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College Basketball Preview 2023-24: My Top 20

Kyle Filipowski

Top 20

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Backcourt: Back to run the show offensively for the Jayhawks is redshirt junior Dajuan Harris, fresh off a career year in 2022-23. The steady veteran posted career highs across the board a season ago and his disruptive on-ball defense led to him being named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He'll be joined by wing Kevin McCullar Jr., a former Texas Tech transfer who flirted with the pros before deciding to return to Lawrence for another year. Those two will play an outsized role not only on the entire team, but this backcourt in particular, as experience beyond them is limited. That doesn't mean there isn't talent, as true freshman Elmarko Jackson was a major pickup from the East Coast who most around the program feel will contribute in a major way this winter.

Frontcourt: Kansas ended up as the winners of the Hunter Dickinson sweepstakes, landing the high-scoring big after his surprising decision to move on from Michigan after three years. It's hard to overstate how huge of a pickup this is for the Jayhawks; Dickinson has All-American talent and even more, there should be an extra level of motivation after two consecutive frustrating seasons in Ann Arbor. Dickinson will operate as the Jayhawks' centerpiece up front, but junior K.J. Adams will also play a crucial role. Adams was the heartbeat of the Jayhawks a year ago, as his improvement helped preserve KU atop the Big 12. The 6'7" junior can do it all; his offensive game has grown in a major way since he first stepped on campus and defensively, his ability to guard multiple spots gives this team plenty of versatility. He just does so many things well, his impact on the game goes well beyond the stat sheet.

Bottom Line: Although the Jayhawks were unable to defend their National Title, Bill Self's every-steady program remains an absolute machine. They reload as well as anyone in the country and now enter this season flush with veteran leadership and a National Player of the Year candidate. If they can stay healthy, which includes Self, it's not crazy to think they can lift their second National Championship trophy in three years.

2. Duke Blue Devils

Backcourt: The inconsistent play of point guard Jeremy Roach has made him a controversial figure among Duke fans, but the reality is that having a proven piece like him running the show is a major luxury in modern college basketball. He's coming off his best season with the Blue Devils, a year in which he averaged 13.6 points per game, while improving his shooting numbers from three-point and free throw. It should help take pressure off Roach now that Duke has firepower alongside him in the backcourt, including Tyrese Proctor and highly touted newcomer Jared McCain. Proctor is another guy who flirted with the NBA, but his decision to return could be the springboard towards a breakout campaign. 

Frontcourt: 2022-23 lacked the usual collection of superstar true freshmen we've become accustomed to in modern college basketball, but Kyle Filipowski was dominant from start to finish. The seven-footer averaged 15.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG, becoming just the Blue Devil in program history to earn ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP honors in the same season. He would have been a lock to go in the 2023 NBA Draft lottery, but his decision to return to Durham cemented the Blue Devils as National Title contenders. Fortunately, Filipowski isn't the only Blue Devil big set to make an impact this season, as forward Mark Mitchell and center Ryan Young are both back, with true frosh T.J. Power also set to come in and play right away. Mitchell finished strong in '22-'23 and has All-ACC talent, while Young's value to this team shouldn't be overlooked. The former Northwestern transfer is a reliable contributor whose presence down low can open up Filipowski to work on the perimeter.

Bottom Line: There were plenty of ups-and-downs during Jon Scheyer's fist season as head man, but despite a disappointing second round exit, you saw things come together down the stretch for this team. Now, Scheyer has the opportunity to pair together Roach, an elite sophomore trio, and a top-notching recruiting class, a formula that could lead to Duke's first National Title since 2015.

3. Purdue Boilermakers

Backcourt: I'm not sure even the most optimistic of Boilermaker fans could have expected Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer to be so good so quickly in 2022-23. The first-year duo started all 35 games for Purdue and both secured a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. The next step is carrying that play into March, and with Smith's savviness and Loyer's shot-making ability, that shouldn't be too difficult. The return of Ethan Morton provides Matt Painter another program staple to work with this winter, as Morton prepares for Year Four in West Lafayette. Morton isn't much more than a complementary piece offensively, but his stellar defense sets the tone for the entire team. He'll consistently be asked to take on opponent's top scorer, and seems to relish in the opportunity on any given night. 

