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Men's College Basketball Preview

The 2022-23 men's college basketball season began Nov. 7, and it will culminate with the national championship in NRG Stadium in Houston on April 3. There are many questions about what this season will bring: Will defending national champion Kansas be able to go back-to-back without last season's star players? Will North Carolina be able to finish the job it fell just short of completing a season ago? How far can Jon Scheyer take Duke in his first year after Mike Krzyzewski retired in April? And could this be the last we see of another college basketball coaching mainstay, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim? It will take time to see what unfolds, but for now, here is a preview of the preseason top five.


UNC (1)

The Tar Heels are bringing back four starters from the team that reached the national championship game before falling to Kansas. There's some concern that UNC isn't as good as its March run indicated, but it wasn't necessarily just a six-game stretch. The Tar Heels were 17-4 in its last 21 games.


UNC Coach Hubert Davis has enough talent, experience, and depth on his roster to keep the Tar Heels at No. 1. Armando Bacot will be a preseason All-American, while Caleb Love and R.J. Davis found a backcourt formula that worked toward the end of the season. Ace defender Leaky Black is also back.


Projected starting lineup:


Caleb Love (15.9 PPG)

R.J. Davis (13.5 PPG)

Leaky Black (4.9 PPG)

Pete Nance (14.6 PPG at Northwestern)

Armando Bacot (16.3 PPG)


Gonzaga (2)


There is a strong case for the Zags to be ranked No. 1: they led the nation in scoring last year, won at least 28 games for the 10th straight season, and received a 1-seed for the third consecutive NCAA tournament. They were bumped down because of the loss of Number 2 NBA Draft pick Chet Holmgren and star point guard Andrew Nembhard.


They did bring back Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, and Rasir Bolton, and added Malachi Smith, the 2021-22 Southern Conference Player of the Year. If they want to make as far of a run as they did last season, the development of point guard Nolan Hickman is the biggest key.


Projected starting lineup:


Nolan Hickman (5.1 PPG)

Malachi Smith (19.9 PPG at Chattanooga)

Rasir Bolton (11.2 PPG)

Julian Strawther (11.8 PPG)

Drew Timme (18.4 PPG)


Houston (3)


Over the last two seasons, the Cougars have had 60 wins, two Elite Eight appearances, and one Final Four run, but now, coach Kelvin Sampson may have his best team yet. The healthy return of Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark are the main reasons for this optimism. Sasser, a likely preseason All-American, averaged 17.7 points through 12 games before being shut down with a foot injury. Mark was also a key player off the bench until he suffered a shoulder injury. Jamal Shead stepped forward in their absence and emerged as a high-level playmaker and distributor.


The Cougars also landed two ESPN 100 recruits, Jarace Walker and Terrance Arceneaux. And you can always count on Sampson-coached teams to defend and rebound well.


Projected starting lineup:


Jamal Shead (10.0 PPG)

Marcus Sasser (17.7 PPG)

Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG)

Jarace Walker (No. 10 in ESPN 100)

J'Wan Roberts (3.2 PPG)


Kentucky (4)


The Wildcats enter this season looking to make a statement after two disastrous seasons. They finished 9-16 in 2020-21 and then earned a 2-seed in the 2022 NCAA tournament only to suffer a shocking first-round loss at the hands of 15-seed Saint Peter's.


This year, John Calipari has the players he needs to end up in Houston come April. With consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, who tallied 28 double-doubles and averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds last season, point guard Sahvir Wheeler, and forward Jacob Toppin, this Kentucky roster is looking to bounce back. Other key players include five-star recruits Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston, and shooting guards CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves.


Projected starting lineup:


Sahvir Wheeler (10.1 PPG)

Cason Wallace (No. 20 in ESPN 100)

Chris Livingston (No. 12 in ESPN 100)

Jacob Toppin (6.2 PPG)

Oscar Tshiebwe (17.4 PPG)


Kansas (tied-5)


Bill Self used an experienced, veteran-laden group to go out and win the national championship last season. This year, he will rely on the opposite. Five of the seven players who played a key role in the title game are gone, including Christian Braun and Ochai Agbaji. This year, Jalen Wilson will be looked at as a go-to player after averaging 12.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in the NCAA tournament, and Dajuan Harris Jr. returns as a backcourt starter. The Jayhawks also added Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar, one of the best two-way players in the Big 12.


With the lack of returners, Self will need immediate impacts from freshmen Gradey Dick, Ernest Udeh and M.J. Rice, and sophomores Zach Clemence and K.J. Adams.


Projected starting lineup:


Dajuan Harris Jr. (5.4 PPG)

Gradey Dick (No. 14 in ESPN 100)

Kevin McCullar (10.1 PPG at Texas Tech)

Jalen Wilson (11.0 PPG)

Ernest Udeh (No. 23 in ESPN 100)


Baylor (tied-5)


With two straight NCAA tournament 1-seeds and a national championship in 2021, Scott Drew just keeps reloading the Bears roster. Adam Flagler is ready to take the reins after playing a supporting role the last couple seasons. He will be challenged in the backcourt by top-10 recruit Keyonte George and LJ Cryer, who put up good numbers before missing most of the second half of last season with foot injuries. Flo Thamba is back in the post, and a lot of eyes are on West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges, who is looking to improve his numbers with the Bears.


Projected starting lineup:


Adam Flagler (13.8 PPG)

Keyonte George (No. 6 in ESPN 100)

LJ Cryer (13.5 PPG)

Jalen Bridges (8.4 PPG at West Virginia)

Flo Thamba (6.2 PPG)


If you’re looking to stay up to date with these teams, here are their upcoming game schedules:


UNC:

Nov. 20, 12:00 pm vs. James Madison


Gonzaga:

Nov. 16, 9:30 pm vs. Texas


Houston:

Nov. 16, 8:00 pm vs. TX Southern


Kentucky:

Nov. 17, 7:00 pm vs. SC State


Kansas:

Nov. 18, 8:00 pm vs. Southern Utah


Baylor:

Nov. 18, 7:00 pm vs. Virginia

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