College basketball preseason Top 25: Kansas, Marquette, Duke lead 2023-24 rankings

The college basketball season tips off in 10 weeks. During the past month, we got a sneak peek at several teams that were playing foreign exhibition tours. We’ve watched all the film we could get our hands on from those trips. The competition was not always the best, but it gave us a much better idea of how rotations will develop and how incoming freshmen and transfers fit with their new teams.

With rosters finally set, it felt like a great time to debut our preseason Top 25 for 2023-24. You’ll find scouting reports here on every team along with lineup projections by clicking on the team names below.


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There are question marks about KU’s shooting, but the offense is going to be elite because of its passing ability. Opposing coaches are going to tear their hair out trying to figure out what to do in pick-and-roll coverage. Dajuan Harris Jr. is one of the best at making the pocket pass to the short roll, and both KJ Adams and Hunter Dickinson make quick decisions in that action.

Kevin McCullar Jr. is also a capable passer and a really good cutter. The group already looked to have great chemistry in August. And it’s August! Bill Self is going to have a blast figuring out ways to get Adams and Dickinson in advantage situations. He also has new ways to use Harris because he has other players capable of bringing the ball up, which will also save Harris’s legs. Self has also upgraded his bench. Kansas has seven guys who would start just about anywhere with Arterio Morris, Elmarko Jackson and Nick Timberlake battling for the fifth starter spot and the other two as the first off the bench. (New Aussie addition Johnny Furphy is also super interesting and gives Self some more lineup flexibility.)

We haven’t even mentioned the defense, which has two of the best perimeter defenders in the country (McCullar and Harris), and Self upgraded the team speed and positional length. And if you are wary of Dickinson being a part of an elite defense, go take a gander at Michigan’s numbers his freshman season, as well as the fact that Michigan had the second-best defense in the Big Ten during conference play last season. He’s surrounded by elite talent again, and it’s hard to see him failing in a system that’s designed to utilize his gifts.

  • +Coaching
  • +On-ball Defense
  • +Offensive Versatility
  • +Experience

Marquette, not your national champ UConn Huskies, swept both the regular season and postseason titles in the Big East. Shaka Smart returns four starters and only loses Olivier-Maxence Prosper from his rotation. Prosper was a great glue guy for the Golden Eagles, but the offense might actually be better with Big East Sixth Man of the Year David Joplin sliding into the starting lineup. This should be the best offense in college hoops.

Roster continuity matters in college hoops, and Marquette is one of the few programs that really has it, thanks in part to Smart’s decision to stay out of the portal the last two cycles and build from within. We pretty much know what to expect from this team, but one wildcard is the shooting of Oso Ighodaro. The playmaking center, who might be the most underrated player in the country, has not attempted a 3-pointer in college, but he’s been working on his jumper this summer. If he’s actually a threat, then good luck guarding all the DHOs and ball-screen actions he’s involved in.

  • +Passing
  • +Explosive Offense
  • +Continuity
  • +Experience
  • Interior Defense
  • Size/length
  • Rebounding

The Blue Devils are a clear top-five preseason team largely due to the talent they retained. Neither Kyle Filipowski nor Tyrese Proctor declared for the draft despite being potential first-round picks in 2023. Do-it-all forward Mark Mitchell is also back, pairing with that duo to form the best sophomore class in college basketball this season. Don’t forget senior guard Jeremy Roach returning, either. This isn’t the one-and-done factory at Duke we’ve seen in recent years.

Filipowski will be a preseason All-American after being one of the most productive freshmen in college basketball last season with his skill level as a 7-footer. Proctor struggled with inefficiency early in his freshman season, but by the time March rolled around, he had taken a step and become one of the best two-way guards in the country, averaging 11 points and four assists with an excellent assist rate and stifling point-of-attack defense. And don’t sleep on Mitchell, whose defensive consistency and aggressive driving were valuable as the team’s fifth starter last season.

The Blue Devils also bring in another loaded recruiting class with four five-star players. The one scouts are currently most excited about is Jared McCain, a highly-skilled 6-foot-3 guard with terrific shooting ability who excels playing on-balance. T.J. Power seems to be the forgotten man in the Duke recruiting class, but he’s a bit older (he turns 20 in a month) and has a polish that should allow him to contribute earlier than some of the others in the class.

