Entering the 2022-23 college basketball season, UConn, Miami and FAU were each unranked in the AP poll, and each of them went on to reach the Final Four. Purdue was also unranked in the preseason a year ago before rising to spend several weeks at No. 1 en route to Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.
The unpredictability of college basketball is a part of its beauty, and that attribute is already on display this season. Michigan began the season at No. 4. The Wolverines are already out of the poll after a 3-3 start that includes a home loss to James Madison. The Dukes are unbeaten and standing at No. 22 near some other surprising risers such as No. 19 BYU, No. 20 Colorado State and No. 21 Mississippi State.
There are several more teams off to strong starts still lurking outside the top 25. Inevitably, some of them will continue to rise in the weeks ahead much like Purdue, UConn, Miami and FAU did last season.
Now that we've seen a small sample size of game action, our writers are collaborating to determine which unranked teams in this week's AP poll they believe will reach the NCAA Tournament. We nailedin this exercise prior to last season.
UCLA has never missed the NCAA Tournament under Mick Cronin, and I don't think this season will snap that streak. Yeah, the Bruins are unranked and only 4-2 with zero victories over schools currently in the top 300 at KenPom.com. A strong November resume, this is not. But (and I know not everybody likes to pull positive stuff from losses) UCLA's two defeats came by a total of six points to the teams ranked No. 3 (Marquette) and No. 11 (Gonzaga) in this week's AP Top 25 poll. That why I kept UCLA ranked in my Top 25 And 1 even after the Bruins went 1-2 in the Maui Invitational. Losing competitive games to higher-ranked teams on a neutral court should not cause a lower-ranked team to drop.
Simply put, I believed UCLA would make the NCAA Tournament before this season started and nothing has happened so far to make me reconsider that position. If you can play Marquette and Gonzaga tight for 40 minutes on a neutral court, you're good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. So until the Bruins do something that suggests they won't be there, I'll just keep assuming they will. -- Gary Parrish
This is an easy one on the heels of Clemson's 85-77 Tuesday night win at No. 23 Alabama. The Tigers are 6-0 for the first time in 15 years and have a legitimate All-American candidate in 6-foot-10 senior big PJ Hall. Clemson also has two guards with a lot of experience and scoring ability, which is why I've been saying (since October) Brad Brownell's team is tourney bound for 2024. Chase Hunter is the most overlooked baller in the ACC, while Syracuse transfer Joe Girard is probably going to pop off for a few 20-point games this season. The Tigers' 41.5 3-point percentage ranks top-10 nationally as of Wednesday. They're not ranked now, but will be next week if they can win at Pitt on Sunday. Even if that doesn't happen, I'll say Clemson gets to 24 wins on Selection Sunday and easily scoots into the big bracket. -- Matt Norlander
Auburn fell 88-82 to Baylor in a neutral-site game to open the season. The game still stands as the Tigers' only serious test this season. There were plenty of positives to take away for the Tigers, who have made four of the last five NCAA Tournaments. For starters, Auburn is on track to be one of the nation's best shot-blocking teams after five different players combined to block 10 shots against Baylor, led by Dylan Cardwell's five. When you're bringing a guy like Cardwell off the bench, it says something about your front court depth, and 10th-year coach Bruce Pearl deploys one of the best front courts in the sport.
Guard play is going to be a work in progress as newcomers Aden Holloway (a freshman) and FIU transfer Denver Jones develop chemistry with K.D. Johnson and Tre Donaldson. But all the talent is there for Auburn to be a high-powered offensive group. Aside from Holloway, this is a veteran bunch with a great combination of alphas and role players. Sorting out that hierarchy may take some time, but so long as Holloway and Jones turn out to be decent outside shooters -- they are both above 40% from 3-point range so far this season -- Auburn can go a long way. -- David Cobb
It hasn't been an ideal start to the season for the Trojans after suffering early losses to UC Irvine and Oklahoma. USC currently sits at 4-2, but there is hope they will be able to turn it around. For starters, there is a chance that star freshman Bronny James returns at somewhat this season. His father, LeBron James, indicated earlier this month that he would be due for a checkup soon. If it goes well, he could return shortly after. James would immediately make an impact on both ends of the floor.
With just six games under his belt, star freshman Isaiah Collier is obviously nowhere near his ceiling. We have seen what he can do scoring, but he is still averaging almost five turnovers per game. That number will certainly have to go down in order for USC to reach its full potential. Collier and Boogie Ellis are one of the top backcourts in the nation and guard play still matters come tournament time. I picked USC toin our expert picks, so essentially, I'm doubling down. USC still isn't close to playing its best basketball and they still have plenty of time get back on track for when it matters most: March. -- Cameron Salerno