Today we'll continue with our top-25 rankings and team outlooks for the 2023-24 college basketball season, moving on to teams 16-20.
John Calipari has done it before, but there is a lot of work to do here to get all these young talented players to come together and be a great team that can challenge for a national title. The team largely struck out in the transfer portal because of their ridiculous freshman class, but veteran big man Tre Mitchell coming over from West Virginia could be just what this young team needs. Add that with one of the top shooters in the country coming back in Antonio Reeves, and there are at least two proven players at this level for coach Cal to work with. Kentucky landed commitments from four five-star recruits and seven players overall in their Class of 2023. Leading the way is swingman Justin Edwards, who is expected to be a top-five pick in next year's NBA Draft. Edwards is a 6-7 lefty who can score at all levels and has the size and athleticism to defend multiple positions at a high level. D.J. Wagner is another versatile scorer who should slot in perfectly alongside Reeves and Edwards on the wing around Mitchell. Five-star Robert Dillingham is one of the best pure point guards in the class and should always keep the offense running efficiently. Aaron Bradshaw is the fourth five-star recruit who will be an elite rim protector at 7-feet tall and has the fluidity to move all over the court, but is working his way back from foot surgery. There are plenty of bodies around, including one of the top centers from the 2022 class in Ugonna Onyenso, to let the talented Bradshaw ease his way back into things to start the season. Oscar Tshiebwe's 16.5 points and 13.7 rebounds from last season will be a lot to replace along with starters Cason Wallace (11.7 PPG), Jacob Toppin (12.4 PPG), and Chris Livingston (6.3 PPG), but clearly coach Cal will be with no shortage of talent going into the 2023-24 campaign. This is a team that will likely struggle in the non-conference, but by February should hopefully start rounding into form and look like a national title contender.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Robert Dillingham (No. 15 in 2023 class)
SG: D.J. Wagner (No. 7 in 2023 class)
SF: Antonio Reeves (14.4 PPG)
PF: Justin Edwards (No. 2 in 2023 class)
C: Tre Mitchell (11.7 PPG at West Virginia)
The Drew Timme era is now over, and Gonzaga is hoping to replace him with what was last year's Preseason Player of the Year in the Mountain West. That, of course, was Graham Ike, who averaged 19.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for Wyoming in 2021-22, then suffered a foot injury right before the season began and sat out for the year. If Gonzaga gets a healthy Ike, it could shoot up these rankings because he is a dominant offensive player on the inside, even if he doesn't have the same passing skills as a Timme. Julian Strawther (15.2 PPG) will be another tough player to replace for the Zags, but Steele Venters is a terrific shooter and will come over after averaging north of 15 PPG each of the last two seasons with Eastern Washington to play Strawther's position. The return of starters Nolan Hickman and Anton Watson will provide some stability for coach Mark Few, especially Watson, because he did all the dirty work for the team last season. For the second time in three years, coach Few will get a Nembhard running the offense. In 2021-22, it was Andrew, and in 2022-23, it will be Ryan Nembhard coming over after two seasons at Creighton. Ryan averaged north of 11 PPG and 4 APG in both seasons for another great offensive coach in Greg McDermott. Two freshman will likely be in position to make an impact in Year 1 for the Zags. Dusty Stromer is a terrific shooter that will stretch the floor off the bench, while former Kansas commit Marcus Adams will be a matchup problem in the frontcourt. There's no doubt this will once again be one of the top offensive teams in the country, but the losses of Timme and Strawther likely cap their championship upside a bit.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Ryan Nembhard (12.1 PPG at Creighton)
SG: Nolan Hickman (7.7 PPG)
SF: Steele Venters (15.3 PPG at Washington State)
PF: Anton Watson (11.1 PPG)
C: Graham Ike (19.5 PPG at Wyoming in 2021-22)
After falling in the Elite Eight in 2022, Miami did one game better in the NCAA Tournament in 2023 and made the Final Four before running into the unstoppable force that was UConn. Miami was once again one of the top offensive teams in the nation, but it will have to have other players step up if it wants to be there again in the 2023-24 campaign. The Hurricanes will lose their top two scorers in Isaiah Wong (16.2 PPG) and Jordan Miller (15.3 PPG). The guy who will have to take even more responsibility is Nijel Pack, who had a very good first season with Miami, but may need to post numbers closer to his sophomore campaign at Kansas State when he averaged 17.4 PPG and 3.3 3PM. Junior Bensley Joseph is an obvious choice to slide in and join Pack and Wooga Poplar in the backcourt. Jim Larranaga got a big pickup in the transfer portal in the form of Matt Cleveland from Florida State. The 6-7 forward is a terrific athlete and honestly reminds me a lot of the player he will replace in Jordan Miller. The unsung hero of Miami's entire tournament run was Norchad Omier. He was able to average a double-double for the third straight season, but this time did it in the ACC after two years at Arkansas State. Omier is certainly undersized for the center position at 6-7, but plays as hard as anyone in the country to fight for offensive rebounds. He will be a dark horse ACC Player of the Year candidate. The question with Miami is whether it will be able to get anything from their bench. AJ Casey and Christian Watson were two of their top recruits from the 2022 cycle, but played sparingly as freshman. They will both need to make a big step in Year 2 to give this team some stability off the bench, because Miami didn't ink a single five or four star recruit in 2023.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Nijel Pack (13.6 PPG)
