The Sweet 16 is a round in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament that features the sixteen best teams remaining in the tournament. Dick Vitale, college basketball analyst and commentator, has created an excitement index for each team in the upcoming season based on how he believes they will fare in their upcoming games.
The other day, I was eating at one of my favorite breakfast places, the First Watch in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, and I began thinking about the next college basketball season, which is now just over two months away. There are so many stories to be excited about that it was difficult for me to narrow the list down to just 10 or even 25 or 50!
So I decided to divide it into “Sweet 16s” of players, new coaches, teams, and exciting nonconference matchups that I’m looking forward to. These aren’t my favorite teams, coaches, or All-Americans, but they do represent some of the stories I’m most interested in as we approach a 2021-22 season that should seem a lot more typical than the one we had last year.
So, let’s get started!
Coaches | Players | Teams | Games
Players from the ‘Sweet 16’ who I want to keep an eye on
Bulldogs of Gonzaga University coach Chet Holmgren
The Minnesota native, who is 7 feet tall, is the top diaper dandy on the way in. Holmgren is a one-man show who can score, rebound, pass, and run the floor. Mark Few has a winner on his hands who is eager to make an impact right away.
Villanova University Wildcats’ Collin Gillespie
Gillespie took advantage of an additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA during the offseason after sustaining a torn MCL late last season. Jay Wright will be pleased with his long-range shooting skills and leadership.
Tigers of Memphis’ Emoni Bates
Bates signed with Penny Hardaway and the Tigers on Wednesday, putting an end to uncertainty regarding his 2021-22 destination. As a high-impact diaper dandy, he’ll be right up there with Holmgren.
Memphis Tigers’ Jalen Duren
The 6-10 player from Montverde Academy, like Bates, reclassified to become eligible for the next season. Hardaway is ecstatic to have this top-ten frontcourt talent on his team.
Gonzaga Bulldogs’ Drew Timme
The Zags came one game shy of a perfect season, despite Timme’s outstanding season and tournament. In 2021-22, the All-American should average a double-double.
Bruins of UCLA’ Johnny Juzang
Juzang scored 29 points in Gonzaga’s Final Four defeat. He chose to return to college, where he would be expected to achieve even greater heights.
Longhorns of Texas’ Marcus Carr
Carr, one of the best transfers in the country, scored 19.4 points per game for Minnesota previous season. In Austin, he’ll join an outstanding collection of transfers.
Kansas Jayhawks’ Remy Martin
Bill Self must have been ecstatic to acquire an experienced player in Arizona State transfer Martin, who led the Pac-12 in scoring last season with 19.1 points per game.
Wolverines of Michigan’ Hunter Dickinson
Dickinson said he wants to “enjoy a regular year” as a collegiate basketball player before entering the NBA draft. At least in terms of how other teams will attempt to shut him down, the big man can forget about normality.
Blue Devils of Duke’ Paolo Banchero
Mike Krzyzewski’s last season in Durham will include the 6-10 frontcourt standout from Seattle’s O’Dea High School. Banchero, along with Holmgren and a few other players, has a chance to be the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft in 2022.
Baylor Bears’ James Akinjo
Scott Drew has had success with transfers in the past, winning the championship game with a group of them. He’ll now rely on Akinjo, who averaged 15.6 points per game last season at Arizona and was the Big East Freshman of the Year at Georgetown.
Purdue Boilermakers’ Trevion Williams
The 6-10 All-Big Ten selection was one of just six players in the country to average at least 15 points, nine rebounds, and two assists per game, and the only one from a high-major school.
Fighting Illini of Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn
Cockburn withdrew from the NBA draft and the transfer portal, returning to Illinois to become a leading contender for preseason All-America honors at center.
Indiana Hoosiers’ Trayce Jackson-Davis
Mike Woodson is overjoyed that Jackson-Davis is back in Bloomington. In the Big Ten, he was fourth in scoring (19.1 points per game), second in rebounding (9.0), and sixth in field goal percentage (.500). (51.7).
Syracuse Orange coach Buddy Boeheim
Last season, Boeheim was a workhorse, averaging over 36 minutes per game. He scored 17.8 points per game and hit 38.3 percent on three-pointers and 84.9 percent on free throws.
Wildcats of Kentucky’ Kellan Grady
John Calipari needs outside shooting and experience, and the Davidson transfer, who has already surpassed the 2,000-point mark in college, can offer both. He may be the most important of a bunch of excellent transfers.
Tommy Lloyd will be up against a lot of pressure in his first college head coaching position. USA TODAY Sports’ Darren Yamashita
Coaches from the ‘Sweet 16’ have moved to new locations.
