Hailey Meuchel, CBS Sports

College hoops' season is less than two weeks out. The longest offseason traverse in major American sports is almost over. Hallelujah. With the season under a fortnight away, I am proud to present to you our biggest preseason piece of content each year: A master ranking of the sport. 

Below, you'll find capsules for the 101 best teams in men's college basketball. If you came looking for a general scan of the top of college hoops or an in-depth look at why I've decided to underrate the likes of NC State and Indiana again, you're in luck! This protracted primer offers more than just a little to know about a lot of teams. 

Each year, as I build out this massive project, I consciously choose to avoid preseason metrics and human-based prognostications. You'll find some teams aligned next to numbers here that you won't find anywhere else — for better or worse. Probably better. I'm basically never wrong with this annual October science project, you know?

Of course, most of this will be immaterial by the time teams get a few games to their name, so leap head first into my rankings and bask in the optimism that comes with every preseason. Will Purdue be this year's 2019 Virginia? Will Florida Atlantic be this year's Florida Atlantic? Is the Big 12 going to take a dial back with 14 teams? Which coach will text me and protest his team's placement on this list within minutes of the story publishing? (I almost published two names right here.) 

So much excitement with finally releasing this to the public every year. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed building it for you. 

After weeks of careful curation and way too many rewrites and re-ranks, here is one man's sketch of college basketball for the 2023-24 season.

The Boilermakers claim the best player in the sport, one of the best coaches in the sport, one of the strongest home-court advantages in the sport, one of the strongest returning battalions in the sport and have a mascot capable of peering into your soul. That's enough for me to dub Purdue No. 1 for the second time in three years. Everything starts with Zach Edey (22.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg), the near-unanimous pick to repeat as national player of the year. That loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson looms large and is no doubt a huge motivator for Edey and the Boilermakers. It used to be common that the biggest player in the sport was also pretty much the biggest player in the sport. Edey is retro in that sense: He's a throwback, and remains college basketball's must-see attraction. But the reason I'm putting a No. 1 next to Purdue's logo is because I think Edey will be an even better player while putting up slightly inferior statistics in his senior season — because his teammates will do more lifting.

That means Mason Gillis and Caleb Furst can average double digits in scoring. Most importantly: Sophomore PG Braden Smith should be better for the marathon after losing his way down the stretch last March. The same goes for Fletcher Loyer, who shot 32.6% from 3-point range but needs to stake his reputation on being a bomber. Purdue also has an intriguing new face to the fold: Freshman Myles Colvin was a four-star high school player and will be a factor off the bench. Purdue will have depth, size, defense and veteran wing play. Most of all: It will have all the motivation required to make the school's first Final Four since 1980.
You'll see Marquette ranked high everywhere this preseason, but you won't see MU on a loftier perch than this. Shaka Smart has settled in nicely in Milwaukee. In his first season, he surprised by taking the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament. In Year 2, Marquette legitimized itself as one of the emerging legitimate national outfits in the sport. Expect more of that in 2023-24. Smart is banking on his scouting eye and high school recruiting wins; for the second year in a row, he didn't add a D-I player in the transfer portal. MU swept its regular-season and postseason conference titles for the first time in school history and managed to lose just one player of impact. Olivier-Maxence Prosper became a first-round pick — he's running with the Dallas Mavericks.

Back at Marquette, the three-man backcourt of Big East POY Tyler Kolek (12.9 ppg, 7.5 apg), Kam Jones (15.1 ppg) and Stevie Mitchell (7.1 ppg) is going to position the team to repeat in the Big East. Those three are easily a top-five backcourt. David Joplin (9.2 ppg) returns in the frontcourt and will assist maybe my top breakout player in the country, Oso Ighodaro (11.4 ppg). Sean Jones' and Ben Gold's minutes will likely increase as well. A lot of depth and positive momentum — and motivation — for a team filled with winning players after losing in the second round of the NCAAs.
For the fourth time in school history, KU is ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25. It doesn't get the same acclaim here, but third is no shortage of appreciation for one of the best projected starting fives in college hoops. We must start with the reason Kansas is considered a national title contender: Hunter Dickinson. Had he not come aboard, KU would not be in the top five of any preseason ranking. In three seasons at Michigan he averaged 17.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and shot 57%. Those are the targets for him as a senior, though Bill Self is wanting more than that; the idea Kansas can win it all is based around Dickinson competing with the likes of Edey and others for NPOY. Dickinson will have a fearless frontcourt running mate in KJ Adams, who can play and guard three positions.

In the backcourt, Dajuan Harris will somewhat quietly continue to be among the best pass-first point guards the sport has to offer, and he'll look for Towson transfer Nick Timberlake (38% career 3-point shooter) to open up Kansas' offense. It's not all great for Kansas. Arterio Morris was kicked off the team after being accused of rape. That will likely lead to Elmarko Jackson playing even more as a freshman shooting guard. Jackson has terrific long-term potential. Aussie wing Johnny Furphy is also going to be necessary as a contributor for KU to be top-tier. Kansas isn't deep, and it's got some puzzles to solve in the backcourt. Aside from that, obvious title contender.
Here's the first big swing and major zag from what you'll see elsewhere in preseason rankings. Baylor is hanging out at 20th in the AP poll, but this team should be better than that forecast. Scott Drew knows top-five territory well in the past half-decade of his coaching life. Because the team lost 46 points per night with the departures of Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Keyonte George, a slight dial back is anticipated. But what if I told you that Baylor could have a freshman who will carry more of an all-around impact than George did? I present Ja'Kobe Walter, a 6-5 SG ranked eighth in the class of 2023. Walter will be part of a 1-2 backcourt attack alongside RayJ Dennis, a transfer from Toledo who is priming to take the Big 12 by storm. Dennis averaged 19.5 points as a Rocket and could easily be good for 15 ppg or more with BU. VCU transfer Jayden Nunn will firm up a three-guard attack that's going to get more love and respect by Christmas than it's receiving in the lead-up to Halloween.

In the frontcourt, Drew gets the emotional core of his team back: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua returns for his final season, and he'll have Jalen Bridges at the 4 beside him. That's a primary rotation good enough to win the Big 12, then you toss in critical and eager-to-improve role players such as Langston Love and Caleb Lohner? These Bears have tenacious potential. One more name: Yves Missi is a freshman 4 who has been getting rave reviews and he'll be a guarantee for playing time because of his defense — BU simply must improve from last season's 107th overall rank in defensive efficiency.
Why did Jon Scheyer get a contract restructuring after one season? He coached Duke to 27 wins, an ACC title, didn't lose a game at home and managed to bring back the best realistic assembly of a roster for his sophomore campaign on the bench. Kyle Filipowski (15.1 ppg) could have easily left for the NBA, but no. He's back and has preseason All-American love. Sometimes bigs who outperform freshman expectations can take a few weeks, even months, to recapture that magic. Hard to see Flip needing much time to pick up where he left off. I don't think he'll be Duke's MVP, though. That would be senior point guard Jeremy Roach, who has played through quite a bit in his Duke career. Roach's numbers are sort of slept on: 13.6 points, 3.1 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 52.3% true shooting percentage. Sophomore playmaker Tyrese Proctor has more anticipation around his alleged breakout season, but Roach's play is going to determine Duke's destiny.

The reason why I've got Duke in the top five is due to guys like Mark Mitchell (9.1 ppg) and Ryan Young returning in the front court. Each of those two has different facets to why they work so well in Scheyer's system. If either wasn't here, I'd have Duke two or three spots lower. Then we've got the frosh. Which kiddo will wind up standing out most? PF T.J. Power and CG Jared McCain were five-stars; W Caleb Foster and PF Sean Stewart were four-stars in the No. 2 class of 2023. It's the quintessential blend and roster breakdown for Duke: backcourt vets, proven talents with at least a year of experience and highly ranked freshman prospects. Fans, Duke coaches and players alike have this team at Coach K era-level expectations just like that.
Another curveball here. Buzz Williams' Texas A&M team is expected to compete for an SEC title, but to the best of my knowledge there isn't a human ranking or a computer projection that has the Aggies as high as sixth. Folks, there are overachieving teams every season; why can't A&M be that? I like the Aggies to win the SEC. The winner of the SEC is highly probable to be one of the six best teams. Simple math! Will Texas A&M have its best season in almost a decade, when it made the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed in 2016? Seems like it.

