Photo courtesy of Michigan athletics

Despite the NBA Finals kicking off during the early portions of this week, there is an underlying story that could shape the 2021-22 college basketball season.

The deadline to withdraw a player’s name from the NBA Draft was July 7 at 11:59 p.m. Any player who did not hire an agent and decided that he would like to explore the possibility of the NBA Draft had a decision to make.

Some of those situations that could force a player to withdraw could include being stuck in the G League for a year or two or being drafted late in the second round where a lot of players are stuck on the end of the bench, among others. Nonetheless, here are some of college basketball’s biggest winners and losers from the entire day of announcements.

Winners

UCLA

The Bruins were the biggest Cinderella story of the past NCAA Tournament. A lot of that success was due to Johnny Juzang, who averaged 22.8 points per game. In addition, head coach Mick Cronin gets back Cody Riley, another anchor for his team. Riley averaged 10 points while allowing the Bruins to space the floor. The Bruins also brought in another pure talent in Peyton Watson, a 5-star recruit who is the No. 8 overall player in the 2021 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Bruins are favorites to not only win the Pac-12, but make another run to the Final Four. However, this time, they have massive expectations.

Houston

Kelvin Sampson’s squad was so close last season. Houston was knocked out by eventual national champion Baylor in the Final Four. Maybe it was for the best, as the Cougars get to run it back with the same core intact. Both Marcus Sasser and Fabian White withdrew their names and decided to attempt to make an even deeper run. The Cougars have a lot going for them this season, and a lot of people have them as a sleeper pick to make another deep run. They now have the tourney experience to go along with their talent as a group. An early season match-up against Virginia and a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational should serve as a good litmus test for the Cougars.

Michigan

Juwan Howard and the Wolverines were seconds away from defeating the previous team on this list, the Houston Cougars. Nonetheless, the Wolverines bring back a much more talented and deep roster than ever. People in Ann Arbor are calling the 2021-22 Wolverines the best team since the “Fab Five”. Those are high expectations, but if they come to fruition, the Wolverines could be scary in March. Hunter Dickinson, a unicorn of a center, announced that he will return to Michigan for another season in attempts of bettering his draft position in the future. This team, no doubt, has the talent and coaching to get far. Now, it is time to prove to everyone that Michigan is one of the Big Ten’s perennial powers.

St. John’s

Obviously, the return of Julian Champagne helps a Red Storm team that is looking to make the NCAA Tournament. Champagne is a great scorer and he is joined by his wingman and second option, Posh Alexander. Those two create one of the most potent 1-2 punches in college basketball. Compounding upon that, the Big East is as open as ever. Only Villanova has a solidified spot as a true contender. The Red Storm might be one of the biggest “hit or miss” picks out there for this upcoming season. Don’t be surprised if they take a big leap forward.

Losers

Illinois

After being upset by Loyola-Chicago last season, nothing has seemingly gone right for the Fighting Illini. Ayo Dosunmu declared for the draft. Kofi Cockburn has withdrawn his name, but has entered the transfer portal. The reason the Illini are considered losers is not necessarily because of what they did. This is due to the other teams in the Big Ten getting stronger. Illinois might be in a very vulnerable position considering what teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland return and bring in.

Georgia Tech

Coming off a season where they won the ACC Tournament for the first time in school history, the Yellow Jackets should be on the rise. However, that is not the case as they not only lose their top scoring options in Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright, but they’ve done little to address the losses on their roster. The ACC is, like many conferences, there for the taking. This is one of the biggest downsides that coaches point to when talking about these veteran teams. It is so difficult to have prolonged success because the best players will leave massive holes on the roster upon leaving.

The SEC Besides Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas

The SEC has never been a basketball conference. Everyone knows that and accepts it. However, the conference is one of the weakest in the Power 5. Aside from the top three teams in the conference, very few teams even have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State has a solid team with some good transfers, but it has yet to prove anything. It might not be a huge surprise to see only Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas feeling good about their chances once early March rolls around.

Conclusion

The upcoming college basketball season is bound to be one of the most competitive in recent memory. Additionally, it will be groundbreaking due to the fact that the NCAA is now allowing its athletes to benefit from NIL.

In the end, though, the biggest thing that everyone looks for in a college hoops season is all there. From the powerful mid-majors to talented freshmen to everything in between, it is shaping up to be one of the best college basketball seasons in recent memory.