We have finally made it to the final weeks before the 2022-23 season.
Arkansas opened the offseason at No. 1 before some NBA draft departures dropped it down, while North Carolina was at No. 5 and Gonzaga was all the way down at No. 12. Both the Tar Heels and Zags ultimately retained most of their borderline NBA draft prospects and will headline the 2023 national championship discussion.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels bring back four starters from a team that reached the national championship game before falling to Kansas. The lone starter to depart, Brady Manek, was replaced by Northwestern transfer Pete Nance, who should immediately bring much of the inside-outside ability his predecessor displayed last season.
Armando Bacot will be a preseason All-American, while Caleb Love and R.J. Davis found a backcourt formula that works toward the end of the season. Ace defender Leaky Black is also back. There’s some concern that UNC isn’t as good as its March run indicated, but it wasn’t necessarily just a six-game stretch. The Tar Heels were 17-4 in their final 21 games. Hubert Davis has enough talent, experience and depth on his roster to keep the Tar Heels at No. 1.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
There’s a strong case for the Zags to be picked preseason No. 1 yet again, after they won at least 28 games for the 10th straight season and received a 1-seed for the third consecutive NCAA tournament. But Mark Few lost No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren and star point guard Andrew Nembhard. He did bring back Wooden Award candidate Drew Timme and two other starters in Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton, and also signed Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith, the 2021-22 Southern Conference Player of the Year.
If Gonzaga is to make another title run, it will come down to the development of three former five-star recruits: returnees Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis, and LSU transfer Efton Reid. As the likely starting point guard, Hickman might be the biggest key.
3. Houston Cougars
Houston’s last two seasons: 60 wins, two Elite Eight appearances, one Final Four run. And now, Kelvin Sampson might have his best team yet. The healthy return of Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark is a big part of the optimism. Sasser, a likely preseason All-American, was averaging 17.7 points through 12 games before being shut down with a foot injury. Mark was key off the bench before suffering from a shoulder injury. Without those two guards, Jamal Shead stepped forward and emerged as a high-level playmaker and distributor.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky enters this season looking to make a statement after two disastrous seasons: finishing 9-16 in 2020-21, then earning a 2-seed in the 2022 NCAA tournament only to suffer a shocking first-round loss at the hands of 15-seed Saint Peter’s.
But John Calipari has the players this season to end up in Houston come early April. It begins with consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, who tallied 28 double-doubles and averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds last season. Sahvir Wheeler is back at the point guard spot, and a breakout season is expected from forward Jacob Toppin. Five-star recruits Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston will push for starting spots, and CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves should bring much-needed shooting.
5. Duke Blue Devils
For the first time in 42 years, Duke won’t have Mike Krzyzewski on the sideline of Cameron Indoor Stadium. That coaching job now belongs to Jon Scheyer, who has already established his bona fides on the recruiting trail — and now just needs to go out and coach a team with national championship expectations every season. Jeremy Roach is the lone key player returning from last season’s Final Four team, but he will be surrounded by the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and a slew of veteran transfers. Dereck Lively and Kyle Filipowski will anchor the frontcourt, while Dariq Whitehead — who suffered a foot fracture in late August — is a future top-10 pick in the backcourt. The June signing of Illinois transfer Jacob Grandison was important because of his shooting ability.
6. Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self used an experienced, veteran-laden group to go out and win the national championship last season — and now he will rely on the opposite. Five of the seven players who saw more than five minutes in the title game are gone, including first-round draft picks Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji. Jalen Wilson will be looked at as a go-to player after averaging 12.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in the NCAA tournament, while Dajuan Harris Jr. returns as a backcourt starter. Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar is one of the best two-way players in the Big 12.
But Self will need immediate impacts from freshmen Gradey Dick, Ernest Udeh and M.J. Rice — there’s a good chance at least one or two will start early. Keep an eye out for sophomores Zach Clemence and K.J. Adams stepping up, too.