SG: Bensley Joseph (5.3 PPG)
SF: Wooga Poplar (8.4 PPG)
PF: Matt Cleveland (13.8 PPG at Florida State)
C: Norchad Omier (13.1 PPG)
Alabama's biggest challenge will of course being replacing SEC Player of the Year Brandon Miller, who departs after a spectacular freshman season in which he averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. The other problem is a frontcourt that lost Noah Clowney (9.8 PPG) and Charles Bediako (6.4 PPG) to the NBA Draft. The Crimson Tide were able to land perhaps the second-best player in the transfer portal in Grant Nelson who comes over after a brilliant season as North Dakota State where he averaged 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. Nelson could solidify himself as a lottery pick with a strong season in the SEC because he is an athletic 6-11 unicorn that can handle the ball, shoot from deep, and take advantage of mismatches. Veteran guard Jahvon Quinerly (8.7 PPG) elected to enter the transfer portal after spending three seasons with Alabama, but Mark Sears will return to run the offense. The Tide got a jolt when Aaron Estrada, who averaged 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.3 three-pointers, and 1.5 steals per game last year with Hofstra, decided to join the backcourt as well. Latrell Wrightsell (16.3 PPG) comes over from Cal State-Fullerton and will like battle with 2022 four-star recruit Rylan Griffen for the final starting spot. Frontcourt depth is the biggest issue on this team and second-year player Nick Pringle will have a lot of pressure on him to step up and be a starting caliber rim protector. Forwards Sam Walters and Jarin Stevenson are the top recruits for coach Nate Oats, and both will have a chance to play a sizable role out of the gate. This has the potential to be one of the best offenses in the country given the number of quality guards and Nelson's versatility, but whether or not they can defend in the half court will be the determining factor on how far they go in March.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Aaron Estrada (20.2 PPG at Hofstra)
SG: Mark Sears (12.5 PPG)
SF: Rylan Griffen (5.9 PPG)
PF: Nick Pringle (3.5 PPG)
C: Grant Nelson (17.9 PPG at North Dakota State)
Key Reserves: Latrell Wrightsell (16.3 PPG at Cal State-Fullerton), Sam Walters (No. 69 in 2023 class), Jarin Stevenson (No. 21 in 2023 class), Mohamed Wague (4.1 PPG at West Virginia), Mouhamed Dioubate (Freshman), Kris Parker (Freshman)
16. North Carolina
Something was just not right last season for the Tar Heels. They were favored by many to win the whole thing after a heartbreaking loss in the National Championship to Kansas in 2022. While they returned most of their team last season, UNC constantly struggled against tough competition and ultimately did not make the NCAA Tournament. Caleb Love (16.7 PPG) leaving will be better for both parties I believe, and it will allow R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot to play off of each other better. Those are arguably both top-three players in the country at their position and that alone warrants a spot in the top-25 rankings. Despite losing eight players from last year's squad, I still think this is a pretty deep team that will surprise people by the end of the season. Coach Hubert Davis did excellent work in the transfer portal and added four players who all could potentially start at some point. Harrison Ingram from Stanford was the best player in that bunch and I think we will see his game fully unlocked playing in this offensive scheme. Cormac Ryan comes over as a graduate from Notre Dame and brings a consistent shooting threat and a high basketball IQ. Jae'Lyn Withers was one of the few bright spots over the last few seasons for Louisville and is a perfect stretch four to pair alongside Bacot. The wild card of the portal haul is Paxson Wojcik who averaged 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.1 three-pointers, and 1.3 steals for Brown. It's unclear how that will transfer to a power conference, but certainly there is a lot of talent there on the wing. I haven't even mentioned who many consider to be the second-best point guard prospect in the 2023 class in Elliot Cadeau. I'm not exactly sure how he fits alongside R.J. Davis, but there's enough options here to ease the freshman into things early on. Don't sleep on the Tar Heels next season.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: R.J. Davis (16.1 PPG)
SG: Cormac Ryan (12.3 PPG at Notre Dame)
SF: Harrison Ingram (10.5 PPG at Stanford)
PF: Jae'Lyn Withers (8.9 PPG at Louisville)
C: Armando Bacot (15.9 PPG)
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