The Aggies return maybe the best player in the SEC, shooting guard Wade Taylor IV (16.3 ppg). The most slept-on 6-footer in the country could have a dozen 20-point games in his future, and he'll do it with backcourt mate Tyrece Radford back for a graduate season. The only huge loss here is Dexter Dennis, otherwise 81% of the team's production returns from a group that went 15-3 in SEC play. Williams has four starters and seven guys who got real minutes a season ago due to wreak havoc in the SEC. Look for Julius Marble and Henry Coleman to combine in the frontcourt for 20 points per night, too. It certainly seems like the wheels are greased for a huge season in College Station.
The Bluejays are coming off their second Elite Eight in school history, the other one having occurred in 1941. Creighton you'll recall was a play away from the Final Four, but alas: Ryan Nembhard's foul on Darrion Trammell's hip with 1.2 seconds remaining was the decider. Nembhard transferred out to Gonzaga and Arthur Kaluma went to Kansas State … but it's possible Creighton is better. I've ranked it accordingly. Center Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.9 ppg) was my preseason Big East POY and First Team All-America pick. Kalkbrenner's 72.5 true shooting percentage was No. 1 in college basketball; he'll be a top-five defender, too.

Greg McDermott has the luxury of returning high-level shooting guard Trey Alexander (13.6 ppg, and a Big East-best 44% from deep in league play) and tweener forward Baylor Scheierman (12.8 ppg). Nembhard's replacement is Steven Ashworth, who comes by way of Utah State, where he averaged 16.2 points in the Mountain West and shot 43% from beyond the arc to go with 4.5 assists. Look for Mason Miller and redshirt frosh Isaac Traudt to trade off on minutes in the frontcourt. This is the best stretch in program history; Creighton is averaging 23.3 wins the past four seasons and should scoot past that number by mid-March.
The Wildcats were on the punking end of a No. 15-over-2 upset in March, falling 59-55 to Princeton. Tommy Lloyd is 61-11 through two seasons in Tucson but 2-2 in the NCAAs. It's far from a major issue at this point (Lloyd holds the record for most wins in a coach's first two seasons running a program), but if Arizona is going to be top-10-good again, some deeper March Madness impact will have to happen. Lloyd lost Azuolas Tubelis (19.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Courtney Ramey (10.5 ppg) and Kerr Kriisa (9.9 ppg) but returned CBS Sports' choice for preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year, Oumar Ballo. The 7-foot senior center averaged 14.2 points and is poised to be a top-10 big man in a sport bursting with high-end giants.

A year ago, Pelle Larsson was supposed to be a breakout guy; he fell short of that as a 9.9 ppg wing. Arizona needs him to be a reliable double-digit scorer. He'll be facilitated by sophomore Kylan Boswell, who will run the point and be among the stronger sophomore floor generals in the nation. The big new name to this roster is Caleb Love, who struggled often with North Carolina last season and looks for a career reboot under Lloyd. If he can build his reputation to being a dangerous 2 guard who shoots above 45%, Arizona will be in the driver's seat in the Pac-12. Love is one of three notable transfer add-ons. Keshad Johnson, last season as a cog in San Diego State's title-game run, is here, as is Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.
The Cougars remain respected across the sport in spite of jumping to a tougher league (American to Big 12) and losing NBA picks Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker, plus Tramon Mark's jettison to Arkansas. Why is UH still a top-10 team? Kelvin Sampson is a top-five coach and he's still running practices in H-Town, people. A 30-win season isn't assured, but this pack will still be a factor nationally. The Coogs got a good swap in the transfer portal. Mark left, but Baylor's 15-point scorer LJ Cryer remains in-league and will start at the 2 for Houston. Jamal Shead's defense is back, sophomore/NBA prospect Terrance Arceneaux will be a breakout scorer and J'Wan Roberts will now be the most important rebounder Sampson has.

Big question: Will Cryer and Shead combine to score more than 30 a night? UH might need them to be top-three in the nasty Big 12. This program has finished top-five at the past three seasons and top-15 the past five. Will it keep the pace? The Coogs have been a strong, durable, adroit team at both ends, which will need to happen again to validate top-10 strength.
Though some tempering of vibes have happened as a result of Bronny James' heart issue, this is still one of the most anticipated seasons for USC basketball in school history. Undervalued in the AP poll at No. 21, I like freshman Isaiah Collier and fifth-year senior Boogie Ellis to join forces and become a top-three backcourt tandem. Andy Enfield has cultivated six NBA Draft picks since 2018 (the Mobley brothers, Chimezie Metu, Onyeka Okongwu, Kevin Porter Jr., DeAnthony Melton) and Collier will be the seventh. He looks like a linebacker who plays point guard and will be a physical matchup issue for most defenses. Ellis is a high-level scorer who is capable of a few games of 30-plus points. The third guard is Kobe Johnson, who will likely grow from 9.2 ppg to nearly 12 or 13.

DJ Rodman (son of Dennis) came via the portal and Washington State. He's a combo forward with guard skills who can face up and will start at the 4. At the 5, it will either be sophomore Vincent Iwuchukwu or Josh Morgan. Both will find themselves on the floor to close out games. James' return isn't known, but he'll be a nice addition whenever that time comes. USC has top-10 potential even before considering his contributions. The Trojans have won 24 games on average the past four seasons and should exceed that mark in '23-24.
San Diego State v Connecticut
Donovan Clingan is back and the top candidate for biggest breakout guy in college basketball. Getty Images
The Spartans finished between 22nd and 26th in five mainstream metrics, and with the lion's share of production returning for Tom Izzo, most in college hoops media expect Sparty to be near the top-five conversation. I'm a slight seller overall, but we're not talking about vast differences between a preseason projection of 5 and 11. MSU is well-balanced and has no business finishing worse than third in the Big Ten. Izzo did not go into the portal to upgrade; he really didn't have to. This team can play big, small, guard-heavy, wing-heavy, you name it.

Sparty has three ball handlers to run sets: Fifth-year PG Tyson Walker, senior A.J. Hoggard and junior Jaden Akins. Walker is projected to be MSU's MVP, but Spartans fans know that they've got a lot of candidates to be that guy on a given night. State has four seniors or super seniors in Hoggard, Walker, Malik Hall and Mady Sissoko. Those are all starters or, at worst four of the six top minutes getters. Amazingly, that has never been the case before with an Izzo-coached team. In that way, he's never had a team more experienced than this one. Still, there's a fantastic trio of freshmen ready to fight for minutes. Xavier Booker is a 6-10 power player, Jeremy Fears is a 6-footer who will earn spot duty in the backcourt, and Coen Carr is a 6-7 wing who is a top-20 athlete in college already.
Does Tennessee's ceiling rest on the sustained health and recovery of Zakai Zeigler's repaired ACL? Zeigler is a 5-9 whiz of a point guard who will elevate UT's ceiling so long as he's as quick and sure-footed post-surgery. With double-Z returning to the lineup, he'll have two old warhorses ready for dynamite fifth-year seasons. Santiago Vescovi (12.5 ppg) and Josiah-Jordan James (10.0 ppg) almost certainly will enhance their scoring output in their final college campaigns. The offense is what we need to find out about. Tennessee's defense has been A-level in recent seasons and will likely continue that trend in '23-24. Will this team crack the top 30 in points per possession? If it does, it will be better than No. 12 nationally.

Losing Olivier Nkamhoua is what made me drop UT from what would've easily made it top-10 status. One transfer who earned offseason praise: Dalton Knecht, a 6-6 grad student from Northern Colorado who averaged 20.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in the Big Sky. Those are huge numbers. Can Knecht give UT, say, 15 and 6? If so, it would be massive. One more: There's a freshman on this team, 6-11 JP Estrella, who may need a couple of months to adapt, but it would be no shock to discover he's starting by February.
The reigning champs are bringing back three key champions in PG Tristen Newton (9.9 ppg), SF Alex Karaban (9.5 PPG) and C Donovan Clingan (7.1 PPG). Expect all of them to average double digits. Newton is the most slept-on point in the nation; his value for the Huskies will be immense. Clingan has received a lot of preseason coverage, but he's also nursing an injured foot and may need a little ramp-up time to be at his best. Dan Hurley's at his best when he's got some pushback, so he and his staff can print out this No. 13 preseason ranking and tape it to the locker room wall for motivation. The Huskies have to make up for the loss of Jordan Hawkins' shooting, Adama Sanogo's insane all-around value as a big and Andre Jackson Jr.'s irreplaceable athleticism and playmaking. This is going to take a bit.

Huskies fans will love freshman Stephon Castle, who figures to be a one-and-done talent. Rutgers transfers Cam Spencer was a 43% 3-point shooter on 4.8 per game. Plus, he's a career 86% FT shooter and 50.4% 2-point shooter. His inclusion is what makes Connecticut a national title contender again for 2024. Look for Castle and Spencer to be facilitators for the offense with Newton. Another freshman who should get good minutes is Solomon Ball, a four-star shooting guard who will help keep the Huskies' offense among the best in the Big East. The four previous times UConn won a title, it failed to make the Sweet 16 the following year. This team has the bones to break that trend.
An admittedly aggressive projection, partly because Tony Bennett needs to figure out how deep his team is after bringing on five players with no experience in college competition. The Wahoos are also picking up the pieces after blowing the game against Furman in the first round of the tournament. But I like the starting lineup, led by quiet two-way star Reece Beekman, who flirted with going pro. He is a senior and will be the leader and I think he'll be one of the 10 best players in college basketball. Virginia isn't the kind of program to enable those kinds of stars, but Beekman's scoring should take off; he's already an elite defender. He'll play alongside Isaac McKneely, who will make a big jump as a sophomore.

