The college basketball season is on the horizon, and we’ll soon see whose hard work paid off. While all that matters is who wins the national title, there are plenty of winners of the offseason.
College basketball never stops. The coaching carousel is competitive. Players choose if they plan on heading to the pros, and some decide to come back. High school prospects reclassify and shake up the recruiting boards. Adding in the transfer portal, it’s almost impossible to know who will be on a roster before the first game of the season is finally played.
Still, these four teams are easily the winners of the 2021 offseason. They each have a variety of reasons why they won. They may be losing talent, but things are still trending upward. Let’s start with the Cinderella team of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
UCLA shocked everyone, especially top sportsbooks when they went from the bubble to the Final Four. No one expected them to shine as they did in the NCAA Tournament. While they were a bubble team, there’s no doubt that they turned a corner and earned their way to the Final Four. This isn’t a one-hit-wonder. UCLA has a good coach and a solid foundation, and they should be a top contender this year.
So, why did they win the offseason? It’s mostly because they bring back the key player from last year’s NCAA Tournament run. Johnny Juzang was one of the best NCAA Tournament players, and many expected him to head to the NBA. His return keeps UCLA relevant, and they should be the frontrunners to win the Pac-12 this year.
UCLA has +700 odds to win the title this year after barely making last year’s NCAA Tournament. It’s safe to say they won the offseason.
Alabama Crimson Tide
This one may be debated. Alabama lost most of their starters from last year’s team. SEC POY Herb Jones is now in the NBA alongside Joshua Primo, and three other seniors graduated. They’ll be without Alex Reese, John Petty and Jordan Bruner.
Still, all of this was expected excluding the loss of Primo. Alabama fans still have plenty to be excited about. For starters, they bring back Nate Oats on an extension. There were plenty of coaching vacancies, so retaining him was crucial.
Also, Alabama brings back Jaden Shackelford. Shackelford considered both leaving for the NBA and transferring, so it was a win to get him back. He will be a veteran presence this year, and he’ll have a chance to lead the team in points.
Alabama is really a winner because of its recruiting class. Using both traditional recruiting and the transfer portal, the Crimson Tide will have the best class in program history. They bring in enough talent to replace their contributors from 2021, and they’ll gel well with Jahvon Quinerly and the other returning players.
Alabama should have a solid chance to win the SEC once again. Consider them winners of the offseason despite losing tons of talent.
After losing the National Championship in an embarrassing fashion, it was crucial for Gonzaga to win the offseason. They did that with their recruiting class alone. Gonzaga brings in the best recruiting class in program history, and it’s not even close. Before 2020, Gonzaga had never signed a five-star recruit. They signed their first ever in 2020, and they signed two this year.
Chet Holmgren is the top prospect in 2021, and he’ll be playing for the Bulldogs this year. He’ll play alongside Hunter Sallis, who will be charged with replacing Jalen Suggs. On paper, this team should be better than last year’s. With a coach who knows how to turn potential into production, the sky is the limit for Gonzaga. This could easily be the year they finally win it all.
In terms of recruiting, Virginia had a bad offseason. They only had one high-school recruit and a couple of transfers. However, that’s not why they won the offseason. They actually won because of things outside of their control.
In one offseason, the ACC saw two legends put limits on their coaching careers. Roy Williams retired, and Coach K announced that he will coach for one more season. This puts the futures of two blue-blood programs in question.
So, why does this help Virginia? At the end of this year, Virginia should have the best coach in the conference. They’ll be seen as perennial contenders if they can improve recruiting and develop the talent on the roster. Virginia’s 2022 outlook isn’t ideal, but they have a bright future thanks to these announcements.