Who is the Best College Basketball Team?
The national championship winner is simply a tournament champion, with the best team rarely able to navigate the six rounds of games even to reach the final. The 2021 version of the last game was a rarity, with the top two teams in the polls meeting to decide the championship despite all of the barriers that were placed in their way last season.
We can use several criteria to make a case for a team as the best in the country before the season, with the current roster, past performance, and coaching ability just a few examples. We can also look at other sources, such as the national rankings and future odds for teams to win the conference.
The team that held the top ranking in the college basketball polls and entered the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record still failed to win the national championship as Gonzaga lost in the final game to Baylor. The failure of the Bulldogs to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to complete a campaign with an undefeated record hasn’t kept Gonzaga from once again sitting on top of the preseason rankings.
Even though Gonzaga was defeated 86-70 in the national championship game, it doesn’t diminish the season they put together and can still make a case for being the best team in the country, especially since Baylor lost their entire starting frontcourt, which propelled them to an outstanding title-winning campaign. With the return of Drew Timme, who led the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding in 2020-2021, head coach Mark Few has the foundation to make another run at his first national championship in 22 years at the school.
In the preseason rankings, with the full listings found at College Basketball Rankings, Gonzaga is at the top of the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Polls, with UCLA also receiving votes for the number one spot. The Bulldogs are also the favorites for the bettors, with free betting sites such as Caesars listing Gonzaga at +500 to win the national championship.
Just like Gonzaga, Villanova had their season end with a defeat by Baylor, losing to the Bears 62-51 in the Sweet Sixteen in last season’s NCAA Tournament after suffering through a Covid-19 campaign, as well as having to adjust to an injury to guard Collin Gillespie 20 games into the season. Head coach Jay Wright, who has led the Wildcats to a pair of national championships in the last six years, returns eight of his top nine players from last season and added several players in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Last season, Villanova ranked third in the polls and after an early loss to Virginia Tech knocked them back a bit. They worked their way back to that spot after nine straight wins but ended up succumbing to Covid-19 issues and Gillespie’s injury down the stretch. A case can again be made that the Wildcats are the best team in the country, especially given how Wright can get his players to respond to sound coaching and buy into his offensive and defensive systems.
Many top teams will face off early in the season, with Villanova going cross country to face second-ranked UCLA on November 12th and eighth-ranked Baylor in December. Those two games and others will give us a great look at the comparative talent of several programs.