Texas Longhorns’ Chris Beard
This decision did not go down well with Texas Tech supporters. Beard takes over a team that has lost a lot of talent, but Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey are back, and has added a strong transfer class that includes Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Timmy Allen (Utah), Tre Mitchell (UMass), Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt), Devin Askew (Kentucky), and Christian Bishop (Creighton).
Arizona Wildcats’ Tommy Lloyd
Lloyd, a 20-year assistant at Gonzaga, was selected to take over for Sean Miller. This is a high-pressure job, but Lloyd is prepared.
Tar Heels of North Carolina’ Hubert Davis
The Tar Heels kept Roy Williams’ successor in-house when he announced his retirement, much as they did when Dean Smith, the Michelangelo of coaching, departed. Davis, who spent nine seasons on Williams’ bench, is the fourth former Tar Heel to be named UNC’s head coach. He is the first African-American head coach in the history of Carolina men’s basketball.
Indiana Hoosiers’ Mike Woodson
The Indiana Hoosiers are another team that is led by a former star. Indiana’s previous appearance in the NCAA Tournament was in 2015-16, and the team is coming off a 12-15 season. Woodson has had some experience as a head coach in the NBA and has the necessary leadership qualities to succeed.
Marquette Golden Eagles’ Shaka Smart
After a heartbreaking NCAA tournament defeat, Smart departed Texas for Marquette. In his 12 years as a head coach, he’s reached the tournament eight times and guided VCU to a surprising Final Four in 2011.
Cincinnati Bearcats’ Wes Miller
Miller played under Roy Williams at North Carolina and subsequently served as the head coach at UNC Greensboro for ten years. Miller, regarded as one of the finest young coaching prospects in the game, has the ability to rebuild the Bearcats.
Oklahoma Sooners’ Porter Moser
Moser has guided Loyola Chicago to three Missouri Valley championships, two Sweet 16 appearances, and the 2018 Final Four in the last four years. In the most recent Big Dance, his Ramblers upset top-seeded Illinois. He inherits a program that has regularly done well under Lon Kruger’s leadership.
Texas Tech Red Raiders’ Mark Adams
Beard’s replacement is difficult, but the Red Raiders were able to rebuild via transfers. Kevin Obanor is a graduate of Oral Roberts, where he led the 15-seed Golden Eagles to the Elite Eight by a made bucket. Terrence Shannon Jr., who is returning to the team, will also assist Adams.
Utah Utes’ Craig Smith
Smith crosses the state after leading Utah State to three consecutive NCAA bids with a 74-24 record. The last time the Utes went dancing was in the 2015-16 season.
Iowa State Cyclones’ T.J. Otzelberger
Otzelberger was the primary recruiter and bench coach for ex-ISU coaches Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg, and Steve Prohm for the past two seasons at UNLV. Otzelberger is well-versed in Ames.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers’ Drew Valentine
Valentine served as an assistant coach for the Ramblers for four seasons before taking over as head coach at the age of 29 when Moser left for Oklahoma.
Minnesota Golden Gophers’ Ben Johnson
Johnson, who spent the previous three seasons as an assistant at Xavier, returns to Minnesota after playing for the Gophers from 2002 to 2004 and earlier served as an assistant under Richard Pitino for five seasons (2013 to 2018).
DePaul Blue Demons’ Tony Stubblefield
Stubblefield spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant coach at Oregon, and four seasons at the University of Cincinnati before that. He inherits a Blue Demons team that has only had one winning season in the previous 14 years.
UNLV Rebels’ Kevin Kruger
Kruger, the son of Lon Kruger and a former UNLV player and coach under his father, will take over in Vegas in lieu of Otzelberger.
San Jose State Spartans’ Tim Miles
The former Nebraska coach is back on the bench in the Mountain West, where he led Colorado State to a conference championship from 2007 to 2012.
Charleston Cougars’ Pat Kelsey
Kelsey coached at Winthrop for nine years, averaging 20.7 wins per season and qualifying for the NCAA tournament three times.
The reigning champion Baylor Bears, led by Scott Drew, should be stacked once again. Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Teams in the ‘Sweet 16’ are interesting.
The last time the Bruins won the national championship was in 1995. Will they be able to add to their 11 championships?
As previously said, Beard has a plethora of transfers to complement Jones and Ramey. In Austin, the stakes will be enormous.
Will Few be able to break the nets as a national champion for the first time? Timme and Holmgren both hope so.
North Carolina Tar Heels
In his first season at his alma school, Davis will be scrutinized. Armando Bacot’s return, as well as transfers Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek, will help.