  • +Pick-and-roll offense
  • +Guard depth
  • +Well-spaced offense
  • Interior Defense
  • Experience

This team is built similarly to a year ago with just slightly more depth. Everything once again will revolve around Zach Edey, but it looks like Matt Painter might diversify his offense with some more ball-screen action. Purdue needs to move Edey around when teams bracket him in the post like Fairleigh Dickinson did. Painter said two years ago that he preferred to be different and run far fewer ball screens than the rest of college basketball.

The Boilermakers ranked 316th in ball-screen usage last year, but that number could tick up if you want to read into how they played on their foreign tour, which was without Edey. Braden Smith, who looks like he’s added some muscle, worked out of a lot of ball screens in the middle of the floor and usually made the right read — he had 42 assists and only seven turnovers in four games. (In Purdue’s final game on the tour, we counted 29 ball screens. That’s more than we’re used to seeing from Painter’s offense.) Smith, who had seven turnovers in the shocking first-round NCAA Tournament loss to FDU, will also benefit from the addition of a secondary handler in grad transfer Lance Jones.

The key for Purdue will be making perimeter shots. It’s a lot harder to pull off the kind of defensive plan FDU used if the Boilermakers make the open jumpers that the attention around Edey creates. They need a good year from Fletcher Loyer, who shot just 32.6 percent from 3 as a freshman but has the potential to shoot way better than that number.

  • +Post play
  • +Offensive execution
  • +Offensive rebounding
  • +Defensive free-throw rate
  • 3-point shooting
  • Handling ball pressure
  • Handling junk defenses

The Volunteers were a top-six team in most metrics a season ago because of stifling defense and a veteran group that bullied the opposition. In 2023-24, that same level of experience and at least a similar level of defensive continuity should exist. Seven of the team’s top nine players figure to be juniors or seniors. But whereas last season was typically a dog fight, this season the Vols have substantially upgraded their offensive firepower.

Senior transfer Dalton Knecht averaged 20 points per game last season at Northern Colorado, and has transitioned seamlessly into the Vols’ attack based on his standout performances during the team’s European trip. Redshirt freshman Freddie Dilione V was similarly terrific overseas and blends scoring and passing at a terrific level for a young, 6-foot-5 guard. And after shooting only 32 percent from 3 last season, Tennessee went into the portal and added Jordan Gainey (son of Vols’ assistant Justin Gainey), an absolute sharpshooter who drilled 41 percent of his 3s in his two years at USC Upstate. Don’t sleep on improvement from Tobe Awaka, who had a great summer with the United States U19 World Cup team. Tennessee also has two recruits in Cam Carr and J.P Estrella that we think would be good enough to play this season, but we’re just not sure where the minutes will come from on a team this deep.

That’s all about the newcomers, though. The backbone of this team is still upperclass returnees Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Zakai Zeigler, and Jonas Aidoo. If Zeigler can return from the torn ACL he suffered on Feb. 28, this team will have every piece necessary to cut down the nets. But what Rick Barnes and company have done is build a roster that won’t be reliant upon that, either. This team is truly loaded.

  • +Depth
  • +Experience
  • +Defense
  • +Shooting Upside
  • Shot Creation
  • Zeigler Health?

The Spartans will be arguably the most experienced team at the high-major level in 2023-24. They return five of their top six from a season ago, four of whom are seniors. With A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker around, Tom Izzo should have one of the best backcourts in all of college hoops. Walker had a bit of an early adjustment period after transferring from Northeastern a season ago, but he was one of the best guards in the country by the end of the year, averaging 16 points, three assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3 in his final 17 games. Hoggard’s final eight games last season were similarly elite, as he averaged 16 points and six assists.

The key here, though, is upside. The Spartans not only hope to get a leap from athletic junior Jaden Akins, but they also bring in a loaded recruiting class. Xavier Booker is the big name here. Booker will need to prove to Izzo that his motor will run consistently hot, but he has the upside of a one-and-done at 6-foot-10 with a massive 7-foot-4 wingspan. Coen Carr is among the most powerfully athletic players in the 2023 recruiting class. And young guard Jeremy Fears was one of the best floor generals among 2023 recruits, having a strong feel for how to blend passing and shooting.

This should be the best Michigan State team since at least the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and the Spartans are right there with a loaded Purdue team at the top of the Big Ten. They’re tough. They’re experienced. As long as they give a continued focus in improving on the glass (after years being among the best in the country, last season was Michigan State’s first in the top-75 nationally in defensive rebounding rate since 2016), they’ll be an incredibly tough out in every single game.

