The 2021-22 college basketball season just tipped off last week, and some of the teams entered the campaign with plenty to prove.
Everyone wants to win and achieve success, which is relative based on the program. But these teams have something extra to take care of. Whether it’s proving that last season wasn’t a fluke, that they can get over the hump, or that failures from 2020-21 won’t linger, all of these college basketball teams have some juice behind them this time out.
College Basketball Teams with Something to Prove in 2021-22
Gonzaga still hasn’t won a national championship, so its detractors will continue to call the program an underachiever until that happens. To me, that’s insane when you consider the context around this program, but not everyone thinks the same way I do. I will admit, though, that with every passing year it doesn’t happen, the critics gain more ammunition.
The Zags have gotten about as close as you can without doing it, losing in two national championship games since 2017 and going undefeated last season until the title contest. But there will be added pressure on the Bulldogs to get over that hump and prove they can complete the climb to the top of the college basketball mountain.
Penny Hardaway brought a lot of hype with him to Memphis when the program hired him in 2018. Through three full seasons, he has not yet led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament, though they have been close and had a decent amount of talent come play for them in that span.
If this season doesn’t go well relative to the talent at Hardaway’s disposal, people will be quite upset. This should be the year he brings Memphis back into the national spotlight to where its fans believes it belongs. It will be an issue if it isn’t.
The Bruins were one of the last four teams to get into the NCAA Tournament in March, and they ended as one of the final teams eliminated from the Big Dance. UCLA became the second-ever team to go from First Four to Final Four, and now it has most of those same players who were part of that magical run back for a 2021-22 push for a Pac-12 title, repeat Final Four, and maybe more.
But was the team really that great, or was it just a hot month or so? UCLA wasn’t particularly good during the regular season – it wasn’t hot coming into the NCAA Tournament, either, dropping its final four games before the tourney. But the Bruins sure have the hype of a team that’s returning everyone from a 30-win season.
Will Mick Cronin show the 2021 March Madness run wasn’t a fluke, or will it be a disappointing time in Westwood? There’s a lot for UCLA to prove this season.
Many had Illinois tabbed as the national champion heading into March Madness last year, and then Loyola-Chicago happened in the second round.
Ayo Dosunmu is a pro now, but Kofi Cockburn is back, and so are Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier. There’s a Big Ten regular season title up for grabs, something the Fighting Illini haven’t achieved since 2005, and another shot at reaching the program’s first Final Four in well over a decade and maybe – dare I say – bring the inaugural national championship to Champaign.
It isn’t natty-or-bust for Illinois, but after the disappointment of last March, there will be pressure of this team to produce in the regular season and last longer than the first weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke went 13-11 (9-9) last season and missed March Madness for the first time since 1995. The roster has turned over quite a bit, and how the team fared in 2020-21 shouldn’t have much of an impact on 2021-22, but that context does add to the pressure surrounding Coach K’s closing campaign.
The perfect end to the Coach K story, from a Duke perspective, is his sixth national championship as a coronation of his greatness. At the very least, the first Final Four for the program since 2015 would be in order. But that’s easier said than done.
Mike Krzyzewski has long cemented his legacy as an all-timer. How this season goes won’t change that. But especially with how poorly things went in 2020-21, Duke fans have to be lying if they don’t admit that they especially want something spectacular to come from K’s last hoorah.