Look for 6-8 soph Ryan Dunn, who has terrific instincts, to break out and emerge as an NBA prospect. Freshman Leon Bond is being talked about in the mold of D'Andre Hunter. He'll probably come on strong by ACC play as a guy off the bench. There's also Oklahoma grad transfer Jake Groves to help the scoring initiative. Most will soft-buy on UVA going in, and that's fair, but my projection is this team takes second in the ACC and that will equate to top-15 status by Selection Sunday.
Coming off the greatest season in program history, FAU continued a trend that's been going since 2013, wherein a 5-seed or worse makes the Final Four. The Owls would be receiving even more preseason affection had they not blown a 56-42 second half lead against San Diego State. Still, what a great story this team is for college basketball. In a time of hyper transfer activity, Dusty May retained every eligible player from last season's 35-4 squad. Because everyone except Michael Forrest is back, the Owls earned a No. 10 ranking in the preseason AP poll. I'm trying to balance team quality with the inherent expectations and pressure that will come for this group. There's also a very challenging non-con schedule.

The Owls will have Johnell Davis (13.9 ppg) running the offense and Alijah Martin (13.1 ppg) as the likely go-to scorer alongside him. There's so much more, though. Anyone from guard Nick Boyd to center Vlad Goldin to backup PG Bryan Greenlee can be The Guy on a given night. Jalen Gaffney, Giancarlo Rosado and Brandon Weatherspoon will all, again, be relied upon. This team is now in the AAC, but it's going to continue as one of the toughest groups for 40 consecutive minutes to scout and play against. Get ready for a lot of FAU coverage, because it's playing in high-profile MTEs and has big games against notable mid-major programs (Loyola Chicago, Liberty, Charleston) and preseason-ranked power-conference teams (Illinois, Arizona).
Even placed here at No. 16, the Longhorns should be considered a Final Four contender thanks to having one of the more well-rounded starting fives in the country. Max Abmas (21.9 ppg) has been one of the most prolific scorers in the past decade of college basketball, and he'll round out his career in Austin after cementing a legacy at Oral Roberts. Abmas will start alongside junior PG Tyrese Hunter, who should be in for a huge season, as should forward Dylan Disu, an athletic power forward entering the best stage of his college career. Dillon Mitchell got lost in the mix as a freshman, but the NBA prospect will have plenty of chances to pop.

UT will be better on defense with Kadin Shedrick transferring in from Virginia as well. A shoutout to the ageless Brock Cunningham, now in what must be his 11th and final season of college ball. UT went 29-9 last season and Rodney Terry won the job full-time after taking over for Chris Beard in early December. Terry got Texas to its first Sweet 16 AND its first Elite Eight in 15 years. One non-con game to circle: Texas plays at Marquette (hello, Shaka Smart) on Dec. 6, just the second meeting ever between the teams.
Wait, where the hell's Drew Timme? He's gone? No longer on campus? Straight up left college? Who approved this? I'm furious. Nevertheless, Gonzaga marches onward. The Bulldogs are ranked 11th in the preseason AP poll, fifth at KenPom and 17th right here, where it obviously matters most. The Bulldogs again have a stacked nonconference slate, and that rocky path will determine where this semi-mysterious team falls in the landscape of '23-24.

One of the low-key most important returning decisions of the offseason was Anton Watson opting in for one last run with the Zags. He's one of the most efficient players in the sport. Watson should downright thrive because of incoming transfer Ryan Nembhard, who follows in the footsteps of older brother Andrew. I expect Nembhard to be an All-American and to further aid Nolan Hickman's moderate development. Another new face: former Wyoming C Graham Ike, who was injured last season but could be in for huge dividends. Steele Venters (EWU transfer) or freshman Dusty Stromer (6-6, 180-pound top-6o prospect) will trade off time at the 3.
Brad Underwood has brought Illinois back to consistency. Four straight top-35 finishes at KenPom and four straight NCAA Tournament-level teams. It should be more of the same this season thanks to the return of preseason All-American SG Terrence Shannon Jr. and always-soaking-in-potential PF Coleman Hawkins. If those two are top-10 players in the Big Ten, Illinois is likely to be a top-20 team much of the season.

Dain Dainja and his improved rebounding and shot-blocking will up Illinois' ceiling. Two-time transfer Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse, Oregon) is also in the mix here. The question revolves around the point. Who plays the 1 and does it best? Freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn was a three-star prospect who will need some time to adapt, playing behind Utah Valley combo Justin Harmon.
Will Miami be the boss of the ACC after making its first Final Four in history? The Hurricanes bring back Nijel Pack, Wooga Poplar, Norchad Omier and Bensley Joseph. They added Matthew Cleveland, who could be the special ingredient that keeps the U in or around the rankings all season long. There's a chance Cleveland, Pack, Omier and Poplar all land in the top 120-or-so players in the sport. That in mind, obviously this team can win the ACC. I'm wondering if Larranaga will have more than six guys in the rotation for when it really counts, though. We'll see. Michael Nwoko, AJ Casey and Kyshawn George are the likely nominees to be role players as non-starters — with George (a frosh from Switzerland with a shooting stroke) having a great chance to emerge as the season goes on. Larranaga says he's nowhere close to retiring, and the case is there that he's the second best coach in the ACC right now to Tony Bennett. Frankly, it's not even that arguable.
The Gaels have a dynamic point guard (sophomore Aidan Mahaney) and brute-force center (Mitchell Saxen) who will have teams searching for defensive balance on nearly every possession. Those two players along with returning Gaels Alex Ducas and Augustas Marciulionis led to SMC getting the slight preseason nod over Gonzaga in the WCC preseason poll. The Gaels have been a top-five seed the past two seasons in the NCAA Tournament. This team has the pieces to build up that kind of résumé again. Mahaney is a blast to watch, but to be sure, there are expectations that he's going to emerge as one of the 15-or-so best point guards in the game. Let's see if that happens. My ranking is based around the notion it will. Randy Bennett should earn his 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament in his 23rd season in charge of the Gaels.
Big East Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals
A healthy Justin Moore is the key to Villanova returning to respectability. Getty Images
I'm leaning into top-three-in-the-SEC for UK. John Calipari continues to run this program under immense pressure. The fans won't accept "hey, they're kinda good!" Kentucky hasn't had a top-30 defense the past four seasons; it was 68th at KenPom a year ago. Without one-time NPOY Oscar Tshiebwe and elite ballhawk Cason Wallace, who steps up? The return of Antonio Reeves (14.4 ppg) was massive. Kentucky also was fortunate to land Tre Mitchell after he left WVU following Bob Huggins' ouster. Then there's the young'uns. The best of them is Justin Edwards, a small forward who should be in the mix as a top-five pick. D.J. Wagner will run the offense; he's been a well-publicized talent for three years at this point.