  • +Loaded Guards
  • +Experience
  • +Interior Depth
  • +Shot Creation
  • Overall Size
  • Shooting Consistency

Coming off of a national title, Connecticut lost three critical players in Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson Jr. And yet, that still won’t stop the Huskies from being a consensus top-10 team. Why? The work the Connecticut staff has done on the recruiting trail and in the portal mixed with three terrific returning stars.

Graduate transfer Cam Spencer is the critical addition in Storrs. Spencer is 6-foot-4 and might not be able to dunk, but he’s one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. Beyond that, he also brings a versatile game. He’s an underrated defender within a team concept, coming from a top-five defensive team last year at Rutgers. And don’t be surprised to see him running point at times along with Tristen Newton and newcomer Stephon Castle. Much like last year, the Huskies have a bevy of ballhandling options. Castle has the highest upside of the group, as the big 6-foot-6 guard is elite in ball screens and has been great on defense early for Connecticut at the point of attack, using his length to frustrate the opposition.

Still, the key here is the man in the middle. Donovan Clingan should be a preseason All-American and should be one of the preseason frontrunners for national defensive player of the year along with Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner. The 7-foot-2 big completely shuts off the paint defensively and was incredibly productive on offense on a per-minute basis last year. As he steps into a bigger role, Connecticut should maintain an elite defense. Alex Karaban is the perfect complement for Clingan as a stretch-four shooter who is mobile defensively, and Newton should be an even steadier hand in his second season with the Huskies.

Really, the only question for Connecticut is its depth. First and foremost, it needs to find an answer at center behind Clingan. Samson Johnson should get the first crack, and his athleticism should similarly allow the Huskies to run versatile defensive coverages depending on the situation, much like they did with Sanogo. The team will also rely a lot on freshmen to come in and play solid minutes. The best player thus far among the group has been Jayden Ross, a 6-foot-6 wing who can really fill it up from 3. But Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart are both also terrific, four-star recruits who figure to emerge throughout the year.

  • +Interior Defense
  • +Shooting
  • +Offensive versatility
  • +Freshman Upside
  • Depth Questions
  • Backup center?
  • Can Castle create?

Arizona’s success last season was built around the twin towers of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. Ultimately, that led to a lot of regular-season wins, but Princeton spaced the Wildcats out and ran their bigs through the wringer with intricate offensive sets in a first-round NCAA Tournament upset. Coach Tommy Lloyd has won 61 games in his first two seasons but has very little to show for it yet in March.

This offseason, the Wildcats made some adjustments. Their defense and team speed got a lot better with the addition of transfers Keshad Johnson, Jaden Bradley and Caleb Love along with incoming freshman K.J. Lewis. Johnson has received rave reviews from the coaching staff and should really benefit offensively from Arizona’s pace. He’s a matchup problem with his quickness at the four.

We’re also betting on Lloyd to rein in Love and for his efficiency to go up. And given all of those additions, the Wildcats also have depth and a lot of different lineup variations. Arizona put away the Lebanon national team with a small-ball lineup of Kylan Boswell, Love, Lewis, Pelle Larsson and Johnson. This is the changeup Lloyd was missing a year ago, and his collection of international bigs allows him to play huge lineups too.

  • + Pace
  • + Depth
  • + Post play
  • + Team speed
  • Caleb Love’s shot selection
  • Replacing Azuolas Tubelis
  • Can defense be elite?

Creighton was a possession away from the Final Four and had a chance to run it back with the same starting five. The Bluejays surprisingly lost Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Nembhard to the transfer portal. Had those two returned, this is probably a top five team. Greg McDermott replaced Nembhard with Steven Ashworth, an efficient shooter from Utah State. Ashworth can play on the ball or off. That’s the one possible benefit of replacing Nembhard with Ashworth. It allows McDermott to move Trey Alexander into a primary handler role, where he thrived late his freshman season after Nembhard got hurt. Alexander was uber-aggressive in the two games he played in the Bahamas this summer, attempting 31 shots and averaging 20 points per game.

Creighton’s defense should be good again with Ryan Kalkbrenner protecting the rim. Alexander, Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman are one of the best returning trios in the country. So there’s still a lot to like. Whether Alexander can be efficient in an expanded role will be one of the big keys. The other big key: finding the team’s fifth starter at the four. In the three games in the Bahamas, the Bluejays gave starting opportunities to Mason Miller, Isaac Traudt, and Jasen Green in the role. Miller and Traudt are the two most likely candidates, with Traudt a transfer in from Virginia following a redshirt season as a top-60 recruit in 2022. Traudt is more of a skilled big, Miller more of a floor-spacing four.