Frontcourt: There may not have been a more consequential NBA Draft decision this summer than Zach Edey's, as the reigning National Player of the Year waited until the eleventh hour to decide on his return to Purdue. Love him or hate him, there's no denying Edey's enormous impact on the court, thanks to a remarkably consistent offensive game and disruptive defensive abilities. It's not just the size either; I'm consistently amazed how well the 7'4" big man moves, and his ability to control his body means that getting him into foul trouble is a fool's errand. He's going to top NPOY odds all season long. However, he wasn't the only impact returnee to this frontcourt over the offseason, as the trio of Mason Gillis, Caleb Furst, and Trey Kaufman-Renn will be huge for the Boilermakers. Furst and Gillis are already proven commodities, and it wouldn't surprise me if Kaufman-Renn has his breakout after showing flashes as a redshirt freshman.

Bottom Line: Few programs in college basketball enter 2023-24 under as much pressure as the Purdue Boilermakers. For all the success the program has had under Matt Painter, their March misfortunes have become deafening. There are no excuses this year, with the top player in the country back in the fold and an extremely balanced, well-rounded roster. It's Final Four or bust in West Lafayette.

4. UConn Huskies

Backcourt: With Jordan Hawkins off to the NBA after a remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament, UConn is looking for others to emerge this winter. Topping that list is Tristen Newton, a former East Carolina transfer who started 38 games for the Huskies a season ago. Newton's impact on the National Title is often overlooked, as he recorded a double-double in the Championship Game, but can he step up and be the focal point for an entire season? Having shooters to open up the floor for Newton will help, so landing Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer was huge. Spencer shot 43% from three-point territory last season and never shies away from the big moment. He'll likely man the two-guard spot, but others like Stephon Castle and Hassan Diarra will factor into the backcourt rotation.

Frontcourt: There's also a changing of the guard in the UConn frontcourt, as Adama Sanogo moves on after a legendary career in Storrs. Fortunately, big man Donovan Clingan looks like he has the chance to be one of the sport's breakout characters this season, assuming he recovers from a foot strain suffered in late September. He's more mobile than Sanogo, which should give this offense a different look than it had last season. Also back is forward Alex Karaban, a stretch four who was a pleasant surprise in 2023-24. Much like Newton and Clingan, is he ready to go from being a complementary piece to becoming one of the guys this winter?

Bottom Line: Fresh off one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament runs in college basketball history, UConn is unlikely to show any signs of slowing down. They return several key contributors from last year's team and filled out holes through the portal and high school recruiting. They should be firmly in the mix to repeat, and look to be the class of a strong Big East once more.

5. Michigan State Spartans

Backcourt: Just about every big name is back in the Michigan State backcourt, with Tyson Walker opting to use his extra year of eligibility, and both A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins waiting on the pros. Walker and Hoggard both made strides last season and could form one of the most formidable guard tandems in the Big Ten, while Akins was one of the breakout stars on last year's team. He about doubled his minutes and responded with strong numbers across the board, including shooting 42% from three-point territory. There's also sophomore Tre Holloman, who flashed significant upside in limited minutes last year and could be ready for an expanded role. Top-to-bottom, it's one of the deepest backcourts Tom Izzo has ever built in East Lansing, giving Spartan fans plenty of reason to believe it could be a special year for the program.

Frontcourt: Much like Walker, Malik Hall's decision to use his extra year of eligibility was a major offseason win for the Spartans. The forward has been a program staple for years as an ultra-reliable piece, but you've always wondered if there was another level he could reach. Last season looked like it could be the year he put it all together, but instead Hall missed a big chunk of the season to a left foot injury. He's set to be 100 percent to begin 2023-24, providing the Spartans a proven commodity to their frontcourt. Alongside him, another familiar face will be center Mady Sissoko, who enters his senior season. It's been a slow burn for Sissoko in the collegiate ranks, but he had his best season in 2022-23, proving to be the relentless rebounder and physical rim protector Michigan State has often lacked. He isn't going to stuff the stat sheet full on most nights, but the value he brings to this team shouldn't be overlooked. Beyond those two, the Spartans have a host of young, but talented, pieces aiming to differentiate themselves. Jaxon Kohler flashed aplenty in his first season with the program last winter and will look to carve out a more defined role, while highly touted true freshman Xavier Booker is a lock to play right away. The 6'11" freshman from Indianapolis is the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Izzo, and has a chance to be the most dominant interior presence MSU has had since Draymond Green.

Bottom Line: Michigan State was one of the major winners of the offseason, getting surprising returns from Walker, Hall, Hoggard, and Akins, and securing the services of Booker. They will be one of the most experienced teams in the nation in 2023-24 and likely to battle Purdue for Big Ten supremacy all winter long. If they can stay healthy, a potential Final Four berth could be in the cards and maybe, just maybe, Izzo's first National Title in over two decades.