Robert Dillingham (lead guard) and Reed Sheppard (shooting guard) also figure to get good burn. Injuries in the frontcourt are what keep me from moving UK higher. Aaron Bradshaw is nursing a foot issue, while Croatian center Zvonimir Ivisic is still going through the NCAA clearinghouse process (and some type of injury, it seems). Seems there's a medley of ways this season could go for Kentucky. Calipari has a roster that, at its most fitting, is a Final Four threat. On the other hand, with so many unproven pieces and considering recent history, a flameout isn't unthinkable.
Let's stop and recognize that it's an AWESOME thing that this sport could enable a program like San Diego State — an afterthought for more than half of its existence — to reach the national title game and do it in a way that didn't come with skepticism. (These rankings had SDSU in the top 10 a year ago.) Brian Dutcher's team earned that magical run, and did it amid a four-year stretch that had the Aztecs winning 27 games per season. This year's group will have to discover some new ways to win after losing Matt Bradley, Nathan Mensah, Keshad Johnson and Adam Seiko. Fortunately, SDSU brings back heady PG Darrion Trammell, who will be a Cousy Award nominee all season. Lamont Butler is also back; you'll remember him for winning the Final Four game over FAU with his 17-foot buzzer-beater. Look for USC transfer Reese Waters to jump from 9.8 points last season to 12 or 13 here. Big game to circle: SDSU plays at Gonzaga on Dec. 29.
The Terrapins were a factor right away under Kevin Willard and look set up for another season of 20-plus wins and a single-digit seed in the Dance. The Big Ten has a prove-it-when-it-matters problem; Michigan State was the only B1G team to make the Sweet 16 last March. Maryland could be a team to help wither away that reputation in 2024. The Terrapins' hopes revolve around three vets: point guard Jahmir Young and bigs Julian Reese and Donta Scott. Those three, at full capacity, will be able to power up Maryland and beat most teams in the country. The impact freshman to know is DeShawn Harris-Smith, a southpaw small forward who was a top-30 prospect in the class of 2023. Despite not having a team that was potent from 3-point range, Willard had a lot of balance. Expect more of the same over the next five months.
If Villanova is a blue blood, if Kyle Neptune is the right guy to replace Jay Wright, if the Big East is to be in the conversation as the best basketball league, then Villanova needs to return to the big boy table. It needs to shake off a 17-17 campaign that was punctured from the start. Neptune has some classic Villanova vets in his locker room who are determined to show this program is still running as a top-10 operation in the country. That doesn't mean it'll be a top-10 team, but a top-10 culture can foster big gains after a down year. Justin Moore and Eric Dixon will be essential to the objective in Philly. I also love the potential for Mark Armstrong to grow into one of the dependable guards in the Big East. If this is going to be a top 25 team, the transfers will hit: TJ Bamba (Washington State), Tyler Burton (Richmond) and Hakim Hart (Maryland) all need to jell.
The Atlantic 10 is due to be better. Dayton will be the biggest reason why. The Flyers went 22-12 last year but didn't have the résumé to warrant NCAA tourney consideration. DaRon Holmes II is back and is among the best mid-major players in the nation. He'll be thriving alongside Malachi Smith, whose stats don't reflect his value to this Dayton squad. A pair of Kobe/Kobys are back: Kobe Elvis and Koby Brea should have UD's offense well-oiled and bumping up from 89th in points per possession to somewhere near the top 50.

Anthony Grant, a salute to you and your family. Grant has recently been open about the loss of his daughter to suicide, and of course something so heavy and tragic would be a factor when it came to leading a program. The players and staff rallied around him, and perhaps some of that supportive energy will be transferable to a big season for UD in 2023-24.
Jerome Tang is relishing the opportunity he has in his second season to meet expectations that were re-calibrated by a half-dozen notches after a stunning Year 1 in Manhattan. Gone are Markquis Nowell, Keyontae Johnson, Desi Sills and Ish Massoud. Back? The two best players are 6-10 Nae'Qwan Tomlin (10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and 6-3 shooting guard Cam Carter (6.5 ppg). Tang reeled in Arthur Kaluma (Creighton) and Tylor Perry (North Texas) — two guys who I think will be the most valuable on this team. K-State could be anywhere from fourth to ninth in a stacked Big 12. I think there's still some fogginess over the eight guys Tang will have in his rotation. This team doesn't have anyone as good as Nowell and Johnson, but by February it could be a deeper group. Look for K-State to always have two point guards on the floor between Perry, Ques Glover and Dai Dai Ames.
What to do with Memphis? Penny Hardaway still doesn't have clarity on his roster due to the waiver process with DeAndre Williams who, at 27 years old, is seeking a final season of eligibility. There is also the case of Mikey Williams, who is not with the team as he awaits a potential trial for criminal gun charges. Those two major plot points aside, Memphis will tussle with FAU atop the American. Jahvon Quinerly comes via Alabama, Caleb Mills through Florida State and Jordan Brown from Louisiana as grad transfers. Malcolm Dandridge has been a role player his entire career but might emerge as a double-digit scorer. Hardaway certainly knows how to incorporate the greybeards and for that he should have an NCAA Tournament team for a third straight season.
After we all learned a lesson last season, let's buy low for now. Pressure is real in Chapel Hill for Hubert Davis in his third season. Last season was statistically the most disappointing in history. How many teams went from preseason No. 1 to not making the NCAA Tournament? In the modern era, just UNC. Fortunately, one of the best players in the sport is back and I think Carolina will benefit bigly. Center Armando Bacot will continue to set program records and get help from senior RJ Davis, who has been a good player in clutch moments, despite UNC's erratic results.

The Tar Heels brought four transfers from teams with sub-.500 records who are looking to reboot their careers and freshen up the vibes around the program. Wing Harrison Ingram (Stanford) is the most promising of the bunch. He's flanked by forward Jae'Lyn Withers (Louisville), shooting guard Cormac Ryan (Notre Dame) and SG Paxson Wojcik (Brown). Hopes are high that one of Jalen Washington or Seth Trimble will get into their groove as sophomores. Biggest mystery: How impactful will freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau be? If he hits big, UNC is going to be a top-five seed.
Alabama has won the SEC regular season two of the past three years. In 2022, the Tide finished fifth. Some more of that could be on the way in 2024 on account of this team losing five of its top six scorers from the No. 1 overall seed in the 2023 NCAAs. A lot of the hope centers around Mark Sears becoming an elite point guard and getting mid-major reinforcements. Aaron Estrada was a stud at Hofstra; let's see if he takes the big-big jump I expect. Grant Nelson was highly coveted out of North Dakota State and could be a stretch 4 that keeps Alabama's offense among the best in the SEC. There is a lot of wait-and-see with Alabama, and were it not for Nate Oats' quality coaching record, the Tide would be a few spots lower.
Similar to Bama at 29, I am acknowledging the coach's reputation and recent history when ranking the Bruins. Mick Cronin's team lost so much, I almost expect a turbulent November and December before things can evolve into a better place for this team by mid-conference play. No longer in Westwood: first-round NBA Draft pick Jaime Jaquez, one of the better UCLA points of the past 25 years in Tyger Campbell, one of the better UCLA defenders in the past 25 years in Jaylen Clark, an all-time Reliable Dude in David Singleton, and another NBA pick in Amari Bailey. Those guys put up 65 points per night.

There's a lot to sort through now. Adem Bona, thankfully, is back and he's the best UCLA's got. There's a cadre of international talent on varying timelines that will probably keep UCLA in the top four of the Pac-12. The most important player in that group is 7-3 center Aday Mara. If Mara adapts quickly, the Bona/Mara duo is going to be fearsome.
NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - UCLA vs Colorado
Tristan Da Silva can make Colorado's last season in the Pac-12 a memorable one. USATSI
The Buffaloes will be in the NCAA Tournament five months from now and the biggest reason why is senior forward Tristan Da Silva. The German-born Da Silva is 6-9 and 230 pounds. He shot 39.4% from long range last season and should see his 15.9 points average rise, even with one of the best freshmen nationally also in the fold. That's right: Colorado landed a five-star, and I'm not talking football. Cody Williams was the fourth-ranked player in last year's high school class. He's the highest-rated recruit in program history and the most anticipated to suit up for CU since Chauncey Billups in the mid-90s. He'll play alongside KJ Simpson, who is a borderline top-100 player. Eddie Lampkin comes via TCU and will make matters even better down low. Dark horse pick to win the Pac-12 here.
Chris Holtmann isn't prone to consecutive letdown seasons. The Buckeyes aren't expected to be a top-five team in the Big Ten, but Holtmann is under a decent amount of pressure and he does have the pieces to build an NCAA Tournament team. Look for sophomore Bruce Thornton to emerge as a reliable player and playmaker, plus a nice piece/upgrade in Minnesota transfer Jamison Battle at the 4. A reshaped Zed Key is still patrolling the paint, but look for his role to wrinkle. Freshmen Scotty Middleton and Taison Chatman are going to get their opportunities as well. This is a bullish projection, but for the fourth straight team in my rankings I'm betting on the coach.
If Greg Gard has his stuff buttoned up, Wisconsin is going to tally a selection of celebrated wins and make the NCAA tourney with room to spare. The Badgers have a lot coming back; this should be closer to the type of Wisconsin team we've come to know. Steven Crowl, Chucky Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, Connor Essegian and Max Klesmit feel like a top-five Big Ten quintet. Crowl and Hepburn combined for 24.3 points a season ago — they may well get to 30 between the both of them in '23-24. Essegian is near-automatic from the line, Wahl can give you five different roles on five different possessions, and Klesmit understands his role as well as anyone on the team. Bucky also brought on St. John's transfer AJ Storr for improved depth. Sturdy situation in Madison.
TCU is trying to do something unheard of at that place: make three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. I believe it will happen. There are three strong transfer gets for Jamie Dixon: Avery Anderson III from Oklahoma State, Ernest Udeh from Kansas and Jameer Nelson Jr. from Delaware. Udeh and Nelson have gotten a lot of good chatter in the past six weeks, but Anderson may well emerge as the best of the three by Valentine's Day. As for the best Horned Frog of 'em all, SF Emmanuel Miller (12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) has a shot to be a First Team All-Big 12 selection if Dixon's group is better from deep and around the rim than last season. They've got a decent shot at both.
Getting run out of the arena by Princeton in the second round of the tournament was a stinker, but at least Missouri made the NCAAs in Dennis Gates' first season — and even won a March Madness game for the first time in 13 years. Progress, no doubt. Will this year's team hit 25 wins like last season? That's very much TBD. The Tigers' four leading scorers have departed. A couple of transfers who could click: Caleb Grill had big moments before a falling out at Iowa State, and John Tonje was a reliable rascal of a forward at Colorado State. Tamar Bates never got it going at Indiana; he'll look to reboot here. I'm leaning on more success for M-I-Z because half the team is comprised of guys taking graduate coursework.
Florida is expecting Will Richard, Riley Kugel and Iona transfer Walter Clayton Jr. to be three of the 20 best players in the SEC. It doesn't seem like a long shot, but after Todd Golden's big transfer gambit last season led to mixed results, he needs Clayton and Seton Hall transfer Tyrese Samuel to hit. The tricky thing initially might be trying to replace the big-man production of Colin Castleton, an all-league center who graduated. Opinions differ on Florida. Some believe this team will sneak into the top five of the SEC, while others aren't yet sold on this group for sure being in the top nine of a stacked SEC. That Clayton/Kugel/Richard backcourt must click and stay healthy.
Omaha is in Iowa. The Cyclones have brought on a five-star prospect in Omaha Biliew, who spent time with USA Basketball this summer and will be the best freshman at Iowa State since Tyrese Haliburton. (A did-you-know: Haliburton is now regarded as a top-10 fantasy scorer in the NBA for the season ahead. We knew him when!) Iowa State is like a lot of teams in the Big 12.

