On Nov. 23, the top two men's college basketball teams in the country will face off in Las Vegas. As of the preseason, that's a statement of fact, because the preseason AP Top 25 poll was released Monday. Reigning national runner-up Gonzaga is the preseason No. 1 team in the country and UCLA — the team whose 2021 season ended in heartbreak at the hands of Gonzaga — is ranked No. 2, and the two schools will have a rematch of their epic April showdown next month.
That's just one of the interesting pieces of news and notes from the release of the preseason AP poll.
Here are the rest of our takeaways from the preseason AP Top 25 poll for the 2021-22 men's college basketball season.
AP Top 25 Poll: Preseason
school (first-place vOtes)
Others receiving votes: Michigan State 87, Indiana 41, USC 30, Arizona 26, Virginia Tech 25, Oklahoma State 25, Xavier 22, Texas Tech 17, Richmond 13, Rutgers 11, Colorado State 11, LSU 7, Belmont 7, San Diego State 5, St. John's 5, Mississippi State 5, Syracuse 5, Drake 4, Colorado 4, BYU 3, Notre Dame 3, Louisville 3
Gonzaga is preseason No. 1, again
Amid its two-decade climb to becoming one of the preeminent men's basketball programs in the country, Gonzaga earned the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll for the first time in program history on March 4, 2013, just weeks before it earned its first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. During the nine-season span from the start of the 2012-13 season through the end of the 2020-21 season, Gonzaga spent 33 weeks atop the AP poll, or roughly 19 percent of the 174 editions of the weekly AP poll over that span.
However, Gonzaga was never preseason No. 1 until the 2020-21 season and now the 'Zags have earned the distinction two seasons in a row, as they fell one win short of an undefeated, national championship season last spring, lost three of their top four scorers, then reloaded to hang onto the No. 1 ranking.
They were the wire-to-wire No. 1 team last season and they've been ranked in the top three of the AP poll since Dec. 16, 2019, with only one of those 32 weeks spent ranked outside of the top two.
UCLA parlays Final Four run into top-five ranking
In the First Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, UCLA found itself in a 44-31 hole late in the first half, but the Bruins made a basket before the halftime buzzer, ultimately forced overtime and prevailed over their fellow No. 11 seed. You know what happened next, as UCLA became just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four, as it took then-undefeated Gonzaga to overtime in the Final Four, where Jalen Suggs' late-game heroics ended the Bruins' Cinderella run.
Given UCLA's NCAA tournament success and the return of its five starters from that tournament run, namely 2021 NCAA Tournament leading scorer Johnny Juzang, the Bruins are ranked No. 2 in the preseason.
That means we'll have a top-two showdown soon
As referenced earlier, Gonzaga and UCLA agreed to a rematch of last season's unforgettable 93-90 overtime finish in the Final Four that will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 23 in Las Vegas as part of the Empire Classic. There's a reason March Madness correspondent Andy Katz ranked that game as his No. 1 non-conference game to watch this season. You can read the rest of his top 20 games to watch here.
While Suggs, the Gonzaga hero of last April's meeting, has moved on to the NBA, as did his teammate Corey Kispert, UCLA's starting five returns, as does potential first-team All-American Drew Timme for Gonzaga. This will be a men's college basketball heavyweight bout, which makes Las Vegas a fitting venue for the game.
Talking about turnover
Almost half of the teams in the preseason AP Top 25 weren't in the final poll last season. There are 11 teams in the preseason AP poll weren't ranked in the final AP poll during the 2020-21 season, including big-name programs such as the aforementioned, No. 2-ranked Bruins, plus the likes of No. 9 Duke and No. 10 Kentucky. Then there's other famiiliar names such as 2021 NIT champion Memphis, which checks in at No. 12, 2021 Sweet 16 participant Oregon at No. 13, six-time national champion North Carolina ranked No. 19, and four-time champion UConn at No. 24.
These are all schools that are more than familiar with the AP Top 25 but none of them were considered among the top teams in the country when the 2021 regular season ended. They are now.
Lofty expectations for first-year coaches
New Texas coach Chris Beard returned to his alma mater after his tenure at Big 12 foe Texas Tech and now he'll enter his first season in Austin with the No. 5 team in the country — one that's heavily built around talented transfers. Starters Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey return, while Texas added to its roster transfers Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Tre Mitchell (UMass), Timmy Allen (Utah), Christian Bishop (Creighton) and Devin Askew (Kentucky).
It may take time for a new-look roster to gel, but Beard's cupboard is full with talent.
Then there's North Carolina at No. 19. Tar Heels alum Hubert Davis replaced Roy Williams in the offseason and the AP poll voters believes Davis has a top-20 squad in his first season on the first chair on the bench. North Carolina is the second-highest ranked ACC team in the preseason poll, behind rival Duke, which starts at No. 9 in the poll in coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season in Durham.
Brag about the Bonnies
St. Bonaventure hasn't been ranked, period, since the 1971 season, when it debuted at No. 20 in the preseason poll. It peaked at No. 10 that season. Fifty years later, the Bonnies are ranked No. 23 in the preseason after they swept the A-10's regular-season and conference tournament titles, before earning a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They return 86.5 percent of their minutes from last season, which makes them one of the teams that's best positioned to pick up where it left off last season and, potentially, a Final Four dark horse, according to Andy Katz.
If you're looking for a strong team from outside of the top six or seven conferences nationally that could advance deep into the NCAA tournament, consider St. Bonaventure.