  • + 3-point shooting
  • + Spacing
  • + Experience
  • + Interior defense
  • Depth
  • Perimeter defense

Scott Drew plugged all the holes from last year’s roster. Perimeter size? Here comes 6-2 point guard RayJ Dennis, 6-4 guards Jayden Nunn and Miro Little and 6-5 wing Ja’Kobe Walter.

Leaky defense? See perimeter size, plus Drew signed a freshman who looks like he just might be an elite rim protector in Yves Missi. Our biggest takeaway from watching one of Baylor’s summer games was that Missi’s length and activity will be a jolt of energy for the Bears. He’s going to block a ton of shots and gobble up a lot of offensive rebounds. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, whom Baylor experimented with at the four this summer, is also moving better, and that should help the defense.

Walter was the other standout from the summer. He is a smooth wing scorer and looks the part of a lottery pick. That’s a lot of hyperbole, but this just might be the best class Drew has landed at Baylor. Dennis should be a stabilizer at point guard. He’s old and comes from Toledo, where he was the pilot of the most efficient offense in college hoops last year. Last season Baylor had good pieces, but it just didn’t all seem to fit together. How this roster is built makes a lot more sense.

  • + Positional size
  • + Shot creation
  • + Offensive rebounding
  • + Shot blocking
  • Chemistry
  • Youth
  • Managing rotation

Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua


This is the season that will tell us all we need to know about Kyle Neptune after a rough first season in charge at Villanova. The Wildcats are loaded with upperclass talent and have every opportunity to be a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Justin Moore should be closer to full strength after his late-season cameo for the Wildcats. Eric Dixon is back as an All-Big East caliber big. Neptune also hit the portal hard, adding Hakim Hart, T.J. Bamba, and Tyler Burton, three more all-conference quality older players who should be immediately impactful.

Hart, particularly, was maybe the most underrated transfer addition in the country this year, the kind of 6-foot-6 wing that every team covets, Hart averaged 11 points and four rebounds while playing strong defense at Maryland. He had one of the best on/off differential ratings of any player in the Big Ten last year, as Maryland was 23 points per 100 possessions better with Hart on the court than when he was off it. They beat opponents by nearly 15 points when he was on the court per 100, and lost by nearly nine when he was off. With Bamba, Moore, and Hart, the Wildcats have three physical drivers who can be dribble-pass-shoot threats on the wings at any time with the ball and be switchable on defense. It’s the kind of roster mix that the Wildcats have thrived with under Jay Wright back when Neptune was an assistant.

The big question here is in regard to the lead guard spot. Mark Armstrong is the kind of explosive athlete that this team lacks, but he’s not the typical Villanova-style guard who plays off two feet and jump-stops while getting everyone involved. Will the team do what it did at times late last year and just have Moore run the show? Or will it try to hand the keys over to Armstrong after his strong performance at the U19 World Cup this summer, where he won all-tournament honors? If Neptune gets this mix right, the Wildcats should be in the mix to win the Big East along with the three teams above them.

  • Continuity
  • Point guard?
  • Coaching?

The closest equivalent in recent memory to what it will be like for Florida Atlantic this season is the 2013-14 Wichita State team. The Shockers made a surprising run to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed — same as FAU — and then returned a good core the next year. That team did graduate two senior starters, but that allowed some dude named Fred VanVleet to move into the starting lineup. Turns out he was pretty good.

Those Shockers, still in the Missouri Valley back then, entered the NCAA Tournament at 34-0 and a No. 1 seed. They ultimately lost a classic to Kentucky, which went on to make the national championship game. FAU is moving into the American — coincidentally joining Wichita State — and will face a tougher schedule than the Shockers did, but FAU returns all five starters. Sixth man Michael Forrest is the only rotation player gone. Pretty unreal in the transfer poaching era we’re in. It’s also important to note this was not just a team that got hot. FAU went 35-4 and won a league that included the NIT champs and NIT runner-up.

  • + Continuity
  • + Coaching
  • + Toughness
  • + Spacing
  • Handling the hype
  • Managing tougher schedule/league

Since Kelvin Sampson started making NCAA tournaments at Houston in 2018, he’s had to replace multiple starters every year since. Never seems to matter. His last three teams, which replaced two, two and four starters respectively, finished fifth, second and second at, and went Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16. The Final Four version was the only one not to win the American.