It'll be a group with three or four new starters and with the capacity to finish in the top or the bottom five. T.J. Otzelberger has earned the benefit of the doubt. ISU is a pain in the rear to play and will probably remain as such for most teams on most nights. Tamin Lipsey will run point; his 3-point accuracy has to take a jump.
The Bulldogs would be slightly higher in the projections if Tolu Smith hadn't injured his foot in the preseason. Smith, one of the better bigs in the country, is going to be out for another two-plus months. Without him, who fills in the holes to score and rebound? Mississippi State has the oldest projected starting five in the SEC; D.J. Jeffries, Shakeel Moore, Dashawn Davis and Cameron Matthews are all seniors or older. It's a major credit to Chris Jans that he has put MSU in a respectable position such as this one after just one season, and even after losing his best player for nearly half the season.
The Mountain West ranked No. 6 nationally (ahead of the ACC) in multiple metrics last season. With teams like Boise State tracking to make the NCAA tourney again, the conference will have a shot of beating out a power league in the hierarchy again. Leon Rice has himself another good horde of hoopers. The best of the bunch is junior Tyson Degenhart. Expect him to average somewhere around 17 points and six boards for the Broncos. Degenhart's biggest contributing teammates are expected to be Max Rice at shooting guard and Chibuzo Agbo on the wing. BSU should improve in offensive efficiency and have a not-so-long-shot at winning the MW.
The Tigers went 14-6 in league play last season and got close to making the NCAAs, in part because they had the top-rated 2-point and free-throw shooting team in the ACC. Brad Brownell is hoping for more reliability there — and a major upgrade in rebounding. Clemson was the worst at grabbing offensive boards (22.4%) in the league. Clemson lost Hunter Tyson and Brevin Galloway. Critically, PJ Hall and Chase Hunter are back. Hall is a stud and could be a top-30 player nationally. Joe Girard III (Syracuse) is a grad student who should be giving Clemson 12-plus points per night. Feels like a bubble team.
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Northwestern vs UCLA
Boo Buie will be one of the most valuable players on any high-major team. USATSI
They got a guy named Jizzle! Jizzle James is the son of former Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James. Look for the freshman to work his way into the starting lineup in the back half of the season. Cincinnati is my pick for surprise team in the Big 12, even if they don't wind up getting two-time undergrad transfers Jamille Reynolds and Aziz Bandaogo cleared (coach Wes Miller thinks they will win on appeal). Losing four starters has many thinking the Bearcats will be lucky to make the NIT. But I'll say this club becomes the wild card of the Big 12 thanks to a huge season from 6-11 senior Viktor Lahkin. Cincinnati has a lot of older guys, which is critical, a key vet being JUCO transfer Day Day Thomas.
The Red Storm land on the short list of most interesting 2023-24 teams and the new coach is obviously why. Richard Andrew Pitino, a spritely 71 years old, has flipped the roster and built NCAA Tournament anticipations before coaching a game. Pitino brought back Joel Soriano, who sets up as a top-10 player in a crowded field of talent in the Big East. He'll be surrounded by transfers from Penn (Jordan Dingle), Iona (Daniss Jenkins), UMass (RJ Luis) and Harvard (Chris Ledlum).

Another new face is a freshman with promise, Simeon Wilcher. The Garden will buzz for the Johnnies on a level we haven't seen in a long time. This program hasn't won more than 21 games in a season since 2000. Pitino expects that bar cleared in the next five months.
My, Chris Collins has been here 11 seasons already. He's 153-161, which would be plenty to get you fired at 95% of power-conference institutions. It's all-time stuff at NU. Collins is looking to keep the good vibes and high-level defense going seven months removed from the school's second NCAA appearance, which included a win over Boise State in the first round. Chase Audige isn't on campus anymore; it seems obvious that the performance of the backcourt set of Boo Buie and Ty Berry will determine how far this team goes. The Wildcats are one of many Big Ten teams destined to hover in the middle of the standings.
Who will be the chaos agent in the SEC? Almost no one has UGA projected this high, but I'll remind you that Mike White has never had back-to-back mediocre seasons in his 12-year career. This is a dart throw informed by history. The best returning guy in UGA gear is 6-foot senior Justin Hill (8.6 ppg). The Bulldogs bring aboard an array of transfers. The team is absolutely deeper than last year's 16-16 group. Let's see what sort of stew these guys cook up. Names to follow: Noah Thomasson (Niagara), Jalen DeLoach (VCU), Russel Tchewa (South Florida), RJ Melendez (Illinois) and D-II player of the year RJ Sunahara (Nova Southeastern).
Steve Pikiell's program just missed the NCAAs last season on account of four Quad 4 losses. That bad news got worse when Rutgers lost Cam Spencer to UConn, Paul Mulcahy to Washington and Caleb McConnell and his elite defense to the NBA. There is still the man in the middle. Cliff Omoruyi returns to anchor this set. RU was rolling last season, then Mawot Mag hurt his ACL in February and that seemed to spoil matters. But he's back and will be a factor, as will Derek Simpson at the 2. They'll need UMass guard Noah Fernandes to hit it immediately to keep stride in nonconference.
A No. 46 ranking isn't a heavy endorsement for a program like IU, but I've warmed up to Indiana's prospects as the offseason has worn on. Getting Mackenzie Mgbako to Bloomington was a boon; let's avoid the Taco Bell police run-ins moving forward. The former Duke commit figures to have a big role, but the Hoosiers won't rely on him alone. Floor general Xavier Johnson returns for his final season and I think he'll be this team's best player. Transfer center Kel'el Ware was a McDonald's All-American a couple years back. He needs to put some of his game together, and if it happens, I'll have IU too low. Malik Reneau should be a breakout guy, regardless of scoring developments around him.
Arkansas fans, you don't need to find me because you've already found me. The Hogs are too low! Hey, I am not prone to a mistake here or there, but let's see how a team with, theoretically, less talent does after finishing ninth in the SEC last season. (I actually have Arkansas at eighth in the SEC.) Eric Musselman is entering his fifth season and carries a 95-42 record overall and a 41-30 SEC mark.