6. Marquette Golden Eagles

Backcourt: Senior guard Tyler Kolek is one of my favorite players in college basketball, a crafty lead guard that is one of the best passers you'll ever see at this level. He racked up the accolades after a dominant junior campaign, but the early March exit had to have left a bad taste in his mouth. He should be extra motivated, as will backcourt mate Kam Jones, who led the Golden Eagles in scoring in 2022-23. The 6'5" junior is just a pure scorer; he's effective from every space on the floor and his blend of size and quickness makes him potent in isolation opportunities. Jones and Kolek are an ideal pairing, two players that play off each other really well and set the entire team up for success. Add in rock-solid Stevie Mitchell, who returns for junior campaign, this is an exceptionally strong backcourt.

Frontcourt: The lone starter that departed over the offseason was Olivier-Maxence Prosper, whose impressive showing in the pre-Draft process earned him a spot in the first round. Certainly it's a notable loss, but Marquette is unlikely to feel drastic effects from it, as David Joplin averaged 19.1 minutes per games a season ago and should slide right into a starting role. Alongside Joplin is Oso Ighodaro, who had a huge junior season and now looks to one of the top big men in the Big East. At 6'11", Ighodaro is a load to handle in the paint and he's really grown his offensive game to be a two-way force.

Bottom Line: Second round NCAA Tournament exit aside, Marquette's 2022-23 was an unmitigated success. It was the Golden Eagles, not eventual National Champion UConn Huskies, who ended up as Big East regular season champs, and their 27 total victories were the most for the program since they went to the Final Four in 2003 with Dwyane Wade. With four starters back, Shaka Smart has all the pieces in place for a deep NCAA Tournament run, something that has eluded him since VCU's remarkable run over a decade ago.

7. Houston Cougars

Backcourt: Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark may have moved on over the offseason, but Kelvin Sampson and staff responded with several huge transfer portal additions, namely L.J. Cryer and Damian Dunn. Cryer played 70 games over three seasons with the Baylor Bears and is coming off his best season yet, averaging 15 points per contest. Dunn comes down south after four years with the Temple Owls; he's not the long-range threat Cryer is, but Dunn brings a well-rounded game and clear scoring prowess. Those two should pair nicely with the guards Houston already has on their roster, namely Jamal Shead. Shead has been a steady contributor each of the last two seasons and partnered with Cryer, gives the Cougars two superb ball-handlers.

Frontcourt: Houston loses a lottery selection up front, as Jarace Walker was picked eighth overall after an impressive one-year run with the Cougars. Walker is an important loss, a hard-working forward that was a force on the glass and could guard multiple positions. Besides just the loss of Walker, there are significant questions here. Sampson has always run a bit of a non-traditional lineup, but it's likely we'll see wing Terrance Arceneaux and forward J'Wan Roberts often guard opponents much larger than them. Even so, Houston is a relentless rebounding team and they put a major emphasis on their defense. I suspect that will help them maintain their edge up front, even if they don't have the size to match others.

Bottom Line: Houston dominated the American Athletic after the arrival of Kelvin Sampson, but they will begin a new chapter in their basketball history in 2023-24. Life in the Big 12 begins, one of the toughest and deepest leagues in America, which certainly will test the foundation that Sampson has built here. Fortunately, this is the right team to make the jump, with ample experience and a couple of important transfers filling in the holes. There may be a learning curve, but I suspect the Cougars will be firmly in the Big 12 Title mix right away with this group.

8. Florida Atlantic Owls

Backcourt: Head coach Dusty May has embraced the possibilities of the guard-centric landscape of modern college basketball, often running a lineup that includes four guards and one big. Of course, it helps that Florida Atlantic is stocked to the brim with talent in the backcourt, most of which decided to stay put after their miraculous Final Four run. Bryan Greenlee will run the offense as the starting point guard, a capable distributor who is a pesky defender, while Alijah Martin, Nick Boyd, and Johnell Davis are likely to reprise their roles as starters. Davis and Martin led the Owls in scoring last season, but the amazing thing about this lineup is its balance. Any one of these four can handle the scoring burden when needed, and even bench pieces like Brandon Weatherspoon and Jalen Gaffney play an important role. Few teams in the country are going to be able to counter the weapons Florida Atlantic can throw at you, an advantage they'll enjoy night-in, night-out.

