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Andy Katz | Correspondent | August 27, 2021

The 12 biggest winners from the summer in men's college basketball

Andy Katz's top 12 summer winners

The biggest winner of this summer were the players.

They got to play, work out and enjoy some normalcy on college campuses. They didn't in 2020.

A few were selected to represent their home countries, including the USA, in the FIBA U19 tournament in Latvia. There was nothing like that in 2020.

The NCAA plus a number of states welcomed in name, image and likeness on July 1 to allow student-athletes to profit off the court.

ON THE CUSP: These 5 men's basketball teams could have historically great seasons in 2021-22

The NBA draft was in July for the first time, which meant the withdrawal deadline was a month later than normal. And the transfer portal, with a one-time exemption to play right away, created more movement.

But who were the biggest team winners? Here are my top 12:

  1. UCLA: The Bruins are my No. 1 team in my Power 36 because of the momentum of the Final Four appearance hasn’t been interrupted. Johnny Juzang was the storyline player in the run to the Final Four. He’s back. So, too is Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. Cody Riley won’t be alone inside now that Myles Johnson has transferred from Rutgers. The Bruins have a top recruiting class and coach Mick Cronin built an elite schedule to match the ranking: Villanova, in Los Angeles, at UNLV, at Marquette and North Carolina and Gonzaga in Las Vegas.
  2. Illinois: Kofi Cockburn. The Illini got the best big man back in a bit of a stunner. Cockburn was supposed to be gone to the NBA Draft or even possibly off to the transfer portal. But he opted back to Champaign. He will be one of the best bigs. And the Illini have loads of experience on the perimeter with Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo and Da'monte Williams. Ayo Dosunmu is gone but the Illini have the pieces to make a deep run.
  3. Texas: Chris Beard didn’t waste anytime making a major impact in Austin. He did a tremendous job in the transfer portal. His most recent addition was Minnesota’s Marcus Carr. He had already landed Kentucky’s Devin Askew, Creighton’s Christian Bishop, Utah’s Timmy Allen and one of the gems in UMass’ Tre Mitchell — who could really shine in the Big 12. Beard never shied away from big games and playing at Gonzaga to open the season and at Seton Hall will provide major tests.
  4. Memphis: Penny Hardaway could have bolted to the NBA. He was close with Orlando but decided against the move. That’s a huge win for the Tigers and the American Conference. He then added Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown to the staff. That experience will do wonders for the young talent. Oh, and then he added Rasheed Wallace too, who will be a tremendous mentor for the bigs on this team. But the summer ended with a bang in recruiting with the addition of two big-time talents in 6-10 Jalen Duren, who reclassified for this year and then 6-8 Emoni Bates, once committed to Michigan State. Bates is a top-five projected player in the class of 2021. The Tigers still haven’t made the NCAAs under Penny but anything short of a tournament berth will be a disappointment. Experience matters and they will lean heavily on a young team. The Tigers also have a solid regional schedule against Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Saint Louis.
  5. Gonzaga: Chet Holmgren was the top player in the class of 2021. But he then had to prove it on a national stage. He did by being named the MVP of the FIBA U19 tournament, helping the USA win the gold medal. The Zags already had Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard coming back to give the Zags an elite trio. Coach Mark Few also delivered on a schedule to match the potential top-3 ranking with an opener against Texas, a week in Las Vegas playing UCLA and Duke, Alabama in Seattle and Texas Tech in Phoenix.
  6. Purdue: The Boilermakers are a trendy pick to win the Big Ten. They are mine. And the reason is the Boilermakers are loaded with young talent. Zach Edey was a double-double machine for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 tournament. While Holmgren earned the MVP honors, Jaden Ivey might have been the Americans' most complete player. That 1-2 punch with the return of Trevion Williams gives the Boilermakers three possible all-Big Ten first team players. The schedule is also solid with games against UNC and Tennessee/Villanova at the Mohegan Sun and Florida State.
  7. Michigan: The NBA had interest in Juwan Howard. He did not. That’s critical for consistency for the Wolverines. He’s a star. Oh, the Wolverines are loaded again with Hunter Dickinson withdrawing from the NBA draft to be one of the top bigs in the country, Team Canada’s Caleb Houstan going off in Latvia and proving he can be a scorer and the addition of Coastal Carolina’s DeVante' Jones. The Wolverines are primed to challenge for the Big Ten title again.
  8. Indiana: Only a handful of teams chose to take a foreign trip this summer. Indiana was one of them. The Hoosiers needed to do so under new coach Mike Woodson. The Hoosiers played two games in the Bahamas and while the competition is usually in question on these trips, the Hoosiers did average 71 points and forced 39 turnovers. Potential Big Ten player of the year Trayce Jackson-Davis was a star. Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp delivered and the news was all positive for Tamar Bates, Race Thompson, Xavier Johnson, Kristian Landers and Jordan Geronimo.
  9. Kentucky: The Wildcats had a summer of practice. Yes, I know everyone else did, but Kentucky has always benefited from actually working together with roster turnover and young talent. Davion Mintz will return, which gives the Wildcats needed experience. Getting Georgia lead guard Sahvir Wheeler gives the Wildcats an SEC-experienced lead guard who won’t need a learning curve. Iowa shooter CJ Fredrick joins Davidson’s Kellan Grady and West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe in a loaded, stat-stuffing transfer roster. The schedule has plenty of opportunities with Duke in Madison Square Garden, Notre Dame, Ohio State in Las Vegas and true road games at Michigan and at Kansas.
  10. Duke: Paolo Banchero stayed true to his commitment. That’s a massive win for Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Banchero is considered one of the top-five players in the class. He had opportunities to bolt, especially with the news of this being Coach K’s last season. But he stayed put. That’s a win. And while it’s early to discuss actual names, having coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer secure top commitments in the class of 2022 can help continue the stability in Durham. Coach K’s last team will play Kentucky at MSG, Gonzaga in Las Vegas and an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game at Ohio State.
  11. Kansas: The Jayhawks will be one of the most experienced teams in major college basketball. The last piece came when Remy Martin withdrew from the NBA draft and transferred from Arizona State. He’s a stud lead guard. The Jayhawks already had Joseph Yesufu from Drake, a key piece in the Bulldogs' NCAA run last March. Kansas returns Jalen Wilson, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot. The schedule has Michigan State at MSG, at St. John’s, Missouri, Colorado and Kentucky.
  12. St. John’s: The Red Storm are a sleeper winner this summer after it looked like the roster was facing a major overhaul. Mike Anderson got his two stars back in Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie and then added major contributors Aaron Wheeler (Purdue); Stef Smith (Vermont) and Montez Mathis (Rutgers). And the Red Storm have two monster marquee games at Indiana in the Gavitt Games and then Kansas.

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