Houston is leveling up with a move to the Big 12, but don’t bet against the Cougars being very good again. Once again Sampson will have to replace multiple starters. Three this time, including first-round picks Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser. That just means a little more on Jamal Shead’s plate. Sampson got him some help by landing Baylor guard LJ Cryer, who should slide into the Sasser role. Also expect breakouts from Emanuel Sharp, Terrance Arceneaux and Ja’Vier Francis. That’s just what happens at Houston. Damian Dunn is also a great fit as an old savvy scorer. Sampson has had great success plucking veterans like Dunn out of the portal.

  • +Offensive rebounding
  • +Coaching
  • +Role definition
  • +Point guard play
  • Transition to Big 12
  • Size in backcourt
  • Replacing pros

Illinois underachieved based on its talent last season, but this core is getting a do-over with the return of Terrence Shannon Jr., whom many thought would be a one-and-done at Illinois.

Brad Underwood once again had a solid year in the portal, headlined by All-Missouri Valley wing Marcus Domask, who will likely slide in the spot of Matthew Mayer. Mayer could score, but Domask is more of a connector and a better fit alongside a player like Shannon. Underwood also added Quincy Guerrier (6-8 forward from Oregon) and Justin Harmon (6-4 guard from Utah Valley). During the Illini’s foreign trip, which Domask missed because of a hamstring injury, a lineup of those two with Shannon, Coleman Hawkins and sophomore Ty Rodgers played really well together. Rodgers, who is a Swiss Army knife, played point guard on the trip, a spot where he really fits and allows Underwood to play a huge perimeter and flood the floor with wings. Hawkins can also initiate from the center spot and is a really tough cover, especially when his 3-ball is hitting. Underwood can also go really big and play through the post when he puts Dain Dianja on the floor.

Shooting was the problem last year, and the Illini need Hawkins, in particular, to shoot it better. If both he and Shannon play to their talent, this team could be Top 10 good.

  • + Depth
  • + Lineup versatility
  • + Positional size
  • + Old
  • Shooting
  • Chemistry
  • Consistency

Wisconsin returns its starting five and then adds a solid recruiting class, headlined by St. John’s transfer AJ Storr. The Badgers needed to get a bigger athlete on the wing, and Storr was one of the sneaky best adds in the Big Ten. He averaged 12.3 points over his final 16 games last season and was one of the best freshmen in the Big East. He looked even more impressive this summer playing for the Bahamian National Team in two games against Kansas, scoring a combined 30 points in the two games against arguably the best team in college basketball. Combined with sophomore Connor Essegian, Wisconsin has one of the most talented 2-3 combos in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin incoming freshman Gus Yalden is another player who could surprise. In warmups, it looks like Yalden is in the wrong sport and should be playing left tackle. But the man nicknamed the Gus Bus has extremely soft hands and touch and knows how to throw his weight around. He’ll be a weapon off the bench. An offense that struggled last season should improve. This is about as high as you’ll probably see Wisconsin anywhere in preseason rankings. We’re buyers.

  • + Continuity
  • + Roster fits style
  • + Ball control
  • + Defensive discipline
  • Interior defense
  • Getting easy buckets

A pivotal season forthcoming for John Calipari. The Wildcats have a ton of talent, including a potential top-five pick in Justin Edwards, potential first-rounders in D.J. Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw, plus a bit of experience in seniors Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell.

Reeves and Mitchell, particularly, seem key to something that we saw from Kentucky during its GLOBL JAM win in Kentucky during the offseason. Calipari seems poised to play a more modern style of offense, with better floor spacing and a willingness to fire from 3. Reeves will be one of the best shooters in college hoops this season, a consistent sniper who hit 40 percent of his 200-plus attempts last season. For his part, Mitchell let it fly nearly five times per game from distance in the trip north of the border and has real potential as a physical, rebounding, floor-spacing four.

But ultimately, a lot of this will come down to how the freshmen perform. We have full faith in Edwards to be the best player on the team. But the rest of the roster comes with questions. Can Wagner consistently run the show and get the Wildcats efficient looks? He’s an aggressive shot-hunter and brings real tenacity on defense, but his decision-making could be questionable in high school (as could his shooting efficiency outside of 15 feet). Bradshaw has a ton of tools, but his production has never matched his inherent talent level, and he’s coming off of an offseason foot injury. Onyenso is also coming off an offseason foot injury, leaving the Wildcats so thin up front that they had to go get Croatian big Zvonimir Ivisic late in the summer.