Frontcourt: Russian big man Vladislav Goldin was one of the breakout stars of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Although his numbers rarely jumped off the page, he played an outsized role as one of the few true big men on FAU's roster. He'll be back to handle post duties once again, and the Owls are hoping he can take even greater leaps this winter. Junior forward Giancarlo Rosado is going to be the other big man we see plenty of this year, after he appeared in all 39 games last season. Rosado isn't as long as Goldin, but plays much larger than his 6'8" frame may suggest, and is a ferocious competitor. The offense isn't going to run through either Goldin or Rosado, but the efficiency that both offer does enough to keep defenses honest.

Bottom Line: For as shocking as Florida Atlantic's Final Four run was last season, it was no fluke. The Owls dominated the Conference USA all season and per advanced metrics, were actually under-seeded on the nine line. So, even as they make the jump to the American Athletic, the Owls should remain a fixture on the national scene. They won't sneak up on everybody like they did a year ago, but with so much back, replicating that success isn't completely out of the question.

9. Creighton Bluejays

Backcourt: Ryan Nembhard's surprising decision to transfer was a real blow to Greg McDermott and Creighton, but they responded by convincing Baylor Scheierman to return for a final season. Scheierman was as good as advertised after transferring in from South Dakota State, averaging 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. As the focal point of the Creighton attack this year, he has serious All-American potential. Junior guard Trey Alexander was another important returnee after a huge '22-'23 season, and McDermott is hopeful that Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth can acclimate quickly and handle Nembhard's vacated point guard spot.

Frontcourt: Much like the backcourt, the Bluejay frontcourt loses a big-name transfer in Arthur Kaluma, but returns a key piece in center Ryan Kalkbrenner. The seven-footer has gotten better each year he's been in Omaha and is one of the most efficient scorers anywhere in the country, averaging 15.9 PPG on 70% shooting last season. He's going to be leaned on even more without Kaluma, who played an important role at the four spot, but there's a chance sophomore Mason Miller could be ready to step in. Miller was a role player throughout his first season campus, playing just about nine minutes per game, but has the necessary tools to become a more consistent contributor in 2023-24.

Bottom Line: Creighton came agonizingly close to the program's first-ever Final Four appearance last spring, but came away as winners of the offseason by bringing back the trio of Scheierman, Alexander, and Kalkbrenner. That's not to diminish the losses of Nembhard and Kaluma, but McDermott responded by working the portal to his benefit, and there are other pieces on the roster that should step up. Expect the Bluejays to be right there with UConn and Marquette in the battle for the Big East crown.

10. Kentucky Wildcats

Backcourt: Although Kentucky returns a solid lead guard in Antonio Reeves, who averaged 14.4 PPG in his first season coming from Illinois State, all eyes are on the shiny newcomers in Lexington. In the backcourt, that includes the trio of Justin Edwards, Rob Dillingham, and D.J. Wagner. All three are ranked in the Top 20 nationally for the Class of 2023 and will all see immediate playing time, with Edwards and Wagner leading the way. The 6'8" Edwards is going to provide plenty of highlight plays with his athleticism, but it will be interesting to see whether he can handle being one of the focal points of the offense. Wagner, a combo guard who should have no issue coming in alongside Reeves, looks college-ready. He's the son of former Memphis star Dajuan Wagner, who played for John Calipari with the Tigers in the early 2000s.

Frontcourt: Oscar Tshiebwe is gone, meaning Kentucky must start anew in the frontcourt this season. The 2022 National Player of the Year wasn't quite as dominant this past season, but is still a major loss. Calipari reloaded with plenty of young talent, including freshman Aaron Bradshaw, but the big offseason addition here actually came through the portal in the form of Tre Mitchell from West Virginia. It is Mitchell's fourth college team, as he began his career at UMass before pit stops at Texas and WVU, but he's shown an ability to be an effective frontcourt piece. Most importantly, his experience will be crucial on a team relying on an immense amount of youth. Another "veteran" piece, at least compared to the rest of this roster, is seven-foot sophomore Ugonna Onyenso. Onyenso was a deep bench option a season ago but did play in 16 games and considered he reclassified into the 2022 Class, he should benefit greatly from a full offseason with the program.