The standard is back in Fayetteville. Here's the cast: Returning Razorback guard Devo Davis, Temple transfer Khalif Battle and Houston transfer Tramon Mark will need to come up big. But it's the return of Trevon Brazile I'm most interested in. Brazile started last season well and went down with an ACL. He needs to be a dangerous stretch 4 to put Arkansas into the top-30 conversation.
Richard Pitino's team may not be one of the 45 best in the preseason, but I think it will have one of the 35 best résumés come March and be competing in the NCAA Tournament. Two of the best mid-major players are based out of the ABQ: Jaelen House (16.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 2.7 spg) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (19.1 ppg). Pitino also got an assist from his father's former team: Nelly Junior Joseph was a 15-point scorer as a big man for Iona last season. He'll start at the 5 for UNM. The Lobos also have Jemarl Baker, who began his career at Kentucky in … 2017!
Bruce Pearl's got a squad with proven pieces and guys just getting to college. The best of them is Johni Broome, who was a good up-transfer a season ago (via Morehead State). Broome will have fifth-year senior Jaylin Williams and regular-senior K.D. Johnson pushing for a third straight tournament showing for the Tigers. Sporty 6-foot freshman Aden Holloway is the guy a lot of people on the Plains are giddy over, but it all starts with Broome, who was a top-five SEC player from an efficiency standpoint at KenPom. Speaking of KenPom, that metric is in on Auburn. The Tigers rank 15th in the preseason there after finishing 32nd last season despite landing 309th in 3-point accuracy.
It all starts with center Branden Carlson, who averaged 16.3 points and at 7 feet is switchable as a 4 or 5. The phrase "this guy is so underrated nationally" has become a crutch for writers, broadcasters and podcasters alike, but Carlson feels as overlooked as any high-level big out there. He could snatch Pac-12 Player of the Year if Utah emerges in Craig Smith's third season. I also like their wing, Gabe Madsen, who will hit 4 out of 10 triples if his offseason work pays off into January and February. The Utes are at most a year away from being an NCAA Tournament team again.
N'Faly Dante had a late-season surge and needs to stay healthy for Oregon to dance. Getty Images
For the first time in 13 years, the Friars have a new coach. Until nine-or-so months ago, PC fans — most, anyway — assumed they'd ride out Ed Cooley until his retirement somewhere in the late 2020s or early 2030s. But Cooley went to Georgetown and created the Big East's hottest new rivalry. New coach Kim English is not shy on confidence and he has some dudes now. Bryce Hopkins is a wonderful dark horse pick to take Big East POY. Friars fans will love Josh Oduro's motor. Devin Carter is back to keep consistency in the backcourt, and Garwey Dual is the first of many intriguing frosh English will bring to the Creative Capital.
The Cougs were a trendy team for all of last season thanks to winning 31 games and occupying a spot in the AP poll for almost all of January. Pat Kelsey's squad will again be the one to beat in the CAA (now dubbed the Coastal Athletic Conference). Back in uniform are Reyne Smith and Ben Burnham, who shot nearly 37% on almost 350 combined 3s last season. They'll be even better and have a good center to work around. Ante Brzovic might evolve into the best rebounder in his conference. Cougars should dance again.
This is a rosy projection for a team that some might be expecting to finish in the bottom quarter of the Pac-12. Bobby Hurley didn't bring on a proven transfer, so we'll see how this goes — though he did just add Jose Perez, who was a late defection from West Virginia. Even still, Hurley's made the NCAAs in four of his eight seasons at ASU, which is a hit rate unmatched by any previous Sun Devils coach. Frankie Collins and Jamiya Neal will not be expected to produce as a top-five backcourt in the Pac-12, but I think Hurley's going to wind up getting them in that territory by February.
I wonder if this program is approaching a crossroads. Dana Altman is in Year 14, but the Ducks haven't felt threatening since 2016-17, the last time they had a quality NCAA Tournament seed (3) and made the Final Four, to boot. This year's Ducks do have experience and are bringing a lot of contributors back from a 21-win team, so I doubt they fall too far in the Pac-12. Center N'Faly Dante is likely to be the most important player for Altman — here's to hoping he can stay healthy the entire season. Jermaine Couisnard, too. He's the power-up player in the backcourt.
Outside of the practical top four ACC picks (Duke, UVA, UNC, Miami), we start to look for which teams will make moves and become real factors. I like Wake Forest to overachieve and heavily flirt with making the NCAAs. Steve Forbes brought a couple of Gonzaga players down to Winston-Salem: Hunter Sallis and Efton Reid (who is still awaiting a waiver as a two-time transfer). Forbes has done a really nice job of getting transfers and upping their profiles in recent seasons. He's confident in Wake's ability to play potentially 10-deep, though he's got a bunch of bigs who will need to swap out frequently.
The Cowboys are going to be in a lot of games because of a transfer few know about. Javon Small came to Stillwater by way of East Carolina. He understands that his job is to make every other player look good and to make the offense churn. Small wants the game to be easier for his teammates. Mike Boynton will need Small to be one of the five best point guards in the Big 12 for OSU to have a good chance at making the NCAAs.

Bryce Thompson is back, and he'll try to move toward being a 13-, 14-point-per-night type of player. The most undervalued freshman in the Big 12 plays for OSU. His name is Eric Dailey Jr. and he will move up the priority list on scouting reports as the season goes on. OSU's biggest problem is more than half the team hasn't played D-I college basketball.
Mike Young is going to have a pretty fun and sturdy triumvirate of guards in junior Sean Pedulla, grad student Hunter Cattoor and sophomore Rodney Rice. They'll collectively put Virginia Tech's offense into the top third of the ACC. The Hokies lost a few games a season ago they had little business blowing. If Young can get his group back as a collective, this will again be one of the tougher scouts, but man, they'll miss the gumption of Justyn Mutts. VT may need Lynn Kidd to pop as a viable 5 man in order to finish top-six in the ACC.
For the first time since the 1960s, Jim Boeheim will not be on the sidelines at Syracuse. A MAJOR shift, and it could wind up being a really good thing for SU if Adrian Autry is the right coach for the job. In terms of the ACC, the Orange will have a top-five backcourt in Autry's debut season thanks to the return of Judah Mintz, plus a big transfer get with SG JJ Starling (Notre Dame). Mintz could be a top-10 sophomore in America. Another high-impact transfer: Naheem McLeod, the 7-4 tower by way of Florida State. It's been many years since there was this much general curiosity around Syracuse's program.
Preseason favorites (again) to take the Missouri Valley, the Drake Bulldogs have the good fortune of starting one of the best mid-major hoopers: Tucker DeVries. He'll be a threat to drop 20 or more against any opponent. His father is the head coach, and Darian DeVries has surrounded Tucker with mid-major transfers such as Kyron Gibson (UT Arlington), Ethan Roberts (Army) and Atin Wright (CSUN). This will be a squad that looks to shoot from deep early and often, and they've got veteran 5-man Darnell Brodie as a security blanket in the paint.
I'm way in on Sooners sophomore Milos Uzan as a breakout player nationally. He could have some spectacular games for Porter Moser's team, which will go with a three-guard attack. Uzan will be flanked by Siena transfer Javian McCollum and returning sophomore Otega Oweh. Someone's going to surprise in the Big 12. Oklahoma's not a bad candidate, but it has nine new faces in the fold, so no one really knows what to expect. Moser has won 34 games in two seasons and will need to get to 20 or more in order to avoid some hot-seat chatter a year from now.
NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Washington
Keion Brooks Jr. found a great spot in Washington. Will he have enough help to get UW in the top half of the Pac-12? USATSI
Make room for belief that Sean Miller could exceed assumptions here, within the Big East and nationally. Xavier was a No. 3 seed in Miller's first season, but this group has a lot to prove and a lot of players without significant experience. Zach Freemantle (foot) and Jerome Hunter (injury not disclosed) are not expected to suit up in '23-24.

Souley Boum, Colby Jones, Jack Nunge and Adam Kunkel all left, which means sophomore guard Desmond Claude could be in for a massive season. I'm looking forward to seeing if Western Kentucky transfer CG Dayvion McKnight can thrive the way Boum did a year ago. Six-footer Trey Green could be a top-three freshman in the Big East if he breaks into the starting lineup..
It's been a long time since conjecture surrounding the Wolverines was this low. Not many think Juwan Howard's roster is built to win 20-plus games and earn a tourney bid. The Wolverines lost Hunter Dickinson, Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard following an 18-16 go of it. Juwan brought on Tennessee transfer Olivier Nkamhoua, who was a vital addition amid the uncertainty.