To an extent, it does feel like people are sleeping on this Kentucky team, though. There is an immense amount of talent if the pieces come together. And if the big men are healthy, there is enough depth for Calipari and Co. to try a number of different things to make the defense work, something that just wasn’t often available to him with Oscar Tshiebwe as the team’s main interior presence over the last two years.

  • + Talent
  • + Shot creation
  • + Frontcourt shooting
  • Youth
  • Ball movement
  • Playing as a team

The Zags lose an all-time university stalwart and college basketball character in Drew Timme, along with first-round pick Julian Strawther. But few teams have been better in the portal in recent years than the Zags, and this year was no different. The team was remarkably successful in reloading on the fly.

Last year, point-guard play was a significant issue. So what did Mark Few and his staff do? They landed arguably the best table-setter on the market in Ryan Nembhard. Brother of former Zags’ star Andrew and a two-year starter at Creighton, Ryan is a similarly reliable decision maker and will fit perfectly within the team’s ball-screen continuity offense with how adept he is in the pick-and-roll. Then to top it off, the Zags also got Graham Ike, arguably the best post scorer in the portal. He’ll have an immense amount of success rolling into post touches in Spokane after winning first-team All-Mountain West honors in 2022, when he scored more points out of post-ups per game than any player in college basketball. Don’t sleep, either, on 6-foot-7 sniper Steele Venters, the Big Sky Player of the Year last season.

The coaching staff will need to find some answers in regard to depth. The players who will come off of the bench are talented, but unproven. It remains to be seen who wins those opportunities.

  • +Veteran Guards
  • +Shooting
  • +Post Offense
  • +Pick-and-roll Offense
  • Perimeter Defense
  • Frontcourt Depth
  • Bench Experience

Following arguably the most disappointing season in college basketball last season, the Tar Heels hit the transfer portal hard and entirely re-tooled their roster around pivot points R.J. Davis in the backcourt and Armando Bacot at the five. They got Stanford point forward Harrison Ingram, a grab-and-go 6-foot-8 wing/forward who will run the floor and get a chance to create offense. They added Cormac Ryan, the kind of unselfish, team-first shooter the team desperately lacked last season. Then they also brought in solid depth pieces in Jae’Lyn Withers, Paxson Wojcik, and James Okonkwo.

How quickly will all of this gel together? That’s the big question. Ingram is probably best suited as a four, but he might be asked to play a bit more at the three. Withers, Okonkwo, and rising sophomore Jalen Washington all are probably best suited as college fives, but Bacot is there and might shift a couple of them up the lineup to the four. The player who could make all of this come together is Elliot Cadeu, the point guard who reclassified over the summer. Cadeau is one of the best passers and playmakers to come out of high school basketball in the last decade, a sharp decision-maker who just consistently finds his teammates in the right spots. But Davis is already in Chapel Hill, and playing both together could lead to shooting questions as well as backcourt size questions on defense. Will Hubert Davis throw the young point guard out there and trust him? Can Cadeau earn that right from day one?

This is a huge season that will tell us a lot about Huber Davis and his future in Chapel Hill. It’s an excellent opportunity for him to prove himself as the right guy for the job. He needs to make all of these talented pieces fit together, and needs to find the answers to all of these potential logjam questions.

  • +Rebounding
  • +Interior Scoring
  • +Creative Guards
  • Size on perimeter?
  • Davis/Cadeau pair?
  • Shooting?
  • Frontcourt positional log-jams?

The Hurricanes are coming off of a Final Four appearance last year as a No. 5 seed and return an intriguing roster. They lost multiple second round NBA Draft picks in Jordan Miller and ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong but retained starters Nijel Pack, Wooga Poplar and Norchad Omier. Poplar is the player to watch here, as he looked like the team’s best player during its overseas trip to France. Playing more of a 3-and-D role last year, Poplar has real intrigue among NBA scouts due to his explosiveness, shooting ability and defense. If he adds the scoring punch off the bounce that he looked capable of in France, he might be the next breakout player in the ACC.

