As sure as “One Shining Moment” puts a bow on the college basketball season, the first glance at next year begins just hours later with the release of way-too-early polls and national championship favorites.
Gonzaga’s dream season ended in disappointment with an 86-70 loss to Baylor in Monday’s title game, but early forecasts suggest that the Zags will be championship contenders again in the 2021-22 season.
Of course, it’s all guesswork at this point. Rosters could change dramatically with an active transfer market and key players facing decisions on turning pro or returning to school. Another variable: Players have to decide if they plan on using an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.
Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs is projected as an NBA lottery pick. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the status of Joel Ayayi, Andrew Nembhard and Drew Timme next season.
Nembhard declared for the draft after both of his seasons at Florida before returning to school. Junior guard Ayayi and sophomore forward Timme produced strong seasons.
ESPN, Sporting News and Stadium all listed Gonzaga at No. 1 in their initial polls for next season. CBSsports.com has UCLA on top, followed by the Zags. The teams met in Saturday’s memorable national semifinal with Gonzaga coming out on top 93-90 in overtime on Suggs’ winning 3-pointer.
ESPN anticipates Ayayi will turn pro and projects Gonzaga’s starting lineup to be Nembhard, incoming freshman Hunter Sallis, Dominick Harris, Anton Watson and Timme.
The rest of ESPN’s top 10: UCLA, Purdue, Ohio State, Kansas, Maryland, Villanova, Alabama, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Baylor, projected to lose four starters, is No. 11.
Sporting News’ top five is Gonzaga, UCLA, Purdue, West Virginia and Maryland. Baylor is 12th.
“Ha, you thought they were going away!” Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy wrote. “Well, some of the Zags will, but they likely still will include promising power forward Anton Watson and young big man Oumar Ballo and guard Dominick Harris. Top-10 guard prospect Hunter Sallis committed last month, and the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, Chet Holmgren, is expected to place his name on the roster soon. What a boost it would be, as well, if veteran Andrew Nembhard chose to stick around and serve as the primary point guard.”
Nembhard and Timme are probably 50-50 on returning next season, according to Stadium. “The key will be the backcourt, and the point guard position.”
CBSsports.com anticipates top-ranked UCLA will return every key player. The Bruins were followed by Gonzaga, Alabama, Duke and Baylor.
Gonzaga is the title favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. The Zags are +550 with Baylor second at +850. The next six include UCLA, Michigan, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Florida State
Sportsbetting.ag has Gonzaga as the favorite at 9/1 odds. Baylor and UCLA are 12/1. Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State and Villanova are 14/1.