Projecting the best teams seven months from tipoff has never been more futile, thanks to the combination of potential NBA Draft departures, transfer portal chaos and the extra year of eligibility resulting from COVID.
And yet, we carry on — unmoved, undaunted and undoubtedly prepared to make significant changes to the following rankings once the rosters for 2022-23 are settled later this spring.
(The deadline for college players to declare for the NBA Draft is April 24. In order to preserve eligibility, they must withdraw by June 1.)
Also considered: Auburn, Boise State, Colorado, Colorado State, Connecticut, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa, Miami, Michigan State, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Providence, Rutgers, Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, USC, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
1. North Carolina: Of the Iron Five, only forward Brady Manek is out of eligibility. The relatively modest NBA Draft projections for the likes of Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Armando Bacot increase the likelihood (for now) that they will take aim at a repeat trip to the Final Four.
2. Kentucky: Our projections currently call for big man Oscar Tshiebwe to enter the draft, test his value and conclude that one more season in Lexington is the best path forward. If he remains in the draft, the Wildcats won’t remain in our top 10.
3. Michigan: The outlook for Juwan Howard’s fourth season hinges on three underclassmen with the potential to bolt for the NBA: sophomore Hunter Dickinson and freshmen Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabaté. If all three return, the Wolverines will remain right here in our post-spring rankings. If any of the three depart, Michigan will drop — and perhaps precipitously.
4. Houston: The under-seeded Cougars won’t be under-ranked when November rolls around. The additional season available for seniors like Fabian White and Kyler Edwards creates the potential for most of Kelvin Sampson’s rotation to return. And don’t forget: The Cougars reached the Elite Eight without two of their best players, Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, who were lost to injuries early in the season.
5. Duke: The first year in decades without Mike Krzyzewski should resemble all those decades with Mike Krzyzewski. The top recruiting class in the country — the group features two 7-footers with five-star ratings — will join new coach John Scheyer to start the new era.
6. UCLA: The Bruins could lose the bulk of their rotation … or very little of it. Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell all have eligibility left, the recruiting class is loaded and gifted wing Peyton Watson could return. Two months from now, UCLA just might be atop these rankings … or in the bottom half.
7. Arkansas: The Hogs are scheduled to lose several key pieces, including star guard JD Notae, but a sensational recruiting class and the (potential) return of forward Jaylin Williams provide a foundation for continued success under Eric Musselman, who owns back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight.
8. Gonzaga: It’s easy to forget that Drew Timme was only a junior this season, but we aren’t ready to assume he’s returning for ’23. The same goes for wing Julian Strawther. (As for Chet Holmgren, it’s adios.) All in all, the Zags could get hit hard by attrition. And if that’s the case, they might have to settle for a spot in the bottom half of the top 10. The horror.
9. Villanova: Because Jay Wright.
10. Alabama: The basketball recruiting is beginning to mirror the football recruiting in Tuscaloosa, with two five-star prospects due to join coach Nate Oats’ program. If point guard Jahvon Quinerly is healthy — he suffered a torn ACL in the tournament — the Tide could challenge Arkansas as the team to beat in the SEC.
11. Arizona: Expectations will be dramatically higher for Year Two of the Tommy Lloyd era, and for good reason. Even with the presumed departure of playmaking wing Benedict Mathurin and the potential exit of big man Christian Koloko, the Wildcats have enough pieces to remain a force. We expect Tucson to be a popular destination for transfers, as well.
12. Creighton: The Bluejays were a year ahead of schedule with their 23 wins and senior-light roster. Assuming Ryan Kalkbrenner, Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma opt to return — none of them are projected for the first round of the draft — this might be the best team in the Big East.
13. Kansas: The Jayhawks assuredly will lose Ochai Agbaji, but that could be the least of their concerns. The NCAA sanctions are expected this year and add a massive unknown. For now, we have KU in the middle of the rankings, with plenty of space to ascend if the penalties aren’t crippling — the roster will have top-10 talent — but also room to fall if the hammer is what we expect.
14. Baylor: For the moment, we’re assuming Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer return to Waco to form one of the best perimeter units in the country. (Kendall Brown has already declared for the draft.) And since March is all about the perimeter, count the Bears as a threat to return to the Final Four.
15. Davidson: We’re assuming guards Foster Loyer and Hyunjung Lee will return until there’s proof they won’t. Combine their 32 points per game with a stout supporting cast, and Bob McKillop’s 34th team could be one of his best.
16. Memphis: Another team with a wide range of trajectories, many of them dependent upon the severity of NCAA sanctions. Penny Hardaway has corralled plenty of talent in recent recruiting cycles. If the Tigers dodge the hammer, they should return to the tournament with the potential to cause bracket havoc.
17. Oregon: Much depends on the guard play, because the Ducks should be loaded up front with a slew of 7-footers. If veteran Will Richardson doesn’t return, look for five-star point guard Dior Johnson to take control of the offense. (He might do it anyway.) Another deep run in the NCAAs for Dana Altman depends on the emergence of consistent perimeter scorer.
18. Tennessee: If point guard Kennedy Chandler eschews the NBA Draft, the Vols will have a top-10 roster. At this point, we’re projecting him to declare.
19. Wake Forest: Top scorer Alondes Williams is out of eligibility, but Daivien Williamson and Jake LaRavia are not. If they return (26 ppg combined), the Demon Deacons should make their first trip to the NCAAs since 2017 — and only their second since the field expanded to 68.
20. Purdue: Because Matt Painter.
21. Texas: The veteran rotation that powered Chris Beard’s first season in Austin could get hit hard by attrition. But even if that’s the case, the reinforcements, which include two five-star recruits, should keep the Longhorns on the top tier of the Big 12.
22. Xavier: The NIT championship has been a frequent launch point for teams. Sean Miller has been a regular participant in the NCAAs. Combine the two, and the Musketeers will be a factor in the Big East race.
23. San Diego State: The Aztecs’ presence in our rankings was secured last month when senior guard Matt Bradley (17 ppg) announced he would return. This might be the last team standing after what should be another solid season for the Mountain West.
24. Seton Hall: Where Shaheen Holloway goes, we follow.
25. Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t missed the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons since the early years of Tony Bennett’s tenure. His best recruiting class will power the recovery.