The only thing Gonzaga left to accomplish under Mark Little is to win a national championship.
Zaggs debuted Monday: they’ll open the season in 1st place.
Despite losing to this year’s West Coast Conference MVP, Philip Petrosef, the Bulldog team received 28 first place votes and 1,541 points from a 64-member National Media Committee. That was just enough to beat Baylor (24 first place votes) one point clear of first place in the Associated Press Top 25 ahead of the season’s start on November 25.
“It is a great honor to be selected No. 1,” said Qaleel. “We understand that it is a reflection of what our program has accomplished over the years and we hope to play by that standard as our season begins.”
Villanova received 11 votes in first place and ranked third, followed by Virginia with the remaining first place vote. Iowa was named fifth place behind National Player of the Year Luca Garza, its highest pre-season rating in the school’s history.
Then a wave of blue blood came along with Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Duke and Kentucky, as they finished in the top ten.
The Bulldogs spent four weeks in first place last season before finishing second after the Jayhawks in the final poll, which was taken when the NCAA Championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Picking Petrosev to play professionally in Serbia and then go into recruitment was a blow, but the Bulldogs still had the chops to win it all. Cory Kisbert and Joel Aye deliver a punch in scoring, and the arrival of potential keeper Galen Suges could do should prove their backcourt.
Sure enough, Zag Mjwel as the title contenders open October 26 against Kansas at Fort Myers Tip Off, where they will also play Auburn, and face Baylor in Indianapolis and Iowa in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Bears, who also had the highest pre-season rating, spent five weeks in first place last season and lost only one key player to Big Man Freddy Gillespie. But coach Scott Drew could have the best backcountry in the country such as Jared Butler, Devion Mitchell and Maceo Teje, Mark Vital’s best defender and deep behind the top 100 league players LG Kraer and transfer Adam Flagler.
The Bears have also built a brutal schedule, playing Illinois and possibly Villanova in Empire Classic alongside Gonzaga.
“I think it starts with the experience,” said Drew. “Whenever you bring back a lot of players who have succeeded, a season back in time and a short summer, you definitely benefit from having men with college experience.”
Wildcats, who provided his highest pre-season rating at third in 1995-1996, was hoping for Bay’s friend to return for another season. But despite losing to the versatile striker to the NBA, coach Jay Wright still has goalkeeper Colin Gillespie, double double machine Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and strong starter Jermaine Samuels.
After winning 30 straight seasons and their national title, Virginia slipped slightly last season, moving 23-7 before the season was canceled. But coach Tony Bennett’s team should once again be the ACC favorite behind the Markit Sam Hauser move, the top 100 teams of Reese Beekman and Jabri Abdel Rahim, and Defaque Cavs.
Garza finished second after Dayton’s Obi Tobin for the nation’s best player last season, and the big man in Iowa was courting the NBA before returning to the hockey team. But he’s hardly a solo show: Joe Wieskamp averaged 14.0 points, CJ Fredrick and Connor McCaffery are experienced, and Jordan Bohannon is in good health after missing all but 10 matches last season.
“Having seven experienced players in the beginning gives us amazing diversity,” said Hockeys coach Fran McCaffery. “In a year where you might have a player overseas for two weeks (due to COVID-19), depth will matter.”
The second five
Jayhawks Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike lost from a team that was likely number one in the NCAA Championship, but brought back enough firepower to give Baylor a challenge in the Big 12.
Wisconsin and Illinois join the Hawk family in bringing a new flavor to the Big Ten on top of the poll. Young and Duke rebuilds and Kentucky may take some blocks early in the season but could be two championship contenders by March.
The comfort of the survey
Creighton Tai Sean Alexander lost to the NBA and Davion Mintz to Kentucky, but he remains ranked 11th in the pre-season standings in school history, followed by Tennessee, Michigan, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
North Carolina then came with Houston at 17th, its highest pre-season ranking since Hakim Alajoun’s Phi Slama Jama started the 1983-84 season in third. Arizona, Texas and Oregon finished the first 20 with Florida, UC Los Angeles, Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan attending the top 25 universities.
At the door
LSU was the first team out of the classification, followed by Memphis, Florida, Alabama and Indiana. San Diego State won six votes after finishing sixth in the final poll last season but lost MVP of the Year at Mountain West Flynn and two other elite producers. Louisville and Seton Hall are also unranked after they finished 15th last season.
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