It’s time for the preview to the previews.
Sept. 17 — hey, that’s Sunday — marks 50 days to the start of the 2023-24 college basketball season on Nov. 6.
If you’re a longtime reader, you know there’s hardly any true offseason for me when it comes to college hoops. I can write about this crazy sport anytime — and obviously still talk about it weekly. (Please subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast, if you haven’t already. Every show also publishes live on YouTube.)
With 50 days until tipoff, let’s get you prepped for the preseason. Here are 50 things I’m excited for, intrigued by, curious on, wondering about, pondering over and predicting to be for the 2023-24 campaign.
1. What surprises — good, bad, otherwise — await? Before we get into any 2023-24 observations and predictions, a crucial reminder that huge things that will define this season aren’t remotely known, or even sensed, at this point. And they won’t be for months. To wit, here’s an introductory list of doings from ’22-23 — I’m not even getting into the nuttiness from the NCAA Tournament — that took us all by surprise:
- Zach Edey, who I will remind ya was not a preseason All-American, put up one of the most statistically dominant player of the year campaigns of the past 20 years.
- Chris Beard was removed at Texas barely more than a month into the season after a domestic violence incident at his home.
- A disastrous, preventable tragedy — centered around the killing of a young mother — enveloped the back half of Alabama’s season.
- Michigan State’s season was briefly halted after a mass shooting on its campus.
- New Mexico State’s season was canceled after multiple abominable off-court incidents.
- UNC became the first team in modern history to fail to make the NCAAs after being voted preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25.
- Marquette — which did not crack the AP Top 25 poll until the week before Christmas — won both its conference championships for the first time in school history.
- In his first season as a head coach, 56-year-old Jerome Tang went from being picked last in the Big 12 to guiding K-State to a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- FAU and Charleston led the nation in regular-season wins (31).
- Louisville went 4-28! (And had the worst high-major season at KenPom.com in the history of that metric.)
- Northwestern and Georgetown expanded the concept of what basketball could — and shouldn’t — be.
2. Will Purdue — and Edey — be even better? Toss out Purdue’s latest (and by far the worst) humongous March letdown and just look at how the Boilermakers landed once the dust settled on the NCAA Tournament: No. 7 nationally at KenPom and BartTorvik.com. A clear-cut top-10 team. With most everybody back, there’s obvious room for improvement. Edey could’ve gone to the NBA (and almost definitely been drafted), but came back to firm up what could be an all-time college hoops legacy. (I think he will win NPOY.) Purdue was a top-seeded squad a season ago. For posterity’s sake, Matt Painter’s team must make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament … and maybe try to pull off a 2018-2019 Virginia.
3. Your frontrunner for No. 1: Kansas. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has slotted Bill Self’s Jayhawks atop his offseasonever since Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson committed to KU. Kansas has earned preseason No. 1 distinction in the AP Top 25 three times before, most recently in 2018. Dickinson will be one of the stars of the sport, but Dajuan Harris’ point guard play and the return of defensive stalwart Kevin McCullar will be paramount. (Two notes away from the court: 1) ; it doesn’t look good. 2) KU is expected to receive its long-awaited IARP ruling before the start of the season.)
4. What will UConn’s encore look like? The Huskies are reveling in their fifth championship in men’s hoops after pulling off one of the most dominant six-game runs in tournament history. But big wins lead to notable losses. Gone to the NBA: Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson Jr. Familiar names back: Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban. Dan Hurley brings in the fourth-rated high school class as well. UConn has often underwhelmed in high-expectation seasons and overachieved when the stakes seemed lower. How will Hurley’s group handle prosperity, and will Clingan be able to grow into an All American-level big?
5. What will FAU’s encore look like? One of the feel-good stories from last season has potential to jump the offseason and extend into 2024. The hype is: The Owls are considered a top 10-level team on account of returning every eligible player from the Final Four group that was a buzzer-beater away from facing Connecticut on the final night of the season. Dusty May earnedhonors and with good reason. The Owls were more than just a plucky upstart last season. FAU had its fifth straight winning campaign under May. Alijah Martin, Nelly Davis, Vlad Goldin, Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee all return to a team that is now a member of the American Athletic Conference. With one of the strongest nonconference schedules in the country, you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot about FAU in the first seven weeks of the season.
