It’s been two years since college basketball had a normal opening day. But we are finally back. Hallelujah, praise be to Bill Raftery. A sport that has waited 20 months to hold games under mostly normal circumstances can return to its most precious and palpable of environments: fans in the stands, pep bands blaring, media on site. Glorious. College hoops tips off Tuesday, highlighted by the Champions Classic doubleheader.
Are you ready? We already know you are. But if you want one more spin through the hype factory: We’ve had a fun run the past month here at CBSSports.com. To get you properly ready and excited for a mammoth season, we previewed and made predictions for all seven major conferences (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) then gave you a thorough explainer on the best-of-the-rest outside those leagues.
If you’re looking for something even more extensive, I once again ranked every team from No. 1 to No. 358. We also compiled the top 100 And 1 players in the sport, convened for our preseason All-America teams, have our preseason awards picks and assessed which power conference teams have the toughest nonconference schedules.
Jerry Palm has you covered with our first Bracketology scan, too. And here are the best multi-team events to mark on your calendar over the next few weeks. Don’t say we don’t love ya.
Now it’s time for one last key piece of preseason forecast material. We need to fess up and let everyone know what teams we’re taking to make the Final Four, and which one will win it all in 2022. Here are our picks. — Matt Norlander
2022 NCAA Tournament champion predictions
The Zags are 62-3 over the past two years with victories over Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Virginia and West Virginia. They’ve played in two of the past four NCAA Tournament title games. This is a championship-level program, undeniably. And, I believe, this is the season Gonzaga will finally get its first national championship. Yes, the Zags lost three of their top four scorers from a team that finished first at KenPom — but the same was true heading into last season, and Mark Few managed that situation just fine. I suspect he’ll do the same again this season thanks to the return of CBS Sports Preseason National Player of the Year Drew Timme and arrival of Chet Holmgren, the latter of whom was labeled the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports. There are other high-level veterans (Andrew Nembhard) and five-star freshmen (Hunter Sallis) on the roster. So the Zags are once again loaded and my pick to cut nets on the first Monday night in April. — Gary Parrish
I’m stepping out on a ledge here with my Purdue pick, but in a few months, it won’t feel all too contrarian. Truth is, this may be Matt Painter’s best Boilermakers team yet. Led by senior big man Trevion Williams, they have two capable sophomore stars in tow in Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey and a supporting cast of role players that are experienced. It’ll be hard to find a trio as good as Williams-Ivey-Edey on any team in college hoops. This roster has the goods to go the distance. — Kyle Boone
Considering the Longhorns landed the No. 1 transfer of the offseason, three of the top-10, four of the top 20 and five of the top 35, this is a roster talented enough to win it all, especially when you consider that veteran guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey are back. To predict that it will actually happen requires a tremendous amount of faith in first-year coach Chris Beard, but he should get the benefit of the doubt. If anyone can mold a hastily assembled collection of talent together into a championship caliber team in a matter of months, it’s Beard. In 2015-16, he took over at Little Rock and guided a team that finished 13-18 the season before to a 30-5 record and upset victory of Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in his second season at Texas Tech, he coached the Red Raiders to the national title game. His history of working quickly, combined with this roster, looks like a championship formula. — David Cobb
2022 NCAA Tournament Final Four predictions
Call last season’s NCAA Tournament run a fluke if you want. But even if the Bruins had lost in the First Four instead of the Final Four, it would be difficult to look at this roster with this coach and not see great things ahead. Mick Cronin’s third UCLA squad returns everyone of significance and adds five-star freshman wing Peyton Watson along with Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson, a much-needed rim protector. The Bruins have star power, veteran leadership, young talent and depth. It’s easy to see them returning to the Final Four with that combination. — DC
