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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | October 8, 2021

7 men's college basketball teams that are best positioned to pick up where they left off in 2021

Andy Katz breaks down the 20 best non-conference games this season

The 2020-21 men's college basketball season brought the unexpected but triumphant return of the program with the most national championships in the sport's history, the end of a Big Ten program's decades-long NCAA tournament drought and a near-perfect season by Gonzaga as it fell one win shy of its first-ever national championship.

NCAA.com identified numerous programs that are in position to pick up where they left off last winter and spring. The end points for each school vary – some teams were excellent in the regular season and NCAA tournament, while others fared much better in one than the other – but based on their returning production, plus the addition of important freshmen or transfers, each school could hit the ground running this fall and continue its general performance from last season.

These seven men's basketball teams are among those that are best-positioned to pick up where they left off last season. The teams are listed in descending order of percent of returning minutes from last season.

Mark J. Rebilas | USA TODAY Sports Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez celebrate after UCLA advanced to the Final Four.

UCLA

2020-21 record: 22-10 (13-6 Pac-12)
2021 NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the Final Four
Percent of minutes returning: 92.7%

Since mid-March of 2021, UCLA has received as much, if not more, coverage than any men's basketball program not named Baylor or Gonzaga. The Bruins became the second team ever to go from the First Four to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, joining VCU's 2011 squad. Their NCAA tournament loss was as heart-breaking as it gets — a 37-foot game-winner in overtime against a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga, which was undefeated at the time.

UCLA essentially returns every player of note from last season's NCAA tournament run, most importantly last season's leading scorer Johnny Juzang, who was the 2021 NCAA tournament's leading scorer and who averaged 16 points per game on the season. All five of UCLA's starters during the NCAA tournament, each of whom averaged at least 10 points per game, are back in Westwood. Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jules Bernard and Cody Riley each returned to campus and UCLA added Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson (8.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg last season) and talented freshman Peyton Watson.

UCLA will likely start the 2021-22 season ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll, which will put the Bruins among the preseason favorites to make the Final Four next spring. That's a lofty bar for any team, even one that advanced to the sport's final weekend last season and has added to its talented roster, without experiencing many departures. It might be worth a reminder that prior to the 2021 NCAA tournament, the Bruins finished fourth in the Pac-12 standings and that UCLA was on a four-game losing streak on Selection Sunday (although each loss was to an eventual NCAA tournament team and three of the four made the Sweet 16).

But UCLA showed that its best basketball last season was as good as anyone's and the Bruins will rank among the national leaders in minutes continuity, and that's a good recipe for a potentially special season in Westwood.

FORECASTING: Andy Katz's eight Final Four dark horses for 2022

Andrew Nelles | USA Today Sports Images Trevion Williams led Purdue in scoring and rebounding in 2021.

Purdue

2020-21 record: 18-10 (13-6 Big Ten)
2021 NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the first round
Percent of minutes returning: 90.9%

Purdue was one of nine teams that received a single-digit seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament that lost to a team seeded in the double digits in the first round, so Boilermakers fans might have a bad taste in their mouths with how last season ended, but their team finished the spring ranked No. 25 on kenpom.com, marking the sixth consecutive year they've finished in the top 25. They've made the last six NCAA tournaments and earned a top-four seed in each of the last four. Last season, they finished fourth in a competitive Big Ten.

So, on the whole, Purdue was a strong team, despite losing its opening games in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, both of which came in overtime. Once the calendar turned to 2021, Purdue finished the regular season by winning 11 of its final 15 regular-season games, with two of the four losses coming by a one-possession margin on the road.

The encouraging news for Purdue is that the Boilermakers return their top eight scorers from last season, headlined by AP honorable mention forward Trevion Williams, which could make them the team to beat in the conference.

David Kohl | USA TODAY Sports Images St. Bonaventure returns all five starters from the 2021 season, including leading scorer Kyle Lofton.

St. Bonaventure

2020-21 record: 16-5 (11-4 A-10)
2021 NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the first round
Percent of minutes returning: 86.5%

The Bonnies return players who combined for 104 of their 105 total spots in their starting lineup last season and that's because sixth man Alejandro Vasquez, who has since transferred, started one game in place of usual starter Jalen Adaway. That means St. Bonaventure brings back its entire starting lineup after it swept the A-10 regular-season and conference tournament titles last season en route to earning a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

St. Bonaventure's scoring distribution was balanced, with each of its five starters last season averaging more than 10 points per game but fewer than 15. The Bonnies' strength was on the defensive end, where their defensive efficiency ranked 20th nationally, per kenpom.com, thanks to their stingy 2-point defense (45.2 percent) and 3-point defense (30.7 percent). They'll have to reconfigure their bench unit, but when they return five starters, including leading scorer Kyle Lofton, who averaged more minutes per game than any player in the country (38.4), that's a relatively minor problem to have.

