College hoops preview: 5 questions for the rest of the country
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We've already looked at the five biggest conferences this week in our season preview, but that doesn't cover all the top title contenders for the 2020-21 campaign.

The Big East has multiple programs that could make a deep run in March, and there's little debate that No. 1 Gonzaga is the country's best team to start the season.

In the final installment of our six-part preview series for the college hoops season, we examine five questions for the rest of the country outside of the five biggest conferences.

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Can anybody in the country touch Gonzaga?

If the first game of the season is any indication, the answer to this one might be no. The top-ranked Bulldogs looked incredible in Thursday's opener, taking down No. 6 Kansas with a comfortable 12-point win.

It feels weird to say it given they play in the unheralded WCC, but Gonzaga clearly has the best roster in the country and one of the top coaches in college basketball with Mark Few. An incredibly balanced attack sees stars Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme joined by star freshman Jalen Suggs and accomplished Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard.

The Bulldogs have made it to at least the Sweet 16 in every NCAA tournament since 2015, but this program is no longer pleased with just making a little noise in March. With no apparent weaknesses for opponents to exploit, don't be shocked if this is finally the year Gonzaga breaks through with a national championship.

Can UConn thrive in its return to the Big East?

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After leaving the conference following the 2012-13 season, UConn has returned to the Big East.

The Huskies started slowly in their season opener before showcasing their full offensive arsenal. Second-year guard James Bouknight picked up where he left off, posting 20 points, eight boards, and three steals in UConn's victory over Central Connecticut State University on Wednesday. His activity on the defensive end, along with his shot-creating abilities, should soon make him a household name in the conference.

Howard transfer R.J. Cole also impressed in his first game in a Huskies uniform, providing a secondary scorer and playmaker alongside Bouknight. Freshmen Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson put in solid minutes off the bench and should see their roles increase as the season progresses. Despite having limited practice time, UConn managed to crack 100 points in the first game.

Can Villanova deliver a third title for Jay Wright?

There are just six coaches who have won at least three NCAA national championships in men's college hoops, and Jay Wright is one title away from joining that prestigious list. The Villanova frontman has turned the Wildcats into a perennial powerhouse with two NCAA tourney titles in the past four events.

The 58-year-old has to like his chances this year at getting that third championship, as Villanova returns a number of key contributors this season. Sharpshooter Collin Gillespie deservedly gets the recognition, but big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl might be the most important player on the roster this year. He started the schedule with a double-double in Wednesday's opener, an excellent sign for Villanova's title hopes.

What can we expect from Rick Pitino at Iona?

Panagiotis Moschandreou / Euroleague Basketball / Getty

It feels like Rick Pitino being back in college basketball has flown under the radar due to the craziness of 2020. The legendary coach returned from the professional ranks in Greece to take over at Iona. Pitino has seemingly jumped from one scandal to another throughout his career - with a national title being vacated at his last stop in college basketball at Louisville - but there's no debating his talent as a coach. Whether it's Boston University, Providence, Kentucky, or with the Cardinals, the 68-year-old has gotten immediate results at every stop. Expect that to continue with the Gaels, albeit under less media scrutiny at the mid-major.

Does Penny Hardaway have Memphis primed for AAC run?

Memphis was among the most hyped teams in the country last year and didn't deliver on that potential. The Tigers are flying under the radar this season and are set to take a serious shot at the AAC title. With the James Wiseman saga behind them, Penny Hardaway's outfit will turn to Virginia Tech transfer Landers Nolley and star freshman Moussa Cisse to join a solid returning core.

Whether Hardaway can recruit isn't the question, as the former NBA star has delivered star-packed classes to Memphis since taking the job in 2018. This may be the best year to see how he's developed as a coach. With a solid mix of veterans and newcomers, anything less than a run deep in the national tournament will be a disappointment.

College hoops preview: 5 questions for the rest of the country
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