensive side will be key. Duke ranked 223rd in points per possession allowed and 272nd in opponent field-goal percentage last season.
2020-21: 13-8 (6-7, 7th in Big East)
The pressure is on for Travis Steele, who is still eyeing his first tournament ticket at Xavier and may never get a more talented roster. The Musketeers started 11-2 last year but went just 2-6 the rest of the way to fall out of the tournament picture. Thanks to four returning starters – including all-league talents in Zach Freemantle and Paul Scruggs – and Big Ten transfers Jack Nunge (Iowa) and Jerome Hunter (Indiana), Xavier has a high ceiling if everything clicks.
2020-21: 17-14 (9-11, 8th in Big Ten)
Primarily billed as one of the teams that lost during the pre-NBA draft deadline, Mark Turgeon’s Terps saw Aaron Wiggins leave for the pros. The departure ended preseason top-10 hype and instead pitted Maryland closer to the middle of the Big Ten’s ladder. But Turgeon has notable additions as well. Floor general Fatts Russell makes the trip over from Rhode Island and Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab is a menace in the paint.
2020-21: 15-13 (9-11, 8th in Big Ten)
Sparty started 2-7 in Big Ten play and had just enough in the tank for a First Four berth. MSU has plenty of room to grow after finishing 64th in KenPom, the program’s worst mark ever (1997—). The new-look backcourt will go a long way in Michigan State’s success. Uber-productive point guard Tyson Walker is transferring over from Northeastern and he will team up with top-20 prospect Max Christie. Both players should help patch up MSU’s spotty three-point shooting.
2020-21: 9-16 (8-9, 8th in SEC)
As bad as fellow blue-blood Duke was last season, Kentucky was even worse. The young Wildcats were dreadful in close games, but John Calipari responded by landing five-star guard TyTy Washington and notable transfers Kellan Grady (Davidson), Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and Sahvir Wheeler (Georgia). Will more veteran leadership help this time around?
2020-21: 13-14 (7-11, 10th in SEC)
Bruce Pearl had a busy summer in the transfer portal, reeling in Walker Kessler (North Carolina), Wendell Green (Eastern Kentucky), KD Johnson (Georgia) and Zep Jasper (Charleston). Also joining the fold is five-star forward Jabari Smith, who is flying slightly under the radar but could have a massive season alongside Kessler.