Newcomers will alter things in Lexington after a 9-16 season in which the Cats shot 41.7 percent from the field and 33.5 percent on threes.
Ducks of Oregon
Dana Altman is just reloading for another season as a Pac-12 contender. Quincy Guerrier, a Syracuse transfer, will have an instant impact.
Hardaway already had a strong team, but adding Bates and Duren late in the game was a huge boost.
Tigers of Auburn University
Can Walker Kessler, a UNC transfer, live up to his hype? Jabari Smith, the diaper dandy, will also make a splash for Bruce Pearl.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Although Kofi Cockburn has returned, talented guard Andre Curbelo may be the key to the team’s success.
Juwan Howard has built a winner, and the Wolverines will improve on their 23-5 record from last season.
Seminoles of Florida State University
In the last three years, the Seminoles have won 73 games. More is on the way from Leonard Hamilton.
Terrapins of Maryland
The Terps are a Big Ten contender after adding Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown).
Gillespie leads an experienced core assembled by Jay Wright. In the last seven years, the Cats have had four seasons with 30 wins or more.
Duke Blue Devils
Can Coach K end his career on a high note? His arrivals will contribute to the team’s improvement from last year’s 13-11 record.
Cavaliers of Virginia
Tony Bennett’s team is always competitive; a 61-12 record in the ACC over the last four years should tell you all you need to know.
Cougars of Houston
Kelvin Sampson lost Quentin Grimes to the NBA after a Final Four appearance, but he expects great things from Marcus Sasser.
Can UCLA’s Johnny Juzang and the Bruins avenge Gonzaga? Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Nonconference games in the ‘Sweet 16’ that I want to see in 2021-22
Gonzaga at. UCLA, Nov. 23, Las Vegas
This season’s Empire Classic is a repeat of the national semifinal classic from April.
Duke versus. Gonzaga, Nov. 26 in Las Vegas
The last time these two teams played was on Nov. 21, 2018 in Hawaii, when the Zags defeated Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils in an 89-87 thriller.
Duke vs. Kentucky, New York, Nov. 9
Coach K will face off against John Calipari one again (unless they meet in the NCAA tournament), with this matchup taking place at Madison Square Garden as part of the State Farm Champions Classic.
Villanova takes on Baylor on December 12th.
The Big East vs. Big 12 tournament pits Jay Wright against Scott Drew of Waco, Texas.
Kansas vs. Kentucky, Jan. 29
It’s always good to watch blue bloods square off, and this time it’s in Allen Fieldhouse as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Michigan State vs. Kansas, New York, Nov. 9
The Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden is usually one of the greatest early-season tournaments, and this year’s edition has Tom Izzo taking against Bill Self.
UCLA at. North Carolina, Dec. 18, Las Vegas
The Bruins will put Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels to the test in this year’s CBS Sports Classic.
Tennessee takes against Texas on January 29.
Rick Barnes makes a triumphant return to Austin to face his old teammates.
Alabama vs. Baylor, Jan. 29
The Bears and Crimson Tide, both conference champions a year ago, will play in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Purdue against. North Carolina, Nov. 20, Uncasville, Connecticut
This year’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament main event should be an interior fight between Marquette transfer Dawson Garcia and Purdue’s Trevion Williams.
Uncasville, Connecticut, Nov. 20: Villanova at. Tennessee
In the second first-round matchup of the Hall of Fame tournament, Vols super dandy point player Kennedy Chandler will face Collin Gillespie and the Wildcats.
Michigan takes against North Carolina on December 1st.
Caleb Houston, the Wolverines’ diaper dandy, will be put to the test in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Purdue hosts Florida State on Nov. 30.
The Seminoles have won both of their previous encounters with the Boilermakers by a combined four points. Will there be another Maalox Masher in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup?
Kansas against. St. John’s, Elmont, New York, Dec. 2
Julian Champagnie is back as a member of the Red Storm. This game, which will be hosted at the future home of the NHL’s New York Islanders in 2021, will be a major test for St. John’s to earn national recognition.
Memphis takes on Virginia Tech on November 24 in Brooklyn.
Landers Nolley II, an ex-Hokie, will play his old club in the NIT Season Tip-Off from Barclays Center, which will also be a wonderful opportunity to see Emoni Bates and Memphis’ exploits.
Auburn takes against UConn on November 24 at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The Battle 4 Atlantis pits two emerging teams against one other early in the season.
The V Foundation’s 17th annual Dick Vitale Gala will be place on May 6, 2022, at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. Visit dickvitaleonline.com for additional details.