Bottom Line: John Calipari embraced the "one-and-done" era like no other coach in college basketball, but his last several teams have instead leaning heavily on transfers and veteran pieces. It hasn't worked, as Calipari hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament's second weekend since 2019, so he's done a complete 180 and will be relying once again on an untested batch of high school recruits. It is one of the most talented groups Cal has ever assembled in Lexington, but how quickly will this group gel? There's a chance this team could make a run at an SEC Title if things work out, but it could easily go the other direction, too. It's a true boom-or-bust scenario as Calipari enters the year under significant pressure.

11. Miami Hurricanes

Backcourt: The Hurricanes lose a pair of high-scoring guards in Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, but were blessed by the return of Nijel Pack. Pack looked the part in his first season in Coral Gables after beginning his career at Kansas State, as he averaged 13.6 PPG on strong shooting numbers. Even more will be expected of Pack this season, but the cupboard around him is far from bare. Head coach Jim Larranaga is very high on junior guard Wooga Pogler, who will slide into a starting role, while Matthew Cleveland was a nice get out of the transfer portal. Cleveland, formerly a five-star prospect, played two seasons at Florida State and put up quality numbers on a very bad basketball team last year. He's the most purely talented player now on Miami's roster, bringing immediate playmaking.

Frontcourt: Miami will lean on their backcourt once more in 2023-24, but the value of forward Norchad Omier shouldn't be completely discounted. The 6'7" forward is a rebounding machine and thanks to a nice shooting touch, he averaged a double-double last season. He gives the 'Canes a proven presence on the interior, but there are others that will need to emerge if this team is going to handle the rigors of an ACC schedule. Perhaps true freshman Michael Nwoko could do just that, as the 6'10" center from Toronto has the physical gifts to be an immediate difference-maker. His offensive game will need refinement but if he can provide instant impact on the defensive end, Miami becomes a lot scarier.

Bottom Line: Nearly two decades after his first Final Four run with the George Mason Patriots, Jim Larranaga engineered another improbable run with the Miami Hurricanes. Of course the situations are certainly not the same, as the Hurricanes were a five seed and perched near the top of the ACC standings all of 2023-24, but it still came as a surprise that this team was able to come within a win of a National Championship Game trip. The quest for Larranaga now becomes different: maintaining that success. The returns of Pack and Omier are a solid starting point and the 'Canes did good work on the recruiting trail and in the portal. With the ACC wide open beyond Duke, Miami could slide in nicely into that No. 2 spot.

12. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Backcourt: Landing Ryan Nembhard was a huge win for Mark Few and staff, bringing in a quality lead guard who knows the program, following in the footsteps of his older brother Andrew. Nembhard will join up with Nolan Hickman to create a solid backcourt duo, but I am curious if one will be able to emerge as a top scoring option. They're mainly known as distributors at this point in their career, but Gonzaga will need more scoring punch if they are to continue their success on a national scale. Perhaps that could come from Eastern Washington transfer Steele Venters, a deadeye shooter who averaged 15.3 points per game with the Eagles in 2022-23.

Frontcourt: Life after Drew Timme begins for the Gonzaga frontcourt this winter. It's hard to fully describe the enormous impact Timme had on the program, a crafty, savvy big man with one of the most developed offensive post games in recent college basketball history. The Bulldogs don't just lose an elite scorer, they lose a leader. Fortunately, Anton Watson emerged last season as a genuine threat up front and should offset the loss in a way, although it will be a jump as he becomes a feature option. Forward Ben Gregg is another holdover from last year's team who will be expected to play a larger role after playing about 12 minutes per game last year. Then there's newcomer Graham Ike, who gives this team a big body in the middle. Ike is a bit of a risk, as he's fresh off a leg injury that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2022-23 season. But when he was healthy back in 2021-22, he averaged 19.5 PPG and 9.6 RPG for Wyoming, so he's certainly worth the risk. If he can recapture that magic, he could be among the best bigs in the West Coast Conference.

Bottom Line: Gonzaga was hit hard by departures over the offseason, leaving the program in a state of transition entering 2023-24. Mark Few and this program have earned the benefit of the doubt and it's highly likely they'll be a Top 10 team and WCC frontrunner, but there is plenty of experience and scoring prowess out the door. It's not just Drew Timme, but Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther, meaning others are going to have to emerge. That's happened before in Spokane and this ranking could be far too low when it's all said and done.