Beyond them, the big addition here is Matthew Cleveland, a transfer from Florida State who has long been seen as a potential NBA player but has been a bit streaky throughout his career. He struggled early last year, then really turned it on. From mid-December until the end of January last year, he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. But he suffered a back injury in February, and his production fell off toward the end of the year again, as he averaged just 12 points and six rebounds while shooting under 40 percent. Cleveland can bring the slashing and scoring that the team lost with Miller if he stays healthy.

Ultimately, the reason we’re probably a bit lower than consensus on Miami, though, is the team’s depth. The top four seems set to rival any in the ACC with Pack, Poplar, Cleveland and Omier. But who will step up beyond them? AJ Casey looked ready to do so in France, but Miami will need at least two others beyond him to truly emerge. This was a team last year that got hot at the right time and still has a ton of firepower. But the Hurricanes need to prove they can replace two of the best players in the ACC.

  • +Slashing
  • +Offensive firepower
  • +Wing size
  • +Athleticism
  • Depth Experience?
  • Frontcourt depth?
  • Defense?

UCLA is truly going to be the most interesting experiment in college basketball this season. No team has ever brought in this many international players onto one roster and asked them to play an immediate role, a function of NIL opportunities expanding the recruiting marketplace globally in a significant way.

Scouts see Berke Buyuktencel and Aday Mara as potential first-round picks in the 2024 NBA Draft, but there has generally been a slight adjustment period to college basketball for international recruits. Jan Vide is also seen as a future draft pick, and don’t forget that the team also brought back the best returning defender in the Pac-12 in Adem Bona. But how do all of the pieces fit together? Both Bona and Mara are centers. Buyuktencel’s best role in college hoops is probably as a small-ball four. And will Vide and his creative mindset be ready to run a college offense from day one? One could say that the team has an immense amount of versatility, due to Bona’s defensive ability and Mara’s offensive prowess. But others could have questions about how all of the offensive spacing here will work.

Mick Cronin is certainly in uncharted territory. There is a ton of talent, and Cronin has been terrific throughout his career at making rosters fit together. But will he be willing to play zone? Will he be willing to play a ball-movement, European-style offense? We will find out.

  • +Frontcourt size
  • +Post Offense
  • +Interior Defense
  • +Creative offensive minds
  • Point guard?
  • Shot creation from perimeter?
  • Frontcourt positional log-jams?
  • Continuity

Once the calendar flipped to 2023, Texas A&M was the 10th-best team in college basketball, according to BartTorvik’s sorting tool. The players said the difference was simplifying how the Aggies operated. The Aggies won by defending at a high level — ninth-best after Jan. 1 — and then an aggressive offensive approach that included getting to the free-throw line and hitting the offensive glass.

It should be repeatable with four starters back and UIC transfer Jace Carter replacing Dexter Dennis. Carter is a slasher who will fit right in because he also has a high free-throw rate (40.1). Dennis was a terrific defender, so A&M will miss him there, but Carter’s ability to score should help improve the offense.

  • + Continuity
  • + Slashing
  • + Getting to the line
  • + Offensive rebounding
  • 3-point shooting
  • Early-season struggles
  • Defending 3-point line

The Gaels went 27-8 last season, and gave national champion Connecticut a tougher game in the second round than anyone else did during the tournament. A number of coaches in the WCC believe that Saint Mary’s will again challenge Gonzaga at the top of the league after returning five of the team’s top seven players from a season ago.

The key name here is Aidan Mahaney, a 6-foot-3 guard who is next in the long line of elite guards to come through Moraga in Randy Bennett’s tenure. Mahaney is tough as nails, the epitome of a leader who tends to thrive within this offense. He’s a terrific shooter who hit 40 percent from 3 last season, and he has a real flair for the moment in big spots. Fellow long-range sniper Alex Ducas is also back, as is Augustus Marciulionis, a sharp playmaker and distributor.

The main question is who else will emerge into key players here. One potential option is sophomore 7-foot-1 center Harry Wessels, who had a big offseason while training with the Australian national team. Another is freshman guard Jordan Ross, who arrives in Moraga as one of the best recruits in program history. Ross is a consummate winner and the kind of lead guard whose decision-making and willingness to play within the flow of any offense he’s ever been a part of should allow him to earn early playing time.

  • +Perimeter shot-making
  • +Post Offense
  • +Tough guards
  • +Interior Defense
  • Backcourt depth?
  • Athleticism
  • Wing depth?