6. Will Bronny James play? One of the most famous incoming freshmen in college basketball history had his future tossed into uncertainty after a terrifying heart-failure incident in August. An update from the family earlier this month indicated positive movement toward an eventual return to play, but we don’t know when that will happen or if it will be this season. There is hope James will suit up for USC, and if he does, no matter how much he plays, the Trojans will turn into one of the top attractions in the sport. And that’s before even taking into account the play of freshman stud Isaiah Collier. (More on him below.)
7. What is North Carolina under Hubert Davis? No team got more discussion, debate and ink spilled over them from last October through the first week of March than the Tar Heels. This season’s Carolina group isn’t a total reboot — far from it — but a lot of new faces are in Chapel Hill. Davis needs a really good year (say: top-three in the ACC and wearing home whites in the first round of the Big Dance) to keep the heat off. Will UNC’s transfer haul be enough to get it in the preseason AP Top 25? The last time UNC wasn’t ranked in the preseason was 2006.
8. New-look Big 12 before the next-look Big 12. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will be joining in 2024, but before we get to that 16-team iteration of this league, there’s a one-year 14-school version to watch. Texas and Oklahoma are in their final year with the conference they founded eons ago. Next year, they split to the SEC. New to the Big 12 this season are BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Will expanding this much mean the Big 12 loses its hold on being the best men’s basketball conference? Can the league flirt with 10 tournament bids? If you want to know the 19 schools in new leagues this year,.
9. The most slept-on team this offseason? Tennessee. Blame it on Rick Barnes’ lack of NCAA Tournament prosperity over the years, but Tennessee is the one team with top-10 potential that’s hardly been talked about since it was knocked out of the Big Dance by FAU. (These things feel connected.) The Vols aren’t overloaded with star power, but if Zakai Zeigler (torn ACL in March) can return to 100% health before league play, it’s going to round out a Tennessee team that was the best per-possession defense last season. Santiago Vescovi is a dark horse All-American pick.
10. The Maui Invitational moves to O‘ahu. For the third time in a four-year span, the Lahaina Civic Center will not host the most prestigious early season college basketball tournament. Devastating wildfires in August destroyed the majority of Lahaina (though the Civic Center was spared). The area does not have the infrastructure to handle eight schools/fan bases traveling to Maui for a late-November basketball tournament.
Instead, the University of Hawaii is going to handle hosting duties for the 40th anniversary of this iconic in-season tournament. Expect millions in charitable funds and proceeds to go toward the rebuilding efforts in Lahaina. This year’s Maui Invitational is one of its best fields in recent memory (rankings are CBS’): No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 6 Marquette, No. 14 Tennessee, No. 19 Gonzaga, plus Syracuse and (could-be-ranked) UCLA and traditional host Chaminade.
11. Jon Scheyer in Year 2. Duke was a quality team in Scheyer’s first season, going 27-9, earned a No. 5 seed and falling in the second round to Tennessee. There won’t be as much slack given to Scheyer this season, as he returns one of the best bigs (Kyle Filipowski) in addition to having a fourth-year point guard (Jeremy Roach), a future NBA Draft pick playing off the ball (Tyrese Proctor) and another good big back for his sophomore season (Mark Mitchell). That’s before we get to the latest crop of talented freshmen. Now we see what this program is like in Scheyer’s vision.
12. Kyle Neptune in Year 2. From 2015-22, Villanova had a claim to being the best program in the sport. Jay Wright’s abrupt retirement in April of ’22 put former longtime VU assistant Neptune in charge. Last season was a rollercoaster. The Wildcats went 17-17 and had their worst season in 11 years. This year will be better; VU should have eight juniors and seniors contributing, led by the return of Justin Moore.
13. Syracuse after Jim Boeheim. College hoops is going through a transition phase in many ways, arguably the most notable of them being how many big schools are adjusting to life after their Hall of Fame coaches leave. For the first time since early 1969 — this is before The Beatles split, before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon! — Boeheim will not be employed by Syracuse. He was involved in the program for the majority of his life and more than HALF of Syracuse’s existence as a program. Longtime SU assistant (and former player) Adrian Autry is now running the show. This will be an interesting one to watch.