13. Arkansas Razorbacks

Backcourt: With Anthony Black and Nick Smith both playing in the NBA, Arkansas is going to be leaning on a new cast of characters in 2023-24. Although, Davonte "Devo" Davis isn't one of them, as the senior is now expected to be one of the primary scoring options for Eric Musselman. Joining him will be Houston transfer Tramon Mark, who played in 76 games over his Cougar career and should be ready for SEC ball. Mark is a relentless defender who should be able to fit in nicely with the up-tempo pace Musselman wants to play at. He's a sure thing to play right away coming in from the portal, as is Temple transfer Khalif Battle. Battle notched 17.9 PPG for the Owls last season and still offers two years of eligibility remaining despite beginning his fourth year in the collegiate ranks. 

Frontcourt: The X-factor this season for the Razorbacks will undoubtedly be the health of forward Trevon Brazile. The electrifying athlete looked he was on his way towards a special season before a torn ACL knocked him out nine games into the year. The hope is that he'll be ready for the start of the season and retain the bounciness that made him such a show-stopper this past season, but Arkansas will need to be patient. That could mean names like Makhi Mitchell and Chandler Lawson, both former transfers, see crucial roles on this roster, at least to begin the year. There's also freshman Baye Fall, a player with loads of upside, but one that may need time to adjust to the pace of the collegiate ranks. Fall moves amazingly well for being 6'11" and the raw tools are there, it will be interesting how much we see of him this year.

Bottom Line: Although the SEC remains strong at the top, there's a lack of a clear frontrunner, which provides a valuable motivator for Musselman's team. They could certainly take up that mantle, but will need the transfer pieces to gel and Brazile to come back healthy. Either way, this should be another typical Musselman Arkansas team, one with loads of energy playing at a lightning pace.

14. Texas Longhorns

Backcourt: The Longhorns landed one of the top prizes of the offseason when they convinced Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas to come to Austin. Abmas is one of the best scorers anywhere in college basketball, a player who averaged nearly 22 points per contest with the Golden Eagles, and should be ready for the jump from the Summit League to the Big 12. He'll handle the primary scoring duties of the backcourt, with Tyrese Hunter handling more of the playmaking duties. Hunter is one of those players every college basketball coach would love to have on their team, an unselfish distributor who puts his teammates in positions to score. That doesn't mean he can't score, but that's not going to be the main ask for Rodney Terry and company this winter. Unfortunately, things are a bit thin behind these two, so expect heavy dosages of Abmas and Hunter, at least early on.

Frontcourt: Forward Dylan Disu was tremendous down the stretch for Texas last season, including a 28-point outburst against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament, and the Longhorns are hopeful he can evolve into a top option for this team. Staying healthy will be the key for Disu after he missed a major chunk of time last season. Joining him up front will be steady veteran Brock Cunningham, sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell, and another offseason prize in Kadin Shedrick. Shedrick could be the breakout player on this team, a guy who flashed plenty of potential with Virginia last season but should do even more damage in a better Texas offense. 

Bottom Line: Rodney Terry did a superb job taking over a brutal situation when Chris Beard was suspended, and subsequently fired, as head coach. Not only did he stabilize the team, he delivered an Elite Eight appearance, and come frustratingly close to a Final Four. Now, what does he do as the full-time head man? Landing Abmas and Shedrick was a great place to start, but the Longhorns will also need the holdovers to continue their progress. If that happens, Texas has the pieces to seriously challenge Kansas and Houston atop the Big 12 power structure. 

15. Tennessee Volunteers

Backcourt: Crafty lead guard Santiago Vescovi is the type of steady veteran every coach covets, and he should play a crucial role on Tennessee in 2023-24. He'll have more help around him this year in the form of newcomers Dalton Knecht, coming from Northern Colorado, and Jordan Gainey from South Carolina-Upstate. But, the real X-factor could be Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL prior to the NCAA Tournament last spring. It's still unclear exactly when the veteran guard could be cleared to return to action; being prepared for the season opener seems ambitious, but if the Volunteers can get him back for SEC play, they could have a strong chance to contend for a conference title.

Frontcourt: The big name returnee up front is wing Josiah Jordan-James, a 6'7" senior who can play and defend multiple spots. Staying healthy will be just as important for Jordan-James as it is for Zeigler, as the forward missed significant time last year with ankle and leg injuries. Alongside Jordan-James will be junior Jonas Aidoo, who gives the team size and rebounding prowess up front. Unfortunately, it's very thin beyond those two, meaning Tennessee could be leaning on youngsters to play heavy minutes right away.

