Sampath: Way-too-early 2022-23 college basketball Top 10 rankings

May 20, 2022, 12:00 a.m.

With the college basketball season ending just last month, it seems ludicrous to rank next year’s top teams. In addition, numerous college players who put their name in the NBA draft but maintained eligibility still have not made their decision about whether to withdraw and return to school. Still, most incoming recruits have signed, and a large amount of transfer portal moves have already been made, so we can still tell a lot about each teams’ rosters going into next season. Without further ado, here are my top ten teams going into the next college basketball season.

No. 10: Gonzaga Bulldogs

This one is subject to change, especially since star power forward Drew Timme is still testing the draft waters. I predict that Timme will return to Spokane and lead a young Gonzaga team that has a lot of talented yet inexperienced players around him. Guards Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis will have to replace the production of Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton, who still have not made their decision to remain in the draft or withdraw, but I predict both will leave. Both Sallis and Hickman were five-star players in the 2021 class, and they both showed flashes of what they could do last year. I expect both of them to take on larger roles this season and be co-stars alongside Timme. Yet another Zags player who has to make a decision on the NBA is forward Julian Strawther, who will likely be the No. 2 option behind Timme if he is to return. 

The Bulldogs are also in the mix for some high-level transfers, including Iowa State guard Tyrese Hunter and Texas guard Courtney Ramey. These players would provide Gonzaga more shot-creators on the perimeter and the veteran experience they currently lack.

With the Zags roster in this much flux, it seems far-fetched to rank them in the top ten at this moment. But Mark Few has gotten teams with less talent than this one into the top ten, and there’s no reason he can’t replicate that when he is potentially returning one of the best players in college basketball in Timme. 

No. 9: Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers are expected to return several key players, including point guards Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler. Forwards Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua are also expected to return despite entering their names in the NBA Draft. I expect Vescovi and Ziegler to be members of the all-SEC team when it comes time to vote. The Vols also got a late surprise, as Top-15 recruit Julian Phillips publicly committed to Rick Barnes’ program last week. Phillips is a one-and-done talent who possesses an elite combination of size and athleticism, along with a great transition and passing game. 

Moreover, the Volunteers may have the best home court advantage in the SEC, which will certainly assist them in conference play against the likes of Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas. 

No. 8: Kansas Jayhawks

While stars David McCormack, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun are likely gone after entering the draft, the defending champions will still have a ton of talent for next year. 

Point guard Dajuan Harris will return to Lawrence, where he will provide a gritty defensive presence for the Jayhawks. Forward Jalen Wilson is likely to return, and could step into a bigger role as a scorer if Agbaji and Braun leave. Kansas will also bring in guards MJ Rice and Gradey Dick, who will provide shooting and solid minutes in the guard rotation.

Point guard Bobby Pettiford is a likely breakout candidate for the Jayhawks, as head coach Bill Self labeled Pettiford as the next great Kansas guard. Athletic forward KJ Adams will provide a big defensive presence and lob threat.

Even with talent that seems a step down from the rest, Bill Self has shown he can develop his players and teams to play above expectations, and I have a feeling that will be the case for this team. 

No. 7: UCLA Bruins

Star point guard Tyger Campbell and star small forward Jaime Jaquez will return to Los Angeles and look to be the leaders of the team this upcoming season. Forward Jules Bernard has also elected to return to school for his fifth year, giving the Bruins three returning double-digit scorers.  The Bruins will bring in two plug-and-play five star recruits in Amari Bailey and Adem Bona as well. Bailey can provide the Bruins an elite perimeter defender while Bona will provide the Bruins an athletic rim protector. While the Bruins may not have the depth other teams on this list possess, their likely starting five of Campbell-Jaquez-Bailey-Bernard-Bona can compete with anyone in the nation. 

No. 6: Baylor Bears

Baylor will have a terrific guard rotation next season, as guards Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer will return from this past year. In addition, five-star recruit Keyonte George joins the team with Flagler and Cryer. This guard lineup is reminiscent of the 2021 Baylor team, which had three guards that could shoot, pass and create plays off-the-dribble at an elite level. Baylor also returns athletic big men Johnathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba to provide rim protection and physicality.

However, the Bears will lose forwards Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan to the NBA Draft and haven’t found any replacements thus far for their skill level or athleticism. In addition, senior forward Matthew Mayer has entered the transfer portal, making the Bears more vulnerable defensively against more athletic perimeter teams. However, Scott Drew has proven to be one of the elite coaches in college basketball, and I trust that he will keep the Bears playing at a high level despite numerous changes to the lineup.

