BY MATT DE SARLE
The AP Top 25 ranking is king in college basketball and dictates whose resume is worthy of the tournament, so its preseason ranking is also very important to dissect as the 2022-2023 campaign begins.
Here are some initial considerations about the AP Preseason Top 25 and specifically its top 10.
10. Arkansas Men’s College Basketball Preview 2022-2023
The Razorbacks deserve to be here if you take into consideration especially its tournament success over the last two years. However, they have lost a lot of talent to graduation and the NBA draft in those two years. Head coach Eric Musselman is becoming the Pete Carrol of college basketball. The years go by but his energy appears ageless and he brings back a secondary of wings who can defend the full playing surface. The Razorbacks lose their first, second and fourth overall scorer from last season including JT Notae’s average of 18.3 points.
9. Creighton Men’s College Basketball Preview 2022-2023
This may sound like a surprise but the Creighton Bluejays might actually be underrated at this spot. This is a good looking team with a coach’s dream for a starting five. Point guard Ryan Nembhard is the straw that stirs the drink. You haven’t heard much buzz about the Bluejays because Nembhard missed a majority of last season with injury. However, he plays with the steady confidence and control of his older brother (Andrew Nembhard) who now cracks the rotation as a point guard for the Indiana Pacers.
“I’m just excited to be back. It’s been a long journey, but I’m ready to go,” Nembhard said in a post-practice media availability recently posted by the Creighton YouTube channel.
Creighton touts a 7’1″ center in Ryan Kalkbrenner who has great hands and score in multiple levels. Kalkbrenner can run the floor, shoot the three, and post you up. Sophomores Trey Alexander and Arthur Kaluma contributed to a solid season for Creighton last season and return as dual threats. Head coach Greg McDermott has an opportunity to win the Big East this season with an eye to a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a preseason ranking that actually makes sense.
8. UCLA Bruins Men’s College Basketball Preview 2022-2023
If you believe Tyger Campbell is one of the nation’s best point guards, you have reason to believe in this team. However, the Bruins lose a collective 32 points per game in scoring from guards Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard alone This will be a great opportunity for the next swingman waiting in the wings, Jaylen Clark. Clark was a regular rotation player last season and shined with a 25 point year high. Head coach Mike Cronin enters his fourth season as the Bruins head man, so the hard-nosed wrinkle to the UCLA tradition should be firmly in place. One of the newcomers for UCLA this season has matured overseas. Italian Abramo Canka has international experience playing in several leagues. Of course, it wouldn’t be UCLA without a little Hollywood factor to the script. McDonald’s All-American Amari Bailey brings a resume of being a top 5 recruit according to ESPN, but also some TMZ articles about he and his mother’s popularity.
7. Duke Blue Devil’s College Basketball Preview 2022-2023
Duke didn’t just commit to the youth movement in college basketball with one-and-dones, but it doubled down. This went from a program that rarely acquired freshman phenoms for one season to now leading the nation in that category. Duke has 3 of the top 10 ESPN top 100 recruits. That includes number one overall ranked Derek Lively and number two overall recruit Dariq Whitehead. Couple that youthful energy with the dawn of Jon Scheyer’s first year as Duke head coach replacing the legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Duke couples to the two highest ranked freshmen for the 2022-2023 season.