Augustus Marciulionas


Texas had the ultimate what-could-have-been in this past NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns collapsed against Miami in the Elite Eight. They looked like the better team for most of that game, and they were without Dylan Disu, who was playing the best ball of his life before hurting his left foot in the tourney. In Disu’s four games leading up to getting hurt, he averaged 19.5 point, including 28 points agains Penn State in the Round of 32.

Disu is back, and we look at him totally differently after witnessing those four games. He was playing with a different aggression, and now he’ll be paired with an elite pick-and-roll partner in Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas. Texas probably could have used one more scoring wing out of the portal. What the Longhorns get out of UCF transfer Ithiel Horton is something to monitor early. They’ll likely be very reliant on their other four projected starters, but those four are talented enough to compete near the top of a loaded Big 12.

  • + Abmas/Disu P&R
  • + Rim protection
  • + Backcourt’s IQ
  • + Pace
  • Size in backcourt
  • Depth
  • Chemistry

The Tigers were a top-30 team last season that generally overwhelmed teams with their athleticism and defense but struggled to get reliable offense. They return the bones of that defense with interior forces Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams, along with aggressive guard KD Johnson. But instead of relying on the consistently erratic Wendell Green Jr. and Allen Flanigan to create offense, Auburn has an immensely talented perimeter option entering the fold this year.

Freshman guard Aden Holloway isn’t all that big at 6-foot-2 with short arms, but he was the most consistently impressive offensive guard at Nike Hoop Summit this past year, playing against fellow highly-rated incoming recruits such as Isaiah Collier, D.J. Wagner, Jared McCain, Jackson Shelstad, Miro Little and Garwey Dual. He plays with tremendous pace and has terrific scoring instincts. His handle is extremely well-developed, and he uses the threat of his elite jumper to collapse defenses. The feedback out of Auburn has been extremely good, and the bet here is that Holloway is ready from the jump.

A similarly good defense mixed with an improved offense due to Holloway’s presence should lead to a better Auburn team in 2024.

  • +Interior Defense
  • +Experience
  • +Shooting
  • +Athleticism
  • Relying big-time on freshman guard?
  • Decision-making?
  • Passing?
  • Backcourt depth?

We’re probably going to be a bit higher on Virginia than most entering the year, but the pitch is pretty easy. Over the last three years, Virginia got away from what made it a premier program. The Cavaliers finished 36th, 59th, and 25th in adjusted defensive rating in each of the last three seasons — numbers that would be solid for most high-major programs, but egregious for this one under Tony Bennett. From 2014 to 2020, Virginia never finished worse than seventh nationally in those seven seasons. It says something that a bad three-year run for Virginia at this point still results in two top-four NCAA Tournament seeds and two shared regular-season ACC titles (in 2021 and 2023). Yeah, the standards are just ridiculously high in Charlottesville at this point.

Over those three seasons, Virginia generally played a bit smaller in the backcourt and without as much athleticism across the wings and the frontcourt. This season though, that will change. With ACC Defensive Player of the Year Reece Beekman spearheading the point-of-attack defense, Virginia has an ideal roster to run Bennett’s pack-line defense. Merrimack transfer Jordan Minor won the NEC Defensive Player of the Year as a mobile big who can really rotate around the interior within a scheme that requires a lot of active post doubles on the block and showing-and-recovering in ball screens. And potential breakout sophomore Ryan Dunn is a long, active, athletic wing at 6-foot-8 who can cover a ton of ground. He is next in the long line of Virginia wings to morph into NBA prospects, following in the footsteps of Trey Murphy and De’Andre Hunter.

The team also brought in one of our favorite transfers in the country in Andrew Rohde, a 6-foot-5 scoring guard who can slash to the rim and knock down shots from distance. He’s also not a sieve on defense and knows where he needs to be. It’s not like Virginia left, necessarily. But this is a team that is much more well-suited to success with Virginia’s scheme and for a deeper run.

  • +Interior Defense
  • +Perimeter Defense
  • +Old and creative guards
  • +Coaching
  • Shot creation?
  • Frontcourt depth?
  • Continuity?

About this story: Editing by Brian Bennett. Development by Marc Mazzoni. Design by Megan McMillan and Drew Jordan. Design direction by Amy Cavenaile. Illustration by John Bradford. Photos of Zach Edey, Dajuan Harris Jr., Stevie Mitchell and Jeremy Roach by Michael Reaves, Jamie Squire, Patrick McDermott and Grant Halverson via Getty Images.

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