14. West Virginia after Bob Huggins. An unplanned retirement, to say the least. Huggins brought bad publicity to himself and his alma mater multiple times in the offseason, with his arrest on suspicion of DUI in June being the thing that led to him no longer coaching the Mountaineers. Huggins has threatened litigation over the details of the sever, but no matter: Josh Eilert is now in charge of a WVU team that was poised to contend in the Big 12. Now, after a couple of transfer defections following Huggins’ saga, no one knows what the ‘Eers will be this season.
15. Heat still on John Calipari. There has been a brewing cauldron of discontent around Kentucky in recent years, and it may well be time for Calipari to bring Kentucky back into the top 10 in order to simmer the stew. Whether or not that happens, we’ll see, but UK fans are running out of patience. Kentucky hasn’t made the Final Four since 2015, is 57-36 the past three seasons and hasn’t won the SEC since 2020. The last time UK went four consecutive seasons without a regular-season title was 2006-09 — and that run included two coaching changes. UK has a young roster, which means there’s a lot to prove — but the expectations and pressure won’t drop.
16. Michigan State could have a Final Four squad again. In 21 of his 28 seasons at Michigan State, Tom Izzo has coached the Spartans into the top 10 of the polls in a given season. This year it will happen for the 22nd time, as MSU is poised to be ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. The Spartans bring back 77.2% of their minutes, per Torvik, and did not add a transfer. Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard will be the nucleus of one of the sturdiest rosters in college hoops.
17. Rick Pitino is back in the Big East. St. John’s got the Deion-at-Colorado treatment in terms of a flashy new hire almost entirely flipping the roster. The expectations are for Pitino to come in and have the Red Storm, minimally, in the middle of the pack in the Big East. Some are hopeful-to-expectant that SJU will make the NCAAs in Year 1. We’ll see. What’s clear is that St. John’s will have more anticipation around its program heading into season than it’s had in almost 25 years. The Big East is in for a huge season of storylines, not the least of which is …
18. The fiercest new rivalry in college basketball: Providence fans vs. Ed Cooley. It’s 132 days out, but the most ferocious game on the calendar needs to be circled in five colors of ink right now: Saturday, Jan. 27. That’s the day Ed Cooley will return to The Dunk (don’t care about the name change, I’m always going to call it The Dunk) and coach his new Georgetown team against his old Providence team. It doesn’t matter how good, average or terrible either of those programs are. That game and the build-up to it that week will be vitriolic.
19. For a second straight offseason, college basketball. Every year I project which high-major hires will make the NCAAs in Year 1. For ’23-24, I’m a bit more pessimistic than I’ve been in recent years. A lot of these coaches are taking over big rebuilding projects. I’ve only got two. I’m saying it will be Rodney Terry (Texas; technically, he qualifies) and Grant McCasland (Texas Tech). I think Pitino just narrowly misses.
20. New rules. It wasn’t a huge year for rules overhauls, but there have been some tweaks that will improve the game. The biggest one is a change in block/charge interpretation. A good update to the goaltending review is coming as well. If a fracas breaks out, peacekeepers who leave the bench will not be ejected or punished. Players can wear any number between 0-99!.
>> Let’s inform/remind you on just some of the probable stars of the sport. In an effort to spread the love, I’m not going to mention two players from the same school.
Five non-Edey seniors to know (super seniors included)
21. North Carolina’s Armando Bacot. Will be on a one-man mission to reclaim the glory of UNC after last season’s debacle. Won’t have to go it alone, but expect his numbers to be similar to his 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds from last year.
22. Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson. No transfer will have more expectations than KU’s new man in the middle. Dickinson (18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg) left Juwan Howard after a middling 18-16 season. His arrival brings Final Four expectations to Lawrence.
23. Villanova’s Justin Moore. Has an All-American season in him if he finds every combination on the controller. Moore averaged 13.5 points in 13 games last season after he returned from an Achilles tear in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
24. Marquette’s Tyler Kolek. The reigning Big East Player of the Year is going to try to keep Marquette on top in a fascinating Big East. Kolek averaged 12.9 points, 7.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and made four out of every 10 3-pointers he hoisted.
25. Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner. Another must-see Big East player, another must-see big in general. Kalkbrenner will be the best defender in the conference and is going to improve upon his 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
Juniors to know
26. Gonzaga’s Ryan Nembhard. It was a surprise when Nembhard (12.1 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.0 rpg) announced in April he was leaving a team one play away from the Final Four to head to Gonzaga, but when you consider his older brother Andrew also transferred to GU and springboarded that to an NBA career, how could you fault him?