Bottom Line: Few programs in the SEC are more consistent than Rick Barnes' Volunteers, and the team finally overcome some of their March demons this past spring. That could provide the momentum they need to take a run at the league title, especially without a clear favorite in the conference. But with Zeigler's health still up in the air right now, No. 15 seems like a fair spot to place them.

16. USC Trojans

Backcourt: Andy Enfield may have the best backcourt duo in the nation this season in the form of Boogie Ellis and true freshman Isaiah Collier. After beginning his career at Memphis, Ellis has gotten better each of the last two seasons in Southern California and looked in complete control last year, notching 17.7 points per game. He has a chance to vie for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, but Collier should help take some of the attention away from the veteran guard. One of the top recruits in the Class of 2023, Collier is expected to bring immediate scoring punch to the lineup and likely end up as a lottery selection next spring. Also coming in is another highly sought after guard, none other than Bronny James, although his status for 2023-24 is in flux following a scary offseason cardiac incident. If he is able to come in and provide minutes off the bench, the Trojans get a high-energy playmaker that excels on both ends.

Frontcourt: Amazingly, Bronny is not the only former five-star prospect on USC's roster to deal with an unnerving heart incident, as Vincent Iwuchukwu suffered cardiac arrest last summer during a team workout. Fortunately Iwuchukwu appears to have worked his way back and ended up being a contributor to the team last season, and the Trojans are hoping for even more from the skilled seven-footer this winter. He'll have plenty of help in the frontcourt, including returnees Kobe Johnson and Joshua Morgan, plus Washington State transfer D.J. Rodman. Morgan led the Pac-12 in blocks last year and is growing his offensive repertoire, while Johnson is one of the best perimeter defenders anywhere in the country. If Rodman can come in and provide three-point shooting, this lineup becomes even stronger.

Bottom Line: All eyes will be focused on Bronny James this winter, but that discounts the fact that this may be the most complete team Enfield has ever had at USC. Ellis will lead an explosive offense and with Morgan and Johnson, the Trojans will be a pain to go up against each and every night. If the young pieces can grow up quick, it wouldn't be surprising at all if this program ends their time in the Pac-12 with a conference title.

17. San Diego State Aztecs

Backcourt: Matt Bradley may be gone, but there's no shortage of experience leading the San Diego State backcourt. Lamont Butler and Darrion Trammell were both key cogs on the National Runner-Up last spring and should both be expected to do even more this season. Butler in particular became a campus legend for his performance down the stretch, and should be eager to keep that rhythm going into a fresh season. Newcomer Reese Dixon-Waters also brings a nice mix of experience, winning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year honors a year ago while at USC. He could be even more impactful if he can rediscover a shooting stroke that seemed to disappear on him at multiple spots in 2022-23, resulting in worse percentages at both the stripe and from three-point territory.

Frontcourt: There's a key piece missing in the Aztec frontcourt, too, as Nathan Mensah moves on after a long and productive career with the program. San Diego State will be hard-pressed to find a player quite like Mensah up front, a guy who did all the little things and brought real grit to their post play, but the cupboard is far from bare. Wing Micah Parrish will likely see his role expand, as will senior forward Jaedon LeDee. LeDee has shown steady progress throughout his Aztec career, but this feels like a real opportunity to separate himself from the pack offensively. Things are a bit thin beyond them, at least in terms of proven experience, but names like Seattle transfer Cade Alger could step up and find ways to contribute.

Bottom Line: After a remarkable run to the National Championship Game last spring, the San Diego State Aztecs are looking for an encore. Things will be a bit tougher without Bradley and Mensah, but they have a solid core in place and fixed holes through the transfer portal. The Mountain West could be tough again, but Brian Dutcher has built on Steve Fisher's legacy here and established a consistent, reliable winner.

18. Baylor Bears

Backcourt: There is turnover in the Baylor backcourt, as the Bears saw L.J. Cryer hit the portal and Keyonte George and Adam Flagler take their talents to the pros. Scott Drew is hopeful a mishmash of newcomers will gel quickly, including RayJ Dennis from Toledo and Jayden Nunn from VCU. Dennis will be expected to handle most of the scoring load after winning MAC Player of the Year honors a season ago, while Nunn is hoping to build on two solid seasons with the Rams. Also in the backcourt mix is Langston Love, who will play a much larger role as a key returnee to the roster. It's been a frustrating few years for Love in Waco due to a torn ACL in 2021-22 and eye injury that cost him down the stretch last year, but the talent is there if he can stay on the court. After coming off the bench and averaging just under 17 minutes per game in 2023-24, he could be in line for a starting role.

