The NBA Draft is now just under a month away. As we get closer and closer to the official start of the 2023-2024 season, coaches all across College Basketball are finally starting to get a better idea of what their rosters will look like heading into next season. May 31st was the final day for players to withdraw their name from the draft process if they wanted to return to school and there are plenty of programs feeling good and bad about how it went. Here are some of the notable winners and losers from yesterday’s announcements.
There wasn’t a program that had more at stake with these announcements than Greg McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays. After losing to San Diego State in last season’s Elite 8 in the most heartbreaking fashion possible, Creighton did have a real possibility of entering next season as one of the premiere teams in the country with such a good young core that also has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. That momentum slightly stopped during the offseason, when Point Guard Ryan Nembhard shockingly announced his entry into the Transfer Portal in early April. While many people weren’t particularly happy about this move, Coach McDermott had no ill will towards his former Point Guard saying it is something that affects so many programs across the country, that everyone has to deal with. McDermott quietly added a trio of quality transfers in his own right in Steven Ashworth from Utah State, Isaac Traudt from Virginia, and Jonathan Lawson from Memphis.
Prior to yesterday’s announcements, Creighton also got news that sharpshooter Baylor Schierman would be returning to school, after a fabulous first season in Omaha. The ceiling of this Creighton team however, would come down to the decisions of Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrunner. A duo that has played in 171 combined games for the Blue Jays throughout their college careers, Creighton received great news that both of these future NBA players would be returning to school for one last ride. In 2022, Creighton didn’t have a ton of expectations with a team full of Freshman and that doubt crept in even harder when Nembhard suffered a season ending wrist injury in the month of February. Alexander stepped in as the primary ball handler, and had Creighton playing their best basketball at the right time heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Oklahoma City native, got even better this past season, averaging 13.6 points per game on a very efficient 41% from three.
In addition, there isn’t a better rim protector in the country than Kalkbrunner and the big man should be on the short list of National Player of the Year candidates heading into next season. Leading the Big East in blocks per game with 2.1, Kalkbrunner is a difference maker for this Blue Jays team, considering they played their worst basketball of the season during a six game losing streak towards the end of non-conference play when he was out with an illness. With two of the best pure shooters in the country, the best rim protector in the country, and a future lottery pick there is no reason why this Creighton team shouldn’t be labeled as a serious National Title Contender heading into next season. The news of Alexander and Kalkbrunner coming back completely changes the ceiling of this Blue Jays team and every single game in Omaha will be must-see TV in 2023.
The 2023 season was an extremely frustrating one in Champagne, considering the expectations that the Fighting Illini had entered the season with. After falling short of the second weekend in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, Illinois took a step back, losing to Arkansas in the opening round of the big dance, to end a season that was full of inconsistency. The thing that made last season so frustrating for the Illini, was the fact that at times it was clear to see that this team had plenty of talent and the potential to be really good. Illinois was able to beat a Texas team that made the Elite 8 and was ranked #1 in the country at the time at the Jimmy V Classic, and even defeated a UCLA team that was good enough to win a National Title when healthy, in Las Vegas during non-conference play as well. Instead however, Illinois struggled to find consistency throughout the season and was a shell of the team we were expecting.
Despite the losses of key contributors like Matthew Mayer, Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps, Illinois did have a lot riding on the draft decisions of Terrance Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins. Both guys that easily could have played in the NBA next season and likely gotten drafted, Illinois received magnificent news that both would return to school next season. Now the Illini will return three of their four leading scorers from last year’s squad, and now has to be the time for Brad Underwood to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. One of the most underrated coaches in the country, Underwood coached teams that have made seven out of the last nine NCAA Tournaments.
While many have criticized Underwood for not making it to the second weekend just yet, it is only a matter of time until he breaks through and there aren’t many coaches that have won more in the last decade. While Illinois’ roster might not even be entirely complete yet, the returns of Shannon Jr. and Hawkins make this Illinois team a threat in the Big Ten and they should be in for a bounce back season.
While John Calipari will be bringing the #1 ranked recruiting class to Lexington, there isn’t really much Kentucky has to offer besides that. This recruiting class does feature four of the most prominent prospects in the Class including D.J Wagner, Justin Edwards Robert Dillingham, Aaron Bradshaw, it is unknown just how much you can rely on Freshman to win you College Basketball games in the year 2023. Kentucky had a ton at stake with the draft decision deadline, including three of their top six leading scorers from last season’s team in Oscar Tshiebwe, Antonio Reeves, and Chris Livingston. In addition, Kentucky has yet to add a transfer of any significant magnitude and the only two players definitely returning from last season’s squad are Ugonna Onyenso and Adou Theiro, who averaged a combined 4.7 points per game.
