By Hocine LOUKKAF on 11/14/2022
UNC and Gonzaga’s experience make them the favourites right now but let’s wait and see how some of the best recruiting classes will adapt at Duke, Arkansas or Kentucky for example.
Gonzaga returns six of their eight best scorers including the heart and soul of the team, Drew Timme. The wings are stacked with Strawther and Watson while Hickman and Sallis should step up and justify their top 25 HS ranking. As if it was not enough, Few signed two solid transfers, Malachi Smith from Chatanooga (19.9pts 6.7rbds 3as 41% 3pt) and underrated big man Efton Reid III (6.3pts 4.3rbds 0.8bl at LSU) who will bring much needed rim-protection ans athleticism in the paint. The first national title is once again the only goal for this experienced and talented team.
Last year’s finalist return four starters including dominant C Amando Bacot (16.3pts 13.1rbds 1.7bl). Love (15.9pts 3.6as) and Davis (13.5pts 3.6as) have been streaky and will receive some help in the backcourt from freshman Seth Trimble. Leaky Black will be once again be asked to defend the best wing on the other team. The only big loss is stretch big man Brady Manek, whose replacement will be Northwestern transfer Pete Nance (14.6pts 6.5rbds 45% 3pt). The Tar Heels have the tools to reach the Final Four once again but outside shooting may be their biggest challenge.
Last year’s loss against St Peter’s was a disaster for the team. Fortunately, the main returning players were the only ones (with Mintz) to perform. Tshiebwe (17.4pts 15.1rbds 1.8bl) may be the most dominant big in the nation and could be helped by improving forward Jacob Toppin (6.2pts 3.2rbds). Wheeler (10pts 6.9as) is as savvy as you could get at the PG spot and could teach a thing or two to top 10 recruit Cason Wallace. The wings are stacked too with freshman Chris Livingston and transfers CJ Fredricks (7.5pts 47% 3pt in 2020-21 at Iowa) and Antonio Reeves (20pts 39% 3pt at Illinois St). Daimion Collins is unfortunately grieving the loss of his father but could be the extra-motivation and X factor of this team.
With Jeremy Roach (8.6pts 3.2as) as the lone returning player with significant minutes, Duke could lack ambition. Yet, the Blue Devils have the best incoming class in the nation, including top 5 prospect Dariq Whitehead and big men Kyle Filipkowski and Dereck Lively. This class also boosts CG Tyrese Proctor whose talent will be needed to handle the ball and create while SF Mark Mitchell could start anywhere in the country. An intriguing roster which could be feared entering the Tournament.
With Marcus Sasser (17.7pts 44% 3pts), its best player, injured early last season, the Cougars still reached the Elite 8. With him back, along with Mark, Shead or Roberts, Houston is deep enough to play a three or four-guard lineup. Inside, Roberts and transfer Bowser will need to make up for the departure of C Josh Carlton but count on one of the top freshman forwards in the nation, Jarace Walker, whose size, athleticism and motor definitely upgrade the roster. Don’t be surprised if the Cougars reach the Final Four once again.
LJ Cryer (13.5pts 47% 3pt) and Adam Flager (13.8pts 3.9as 39% 3pt) may not be Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell but they form a very good and experienced backcourt. Add five-star recruit Keyontae George and you have one of the most talented trio of guards in the country. Inside, Flo Thamba is still here and will be joined by WVU transfer Jalen Bridges. Lack of depth inside (Loveday and FR Ojianwuna) with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua potentially injured for the whole year will hurt the Bears. If the Cameroonese big man comes back early enough, bet on Baylor to overachieve.
UCLA returns two elite starters, PG Tyger Campbell (11.9pts 4.3rbds 41% 3pt) and do-it-tall forward Jaime Jaquez (13.9pts 5.7rbds 2.3as), who will be joined in the starting five by rising SG Jaylen Clark. UCLA also has one of the best recruiting classes with five-star prospects Amari Bailey and Turkish bruiser Adem Bona, who could be the X factor of this team if he stays healthy. The main weakness of this roster is the lack of depth with David Singleton the only player with real minutes last year and intriguing FR Abramo Canka, who played in different pro leagues in Europe despite his age, the only talented guy coming from the bench.