The Jayhawks are returning four of the top five scorers from a team that beat the national champion (Baylor) in February and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament — among them Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson, the latter of whom was second in the Big 12 in double-doubles last season. It’s a really nice core that’s being joined by Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, who was voted the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 19.1 points and 3.7 assists for the Sun Devils. A lack of high-level NBA talent could be an issue eventually, if only because elite college basketball teams typically have more of that than Kansas appears to have on paper. But nobody should be surprised if Self guides this program to the Final Four for the fourth time in his Hall of Fame career, and winning a second national title is obviously also a realistic possibility. — GP
The Volunteers are my why-the-heck-not pick, because the Final Four normally has at least one team that crashes the party and isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Sometimes, well beyond that. Last season it was No. 11 UCLA. In 2019: No. 5 Auburn made the national semis. The year before that, No. 11 Loyola Chicago. Going with the Vols — a preseason top 20 team — is hardly outlandish. UT gets my pick for their combination of coaching experience (Rick Barnes has made a Final Four and is in his 35th season as a head coach), NBA talent (freshman Kennedy Chandler might be a lottery pick), returning size (John Fulkerson and Victor Bailey combined to average 22 points last season and should be be improved). Toss in Josiah-Jordan James and Auburn transfer Justin Powell and we’ve clearly got a squad capable of tearing off four wins. One more: Tennessee rates as the best SEC team heading into the season, per multiple predictive metrics. — MN
When you’ve got a reasonable case to have the best player in the country, you’ve got a reasonable case to make the Final Four. I don’t know if Kofi Cockburn will win national player of the year in March, but if he’s better than last season (17.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 65.4 FG%) he’ll be right there with anyone else striving for the accolade. Illinois is my pick for a second straight year due to the anticipated emergence of Andre Curbelo, the sophomore point guard who is THE breakout player candidate in the Big Ten. Illinois gets the bonus year out of Trent Frazier, whose defense will be elite in his fifth season with the Fighting Illini. Brad Underwood’s team has more than just that core three, but what a dynamic trio that is. — MN
This is as much a system pick as it is a talent pick. Eric Musselman and his staff know how to properly position their players for success in a run-and-gun offense that embraces defense. That should again be the case in 2021-22 with Miami transfer guard Chris Lykes stepping in and sophomore Devo Davis set to take on a big role. This team on the whole will have a ton of firepower bolstered by an even better defense. Recipe for another deep run a season after an Elite Eight showing. — KB
Coach K’s farewell tour gets its proper send-off here with one final run to the Final Four. It’s a feel-good story and one well within reach because of its roster. Freshman Paolo Banchero might be the best player in college hoops, A.J. Griffin has the talent to be an All-American and sophomore Mark Williams is in line to pick up where he left off after a strong finish to his freshman campaign. This Duke team is long, balanced and — I’d wager — will be a brutal matchup for most teams because of its talent level. If the pieces fall in place and the young guns develop as expected then Duke should have the best team in the ACC — and maybe the country. — KB
The roster is loaded, and fourth-year coach Penny Hardaway demonstrated last season that he is getting the hang of the on-court element of college coaching college basketball. The Tigers won 11 of their final 13 games, with their only losses during the stretch coming in narrow fashion against Houston, an eventual Final Four team. Memphis had to settle for an NIT title, but with its two leading scorers back along with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, Memphis has the ammo and experience to make a deep run. The most-intimidating factor standing in its way is a looming IARP ruling. — DC
Michigan was one win away from a Final Four last season and the Wolverines may be even better this time around. Bolstered by the return of C Hunter Dickinson and one of the top recruiting classes in the country, coach Juwon Howard should have a squad poised to make another deep run. Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate are a pair of five-star recruits who should help make the Wolverines’ front line among the best in the nation. It is no surprise that Michigan is the favorite of many in a stacked BIg Ten. — Jerry Palm
The pandemic year was not kind to Kentucky but the Wildcats should be back in the hunt this season with a remade roster. Actually, Kentucky is used to heavy turnover in its roster and coach John Calipari is usually pretty good at getting the new players to fit. The backcourt has five-star freshman TyTy Washington and Davidson transfer Kellen Grady, who scored 2000 points for those Wildcats before coming to Kentucky. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe and rebounding machine Kein Brooks anchor the front line for the Wildcats, who are among the favorites in a top-heavy SEC this season. — JP