The 2021-2022 NCAA College Basketball season is primed to be one of the most highly anticipated seasons of all time. Crowds are back, the atmosphere will be insane, and plenty of teams gained new talent. However, there are multiple storylines that could dictate this year’s season. For example, will Duke live up to its potential and bring Coach K one final ring? Will Gonzaga have one of the greatest frontcourts ever? Will Penny Hardaway finally lead a Memphis team to its full potential? Throughout the season, viewers discover the answers to these questions, yet at the beginning of the season, these storylines create pressure for many NCAA college basketball coaches and programs. What coaches and teams are suffering the most from their lofty expectations? These are teams with lofty title expectations, coaches on the hot seat, or upstart coaches with something to prove.
Pressure in the 2021-22 NCAA Basketball Season
Memphis hired Penny Hardaway in 2018, expecting him to lead the Tigers to success. However, the only tournament the Tigers have played in is the NIT. Now Memphis has arguably its best team during Penny Hardaway’s tenure with top recruits Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren joining talented veterans DeAndre Williams and Lester Quinones. Memphis’ offense was absolutely dreadful as they ranked 206th in Offensive Rating. Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren can change that offensive slump. If Bates lives up to the hype, as seen in this video, he could be an absolutely lethal addition for the Tigers. Many scouts compared him to Kevin Durant, and Penny Hardaway desires to play him at point guard. However, that could be a risky move, but Penny Hardaway needs to take risks.
Playing Bates next to Jalen Duren is something he must do. Duren can play the perimeter while dominating in the post; he can also grab anything out of the air with his 7-foot-5 wingspan. Simply put, the kid should bring talent to Memphis like he did to Montverde Academy. DeAndre Williams, Lester Quinones, and Landers Nolley should help the freshmen with the scoring load. Everything seems to be in place for Memphis to be a viable tournament contender, and Penny Hardaway has to live up to those expectations. Anything less could result in Hardaway’s firing.
Duke Blue Devils and Coach K
It’s the retirement tour for Coach K, and he needs to redeem himself after Duke’s disappointing season. Coach K should not worry, however, because he added two great players in Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin, who should pair nicely with Wendell Moore, Mark Williams, and Jeremy Roach. Banchero is 6’11 and 250 pounds with a 40+ inch vertical. The talent is there; the concern is how Coach K can coach Banchero and his team to success. For example, how can he coach against great teams like Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Ohio State? Last year Duke was embarrassed by teams such as Illinois and North Carolina, two reputable teams. Will K be able to redeem himself?
The retirement tour is going to be heavily publicized, meaning that K is going to be under the eyes of the media every move. Every loss to a team will leave analysts questioning how Duke can recover and whether he should give the reins to Jon Scheyer. If he does well, the expectations will grow and grow, inevitably setting K for disappointment. Furthermore, he has to address any of the team’s lingering issues. For example, Duke hasn’t hasn’t ranked top 50 in 3 point % since 2016. 2021-2022 will be a stressful year for Coach K; Duke’s level of success will dictate the levels of stress throughout the season.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Hubert Davis has to live up to the lofty standards of Roy Williams. The team lost some good players in Garrison Brooks, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler but added great players in Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek while retaining Caleb Love and Armando Bacot. Love and Bacot will need to elevate their games while Davis has to prove to everyone that he is a perfect successor to Roy Williams. Will North Carolina be a legitimate threat to Duke in the ACC, or will everyone doubt Hubert Davis after his first year?
Trevion Williams and Jaden Ivey give Purdue a lethal one-two punch on offense and defense. Ivey dominated in the FIBA U19 World Cup, and Williams is poised to be in contention for an All-American spot. Plus Purdue should look forward to Zach Edey’s development as well as good play from freshmen Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn. A loss to North Texas in the first round won’t satisfy Purdue fans and will be seen as a major disappointment. Purdue hasn’t reached a Final Four since 1980. Will it break that streak this year?
UCLA must prove that its Final Four run last year wasn’t a fluke. Johnny Juzang must prove that he can live up to the lofty standards he imposed upon himself from his incredible tournament run. Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, and Cody Riley have to prove that they’re viable options. Simply put, UCLA is going to have to prove that it can be a deadly option in the PAC-12 and NCAA tournaments.
After a disappointing year, Kentucky reloaded its roster with amazing transfers like Oscar Tshiebwe, Kellan Grady, and Sahvir Wheeler and stellar recruits like TyTy Washington and Daimion Collins. The real concern is how John Calipari can put the pieces together to make Kentucky a championship-caliber team. Calipari has done it in the past, but after a disappointing year, he has to ensure that Kentucky’s stacked roster can compete for a championship.
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