In college basketball, there are no guarantees.
Win streaks are broken. #16 seeds can take down #1 seeds (it will happen again), and a single five-star recruit can change the entire trajectory of a program.
This year's group of preseason favorites should be extra wary of any hype and fanfare, as lurking right behind them are a host of rivals starving for a chance to take down everyone's conference-winning pick. After a topsy-turvy pandemic-impacted season, along with another round of the transfer portal carousel, who knows what to expect this year?
Below are six darkhorses that have what it takes to flip the script and hang a conference championship banner at the end of the regular season.
*All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference CBB
It was not a great 2020-21 season for Auburn and Bruce Pearl, as the team went 13-14 in the SEC. Still, fans shouldn't be too concerned. After a 2019 Final Four run and a promising 2020 season (the Tigers were 25-6 before March Madness was cancelled that year), a rebuild was inevitable.
After one busy offseason, it's safe to say Auburn has rebuilt. Five-star recruit Jabari Smith Jr. and North Carolina sophomore transfer Walker Kessler give Pearl two young big men to mold his team around, as both possess the ability to bang bodies down low or shoot from outside the paint. They'll be joined by a returning roster that contains some firepower, including talented junior guard Allen Flanigan, who was injured for a good portion of last season. The major question for Auburn: will they have enough three-point shooting to hang with the sharpshooters at Kentucky and Alabama? Stay tuned.
Big East: St. Johns
After a crucial win against #3 Villanova last season, St. Johns looked poised to make a return to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the Red Storm, the team took a nosedive to end the year, going 3-5 against Big East rivals. To make matters worse, they'll welcome back just three returning players from last year's squad.
If the previous paragraph cast some doubt over St. John's chances of competing for the Big East this season, fear not. Of the three returnees, one is star forward Julian Champagnie, who averaged 19.8 PPG, 7.4 REB, and 38