7. Creighton Bluejays
Expectations for Big East favorite Creighton skyrocketed in early May when South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman committed to the Bluejays. Perhaps the best NBA prospect in the transfer portal and one of the best offensive players in the country last season, Scheierman won Summit League Player of the Year after averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
He joins a group that returns four players who started at least 13 games for one of the youngest teams in the country. Arthur Kaluma is a potential first-round pick, Ryan Kalkbrenner is a 7-foot-1 difference-maker at both ends of the floor and point guard Ryan Nembhard had a terrific freshman season.
8. Baylor Bears
Two straight NCAA tournament 1-seeds (would have been three with the 2020 tournament, which was canceled because of COVID) and a national championship in 2021 — and Scott Drew just keeps reloading down in Waco. This season’s team will look a bit more like the 2021 group from a personnel perspective: elite perimeter players, versatile forwards and depth in the post.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas opened the offseason as the No. 1 team in our first Way-Too-Early Top 25. But that was before what was always going to be a busy offseason in Fayetteville. When the dust settled, Davonte Davis and the sparingly used Kamani Johnson were the only returnees from last season.
But Eric Musselman did his usual work in the transfer portal and landed the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Nick Smith might be the best NBA prospect in college basketball this season, while Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black are also top-15 recruits. Look for the biggest impacts to come from transfers Trevon Brazile (Missouri) and Ricky Council IV (Wichita State).
The Razorbacks have reached back-to-back Elite Eights; is this the year they take the next step?
10. UCLA Bruins
After entering 2021-22 with top-five expectations, the Bruins were hampered by a month-long COVID pause in the middle of the season and a variety of injuries throughout, before falling in the Sweet 16 to North Carolina.
Two key starters from the 2021 Final Four team are still around, though: point guard Tyger Campbell and forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. They should be two of the best players in the country at their respective positions this season, with Jaquez Jr. garnering preseason All-American recognition. Five-star recruits Amari Bailey and Adem Bona should slot into the starting lineup from day one, while returnee Jaylen Clark is poised for a big season: during a five-game stretch in late February in which he started, he averaged 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
11. Texas Longhorns
Texas’ transfer-heavy experiment never quite succeeded last season. The Longhorns started in the top five in the preseason but finished 22-12 and exited in the second round of the tournament.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chris Beard didn’t go as hard in the portal in this past offseason, landing just Iowa State transfer Tyrese Hunter, one of the best freshman point guards in the country last season. He does bring in five-star freshmen Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris; the former has incredible explosiveness and will make an impact at both ends of the floor.
Above all, Texas will have more continuity in the rotation, with starters Timmy Allen, Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop as well as reserves Brock Cunningham and Dylan Disu all returning.
12. Villanova Wildcats
Jay Wright’s sudden, shocking decision to step down after 21 seasons on the Main Line dominated Villanova’s offseason, with the program turning to former assistant Kyle Neptune as his replacement. Veteran stalwarts Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels also, finally, ran out of eligibility.
But Nova has a couple of gems ready to take their place. Cameron Whitmore is a five-star recruit and a potential top-10 pick, while Mark Armstrong demonstrated high-level playmaking ability at the high school level and should outperform his recruiting ranking. Starters Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon are all back, too.
All that’s left is to wait and see about Justin Moore, the All-Big East performer who suffered a torn Achilles in last year’s Elite Eight.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee looked like a legitimate Final Four contender over the second half of 2021-22, winning 15 of its final 17 games — including the SEC tournament — entering the NCAA tournament. But the Volunteers’ potential run to New Orleans was short-lived, with the team falling in an upset loss to 11-seed Michigan in the second round.
A top-five defense was the key to their SEC success last season, and Rick Barnes will hope that continues without Kennedy Chandler spearheading things on the perimeter. Zakai Zeigler, who was a spark off the bench at both ends of the floor last season, should be the ideal replacement, while All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and a healthy Olivier Nkamhoua return as starters. Five-star recruit Julian Phillips will be an X-factor, given his length and skill.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Surprised it took this long to get to a Big Ten team? Well, most of the league’s nine NCAA tournament teams suffered huge personnel losses, with only three of 17 all-conference selections back for another season. We’re left with Indiana — which finished 9-11 in Big Ten play and was a 12-seed in the tournament — as this season’s league favorite.
