Some of the final memories that men’s college basketball fans have from last season might include Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs etching his name in March Madness lore with an all-time great buzzer-beater, the Pac-12’s impressive run of NCAA tournament victories despite not having a single team earn a top-four seed and Big Ten darling Rutgers finally ending its NCAA tournament drought.
Luckily for fans of the sport, the basketball scheduling gods have provided rematches of some of those memorable NCAA tournament contests that are scheduled for the 2021-22 season. Here are three rematches from the 2021 NCAA tournament that we’ll see this season.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA – Tuesday, Nov. 23 (Las Vegas)
There’s no other place to start this list. Whatever adjective or phrase you want to use to describe undefeated, No. 1 seed Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime victory over No. 11 seed UCLA in the Final Four is probably a fitting one. Instant classic. An all-timer. A “where were you when…?” game.
Jalen Suggs’ 37-footer at the buzzer was the third-longest game-winning buzzer-beater in the history of the men’s NCAA tournament and it kept Gonzaga’s then-perfect season alive, putting the Bulldogs one win away from their first-ever national championship in the sport.
While it’s impossible that Gonzaga versus UCLA Part 2 will exceed, let alone match, the stakes of their meeting in April 2021, in part due to Suggs’ departure to the NBA, the game will receive top billing among almost any non-conference game in the 2021-22 season. UCLA returns virtually everyone from last season’s Cinderella squad — namely the 2021 NCAA tournament’s leading scorer, Johnny Juzang — while Gonzaga brings back forward Drew Timme, who’s a preseason first-team All-America candidate, and veteran guard Andrew Nembhard.
Both sides enrolled freshmen who have the opportunity to burst onto the national men’s basketball scene. For Gonzaga, 7-foot center Chet Holmgren is the headliner, but guards Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman should also factor heavily into a ‘Zags rotation that projects to be among the country’s best once again. In Westwood, the Bruins added to their roster 6-8 forward Peyton Watson, who 247Sports analyst Josh Gershon compared to Justin Holiday of the Indiana Pacers, writing of Watson, “Extremely versatile defender due to size, length, athleticism, instincts and motor.”
If Gonzaga and UCLA — two teams that could start the season ranked in the top five of the preseason AP Top 25 poll — live up to their well-deserved billing in the offseason, then their meeting in November 2021 could potentially be Part 2 in a trilogy of games if both teams were to advance deep into the NCAA tournament again in March or April of 2022.
Clemson at Rutgers – Tuesday, Nov. 30
After Rutgers had to wait an additional year to try to end its decades-long NCAA tournament drought due to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament, the Scarlet Knights finally broke through last season after going 10-10 in the Big Ten, peaking at No. 11 in the AP poll and earning a No. 10 seed. They met Clemson, a No. 7 seed, in the first round and Rutgers picked up its first NCAA tournament win since 1983 as the Scarlet Knights downed the Tigers 60-56 in a low-scoring affair.
Rutgers grabbed 40 percent of its missed shots, while a balanced scoring attack saw four players score between 10 and 13 points, including Caleb McConnell’s double-double off the bench.
Thanks to the schedule-makers of the 2021 ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the two schools will square off twice in the same calendar year as Clemson travels to Rutgers in late November. The hosts return Ron Harper Jr. (14.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Geo Baker (14.1 ppg, 3.4 apg) and McConnell (5.7 ppg) — all of whom are seniors — plus Paul Mulcahy (5.9 ppg) and Clifford Omoruyi (3.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg). That’s a veteran group that can contend for a top-half finish in the Big Ten and another NCAA tournament berth. Rutgers hasn’t made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances since 1975-76.
Clemson, meanwhile, needs to replace seniors Aamir Sims and Clyde Trapp, but the Tigers return three starters from last season’s NCAA tournament matchup with Rutgers — Al-Amir Dawes (9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg), Hunter Tyson (7.5 ppg) and Alex Hemenway (4.7 ppg), plus last season’s third-leading scorer Nick Honor (8.1 ppg).
Both teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency last season, per kenpom.com, with Rutgers at No. 16 and Clemson at No. 19, so prepare yourself for another defensive battle in New Jersey this fall.
USC vs. Oregon – Weeks of Jan. 12, 2022, Feb. 23, 2022
The Pac-12 sent four teams to the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA tournament — a No. 6 seed, No. 7 seed, No. 11 seed and No. 12 seed, no less. Unfortunately for the conference, two of those teams played each other in the regional semifinals, when sixth-seeded USC and seventh-seeded Oregon met after upsetting No. 3 seed Kansas and No. 2 seed Iowa, respectively.
Fortunately for men’s basketball fans, however, is that the Trojans and Ducks will meet twice in the regular season, during the weeks of Jan. 12 and Feb. 23, although the specific dates have yet to be announced. In March, USC won 82-68 as the Trojans advanced to the Elite Eight, where they fell to No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
Both teams experienced significant roster turnover in the offseason as reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Evan Mobley was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft after starring for the Trojans. Tahj Eaddy, who scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting against the Ducks in the NCAA tournament, has since graduated, too.
Oregon’s Chris Duarte was drafted 13th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, while LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi exhausted their eligibility. But Will Richardson is back in Eugene and Oregon added to its roster transfers De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma), Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and Jacob Young (Rutgers).
The Trojans return Mobley’s older brother, Isaiah, who had 13 points and six rebounds in the win against Oregon, amid an NCAA tournament in which he improved upon his season averages. Isaiah White (22 points and five rebounds against Oregon) is back in L.A. as a fifth-year senior and USC added Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis to its roster.
With the combination of their returning starters and roster additions, these two Pac-12 squads should contend for NCAA tournament appearances yet again in 2022. Oregon has appeared in seven of the last eight NCAA tournaments, winning a combined 14 games, as the Ducks have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in each of their last four NCAA tournament appearances, while last season was USC’s best since coach Andy Enfield was hired.