27. Texas’ Tyrese Hunter. Texas fans know what they have in this defensive stalwart. I think he’ll improve his shot-making and turn into an All-American lead guard this season. Averages set to spike: 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists.
28. LSU’s Jalen Cook. His 19.9 points average last season was second-most of all sophomores nationally. Now he’ll star for second-year Tigers coach Matt McMahon.
29. Miami’s Norchad Omier. Maybe the strongest big man in the sport. Omier averaged 13.1 points and 10.0 rebounds, numbers I expect to rise for the fourth-year junior.
30. Texas A&M’s Wade Taylor IV. Maybe it’s because he plays for one of the more nondescript high-major programs, but Taylor is a baller who deserves more chatter. He dropped 16.3 points for an Aggies team that made its first NCAAs in five seasons.
Sophomores to know
31. UConn’s Donovan Clingan. To me, one of the five most interesting players heading into the season. Clingan (6.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg in 13.1 minutes per night) was the best sixth man in the nation last season. He probably would’ve been a first round draft pick, but opted to return and have his chance in the college spotlight.
32. Duke’s Kyle Filipowski. While Clingan would have been picked, Filipowski (15.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) holds the distinction of the player with the highest 2023 draft stock who opted to return. Best of all for Flip: Sure, he can carry the load, but Jeremy Roach will be the team’s veteran leader.
33. UCLA’s Adem Bona. The Bruins have loaded up with some international talent this offseason, but their key to finishing top-three in the Pac-12 was the return of Bona (7.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
34. Purdue’s Braden Smith. Point guard who seized up in Purdue’s loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. Smith (9.7 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.2 rpg) needs to take a progressive second-year jump to ensure the Boilermakers win the Big Ten and don’t pratfall in the tourney.
35. Saint Mary’s Aidan Mahaney. Had moments where he was the darling of Late Night College Hoops Twitter. Shot 40% from 3 as a freshman and sleeps with a dagger underneath his pillow.
Freshmen to know
36. USC’s Isaiah Collier. Andy Enfield recruited the No. 1 player in the Class of 2023 in Collier. The buzz on him is relatively low now, but if he hits, USC will have one of the best backcourts in the country and could be the top team in the Pac-12. Collier should be must-watch. It’s fun when a non-blue blood winds up snagging a top-ranked prospect.
37. Kentucky’s Justin Edwards. Teammate DJ Wagner understandably had the most attention of any Kentucky freshman, but Edwards is the guy who is most likely to be Kentucky’s best NBA prospect. He might even play his way into the No. 1 conversation for the (weak) 2024 NBA Draft.
38. Indiana’s Mackenzie Mgbako. A likely one-and-done power wing who will have a lot on his plate in terms of responsibility for IU’s success. It’s a spot he’ll relish: Mgbako decommitted from Duke to earn more burn with the Hoosiers.
39. Colorado’s Cody Williams. His older brother is Jalen Williams, who went from overlooked Santa Clara player to NBA Draft lottery pick to one of the best rookies in the league last season. Cody has gobs of raw talent. Looking forward to seeing him show out with Deion Sanders sitting courtside.
40. Baylor’s Ja’Kobe Walter. Keyonte George, as expected, turned in a one-and-done season that led to him being a top-20 pick. For as good as George was last season, Walter’s all-around skillset sets him up to be even more valuable and productive in Scott Drew’s system.
41. Most intriguing transfers. For the fourth straight year, we had more than 1,600 names in the transfer portal. Here are some of the most interesting new faces in new places.
- Hunter Dickinson (Michigan to Kansas)
- Ryan Nembhard (Creighton to Gonzaga)
- Max Abmas (Oral Roberts to Texas)
- LJ Cryer (Baylor to Houston)
- Harrison Ingram (Stanford to UNC)
- Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama to Memphis)
- Caleb Love (UNC to Arizona)
- Kel’el Ware (Oregon to Indiana)
- Olivier Nkamhoua (Tennessee to Michigan)
- Kerr Kriisa (Arizona to West Virginia)
- Jesse Edwards (Syracuse to West Virginia)
- Cam Spencer (Rutgers to UConn)
- Tramon Mark (Houston to Arkansas)
- Tyler Burton (Richmond to Villanova)
- Matthew Cleveland (Florida State to Miami)
42. D-I shrinks by one (for now). Division I bloated last season to its largest size: 363 teams. This season, it’ll drop by one. Hartford (move to D-III) and St. Francis Brooklyn (dissolution of its athletic department) are gone. The newbie: Hello to the Le Moyne Dolphins (nextdoor neighbor to Syracuse). That puts us at 362 teams, with 352 eligible for the 2024 NCAAs. The 10 still going through the four-year D-I transition process: Bellarmine, Lindenwood, Queens, Southern Indiana, St. Thomas, Stonehill, Tarleton, Texas A&M-Commerce, UC San Diego, Utah Tech.
