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Way-too-early men’s college basketball Top 25 for next season

In the age of the transfer portal and with the extra year of eligibility due to COVID still on the table for some players, projecting which teams will be good next season is an even more speculative venture than usual.

We can, however, pick out some teams that should have a strong nucleus in place. Obviously we’ll have a better notion of what rosters will look like a few months down the line, but just to whet everyone’s appetite for 2023-24, here’s our way-too-early top 25.

1. Connecticut (31-8)

Jordan Hawkins will almost certainly be off to the next level, but the Huskies should have a lot of key pieces back to make another run in what should be a loaded Big East. Assuming Adama Sanogo returns, Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban will give UConn one of the nation’s top frontcourts, and Dan Hurley knows a thing or two about coaching up guards.

2. Duke (27-9)

Despite an early exit from March Madness, the defending ACC tournament champion Blue Devils should again start with a high ranking. Jon Scheyer will add another strong recruiting class, but he won’t be starting from scratch like most years they have relied on one-and-done. Rising sophomores Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell have already announced their intent to return, and veteran guard Jeremy Roach could be another key piece who stays and pushes Duke toward a title run.

3. Purdue (29-6)

Yes, yes, we know, and until the Boilermakers do something meaningful in March, they won’t shed the underachiever label. But Matt Painter’s team should have most key contributors back, including Zach Edey in the middle. Guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith should also improve as sophomores after some growing pains. Finding consistent shooters would be huge to punish defenses that will collapse on Edey.

4. Marquette (29-7)

Don’t forget it was the Golden Eagles, not Connecticut, that swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles. Shaka Smart’s group could return nearly intact next season. Floor general Tyler Kolek, scoring guard Kam Jones and top rebounders Oso Ighodaro and Olivier-Maxence Prosper should again have Marquette putting up big scores.

5. Creighton (24-13)

After coming agonizingly close to the program’s first Final Four, the Bluejays could return the bulk of their starting lineup for another go at history. Point guard Ryan Nembhard will be back for his junior campaign, and while it is conceivable that center Ryan Kalkbrenner, forward Arthur Kaluma and shooting guard Trey Alexander could all test the professional waters, they’ll likely return to Omaha as well.

6. Alabama (31-6)

The starting lineup for the Tide could look very different next year. Brandon Miller is off to the NBA and Noah Clowney will join him. There could be further departures with big man Charles Bediako and super sub Jahvon Quinerly testing the waters. But Nate Oats will have plenty of talent left to keep the Crimson Tide rolling. Sharpshooter Mark Sears will lead the perimeter scorers, and there will be newcomers to fill spots.

7. Michigan State (21-13)

This has the makings of a Tom Izzo team that can be a title contender if seniors Tyson Walker and Malik Hall decide to stick around. Even if Walker and Hall move on, the backcourt tandem of A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins should return, plus Jaxon Kohler and Mady Sissoko are part of a deep rotation up front. What could push Michigan State over the top are two five-star recruits – Xavier Booker and Jeremy Fears. 

8. Miami (Fla.) (29-8)

Curiously absent from the preseason Top 25 at the start of this season, the Hurricanes aren’t likely to slip under the radar heading into next year. Miami’s ceiling is high indeed, assuming lead guard Isaiah Wong returns for his senior campaign. Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier should also be back, and Wooga Poplar, whose shooting improved markedly over the course of the season to complement his defensive ability, could also take on a larger role.

9. Florida Atlantic (35-4)

Owls coach Dusty May has already committed to returning. Twelve of the 13 players could also come back as the program transitions to the American Athletic following an unlikely run to the Final Four. The added competition should allow Florida Atlantic to earn a higher seed in the tournament even if it doesn’t better its 35-4 record.

10. Kansas (28-8)

There is no greater constant in men’s college basketball than the Jayhawks finding their way to the top of the Big 12 standings, even if the start of the season isn’t as smooth as expected. Look for Kansas to have some early growing pains without Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick leading the way. However, forward K.J. Adams and guard Dajaun Harris will provide an important returning tandem. Backcourt reinforcements should come from recruits Elmarko Jackson and Chris Johnson.

11. Kentucky (22-12)

Nobody will cry for the Wildcats after losing several key components from this season, including Oscar Tshiebwe and freshman standout Cason Wallace. They’ll try to reload with the No. 1 recruiting class that features three elite prospects – Justin Edwards, DJ Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw. What will be key for John Calipari’s team is finding the requisite role players to fit into the puzzle that can end Kentucky’s run of disappointing tournament finishes.

12. Arizona (28-7)

Much of the outlook for the Wildcats will be determined by draft decisions from Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. Should both return, along with Pelle Larsson, there are the makings of a foundation that should make Arizona the favorite in the Pac-12. Rising sophomore Kylan Boswell looks well-suited to point guard duties after Kerr Kriisa’s departure through the portal.

