Eight college basketball programs poised for their best seasons ever in 2021-22

From Elon to Alabama, here are the eight men’s college basketball programs that could reach new heights during the 2021-22 season.

Every season, various college basketball programs across the country reach new heights. In 2021, Baylor won its first national championship ever while programs like Hartford and Grand Canyon participated in the Big Dance for the first time.

As for the upcoming season, several teams have enjoyed successful summers with players returning for an extra year, transfers and recruits joining the fold, and shrewd staff moves.

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Below we identified eight programs that could reach new heights during the 2021-22 college basketball season.

Bryant

  • Best tournament finish: None
  • Best tournament seed: None
  • Highest final AP rank: None

One of the trendiest low-majors this offseason, Jared Grasso‘s Bryant Bulldogs are gearing up for a special ’21-22 campaign. After finishing second in the NEC, Bryant returns three guards — Peter Kiss, Charles Pride and Chris Childs — who averaged more than 13 points per game. Reinforcements are on the way as well in a five-man transfer class that will help anchor the rotation.

Elon

  • Best tournament finish: None
  • Best tournament seed: None
  • Highest final AP rank: None

Mike Schrage’s Elon group came just three possessions shy of its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in March after starting 3-8 and 0-7 in CAA play. Junior all-league guard Hunter McIntosh is the name to know after tallying nearly 16 points a night and 52 triples in 19 games. Former Butler transfer Jerald Gillens-Butler is back after rupturing his Achilles tendon, scoring 47 points in 72 total minutes prior to the injury. Zac Ervin, another threatening perimeter scorer, also figures to return after missing all of last season.

RELATED: Programs destined for first NCAA Tournament in 2022

Belmont

  • Best tournament finish: First round (eight times)
  • Best tournament seed: 11 (2013, 2019)
  • Highest final AP rank: None

How does returning the top 10 players from a team that started 24-1 sound? While roster continuity doesn’t always translate to improvement, the projected ’21-22 Belmont squad is shaping up to be a force. The guard-center duo of Grayson Murphy (10.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.8 apg) and Nick Muszynski (15.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) has been must-watch TV and will keep the Bruins atop the OVC ladder. Opposing teams will struggle to slow down this Belmont offense that put up 81.3 points per game this past season.

Ohio

  • Best tournament finish: Elite Eight (1964)
  • Best tournament seed: 11 (1983)
  • Highest final AP rank: None

Ohio’s placement on this list rests firmly on Jason Preston‘s NBA Draft decision. Assuming Preston returns, Ohio will likely tally preseason AP Top 25 votes and could be ranked for the first time since 1995. Jeff Boals‘ Bobcats upset 4th-seeded Virginia in March with Preston’s sidekick Ben Vander Plas leading the way with 17. If Preston comes back to Athens, Ohio will have its top seven scorers from last season hungry for even more March magic in 2022.

Richmond

  • Best tournament finish: Sweet 16 (1988, 2011)
  • Best tournament seed: 7 (2010)
  • Highest final AP rank: 24 (2010)

It’s possible that the Richmond preseason hype arrived a year too early. The Spiders reached the 19th slot in the AP poll after beating Kentucky but stumbled the rest of the way with COVID pauses and injuries. Fortunately for Chris Mooney, all the major names are back for a get-right sendoff. Jacob Gilyard will likely break the NCAA steals record before conference play and running mates Grant Golden, Nathan Cayo and Tyler Burton are capable of putting up 15 a night. The health of Nick Sherod, another double-figure scorer, could go a long way after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Purdue

  • Best tournament finish: National runner-up (1969)
  • Best tournament seed: 1 (1988, 1994, 1996)
  • Highest final AP rank: 3 (1988, 1994)

So long as Trevion Williams pulls his name from the NBA Draft, Purdue will have its name on the shortlist of Final Four candidates come November. Williams is an All-American candidate as one of the nation’s best all-around big men. His supporting cast will go a long way in determining how Purdue’s season unfolds. Guard Jaden Ivey is a star in the making while Brandon Newman, Mason Gillis and Zach Edey all have bright futures after successful Year 1s. March’s first-round upset loss against North Texas was a tough pill to swallow, but the best is still ahead for this Boilers nucleus.

—RELATED: Purdue lands at No. 10 in Heat Check CBB’s way-too-early Top 25

Alabama

  • Best tournament finish: Elite Eight (2004)
  • Best tournament seed: 2 (1987, 2002, 2021)
  • Highest final AP rank: 5 (1956, 2021)

Fresh off the highest tournament seed in program history, Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide are poised for a massive ’21-22 campaign. While the draft decisions of Joshua Primo and Jaden Shackelford loom large, Alabama should be in a stellar position to compete for another SEC title and lengthy tournament run. Freshman guard JD Davison is the third-highest rated recruit in program history while transfers Noah Gurley (Furman) and Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) will have major impacts as well.

RELATED: Bama awaits decisions from Primo, Shackelford

Gonzaga

  • Best tournament finish: National runner-up (2017, 2021)
  • Best tournament seed: 1 (2013, 2017, 2019, 2021)
  • Highest final AP rank: 1 (2013, 2021)

While it may seem like last year’s Gonzaga team could never be topped, the Bulldogs will likely enter the season ranked No. 1 while still searching for its first national championship. By definition, this allows Gonzaga to land on this list despite last season’s dominance. Projected preseason player of the year Drew Timme is returning along with Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson, but it’s Gonzaga’s newcomers that will elevate the ’21-22 squad. Seven-footer Chet Holmgren is the nation’s No. 1 freshman and guards Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman are fellow five-star recruits as well. Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton (15.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) makes the trip over as another impact addition. The Bulldogs have the best roster, on paper, for the second season in a row. Will it translate to a title this time around?



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