Early last season, point guard Jaelin Llewellyn went down to a season-ending ACL injury. His return and poise running the offense, plus a breakout season for 6-10 Tarris Reed Jr., could be the difference for a program that is in flux and needs a few positive signals. Howard had offseason heart surgery and is scheduled to rejoin the team in November.
Mike Hopkins is in a hot seat-type year. He's 101–91 in six years with one NCAA Tournament. He might well need to make a second to keep his gig. I could see it happening. Hopkins brought on two known transfers: Sahvir Wheeler from Kentucky and Paul Mulcahy from Rutgers. Wheeler teams up with another former Wildcat, Keion Brooks Jr., who's still in Seattle and averaged 17.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in relative obscurity last season. Braxton Meah is a 7-1 galloper who will be good for at least 10 double-doubles. If Hopkins maximizes the talent on this roster, Washington will be a top-40 team. I just gotta see that first.
After 78 wins in his first three seasons in CUSA, Andy Kennedy takes his Blazers into the American and finds plenty of respect in the new digs. The Blazers were comfortably picked fourth. Jelly Walker (one of the most entertaining mid-major players of the past five years) is gone, so why are many still high on UAB? Eric Gaines is the heart of this team, and him coming back keeps UAB's identity respectable on defense. North Alabama's Daniel Ortiz has received good feedback in the fall, and word is two JUCO up-transfers will make their marks. Yaxel Lendeborg will start at the 4 and fellow forward Christian Coleman will be a big energy guy off the bench.
Bryce Drew coached the Lopes to the Big Dance and figures to have the WAC's top squad in '23-24. He brings back two of the best players in the conference (Ray Harrison, Gabe McGlothan) and will probably be a prime candidate on the coaching carousel come next March. Grand Canyon has one of the loudest home-court environments of any school in the country. The Lopes could also have a gem in hiding in Tyon Grant-Foster, who has been able to restart his career in the desert after a health scare earlier in college.
Blink and you might have missed it, but the Wolfpack did make the NCAA Tournament last season. (They were casually dismissed by Creighton in the first round.) Kevin Keatts returns with a slightly cooler seat but some holes to fill on the roster after Terquavion Smith left for the NBA and Jarkel Joiner finished up his college career. DJ Burns is back to hold down the middle. He's a joy to watch. Look for Arizona State transfer DJ Horne to find a spotlight, but there are still roles to be fleshed out on the bench.
For most readers, seeing VCU plunked someone in the top 70 isn't going to come as a shock. But this is a lofty projection considering there was a coaching change (Ryan Odom came over from Utah State to replace Mike Rhoades, who took the Penn State job) and a lot of roster turnover. A pick based on A-10 coaches expecting VCU to be a top-three team and my expectation that the A-10 will be improved vs. its downtrodden 2022-23. The Rams will likely be led by veteran transfers Max Shulga and Sean Bairstow, a pair of players who scored 22 points for Odom at USU a season ago. Bairstow is injured (right foot) and won't return until December.
The Bulldogs need to get right in a hurry in this new phase under Thad Matta, who did not build up one of the best winning percentages in college history by churning through multiple rebuilds in consecutive seasons. That's what Matta is enduring in Year 2. Hopes of shoring up some defensive woes will come in the form of ball-stopping specialist Posh Alexander (via St. John's). Butler brought in six transfers, and if Alexander will be the most important, his backcourt mate from UC Irvine, DJ Davis, won't be far behind. Davis' 3-point shooting must be reliable to give this team a chance in the Big East.
There was no offseason for Chris Beard, who was fired from Texas in early January and hired at Mississippi by late March. While controversy will follow that choice in the months/years to come, the roster is far from anemic. Matthew Murrell returns for his senior season; he'll be a top-100 player in '23-24. Forward Jaemyn Brakefield also returns. Allen Flanigan transferred from Auburn to Ole Miss, following his father (who is an assistant under Beard).