Don’t discount the Hoosiers, though. They return four starters, led by potential All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis on the interior. Race Thompson made strides last season, and Mike Woodson went out and got some backcourt help for point guard Xavier Johnson in the form of top-25 recruit Jalen Hood-Schifino. Another top-25 recruit, inside force Malik Reneau, also enters the fold.
15. Auburn Tigers
After being considered a back-end preseason top-25 team at best, Auburn was one of the surprise teams of 2021-22, winning the SEC regular-season title en route to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. Bruce Pearl had to rebuild his frontcourt in the offseason after losing first-rounders Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler to the NBA draft, but was able to secure top-30 recruit Yohan Traore and Morehead State transfer Johni Broome, a two-time first-team All-OVC center.
Most of the perimeter returns intact, although Pearl will hope for more consistency and improved decision-making from K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. One player to keep an eye on is freshman Chance Westry, who wasn’t as highly touted as Traore but is earning rave reviews in the preseason.
16. TCU Horned Frogs
Arguably the team with the most roster continuity from last season, TCU brings back all five starters who had Arizona on the ropes in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Good news for the Horned Frogs, who will need to be far more consistent this season — their longest winning streak after Dec. 21, 2021, was two games.
Mike Miles is one of the best players in the Big 12, while Damion Baugh lines up next to him as another versatile combo guard. Emanuel Miller, Chuck O’Bannon Jr. and Micah Peavy return up front, as does Eddie Lampkin, who showed flashes (see: 20 points and 14 rebounds against Arizona) of dominance. Aside from consistency, 3-point shooting needs to improve: TCU shot a dreadful 29.1% from 3 in league play.
17. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona took the nation by storm in Tommy Lloyd’s first season at the helm, winning its first 11 games and 33 games in all before losing to Houston in the Sweet 16. Lloyd’s second season will be a bigger test, however, with three NBA draft picks in Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko all gone.
Azuolas Tubelis and Kerr Kriisa are back as starters, while Pelle Larsson is widely expected to take a major step forward this season. Texas transfer Courtney Ramey will bring experience and shooting to the perimeter, and 7-footer Oumar Ballo should provide rebounding and shot-blocking on the interior. Arizona will need its newcomers to make an immediate impact, and one player worth mentioning is Henri Veesaar, an Estonian forward who played for Real Madrid.
18. Virginia Cavaliers
In terms of roster continuity, Virginia isn’t far behind TCU. The Cavaliers return their top six scorers, but they also missed last year’s NCAA tournament, the first one they’ve missed since 2013. Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman form a dynamite defensive backcourt that plays with a lot of unselfishness, while Jayden Gardner shoulders most of the scoring load up front. To help his returnees, Tony Bennett landed four four-star recruits — of which Isaac Traudt and Isaac McKneely should help immediately — and added another capable shooter in Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas.
Offensive improvement should come naturally thanks to the newcomers, but the Cavaliers also need to get back to playing Virginia-level defense at the other end of the floor. They finished ninth in the ACC in defensive efficiency, their worst mark since Bennett’s first year as coach in 2010.
19. Oregon Ducks
Despite its preseason hype, Oregon really never got going in 2021-22. The Ducks were pummeled by BYU in their third game 81-49, then lost to Saint Mary’s by 12 and to Houston by 29 a week later. Five losses in their final six games relegated them to the NIT.
But Dana Altman has retooled his roster via the recruiting trail and the transfer portal, and should be toward the top of the Pac-12 standings once again. Will Richardson, one of the best guards in the country, is back for another year, as is former Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier. Five-star recruit Kel’el Ware has as much potential as any newcomer in the country, and Altman also landed two double-figure scoring guards with high-major experience in transfers Jermaine Couisnard (South Carolina) and Keeshawn Barthelemy (Colorado).
20. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nate Oats’ team was one of the most hot-and-cold groups in college basketball last season, notching wins over Gonzaga, Houston, Baylor, Tennessee and Arkansas while losing 14 games total, including on the road at Missouri and Georgia. They’ll need to iron out some of the bumps in the road for 2022-23, but there’s plenty of talent in Tuscaloosa once again. The newcomers will be key: Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley were both five-star recruits, Ohio transfer Mark Sears was a first-team All-MAC selection and Dominick Welch averaged double figures at St. Bonaventure. Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako return to the frontcourt.
But how far Alabama goes will likely come down to Jahvon Quinerly and Nimari Burnett. Starting point guard Quinerly tore his ACL in the NCAA tournament and his timetable is unclear, while former Texas Tech transfer Burnett missed all of last season with a knee injury.
21. San Diego State Aztecs
Perhaps no team took advantage of the NCAA granting student-athletes an extra year of eligibility more than the Aztecs, who will return four fifth-year seniors this season. First-team All-Mountain West selection Matt Bradley and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Nathan Mensah are the big names from the quartet, with the former being the team’s go-to guy offensively and the latter anchoring a defense that ranked second nationally last season.
That defense should be even better with the addition of Oakland transfer Micah Parrish, an All-Defensive pick in the Horizon League. Top-100 transfer Darrion Trammell will take pressure off Bradley offensively after earning All-WAC honors the last two seasons at Seattle. And there was consistent buzz about former TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee during his redshirt year last season.
22. Dayton Flyers
Despite wins over Kansas, Miami, Virginia Tech and Davidson, Dayton failed to reach the NCAA tournament thanks to awful losses to Austin Peay, Lipscomb, UMass Lowell and La Salle. That was with the youngest rotation in college basketball last season, with six of Anthony Grant’s top seven players having freshman eligibility. All seven are back, along with ESPN 100 recruit Mike Sharavjamts. The headlining returnee, though, is DaRon Holmes II, who averaged 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over his final five games of 2021-22. Potential all-conference picks Malachi Smith and Toumani Camara are also back. With everyone a year older, Dayton may not have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
23. UConn Huskies
Despite losing three starters from the group that won 12 of their final 16 regular season games — but lost to 12-seed New Mexico State in the NCAA tournament — the Huskies might be more dynamic this season. After eschewing the transfer portal last offseason, Dan Hurley rebuilt his entire backcourt by adding four transfers, including All-AAC guard Tristen Newton from East Carolina and high-major guards Nahiem Alleyne (Virginia Tech) and Hassan Diarra (Texas A&M).
Big East Player of the Year favorite Adama Sanogo will continue to anchor the interior, while much is expected of returnees Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins. Keep an eye on Alex Karaban, who enrolled last January and will bring high-level shooting ability to the frontcourt.
24. Illinois Fighting Illini
We expected a program that earned a 1-seed in 2021 and a share of the 2022 Big Ten regular-season title to take a couple steps back after losing All-American Kofi Cockburn, starting backcourt Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier and veteran starter Jacob Grandison. But don’t feel too bad for Brad Underwood. For 2022-23, he brings in three ESPN 100 recruits, highlighted by potential starters Skyy Clark and Ty Rodgers, as well as impact transfers Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech) and Matthew Mayer (Baylor). Coleman Hawkins opened last season averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games when Cockburn was suspended; Underwood will need more of that. RJ Melendez has also been earmarked for a breakout campaign.
25. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Mark Adams’ first offseason in Lubbock was highlighted by transfers: he signed six players from the portal and one junior college transfer. His rebuilt roster ended up winning 27 games in 2021-22 and reaching the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke. It’s going to take a similar effort this season. Kevin Obanor is the lone returnee who averaged more than 2.2 points last season, and nine newcomers enter the fold. The star there is two-time first-team All-WAC selection Fardaws Aimaq, who averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds last season at Utah Valley. But Aimaq suffered a foot injury in late September and will miss some time. Adams also landed De’Vion Harmon (Oregon), Kerwin Walton (North Carolina), Jaylon Tyson (Texas), D’Maurian Williams (Gardner-Webb) and five-star recruit Elijah Fisher.