Mental Dimes NCAAM Podcast ELITE-8 Article – The Best Basketball Storylines from 2021-22 

The Mental Dimes ELITE-8 Segments feature our MentalDimes NCAAM Podcast hosts Shea Irish and Trevor Heilman, each battling to choose what they think are the best 8 picks based on each week’s new topic. The way it works: 

  1. A topic is chosen—it can be Basketball related (famous villains, best shots, worst coaches, etc.) or it could be fun (best pizza toppings, worst injuries, best purchases under 5$, etc.)  
  2. Each week Shea and Trevor rotate who gets the #1 picks, and they each go back and forth, unable to choose what the other has chosen. 
  3. When the picks have been made—you can find a poll on our MentalDimes NCAAM Social Media pages to vote for who you think has the best team. OR you can vote in the poll section below the article.  
  4. The winner is announced on our Podcast the following week and either receives an award from the loser, or the loser is given a punishment by the winner. 

This Week’s Topic: The Best Basketball Storylines From 2021-22 

Honorable Mention: It would be wrong to not give a shoutout to David Jean-Baptiste of Chattanooga. He hit a deep, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in OT of the SoCon Championship to send the Mocs to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. That shot was arguably the biggest play in the history of the Southern Conference, and easily the most monumental shot made by any player during the 2022 conference tournament portion of the season.  

Trevor #8 Jordan Jelly Walker and the UAB Blazers 

Jordan Jelly Walker put the UAB Blazers on the MAP. He is the reigning C-USA player of the year, tournament MVP, CUSA first team selection AND newcomer of the year (Transferred from Tulane) and was one of the most efficient scorers in the NCAA. He ranked 3rd in 3-pointers made (116), 8th in made 3-pointers per game (3.4), 14th in total points scored (690), and 16th in ppg (20.3)–that includes his 31 ppg during the Conference tournament. He is a walking bucket—he dropped 40+ twice on the year and set UAB single game scoring record after posting 42 against MTSU in a triple OT game to send the Blazers to the tournament. He is a baller—I love him—his name is Jelly—He won the hearts of the Barstool Sports crew for all betting purposes in taking games OVER the points line, and you can expect PB&J sandwiches anytime we live stream UAB games. 

Shea #7: The BIG Ten 

The Big Ten had another milestone season, sending 9 teams to the big dance for the second consecutive year, which in fact are the only two seasons in conference history they’ve sent that many teams to the tournament. Even more incredible, the conference produced 3 of the 5 Consensus First Team All-Americans in Kofi Cockburn (Illinois), Keegan Murray (Iowa), and Johnny Davis (Wisconsin). If you add Jaden Ivey (2nd Team All-American) into the mix, the Big Ten had 4 of the top 10 players in the country from last season. The next tier of players featured multiple guys that could be future impact performers in the NBA, with names the likes of E.J. Liddell (Ohio State), Ron Harper Jr. (Rutgers), Trayce-Jackson Davis (Indiana), and Hunter Dickinson (Michigan). If you need any indication of how much talent this conference possessed, Malaki Branham of Ohio State was only a 3rd Team All-Big Ten player, yet will likely be a lottery pick in next month’s NBA Draft. Night in and night out there were no easy victories in this conference, every single game was a grind. Even Nebraska, who finished tied for last, was no cupcake. The Cornhuskers had upset wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin toward the end of the year. Plenty of storylines emerged throughout the year, from Jordan Bohannon breaking the conference’s career 3-point FG record, to Maryland’s Mark Turgeon stepping down during the middle of the season; and of course none of which were bigger than the scuffle between Juwan Howard and Greg Gard. The conference underperformed come crunch time, with only 2 of the 9 tournament teams advancing to the second weekend. Maybe most disappointing was Purdue, who had legitimate national title aspirations, yet fell in the Sweet 16 to the upstart Peacocks from Saint Peter’s in an enormous upset. The Big Ten was once again one of the most notable conferences to follow from November straight through to March.  

Trevor #6: The NIL Policy 

Good or bad, this may be the storyline of the YEAR! What was meant to be a tool to compensate athletes and finally pay them what they deserved for the use of their names, image and likeness… without regulation it’s become a MASSIVE recruiting tool that SHOOK the college ball world. Go check out our state of the NIL on MentalDimes or Jeff Tuck’s NIL vs One and Done to see just how impactful the NIL can be if the $ is right. For the first time, probably since 2007 when Florida returned their core to run back a championship—we have a core four in UNC returning… the pre-season player of the year – Drew Timme returning… and slew of other premier players coming back. The only major variable change is the NIL, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence… plus the transfer portal has been BONKERS this season with NIL offers being used to leverage recruiting. The roster shakeups point to one thing… the NIL chaos is the reason—that’s the story of college ball right now. 