There's a reason the Bonnies are one of March Madness correspondent Andy Katz's eight Final Four dark horses.

Kirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports Images Rutgers ended its NCAA tournament drought in 2021.

Rutgers

2020-21 record: 16-12 (10-10 Big Ten)
Postseason finish: Lost in the second round
Percent of minutes returning: 61.0%

In 2021, Rutgers finally ended its NCAA tournament drought, which dated back to 1991, after the Scarlet Knights missed a chance to end the streak the year prior, when the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled. Rutgers finished tied for sixth in a competitive Big Ten, beat second-place Illinois and fourth-place Purdue at home, earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament and won its first NCAA tournament game since 1983.

The Scarlet Knights return roughly 60 percent of their minutes from last season, thanks to the return of starters Ron Harper Jr. (14.9 ppg), Geo Baker (10.4 ppg) and Paul Mulcahy (5.9 ppg). They do have to replace the production of guard Jacob Young and center Myles Johnson, but they'll have a veteran core that will try to continue last season's defensive success, when Rutgers ranked No. 16 nationally in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com.

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

Brett Davis | USA TODAY Sports Images Landers Nolley II led Memphis in scoring last season.

Memphis

2020-21 record: 20-8 (11-4 AAC)
Postseason finish: Won the NIT
Percent of minutes returning: 54.9%

The Tigers earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT last season, then won the tournament after defeating Dayton, Boise State, Colorado State and Mississippi State in succession. Penny Hardaway's squad boasted the most efficient defense in the country, per kenpom.com, with a group that held opponents to 27.7-percent 3-point shooting, while the Tigers forced a turnover on 22 percent of opponents' offensive possessions and blocked roughly one out of every seven 2-point shots their opponents attempted.

Memphis returns its top two scorers from last season — Landers Nolley II (13.1 ppg) and Deandre Williams (11.7 ppg) — as well as the players who combined for 82 of the team's 140 starts, while the Tigers added elite freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, plus transfers Earl Timberlake (Miami), Chandler Lawson (Oregon) and Tyler Harris (Iowa State), who transferred back to Memphis, where he spent his freshman and sophomore seasons.

That's a lot of metaphorical mouths to feed, but Hardaway's Tigers have been a top-five defensive team in each of the last two seasons and now they have an intriguing mix of returning veterans and top-end freshman talent. If they can get productive point guard play, not only should Memphis make the NCAA tournament for the first time during the Hardaway era, but it could stick around for a while in the Big Dance, too.

Scott Wachter | USA TODAY Sports Images Andrew Jones was Texas' leading scorer last season.

Texas

2020-21 record: 19-8 (11-6 Big 12)
2021 NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the first round
Percent of minutes returning: 41.8%

Texas' 2020-21 season ended with a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, but of the whole, you could make a case that last season's edition of the Longhorns was the best since 2011, when they went 28-8 overall and 13-3 in the Big 12, finishing at No. 5 in kenpom.com. Texas lost more production than it returns and it also has a new head coach in Chris Beard, but the Longhorns return two of their top three scorers — Andrew Jones (14.6 ppg) and Courtney Ramey (12.2 ppg) — while Beard has added a bevy of important transfers in Timmy Allen (Utah), Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Devin Askew (Kentucky), Christian Bishop (Creighton) and Tre Mitchell (UMass).

It will very much be a new-look Texas roster but Beard has many talented players at his disposal, including some who were responsible for the Longhorns' success last season. Don't be surprised if they hit the ground running and Texas continues to be a Big 12 contender and a program that earns top-four NCAA tournament seeds, like the Longhorns were last season.

Robert Deutsch | USA TODAY Sports Images Drew Timme was Gonzaga's leading scorer during the 2021 season.

Gonzaga

2020-21 record: 31-1 (15-0 WCC)
2021 NCAA tournament finish: Lost in the national championship
Percent of minutes returning: 46.0%

Let's set some realistic expectations up front: neither Gonzaga, nor any other team, is remotely likely to go undefeated in the 2021-22 season, but the 'Zags could still repeat the success of last season in other meaningful ways — WCC regular-season and conference tournament titles, a potential No. 1 seed and a deep NCAA tournament run.

Even though the Bulldogs lost three full-time starters — Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi — they still have a potential first-team All-America candidate in junior forward and last season's leading returning scorer Drew Timme (19.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.3 apg) and a pair of part-time starters in guard Andrew Nembhard (9.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) and forward Anton Watson (6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg), who started 16 and 17 games last season, respectively.

Gonzaga also enrolled what's likely its most talented freshman class ever, headlined by 7-footer Chet Holmgren, who could also be named an All-American next spring. Throw in Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton (15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg) and at least on paper in the preseason, Gonzaga has the makings of a team that could be among the nation's elite again.

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