43. Fifteen big nonconference games before Christmas. I’m not including any November MTEs or the Champions Classic here. Team rankings are according to our Top 25 And 1.
- No. 17 Arizona @ No. 3 Duke, Nov. 10
- No. 6 Marquette @ No. 23 Illinois, Nov. 14
- No. 10 Miami @ No. 16 Kentucky, Nov. 28
- No. 14 Tennessee @ No. 22 North Carolina, Nov. 29
- No. 3 Duke @ No. 11 Arkansas, Nov. 29
- No. 8 UConn @ No. 1 Kansas, Dec. 1
- No. 12 USC vs. No. 19 Gonzaga, Dec. 1 (Las Vegas)
- No. 20 Texas @ No. 6 Marquette, Dec. 6
- UCLA @ No. 24 Villanova, Dec. 9
- No. 8 UConn @ No. 19 Gonzaga, Dec. 15
- No. 1 Kansas @ Indiana, Dec. 16
- No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 17 Arizona, Dec. 16 (Indianapolis)
- No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Baylor, Dec. 16 (Detroit)
- No. 3 vs. No. 18 Baylor, Dec. 20 (New York City)
- No. 4 FAU vs. No. 17 Arizona, Dec. 23 (Las Vegas)
44. Five non-obvious schools whose football programs will have better seasons than their men’s basketball counterparts: Georgia Tech, Iowa, Oregon State, Utah, Washington. (Nope, not convinced Colorado will apply here.)
45. Five non-obvious schools whose men’s basketball programs will have better seasons than their football counterparts: Cincinnati, Florida, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee.
46. Big six programs with NCAA Tournament droughts of seven years or longer that will still not be making the Big Dance in ’23: DePaul (2004), Boston College (2009), Nebraska (2014). I’d love to be wrong on these, but I just can’t see it happening in 2024. I think BC could be a year away, though.
47. Last season before realignment truly alters the landscape, so enjoy it. The Pac-12 as we know it will dissolve in 2024. Whether or not the Mountain West folds into the Pac-12 and those schools play under a new banner remains to be seen, but college basketball is headed toward 16- and 18-team conferences, and scheduling won’t be better because of it. Bids handed out for the NCAA tourney won’t be cleaner because of it. Football pays the bills and makes the calls, but there’s shrapnel felt across college sports because of it. In 2024, we truly enter a whole new world in all of college athletics, so relish this last season of semi-normalcy while we’ve got it.
48. Selection Sunday is March 17. That’s 182 days away. If you wanna see a bracket, I can give you a bracket. Here’s CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s offseason field of 68. The regionals this season will be held in Boston, Dallas, Detroit and Los Angeles. Mark me down for six at-large bids to come outside the big six leagues. (Last year there were five.)
49. The 2024 Final Four will be played in Glendale, Arizona. State Farm Stadium will host for the second time (2017 the other). The Final Four that year: UNC (champion), Gonzaga (runner-up), Oregon and South Carolina. I’ll trot out on a limb and say none of those teams make the ’24 Final Four, and that none of them make the Elite Eight. (Gonzaga’s made an outrageous eight straight Sweet 16s, so I’ll stop short of saying they won’t make the second weekend.)
50. Will we get a first-time national champion coach for the fourth time in the past five tournaments? Will a new coach win a national title next season? There are seven active guys with an NCAA championship on their résumé. Before you keep reading, can you name them? There are seven.
Here’s who’s out there: Tony Bennett, John Calipari, Scott Drew, Dan Hurley, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and Bill Self. If I have to take those seven vs. the field in 2024, I will take the field. That means we’d have an eighth active coach with a title by the first week of April.
Only seven weeks to go and the season will be here. Enjoy the football, because hoops is coming, and with it, it brings the best time of the year (other than March, of course).