Frontcourt: The return of energetic big man Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoa is huge news for the Bears. A scary knee injury suffered late in the 2021-22 campaign ended up costing Tchamwa-Tchathcoa more than half of last season, and Baylor certainly missed his presence on the interior. He's not a guy who is going to go out and score 20 points a night, but Tchamwa-Tchatchoa is a relentless rim runner whose presence on both ends makes Baylor a much tougher foe every night he's on the court. He'll have a new frontcourt mate in the form of freshman Yves Missi, a five-star prospect who reclassified into the Class of 2023 and has been receiving significant hype. The 6'10" big may need time to adjust to the college game, but could be one of the best in the Big 12 if he gets things rolling. Add in rock-solid forward Jalen Bridges, who has proven to be a capable scorer, the Bears have more than enough in their frontcourt to hang with the elites of the conference.

Bottom Line: Scott Drew has followed up Baylor's National Title with a pair of short NCAA Tournament trips, but this year's team could change that. There will be growing pains as all the pieces acclimate, but this is one of the most talented teams anywhere in the nation and as long as the injury bug stays away, a trip to at least the second weekend of March will be in the cards.

19. Arizona Wildcats

Backcourt: The Caleb Love saga concluded with the former Tar Heel guard announcing his commitment to Arizona, gifting Tommy Lloyd an explosive scorer to run the offense. Love can be maddening at times, but there's little denying his impact when he is on. That may mean this Arizona team is a bit more volatile than past editions, but also elevates the ceiling for them after last season's stunning NCAA Tournament defeat. Love wasn't the only transfer that Lloyd snatched from the portal, as Jaden Bradley comes over from Alabama, pairing with holdover Pelle Larsson. Bradley has the talent to make an immediate impact, while Larsson will play an important role by providing Love space to work with his sharpshooting ability.

Frontcourt: Seven-footer Oumar Ballo followed Lloyd from Gonzaga to Tucson and has evolved into one of college basketball's most feared post players. His touch around the rim has grown tremendously, giving the big man a capable offensive game to go along with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess. He'll play a particularly large role with Arizona still settling in around him, although San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson provides playmaking punch. The senior took more of a backseat role in the Aztecs' National Runner-Up run last spring, but he's proven to be a solid contributor who can play multiple spots.

Bottom Line: This ranking could end up being far too low, as Lloyd is able to pair one of the Pac-12's most dominant bigs with an explosive lead guard in Caleb Love. But, Love's streakiness makes it difficult for me to slot them much higher, even in a league that appears fairly wide open. The pieces are in place for it to be a special season in Arizona's Pac-12 swan song, but only if the transfers are as good as advertised.

20. Wisconsin Badgers

Backcourt: Wisconsin will run back essentially the same backcourt that guided them throughout 2023-24, with Chucky Hepburn at point, and Max Klesmit and Conner Essegian playing off-ball. It feels like a prove-it year for Hepburn, who improved statistically a season ago but but also suffered through bouts of rough play. Klesmit provides nice balance alongside him, while Essegian could be a breakout star after a surprisingly effective freshman campaign. His three-point shooting ability gives opposing teams something to fear from the Badger offense, which was a rarity in 2022-23.

Frontcourt: The return of fifth-year forward Tyler Wahl is huge news for the Badgers, giving them not only a proven scoring threat, but a player who gives it his all every single night. Wahl has progressed steadily throughout his time in Madison and could be an All-Big Ten candidate in his final year. Of course, that relies on him staying healthy, which was a problem last winter. He'll be joined by a familiar face up front in Steven Crowl, a solid if rather unexciting frontcourt piece. Crowl saw major improvement over the last two seasons and I'm curious to see if there's another level he can reach this year. He's not likely to be a Frank Kaminsky or Ethan Happ-level force in the paint, but will play a key role against the impressive list of bigs the Big Ten has to offer.

Bottom Line: It was a frustrating season in Madison last winter as Badger fans watched one of the worst offenses in the country, but the 2023-24 shows signs of promise. All five starters return and Greg Gard appears to have patched some holes through the portal and on the high school recruiting trail. If Wahl can stay healthy and we see continued progress from the others, Wisconsin could realistically challenge for the upper echelon of the Big Ten and a trip to the NCAA Tournament's second weekend.

Just Missed the Cut

North Carolina Tar Heels

Texas A&M Aggies

Saint Mary's Gaels

Boise State Broncos

New Mexico Lobos

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