Kentucky didn’t receive the news they were hoping for on Wednesday with both Tshibwe and Livingston confirming their entries into the NBA Draft and Reeves announcing he’d be coming back to College Basketball, but not definitively at Kentucky. While many Kentucky fans wanted Tshibwe gone given he is a clear weakness on the defensive end, it is important to remember just how important he’s been to Kentucky over the course of the last two seasons. Oscar followed up his special National Player of the Year season in 2022, by averaging 16.5 points and 13.7 rebounds per game last season. In addition, Tshibwe scored 25 points and collected 18 rebounds in his final game in a Kentucky uniform against Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament. Anyone who thinks Kentucky will be a better team without the former National Player of the Year wasn’t paying attention.
As someone who has been an adamant John Caliapri defender, this is the first time in the Cal Era that there are some massive concerns entering a season for Kentucky with a ton of questions about the future in Lexington. In a very tough SEC featuring teams on the rise like Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri and more, it is definitely fair to question where Kentucky currently stands in that mix with such a young and inexperienced roster.
When mentioning Arkansas on this list it is important to put into context that there are very few teams that have had a better overall offseason than the Razorbacks and there are very few programs that I’d rather invest in right now than Coach Muss’. The Razorbacks have added a bevy of quality transfers this offseason including El Ellis from Louisville, Keyon Mennifield from Washington, Tramon Mark from Houston, Khalif Battle from Temple and more. The reason why Arkansas is on this list however, is due to the fact that many were expecting them to pick up the commitment of former Texas commit and consensus Top 5 High School Prospect Ron Holland, who instead opted for G-League Ignite.
In addition, Arkansas will also lose the services of former McDonald’s All American Jordan Walsh, who had an up and down Freshman year, but established himself as one of the premier defenders in the country towards the back end of last season. Waslh will be the third one and done from this past season’s team that Arkansas will lose, and Coach Muss will have to find a way to readjust with so much new personnel on his roster.
Luckily for Razorback fans, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern considering Arkansas has won a total of 8 NCAA Tournament games in each of the last three seasons, which is tied with Baylor and Kansas for the most during that time period. While the roster could have looked like the best in the country, Arkansas should enter next season as one of the top teams in the country and the favorite in the SEC based on Coach Muss’ track record. Arkansas also received word that veteran Devo Davis will be returning to school for his fourth season in Fayetteville, to provide leadership and experience as the quintessential Razorback. However, with the losses of Holland and Walsh this roster could have been right up there with the best in the country.
Winner: Florida Atlantic
There wasn’t a team that made a bigger name for themselves in last season’s NCAA Tournament, than Dusty May and his FAU Owls. After trailing against Memphis for the majority of the game in the opening round of the big dance, FAU was able to take the lead on a Nick Boyd layup in the final seconds and never looked back. They then caught a break in the Round of 32 with #16 seeded Fairleigh Dickinson becoming only the second ever #16 seed to knock out a #1 seed, and never looked back. The two main catalysts behind this FAU’s run all the way to the Final 4 were the duo of Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin.
The duo averaged a combined 30.6 points in FAU’s Tournament games and proved they have the ability to compete with anyone on College Basketball’s biggest stage. Despite falling short in the Final 4 in the most heartbreaking fashion possible against San Diego State, the Owls were set to return basically the entire Final 4 squad from last season, despite veteran Guard Michael Forrest who was out of eligibility. The only decisions needed to confirm this was Davis and Martin, who both could make history in the future as this FAU program has never had a player out of the program to play in the NBA.
With the Owls also making the change to an improved American Athletic Conference this season, FAU will enter their new league as the predominant favorite and inside the Top 10 nationally after their Final 4 run last season. Dusty May established himself as one of the premier coaches in the country during FAU’s run to the Final 4 and that should only continue with his team on everyone’s radar heading into next season.
Similarly to Arkansas, it is very important to add context as to why the defending National Champions are on this list. The Huskies proved to be by far and away the premiere team in College Basketball last season with an NCAA Tournament run for the ages and barely even sweating on their way to a National Title. A large reason for that was the trio of Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson, who all had premiere roles for the Huskies last season.
With Sanogo and Hawkins already announcing their departures, UConn was waiting on decisions from Jackson and Tristen Newton, on their status for next season. Although Jackson was projected to be a fringe first to early second round pick, there was a chance he could return to school. This is due to the fact that with a pretty weak Freshman class coming to school next season, Jackson easily could have found himself as a lottery pick with one more great season at UConn. In addition, Jackson impacts the game in so many different ways, besides the one thing that many NBA teams need and that is the ability to shoot the basketball. With Jackson now out of the picture, UConn will now need Newton to be more relied upon within the offense which was something he didn’t have to do a ton of last season with so much star power around him.
UConn should be fine in the big picture, with Donavan Clingan ready to breakout for a massive Sophomore campaign, alongside the return of Alex Karaban and the addition of star Freshman Stephon Castle. With that being said, this Huskies team would have been a consensus top tier team and right up there with the favorites in the Big East. Now there is a lot more questions for the Huskies heading into their title defense, and in a tough Big East there will be plenty of hurtles throughout next season.
Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.