There is a legitimate argument to be made that the overall level of talent on this Arkansas team is better than each of the last two years, in which Eric Mussleman’s squad made it to the Elite 8. Arkansas brings in the #2 recruiting class in the country headlined by Nick Smith who could be the best NBA Draft prospect that is playing College Basketball this season. In addition, the Hogs bring in lengthy athletic wings in Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh, who should make a significant impact right away as McDonald’s All Americans.
Coach Muss has always done a great job finding the right transfers from the portal and that continued this offseason. Guys like Ricky Council IV from Wichita State, Trevon Brazil from Missouri and Jaelen Graham from Arizona State make up one of the better transfer portal classes in the country as well. With Devo Davis returning to the program to provide some valuable experience, the pieces are there for Arkansas to get back to the Final 4 for the first time since 1995.
The job that Eric Musleman has done since arriving in Fayetteville is something that should be spoken about more. Arkansas missed seven of the previous ten NCAA Tournaments in the decade prior to Mussleman taking over and somehow the former Nevada Head Coach has gotten Arkansas to the Elite 8 in back to back seasons. That is something most would expect guys like Hubert Davis at North Carolina or John Scheyer at Duke, with the resources and brand name they have. What has made this even more impressive was that in both seasons, Arkansas didn’t necessarily get off to the best of starts, which makes sense with all of the new talent they seem to bring in every offseason. Arkansas started off last season 10-5 overall, with losses to Vanderbilt and Hofstra. They countered by ending the season 14-2 in their last 16 games and making it one game short of the Final 4.
Coach Muss has turned Arkansas into one of the premier destinations in all of College Basketball, and the momentum isn’t ending any time soon.
The 2022 Bears played like the clear best team in College Basketball for the first 7 weeks of the season, until injuries started to pile up and they never seemed to be the same. The Bears would have had a legitimate chance of becoming the first program to repeat as National Champions since Florida in 2007 and 2008, but failed to find that same gear following the loss of some significant contributors.
On January 25th, Baylor was sitting pretty with a 18-2 record and was the #4 ranked team in the country following a blowout win over Kansas State. In that game, Guard LJ Cryer suffered a foot injury and only played in one game for the remainder of the season. Combined with a devastating injury to emotional leader Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Baylor was never able to get back to looking like a National Championship Contender, despite getting a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which really shows the job Scott Drew has done with this program. The Bears have made seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments, while playing in a very tough Big XII Conference. There is a legitimate argument to be made that Baylor has been the best program in College Basketball for each of the last three seasons, which is reflected in the number of total wins they have during that stretch, which is more than anyone not named Gonzaga.
Baylor will return a nice core from last year’s squad including Cryer, Adam Flagler, and Flo Thamba. In addition, Baylor brings in one of the premier High School players in the country in Keyontae George and impact transfers in Jalen Bridges from West Virginia and Caleb Lohner from BYU. Flagler was one of the best guards in the Big 12 last season, and entering his third year in the Baylor program, is good enough to be the premier go-to scorer on a great team. Baylor does lose Matthew Mayer, who was a key member of the 2021 National Championship team, but never looked like the same player a year ago.
However, with Cryer hopefully healthy and other players including Tchatchoua and Langston Love back in the picture, Baylor should be labeled as the team to beat in the Big XII and one of the premier teams in the sport.
The Blue Jays are on this list despite not being a Top 25 team for the majority of last season and only winning one game in the NCAA Tournament by the skin of their teeth against San Diego State. With more context however, it is clear why the hopes for this Creighton team are so high in Omaha for the 2023 season. Creighton headed into last season, picked 8th in the Preseason Big East Media Poll and losing all 5 starters from a Sweet 16 team in 2021.
Instead the Blue Jays defied all expectations and there were very few teams that played better towards the back end of the season. With a team composed mostly of Freshman and newcomers, the Blue Jays finished the Regular Season winning 7 of their last 9 games and made it all the way to the Big East Tournament title game. This was without the services of Point Guard Ryan Nembhard, who suffered a broken wrist in late February.
The Blue Jays even pushed the eventual National Champion Kansas, in their Round of 32 game without big man Ryan Kalkbrunner, who was also injured. The Jays will return 4 of their 6 leading scorers, all of whom will be heading into their Sophomore season, which is notably a time for a huge jump. Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander are both former Top 100 recruits, who showed flashes last season of being great players, and with another year under their belts, a breakout is coming. In addition, Creighton brought in South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheirman who was wanted by some of the biggest names in the sport including Kentucky and Duke.
There has been an argument out there questioning Creighton’s ability to become an elite team, despite never being ranked in the top 25 of KenPom but the key to this Creighton team is their youth. The Blue Jays starting lineup this season will consist of four Sophomores, all of which can be in store for a huge jump this upcoming season. In College Basketball, players going from their Freshman to Sophomore year have been known to take leaps, especially when trying to get to the next level. There are plenty of players on this Creighton roster that are capable of doing that.
Following Gonzaga’s devastating Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas, the walls seemed to be caving in for Zags fans. Not only did Gonzaga fail to win their program’s first ever National Championship after earning the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament in back to back years, but it was unknown who would be coming back. Thankfully the Zags were the biggest winner from the NBA Draft Deadline, as they got Drew Timme, Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther all back.