No. 5: Duke Blue Devils

The Blue Devils boast the number one recruiting class in the nation, headlined by PF Dereck Lively, SF Dariq Whitehead and PF Kyle Flipowski. In addition, guard Jeremy Roach has elected to come back to Duke. The Blue Devils also brought in transfer Ryan Young from Northwestern, who will add experience to a young group. As in the past, this Duke team will likely overwhelm most of their opponents with their elite size and athleticism, but may struggle against experienced teams who have similar talent levels to them. 

Another caveat is that Jon Scheyer is a first-year head coach, and the team is fairly young, so this coming year’s team may not be polished right out of the gate. But, as with last year’s team, I expect Duke to peak around late-February or early-March and be in the thick of the national title hunt. 

No. 4: North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels bring back every key rotation player from their National Championship runner-up team except for forward Brady Manek. Center Armando Bacot is likely the favorite to win ACC Player Of The Year in 2023, and guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love emerged as high-level players during the 2022 NCAA tournament. Moreover, guard/forward Leaky Black is one of the best returning defenders in college basketball.

In addition, Baylor forward Matthew Mayer has entered the transfer portal, and if he does not declare for the NBA draft, North Carolina seems to be the odds-on favorite to land him. If Mayer lands with UNC, he will be an adequate replacement for Brady Manek and could vault the Tar Heels even higher in my rankings. The Heels also bring in a solid recruiting class, headlined by four-star PG Seth Trimble, who could see minutes in the rotation backing up Davis and Love. 

Head coach Hubert Davis has shown that he can make the proper adjustments when things aren’t working, and with the run his team went on at the end of this past season, I believe he’s figured out the best way to utilize his current pieces. 

No. 3: Kentucky Wildcats

National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe’s return to Lexington is perhaps the biggest news of the college basketball offseason. In addition, point guard Sahvir Wheeler, one of the best passers in the country, decided to return as well. The Wildcats will have better offensive options on the perimeter this year, as incoming freshman combo guard Cason Wallace will look to fill in for NBA draft entree TyTy Washington. Freshman Chris Livingston will give the Wildcats NBA-level athleticism, playmaking and shot creation — three things that they were lacking last year. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves also provides the Wildcats with a player who can shoot the three off the dribble.

Additionally, I believe the Wildcat’s improvements on the perimeter will make them a more lethal team than they were last year. The team possesses rangy, athletic forwards that will make them a solid defensive team and a contender for the national title.

No. 2: Houston Cougars

The Cougars will bring back many pieces from their Elite Eight team last season. They accomplished this without arguably their two best players in Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, who got injured mid-way through the season. Sasser and Mark will likely return to the team, and guard Jamal Shead looks to be coming back as well. Moreover, Houston boasts a great recruiting class, as top-10 player Jarace Walker and top-40 player Terrance Arceneaux will play in the Lone Star state next season. 

Even though they must replace key pieces in forward Fabian White, Jr. and guard Taze Moore, the Cougars have more than enough talented pieces to replace their production. With the way head coach Kelvin Sampson coaches defense, and the relative weakness of their conference compared to others in the Power Five, I expect Houston to remain in the top five in the rankings for most of the year.

No. 1: Arkansas Razorbacks

After coming off an Elite Eight appearance, the Razorbacks completely overhauled their team, as they’re set to bring in eleven new players. With this amount of roster turnover, it seems blasphemous to slot the Razorbacks in at one. However, the Razorbacks are bringing in 247’s No. 2 ranked class, headlined by three McDonald’s All-Americans: Nick Smith Jr., Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black. All three players are projected to be first round picks in numerous way-too-early 2023 mock drafts.

In addition to a talented freshman class, the Razorbacks have a great transfer class, which includes former Missouri forward Trevon Brazile, AAC Sixth Man Of The Year Ricky Council IV and former Arizona State forward Jalen Graham.

Guard Davonte Davis will return to Arkansas, which will give the Arkansas backcourt an elite defensive presence. Sophomore center Jaylin Williams is currently testing the draft waters, and he seems 50-50 on returning back to school. Williams, who averaged 10.9 points and 9.8 rebounds, is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the SEC. If Williams decides to return to school, Arkansas is my clear-cut number one team. 

But even without Williams, this team has length and athleticism at all positions on the court and is likely the deepest team in college basketball going into next year. The players’ skill sets complement each other well, as this team has elite distributors, scorers and versatile defensive players. The roster, combined with head coach Eric Musselman’s ability to coach defense, make me believe that by the end of the year, this will be the best team in college basketball.

Kaushik Sampath is a desk editor for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who's undecided on his major. You can catch him watching and ranting about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks or hanging out with friends on campus. Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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