Shea #5: Providence Friars Win First Big East Championship & Make Sweet 16 

Raise your hand if coming into the season you had the Providence Friars winning the Big East Regular Season Championship? Unless you live in the state of Rhode Island or are a family member of one of the Friars’ players or coaches, you’re probably lying. Providence was unranked headed into the season, with many experts predicting the Friars to finish 7th or 8th in the conference during the preseason. At the beginning of the year, Providence was held to just 40 points in a non-conference loss to Virginia; but their defense helped them bounce back and kept them in just about every game. It was the biggest reason they started the season out 21-2 overall and 11-1 in conference play on their way to a Sweet 16 appearance. They even held a lead on the eventual National Champions (Kansas) with 5:30 left in their Regional Semifinal matchup. Ed Cooley deserves as much recognition as any coach in the country for the masterful job he put together in leading his team to their first Big East regular season championship in school history. He was named the Naismith National coach of the year following the season, and for good reason. They greatly overachieved to win the regular season title considering they didn’t have a single player on the 1st Team All-Big East ballot, and likely had zero NBA 1st Round draft picks on the roster either. Hats off to the Friars.  

Trevor #4: Coaching Legend Jay Wright Retires 

Wright went 520-197, led the Wildcats to 16 tournaments, four final fours and 2 national titles. He’s one of only 15 coaches in history to win multiple championships, and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2021. He is the architect behind the elite development of Nova, and was awarded the Naismith coach of the year twice while coaching 5 All-Americans. His record between 2014-2018 was 136-16 with two big east titles, four tournament appearances and two championships. His 2018 team is arguably one of the best in tournament history where their six tournament games were won by an average margin of 17. We could do stats all day long, but Wright was the most professional, classy coaches of all time—a beautiful comparison to some other coach that literally made a farewell tour for himself… Go Jay- and I’m now happy he retired because hate cat teams—would’ve been hard to hate Jay. 

Shea #3: Iowa St. Goes From 2-22 to the Sweet-16 

Iowa State completed the biggest turnaround in Big 12 history in one year, deserving a spot in the top 3 best storylines of the 2021-22 season. On March 18th, 2021, the Cyclones hired T.J. Otzelberger, who came into a program that had just finished the 2020-21 season at 2-22, going winless in conference play for the first time since 1937. Their only two victories on the year came against SWAC opponents. Otzelberger immediately took to the transfer portal and recruiting trail to turn the Iowa State roster around in a complete 360. On March 18th, 2022, exactly 365 days from his hiring, they defeated LSU in an NCAA Tournament game, signifying just how far the program had come. The Ames, IA faithful saw their Cyclones go from a 2-22 last place team to a team that won 22 games and reached the Sweet 16. That 20 game win improvement in one season was the most in the history of the Big 12. Iowa State started the season out on a tear, defeating two top 25 teams (Xavier and Memphis) in a Thanksgiving tournament up in Brooklyn, and then added to the resume with victories over Creighton and Iowa to end non-conference play 12-0 and ranked #8 in the AP poll. In total, the Cyclones defeated 8 different teams that made the NCAA Tournament. Going into the 2022 offseason, the future of Iowa State basketball is headed in the right direction; something the fans probably didn’t expect to see for some time following that dismal 2020-21 performance. 

Trevor #2: UNC Ends Duke, Goes to Title Game, Returns the Core 

This is an umbrella story for three greater stories: UNC ends coach K in his final home game at Cameron (glorious) and that becomes their springboard game going into the tournament. They were given an 8 seed but everyone knew they weren’t playing like it, and they became a terrifying team that came into the dance hot. They knocked off #1 seed Baylor, and then fantastically end Coach K’s career AGAIN by knocking them out of the tournament. Your biggest rival beats you TWICE as underdogs in the, possibly, biggest games of your career!! RUTHLESS. They then make it to the championship, and lose to a tough Kansas team, but THEN get the news that Bacott, Black, Love and Davis are all returning with a chip on their shoulder. UNC is easily preseason favorites to win it all in what was an incredible end of the season story. 

Shea #1: St. Peter’s Peacocks to the Elite-8 

 Who could have predicted that Saint Peter’s, the small MAAC school from Jersey City, would end up playing in a game with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The Peacocks stunned the entire country with upsets over Kentucky, Murray State, and then Purdue to become the first 15 seed, as well as the first ever MAAC team to advance to the Elite 8. They certainly busted many brackets along the way, with under 2% of brackets predicting them to win a single game alone. If you go back to November, they played two power conference schools in St. John’s and Providence, and lost those games by an average of 17.5 points. Heading into the last week of February, Saint Peter’s was sitting at 12-11 and the Iona Gaels were the surefire pick to be representing the MAAC in the NCAA Tournament the next month. From that point on, the Peacocks rattled off 10 consecutive victories, including six ‘survive and advance’ games between the MAAC and NCAA tourneys to find themselves matched up with UNC in the Elite 8. Saint Peter’s did the unthinkable, unimaginable, craziest thing the sport has seen in some time by advancing that far. They certainly embraced their role as David, slaying Goliath on multiple occasions to solidify the #1 spot for the top moment of the 2021-22 college basketball season. We may never see something similar to that run happen in our lifetimes again. 


  • Trevor Heilman

    I'm Trevor Heilman--currently a high school teacher and coach, and an aspiring sports editor for Mental Dimes. I'm a self-proclaimed expert when it comes to NCAA Basketball, an embarrassingly awful Fantasy Football player, underdog loving sports bettor, Gonzaga alum, and huge fan of anything sports. Co-Host of the mental Dimes NCAAM Podcast

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