Timme has a legitimate argument as the best player in College Basketball, considering he’s scored over 1500 career points and played in 97 total games throughout his college career. Timme was under the microscope following the 2021 National Championship game, when he failed to produce against Baylor’s ferocious front line. Fast forward to this season and Timme played one of the best games of his career when his team needed him most, in the Round of 32 against Memphis. Gonzaga found themselves in a dog fight against #8 seed Memphis, and Timme delivered with 25 points and 14 rebounds, taking the game over.
Unfortunately, Gonzaga’s season came to an end in disappointing fashion against Arkansas, which should provide even more motivation with many members of last year’s team returning to the program. The Bulldogs also added Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith a few days after the draft deadline, to replace Andrew Nembhard running the point. Smith was one of the best guards in the mid major ranks a season ago, leading the Mocs to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016 and averaging over 19 points per game in the process.
Mark Few also deserves some credit as Sophomores Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis will both be returning to the program, after not playing much a season ago. Both of these players are former top 3 recruits and should have more of an impact, with experience within the program.
Despite not winning that highly coveted National Championship just yet, very few programs in College Basketball are on a higher level right now than Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are the only program in the country to make each of the last seven Sweet 16’s, and continue to bring in elite talent repeatedly.
Dating back to his days at Oklahoma and Indiana, Kelvin Sampson has always been a really good basketball coach. With that being said, over the past eight years at Houston, Sampson has risen to another level in the coaching ranks which should continue heading into 2023. The Cougars were one of the best teams in College Basketball a season ago, just one season after making it to the 2021 Final 4 and losing Quentin Grimes, who was selected in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. The Cougars also faced a ton of adversity during the season, when Point Guard and leading scorer Marcus Sasser suffered a foot injury in late December, and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
While many teams would have folded after losing their best player, Houston didn’t skip a beat, going 15-3 in American Athletic Conference Play and getting to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. With Sasser back in the mix alongside Tramon Mark who also was lost for the remainder of the season due to injuries, the Cougars have some experience from that 2021 Final 4 team back on the court. In addition, Houston will return Guard Jamaal Shead, who broke out last season, averaging 10 points per game while filling in for Sasser. With five-star Freshman Jarrace Walker coming in as well, this will be one of the more talented teams that Sampson has put together.
Sampson is a big part why Houston is one this list, as there is a legitimate argument to be made that he is the best coach in all of College Basketball. Sampson has led the Cougars to each of the past 4 NCAA Tournaments, with three Sweet 16 births, an Elite 8 and a Final 4 to go with it. Considering a National Championship is the next step, there is no reason to bet against him now.
With the way the last two seasons have ended in Lexington, there isn’t much that John Calipari can do to gain the fans’ confidence back until the 2023 NCAA Tournament starts. Despite a very successful regular season when Kentucky finished 26-8 overall and earned a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, all of that was quickly forgotten, when the Wildcats shockingly lost to #15 seeded Saint Peters. There were a handful of Kentucky fans that started to lose a little faith in Coach Cal following their disastrous 2021 season in which Kentucky failed to make the NCAA Tournament and the fact that Shaedon Sharpe left Lexington without ever touching the floor. Add that Saint Peter’s loss into the equation, and Cal is under the most pressure he’s ever been entering the season, since he arrived in Lexington.
Despite the pressure, Kentucky should be one of the better teams in College Basketball entering the season. Big man Oscar Tschibwe became the first Wooden Award winner to announce that he’s coming back to school since Tyler Hansbrough in 2008. In addition, Kentucky will get Jacob Toppin back after he’s shown some really nice flashes of play without a consistent opportunity in each of the last two seasons. With floor general Sahvir Wheeler also back, alongside another star studded Freshman class headlined by Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston, there is no shortage for talent in Lexington.
A lot of Kentucky fans have just gotten used to the thought that Coach Cal and his squad should just dominate the SEC every year like it’s nothing. Kentucky does deserve a lot of credit for running the league throughout the first 5 or so years of the Calipari era, but the league has clearly gotten better. Kentucky is one of the three teams in the SEC featured on this list of teams that can possibly raise a banner, which surely wasn’t the case entering most regular seasons five or so years ago.
Despite many Kentucky fans not being too thrilled with Coach Cal at the moment, there aren’t going to be many people better suited for the job, as Kentucky should be in for another big season.
- North Carolina
No team will come into the 2022-2023 season with more momentum, then Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels. Despite a disappointing regular season, North Carolina entered the NCAA Tournament somewhat under the radar, the Tar Heels came minutes away from a National Title and will return 4 of their 5 starters.
Caleb Love was one of the more intriguing players in College Basketball last season, consistently showing flashes of greatness, but also playing inefficient basketball. What made North Carolina so impressive towards the back end of the season, was that even when Love wasn’t playing great, they still found ways to win. Senior big man Armando Bacot returns after having 15 points and 15 rebounds in the National Championship game on a bad ankle. It will be fascinating to see what the Tar Heels do without Brady Manek, who was vital in their deep Tournament run. Bacot’s toughness shown throughout the NCAA Tournament was astounding as it was clear even though he wasn’t 100% that he was giving his all.
With that being said North Carolina does bring in Northwestern Transfer Pete Nance, who is a perfect replacement. Last season at Northwestern, there were many times throughout the game where Nance would make a near perfect read, but the players around him were just not able to get the job done. Going from the go to guy at Northwestern, to a contributing piece at North Carolina should open up a lot more opportunities for a player of Nance’s caliber. The bench has also been a point of concern for many, but North Carolina even has some returning players with Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles and Justin McKoy returning plus 4-star Freshman Seth Trimble. With RJ Davis and Leaky Black back as well, North Carolina has the horses for another deep run.
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.