13. Gonzaga (31-6)

Drew Timme no longer will be the straw that stirs the drink for the Bulldogs. But anyone expecting Mark Few’s program to take a major step back after 10 consecutive seasons of at least 28 wins will be disappointed. A big decision looms with whether Julian Strawther decides to stay or enter the draft. There are also several key role players – notably Anton Watson and Malachi Smith – who are set for bigger roles if they are back. The roster should get a boost by enrolled freshman Jun Seok Yeo and incoming recruit Dusty Stromer.

14. Baylor (23-11)

A disappointing finish saw the Bears eliminated early in the tournament. Things look much better for next season. LJ Cryer gives the team one of the top players in the Big 12, and he could push for national honors. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Jalen Bridges are expected returners up front. Coming aboard are Ja’Kobe Walter and Miro Little, two of the top recruits who should slot into significant roles in the backcourt.

15. Texas A&M (25-10)

The Aggies got off to a slow start this season before finishing second in the SEC regular-season standings and reaching the conference tournament title game. Wade Taylor will be one of the best players in the league next season, and several other key pieces will be returning. Continuing the momentum from the second half of the year shouldn’t be a concern, and contending for the conference title seems realistic.

16. Houston (33-4)

After dominating the American Athletic, there’s change coming for the Cougars as they enter the grinder that is the Big 12. The win total will surely go down with the increase in competition. Still, they’re well-suited to manage the challenge with Jamal Shead leading the backcourt and J’Wan Roberts up front. The surprise departure of Tramon Mark leaves the need for scoring that could be addressed in the portal.

17. UCLA (31-6)

No Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell mean a changing of the guard for the Bruins. Like so many others on this list, they’re waiting to hear from players as they sort out their future, including rising sophomores Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. If Bailey and Bona are back, UCLA will have the pieces to contend for the Pac-12 championship and a top tournament seed. If not, the Bruins will need to go into the portal to augment a top-15 recruiting class.

18. Arkansas (22-14)

The Razorbacks will try to build off a third consecutive trip to the tournament’s second weekend without Nick Smith and Anthony Black, both likely lottery picks. They could also lose fellow guard Ricky Council IV. But with just one player out of eligibility from this season’s roster and two incoming five-star signees, Arkansas will have the pieces for another deep run into March under coach Eric Musselman.

19. Texas (29-9)

Guard Tyrese Hunter and forward Dylan Disu should be centerpieces of Rodney Terry’s first team as the permanent head coach. Disu could dip his toe into the draft but would benefit from another season. There’s still a big drop in experience from this year’s squad, so Terry will need to find transfers to fill needs in the frontcourt and to bolster the Longhorns’ outside shooting.

20. Virginia (25-8)

Second-year players such as Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn and Leon Bond III will help Virginia replace guard Kihei Clark and forward Jayden Gardner. The Cavaliers also expect a big boost from Georgetown transfer Dante Harris, who joined the team in January and could bring more offensive punch as the primary ball handler. Maybe the biggest personnel question this spring is whether guard Reece Beekman will be back after declaring for the draft but retaining his right to return.

21. Saint Mary’s (27-8)

Rising sophomore guard Aidan Mahaney will take over the scoring load after averaging 13.9 points per game in his first season. The Gaels are also set to bring first-team all-conference center Mitchell Saxen. Saint Mary’s anticipates losing three key seniors, including top scorer Logan Johnson. But while less experienced, this roster has the pieces to again contend with Gonzaga atop the WCC and draw a top-five tournament seed.

22. Memphis (26-9)

Five players on this year’s team have exhausted their eligibility and another two or three could enter the portal. That includes guard Keonte Kennedy, a valuable outside shooter who was heating up before suffering a season-ending hand injury in late February. Help is on the way via one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, headlined by five-star combo guard Mikey Williams.

23. Southern California (22-11)

USC will bring in the top recruit in the 2023 cycle in point guard Isaiah Collier. He’s joined by high school teammate Arrinten Page, one of the top centers in this class. That alone makes the Trojans worthy of national attention. But don’t sleep on what USC brings back, especially in the frontcourt. That includes rising sophomore Vincent Iwuchukwu, a breakout candidate.

24. Boise State (24-10)

The Broncos badly need depth to take the next step as a program after back-to-back exits in the opening round of the tournament. Coach Leon Rice also needs to find a big man to take pressure off forward Tyson Degenhart on the defensive end. Boise State will bring back guard Max Rice and is just another complementary piece or two away from having the roster needed to nail down a tournament win.

25. San Diego State (32-7)

The Aztecs had been building to their 2022-23 tournament success for some time, but Brian Dutcher’s group is going to look a lot different next year. Among SDSU’s top nine contributors from this lineup, only starting guard Lamont Butler and reserve Micah Parrish are officially listed as juniors slated to return. There are talented freshmen like 6-10 forward Demarshay Johnson and 6-7 wingman Miles Byrd already in house who can take on larger roles.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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