A couple of big fellas could be the difference in my ranking and Ole Miss being closer to top-40, but we don't yet know if two-time transfer/rim-protecting menace Moussa Cisse (Oklahoma State) is eligible. We do know 7-5 sun-blocker Jamarion Sharp (WKU) is. You can't say this team isn't interesting.
Jerod Haase was spared a pink slip after Stanford went 14-19 last season and failed to field an NCAA Tournament team for a seventh straight season under his watch. Some reason for optimism: The Cardinal is a team overloaded with juniors, seniors and grad transfers. New to the surroundings is PG Jared Bynum, here by way of Providence to help push pace. Spencer Jones (14.1 ppg) led the Cardinal in scoring last season; his return was crucial. Haase's team also got a potential top-three frosh in the Pac-12: Andrej Stojakovic — Peja's son.
NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Colorado State
Isaiah Stevens led the MW in assists last season and could be a top-10 point guard in the sport. USATSI
The Eagles have to break through and make noise in the ACC eventually, right? … Right? Earl Grant knew he needed at least three years to build the program in his image, and so here's Year 3. The names to know are junior PG Jaeden Zackery and center/grad student Quinten Post. BC didn't go heavy in the portal, but the one guy they did add from Charleston Southern is Claudell Harris Jr., who expects to put up 14-plus per night. I don't think BC's 14-year NCAA drought ends in March, but in 2025 there is a chance the spell might break.
It seems like Yale has been the preseason favorite in the Ivy League for more than a half-decade, so here they are, back again. The Bulldogs return clever forward Matt Knowling and multi-faceted guard Bez Mbeng. Those two should have Yale ahead of the pack and in position to be a No. 13 or seed in the NCAAs if they can steal a game or two in nonconference play. If last season's Princeton team was able to win in March, this Yale team can do it too.
Isaiah Stevens will be one of the premier point guards in the country, the kind of floor general capable of carrying this team to the Big Bracket. The Rams loaded up with transfers and will be north of 20 wins so long as Niko Medved's squad stays healthy. Look for Colorado transfer Nique Clifford and JUCO transfer Joel Scott to be impact players, along with grad transfer/5-man Pat Cartier. Jalen Lake should emerge as the year goes on. It's a veteran squad that is going to be able to guard well and throw wing after wing after wing at teams. CSU is my dark horse pick to steal the Mountain West.
How does FSU adjust to one of its worst seasons ever? A nine-win team a season ago, Leonard Hamilton has no plans to go quietly into retirement. When he retires is still a question, but the 75-year-old should surely make a push back into the middle of the ACC. The big-man combo of Baba Miller and Jaylan Gainey will have FSU as a matchup issue for most teams. I don't think Hamilton has the talent to vie for a tourney bid, but I'll say he course-corrects with this group in a major way.
It's a big year for Fred Hoiberg, who probably will need to finish better than the 75th in the sport to be assured of holding on to his post. Hoiberg is 40-83 in four seasons and has 18 total wins in league play. Thankfully, he's got some sort of player in Keisei Tominaga, a 6-2 senior who could average north of 16 points. The Huskers had to go into the portal heavy, and due to that, a lot of questions still need to be answered with how much better this team can or will be from the group that was 149th in offensive efficiency a season ago.
I like the Anteaters' chances to be the best in the Big West for the third straight season. Although UC Santa Barbara won the league, Irvine was the top-ranked team per KenPom at year's end. Russell Turner's team is l-o-a-d-e-d with 22- and 23-year-olds. This group, like most UC Irvine teams, will be a factor because of its size. Turner has a pair of big-man vets in Devin Tillis and Bent Leuchten. There are some things to work out with guard play depth, but you can bank on Turner and the staff figuring it out before March.
The WCC was a quality league last season, and that's with USF going 7-11 in conference scuffles. The Dons were picked third in the WCC preseason poll and they're the No. 3 team for me as well. Marcus Williams will step into the spotlight as a junior guard with a good 3-point streak that will pair well alongside 6-8 senior Josh Kunen, who made 44.4% of his 65 3-pointers last season. The Dons look to be the biggest benefactor (outside of Gonzaga) from portaling, though there is one thing that stands out: no player on this roster averaged double digits in points a season ago.
I don't think the Tigers will go 12-1 in nonconference play like last season, and I don't think the Tigers will finish last in the SEC like last season. Matt McMahon has some options in the backcourt. Talented combo guard Jalen Cook returns to where he started his career. I like the second-year pop potential for Tyrell Ward, who needs to emerge for the Bayou Bengals. Vandy transfer Jordan Wright will see a lot of opportunities, and Will Baker (formerly of Texas and Nevada) will wrap up college life and likely catch his most statistically impressive season in the process.
Fran McCaffery has made a good living exceeding outsiders' expectations. But after losing Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca, it's fair to wonder how much of a factor Iowa will be in the Big Ten. I do think Payton Sandfort and Tony Perkins will be a fun combo in the backcourt. Either one of those two could have four or five games of 25-plus points if the offense is really humming again. Valpo transfer Ben Krikke, a 6-9 grad student, will have his work cut out for him as he up-transfers from the Missouri Valley.
Grant McCasland might well have Texas Tech in the mix near the top of the standings by Year 3 with the Red Raiders, but we'll keep expectations reasonable in his first season. McCasland was a terrific coach at North Texas and an ideal candidate to take over here after Mark Adams flamed out. The Red Raiders brought on Joe Toussaint from WVU and Devan Cambridge and Warren Washington from Arizona State. Its games will probably be the mud, if McCasland has his way. If this hits, TTU could have its coach for the next 10-plus years.
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Greensboro
Jeff Capel made Pitt viable last season, breaking through to the NCAAs in Year 5. Getty Images
A highly welcomed NCAA Tournament appearance for Jeff Capel in his fifth season, but I'm wondering if he's got enough talent and cohesiveness to come close to getting there a second year in a row. The Panthers bring back Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko, but gone are Jamarius Burton and Nelly Cummings. Pitt has to find out how ready freshman Carlton Carrington will be to run an ACC offense, and who else winds up helping him? I do love Federiko's potential as a defensive anchor, though. How much will his offensive game expand?
Ho-hum, another stroll through the Patriot League seems to await for Matt Langel, one of the 30-or-so best coaches who is still getting a paycheck from Colgate. The fact Langel hasn't been promoted to a bigger league yet is an indictment on athletic directors around the greater northeast who had job openings and opted to pass. Colgate will win 20-plus games again behind sophomore point guard Braeden Smith and frontcourt problem Keegan Records. (I think I bought a used copy of Led Zeppelin III at a Keegan Records back in the day.) The 'Gate has ranked top-12 in 3-point accuracy the past three seasons, a trend I expect to continue.
The Flames have moved from the ASUN to CUSA. A jump up in league, sure, but it may not mean much in terms of impacting where Liberty finishes in the standings. Ritchie McKay has a pair of fifth-year bigs who will be in contention to win CUSA POY. One is Kyle Rode (10.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg), the other Shiloh Robinson. The looming question is how Liberty moves on after graduating Darius McGhee, who left as the ASUN and the school's all-time scoring leader (2,685 points).
My hardest team to project in the Big 12. Best-case scenario? BYU works its way to eighth in the league. I've got two names to remember: Fousseyni Traore (BYU fans already know) and Aly Khalifa are couple of intriguing frontcourt players. As is often the case, BYU also benefits from length that will make them a better team this season vs. last. Ultimately, I think it's overmatched in the backcourt, and that's why I've got it stumbling out of the gate in Year 1 in its new surroundings.
Ron Hunter's Green Wave won 20 games and went 12-6 in the American. The group mostly performed as expected, though the team was a few plays away from being a 22-win team instead of 20. Jalen Cook has moved on, and there will be no replacing him. Yet … I think Tulane winds up being slightly better. Jaylen Forbes is a sweet 6-5 wing who is going to have the best season of his career. Hunter has a lot of familiarity in his starting five, including returning seniors Kevin Cross and Tre' Williams.
The Mean Green are your reigning NIT champs. Grant McCasland parlayed a 31-win season into landing the Texas Tech opening. The good news is Ross Hodge is now running ship; he was UNT's defensive mastermind the past six seasons. North Texas has moved up from CUSA to the American and figures to be a factor in its new digs thanks to suffocating defense and the return of PG Rubin Jones and wing Aaron Scott. If things keep going like they have before, Jason Edwards will be the latest JUCO up-transfer to star for the Mean Green.
With no Bob Huggins — a major turn of events that transpired in May — and the loss of Jose Perez (to Arizona State) and Tre Mitchell (to Kentucky), WVU is an unproven team with a lot of ground to make up. It has an interim head coach with no head coaching experience (Josh Eilert). Because of Jesse Edwards (Syracuse) and Kerr Kriisa (Arizona) opting to stick around after transferring in, I think WVU has a ceiling as high as seventh in the Big 12. But after so much chaos, I'm setting the bar at ankle level and will wait it out.
The Hall finished one game above .500 in Shaheen Holloway's first season and will move forward with some uncertainty in the frontcourt after significant roster turnover. I like SHU's potential with a three-guard look (Kadary Richmond, Al-Amir Dawes, Dylan Addae-Wusu), but there are a lot of holes to fill in a crowded top half of the Big East. Seton Hall must earn some keep, particularly with five players who have no experience playing Division I.
Another year, another America East title likely on the way for John Becker and the Catamounts. The program has been one of the most dominant nationally from a winning-percentage standpoint in the past seven seasons, finishing atop the league ledger every year. Becker is dealing with one of his biggest rebuilds since he got to Burlington in 2011, but stop the presses once UVM fails to clear 20 wins. PG Aaron Deloney is now the dude for the Cats.
We're waiting for that UNLV breakthrough; I think it'll need at least one more year. However, if Vegas is going to upset the apple cart in the Mountain West, it'll be on account of playing six guys with four or more years of college experience. Kevin Kruger went into the portal to stock up on experience. One young bright spot: Dedan Thomas Jr. is the Mountain West preseason freshman of the year. The four-star recruit was the top player in Nevada last season. Landing him was significant for Kruger and his staff.
NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Kentucky vs Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt was 22-15 last season under Jerry Stackhouse, the most wins by the 'Dores since 2011-12. USATSI
The Zips are stuffed with experience, including boomerang transfer Ali Ali, who was a former standout for John Groce and opted to head back one more time after scooting over to Butler for a season. This will probably be the best team in the MAC due to the return of Enrique Freeman, a tremendous 4/5 man who averaged 16.8 points and 11.2 rebounds as a junior. The Zips will start nothing but seniors — an amazing luxury these days.
Jerry Stackhouse enters his fifth Vandy campaign without a player named to the SEC preseason all-league teams. He'll have a pair of good playmakers and established guys in the locker room with Tyrin Lawrence and Ezra Manjon returning in the backcourt. They combined to score 23.6 points last season. Vanderbilt made a sweet second half push and finished 11-7 in the league, but it doesn't seem like that record will be repeatable in 2024.
A.W. Hamilton's Colonels should almost definitely be the best team in the ASUN, which no longer has Liberty lurking at the top of the standings. EKU hasn't made the NCAAs in a decade; this commando has a terrific chance because it boasts the league's preseason POY (Devontae Blanton, 16.9 ppg) and the defensive POY (Isaiah Cozart, 2.5 bpg). Few mid-majors brought back a higher percentage of their players than EKU, which is on the short list of prime 2024 Cinderella candidates.
The Raiders are the pick out of the Horizon League after boomerang transfer Tanner Holden was cleared for one last season. Holden, Trey Calvin (HL preseason POY) and Brandon Noel clearly set up as the best trio in that conference. Scott Nagy is an unassuming coach who commands a lot of respect around the profession. If the Raiders avoid injuries and other setbacks, he'll have his team into the NCAA tourney for the third time since he got there in 2016.
Damon Stoudamire was an out-of-nowhere hire when Tech lured him away from the NBA (assistant with the Celtics). He's paid his dues, though. After years as a high-major assistant at Memphis and Arizona, Stoudamire spent five years in charge of Pacific's program. He has his shot to legitimize GT, a school that's been mostly raggedy for a long time. The hope in Atlanta for '23-24 is to avoid a bottom-two finish in the ACC and find some immediate gains. The team brings back two important players, Miles Kelly and Lance Terry, and while those aren't household names even in the neighborhoods around campus, they will provide some cushioning in Year 1.
The top team in the SoCon has finished somewhere in the top 100 at KenPom in six of the past seven years, so I happily make room for Furman as my projected league champ. The Paladins are coming off a thrilling program moment. JP Pegues' buzzer-beater to upend Virginia was the program's first Big Dance win since 1978. What a way to do it. Pegues is back, and that's huge, because FU lost its top two players to graduation (Jalen Slawson, Mike Bothwell). Bob Richey has Marcus Foster returning in the backcourt as well, giving the 'Dins a slight edge in the SoCon.
In 2017, Keith Dambrot left Akron to take a pay raise at one of the toughest jobs in the Atlantic 10. Expectedly, Duquesne has been up and down in the years since. But there is optimism for this group to be in the top four of the Atlantic 10. I've got Duquesne as my third and final A-10 team here. Jimmy Clark III is one of the best defenders in the conference, and Dae Dae Grant is a dark horse to win A-10 POY. It would be great to see this team break through after decades of inconspicuousness.
San Jose State jumped from eight victories to 21 last season, marking the program's best season from a win perspective in history. And yet, Mountain West voters in the preseason poll aren't giving Tim Miles his due. This guy has done a really good job at some tough jobs over the course of his career. I like the Spartans to be a spoiler (again) in the Mountain West. Miles brought on a ton of inexperienced players, but point guard Alvaro Cardenas is going to surprise.
In January, Loyola Marymount won at Gonzaga for the first time in three decades. It's the kind of program-defining W that will have a carryover effect for Stan Johnson's team. LMU brings back some of the best hair in the game in fifth-year senior Keli Leaupepe, whose swag will not be denied. The Lions have things to prove with their guards, but thankfully Leaupepe has Alex Merkviladze to strengthen the frontcourt.
It's been too long (2016) since Northern Iowa danced. I think this team, after an unexpected letdown of a 14-win year, becomes the biggest competitor to Drake in the Missouri Valley and has a big bounce-back. It'll have a chance to make noise in November thanks to playing in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Ben Jacobson has a potential 20-point-per-game guy in combo guard Bowen Born. Tytan Anderson is also among the MVC's best.
The Dukes are my pick to win the Sun Belt — a conference they joined last season and finished fourth. JMU won 22 games, a threshold it hadn't reached in decades. What's more, this program hasn't made the NCAAs since 2013. I like fourth-year coach Mark Byington to snap that drought with an eight-man rotation, led by maybe the best player in the Sun Belt, 6-6 forward Terrence Edwards.