Baylor and Kansas dead-heat for fifth best team in preseason rankings
AP voters totally took the easy way out here and punted on who is better, Baylor or Kansas. Of course, these programs enter the season as the last two national champions. They have battled for the Big 12 crown in heated competition more recently (after KU’s long-standing dominance of the conference). Kansas coach Bill Self will miss the first four games because of a self-imposed suspension by the school, because of NCAA infractions. After this total sharade, the poor guy will have to make his return to the sidelines to coach the Jayhawks in the Bahamas. Both the Jayhawks and the Bears have each lost a professional lineup of stars from their national championship seasons. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Flo Thamba, LJ Cryer, and Adam Flagler remain from the 2021 Bears national championship team. Ironically, that will probably be more incumbent playing minutes for this 2023 postseason than the 2022 championship Jayhawks will return. The 2022-2023 Kansas Jayhawks most important returning players are likely Dajuan Harris Jr. and Jalen Wilson. Drake transfer Joseph Yesufu is also probably likely to see more minutes in his second season with the Jayhawks. The Baylor Bears win the recruiting race based on rankings. Shooting guard Keyonte George ranks sixth overall in the nation while the Jayhawks highest recruit is fourteenth overall in forward Gradey Dick. Baylor loses Matthew Mayer to the transfer portal but probably gets a more physical replacement at forward in BYU’s Caleb Lohner. KU’s transfer news is headlined by the addition of Kevin McCullar Jr. from within the conference. He averaged 10 points and 4.6 rebounds last season for Texas Tech.
4. Kentucky Wildcats enter season ranked top 5 despite 2022 upset
Saint Peter’s magical run as a 15 seed started with a defeat at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats. Yet, Rick Pitino and the Kentucky Wildcats still enter the 2022-2023 season as a top 5 ranked team. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tschiebwe headlines a talented roster. Tschiebwe was a runner up last year for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award (to Keegan Murray). However, he probably should have won it based on his gaudy numbers and striking similarities to Malone’s game. Pitino is known to moan on Selection Sunday after the SEC hosts its championship game late in the day and his team is punished for a 5 or below seeding in the field. This time, his program is given the benefit of the doubt entering the season with a top 5 ranking. It’s hard to imagine that Pitino would have to prove himself, but this season feels like a “show me” year with it being nine years since Kentucky has made a Final Four.
3. Houston Cougars 2022-2023 College Basketball Preview
True college basketball fans everyone should celebrate the Cougars top 5 ranking. It was earned through hustle, defense, and overcoming adversity. Houston was the walking wounded last year but still managed to put a scare in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark were two of the Cougars who missed most of last season. However, their return brings a scoring punch to a program that’s already proven it knows how to defend and earn hustle baskets. Speaking of which, Reggie Chaney returns for a fifth year as a graduate student. The Houston Cougars should have one last swan song in capturing the American Conference crown before leaving for the Big 12 next season. Sasser and Jamal Shead headline the conference’s preseason all-conference first team.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs Reload in Transfer Portal to Prepare for 2022-2023 Season
Drew Timme is back. That continues a legacy of long-tenured Gonzaga stars who commit to Spokane and make a run at a Final Four. And when you think of the Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball history, you don’t often think of transfers coming in and having a major impact. But that tide has changed. Gonzaga is now not only a desirable location for star freshmen like the former Bulldog Jalen Suggs. The university is also now a coveted program to pull into major conferences (as re-alignment goes wild). It’s also a destination for transfers. Chattanooga transfer point guard Malachi Smith will fill the void left by Andrew Nembhard leaving. And LSU big man Efton Reid is going to bring some size at 7 feet to help bolster an otherwise lacking interior. There are nine sophomores on this current Gonzaga Bulldog roster, so it’s hard to predict whether Mark Few’s club can be expected to mature into a #1 seed in this year’s tourney (as has been the standard).
1. UNC Tar Heels enter season ranked #1 overall
The band is back together. North Carolina and coach Hubert Davis made a surprising run in last year’s NCAA Tournament, finishing as the runner-up. Starting guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love return to run-it-back. Even Leaky Black sneaks back into a group that includes Puff Johnson, Armando Bacot, and a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the returning talent. They also add forward Pete Nance, whose game has blossomed at Northwestern despite getting crushed by Big 10 competition in recent years. However, North Carolina’s 2022 regular season featured some head-scratching moments with an absolute lack of defense. Hopefully, this team doesn’t have a hiccup with the momentum they’ve gathered and regress to their mean where they had nine (some very bad) losses in the regular season. UNC barely has a top 50 recruit with 6-1 guard Seth Trimble scratching the list at #46.