Coach self has lost four of his five best scorers of last year’s winning team. Yet, Jalen Wilson (11.1pts 7.4rbds) and Dajuan Harris Jr (5.4pts 4.2as) give him at least two solid players to start his lineup. Add top 30 freshmen Gradey Dick and MJ Rice on the wing and Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar (10.1pts 4.6rbds 3.1as) and the backcourt is solid. What is lacking is a dominant big man as FR Ernest Udeh will be asked to perform right away in the paint.
The Razorkacks potentially signed their best recruiting classes ever with top 5 prospect Nick Smith, oversized guard Anthony Black and swingman Jordan Walsh. Coach Musselman also used the transfer portal as he has brought intriguing C Trevon Bazile (6.6pts 5.1rbds 1.9bl) from Mizzouri. The Razorbacks have the tools to impress if the freshmen adapt quickly to the college game.
One of the most intriguing outsiders this year, Creighton return four 10+pt scorers including first round prospect Arthur Kaluma and C Ryan Kalkbrenner (13.1pts 7.7rbds 2.6bl). The backcourt will also be impressive with rising SO Ryan Nembhard (11.3pts 4.4as) and cherry on the cake, the best transfer in the nation and Summit League POY, Baylor Scheierman (16.2pts 7.8rbds 4.5as).
Another dark horse in my rankings, Indiana relies on the comeback of its three 10+pt scorers, including preseason All American Trayce Jackson-Davis (18.3pts 8.1rbds 2.3bl), PG Xavier Johnson (12.1pts 5.1as) and Race Thompson (11.1pts 7.5rbds). The Hoosiers find the good pieces to complete this trio by recruiting top 25 prospects and Montverde teammates Malik Reneau and Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Despite Jay Wright’s decision to step down and let his seat to assistant coach Kyle Neptune, Villanova has not lost its trademark grind and toughness impersonated by with Daniels (10.3pts 3.8rbds), Dixon (9.1pts 6.4rbds) and Slater (8.5pts 3.7rbds). While Longino and Arcidiacono will be asked to contribute more, the Wildcats can also count on top 10 prospect Cam Whitmore to be the X factor of this team. If ever Justin Moore (14.8pts 4.8rbds 2.3as) can come back this year from his Achilles injury…
After losing Mathurin, Terry and Koloko, Arizona relies on another heavily-inernationalized roster to do as well as last year. Tubelis (13.9pts 6.2rbds) and Ballo (6.8pts 4.4rbds 1.2bl) form one of the best paints in the country. Kriisa (9.7pts 4.7as) and Larsson (7.2pts 3.4rbds) will have to step up while Adama Bal’s role will be much bigger. It will also be interesting to check the development of Top 25 ranked freshman PG Kylan Boswell and Real Madrid import Henri Veesaar, a 7ft forward with nice potential.
Despite the lack of a pure PG, the Ducks have a talented group of returning players and size with Richardson (14.1pts 3.6as), Guerrier (10.1pts 5.3rbds) and Dante (8.1pts 6.3rbds) but also newcomers Keeshawn Barthelemy, Jermaine Couisnard and top 20 recruit C Kel’el Ware. Will this be enough to bounce back from the mediocre year they experienced last year ?
It’s hard to predict which kind of year Illinois will have, but with two of the best transfers Terrance Shannon (10.4pts 2.6rbds 2as) and Matthew Mayer (9.8pts 5rbds) on the wings, two top 100 recruits in the backcourt with Sky Clark and Jayden Epps, and two bruisers inside to make up for the departure of Cockburn with Coleman Hawkins (5.9pts 4.3rbds 0.5bl) and Baylor transfer Dain Dainja (6-9 270), the Fighting Illini have the weapons to be a dark horse in the Big 10.
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