We are officially 40 days away from tipping off the 2023-24 men’s college basketball season.
With practices revving up this week, and conference media days and preseason polls looming, it won’t be long until the road to crowning a champion in April begins.
The state of the sport is healthy and far from predictable. Just look at the collection of teams at the Final Four this past year, with UConn coming out with the title in Houston after outlasting San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Miami.
Name, image and likeness has made an impact and produced offseason bidding wars for players. But if anything, college basketball’s offseason chaos has given the sport more storylines during downtimes on the calendar. And the financial component for college athletes has led the reigning national player of the year to elect to return to school in back-to-back seasons. Before last year, when Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe returned to Lexington, that had not occurred since Tyler Hansbrough did so in Chapel Hill in 2008.
The defending national player of the year heading into this season is Purdue’s Zach Edey, and he’s a fitting candidate to kick off a new preseason feature to our coverage this year: The FOX Sports College Hoops A-List.
This is a collection of 40 figures — listed in no particular order — who will mold the 2023-24 season. We certainly couldn’t hit everyone, but here’s our crack at it. Agree or disagree? Tweet @CBBONFOX and @John_Fanta to let us know what you think.
The 7-foot-4, 300-pound center is the face of college basketball. To think that Edey averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 61% from the field and is still in college basketball is wild. His return is a total gain for everyone in West Lafayette and casual followers, and it’s a complete nightmare for the rest of the Big Ten. After sweeping all six major national player of the year honors last season, Edey’s last college goal is clear: avenge last year’s shocking loss to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson and charge the program on a deep NCAA Tournament run.
If I had told you 10 years ago that a three-time All-Big Ten selection and a 2021 All-American was still in college after averaging 18.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, you may have been a little surprised. Part of that, of course, is the current age of the NBA, as traditional post players are less coveted. Hunter Dickinson left Michigan for the transfer portal instead of the pros, eventually picking Bill Self and the Jayhawks. The splash addition of Dickinson in Lawrence combined with the returns of point guard Dajuan Harris, wing Kevin McCullar and forward K.J. Adams, and the addition of sharpshooter Nick Timberlake, are all reasons Kansas could very well be the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
The Blue Devils have an argument to be the No. 1 team in the country because Jon Scheyer enters his second year as head coach with an incredible sophomore class highlighted by Filipowski. The 7-footer, who won ACC Freshman of the Year, was the only first-year player to average at least 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Many draft experts had the big man going somewhere around the 15-20 range in the NBA Draft, if not higher. It’s not common for a player of that status to return to school. With Filipowski and a loaded core, the Blue Devils have a strong chance to win the program’s first national championship since 2015.
In the last two seasons, no player has been more important to his team than Bacot. North Carolina went from being an 8-seed to reaching the national championship game, then went from being the preseason No. 1 team … to missing the Big Dance altogether. Bacot has seen it all, while at the same time achieving history of his own. It’s wild to think Bacot is already North Carolina’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,335 boards and 68 double-doubles.
Can UNC bounce back? That starts with Bacot’s leadership.
Over the final eight games of Michigan State’s 2022-23 season, Walker averaged 18.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. He powered the Spartans to the Sweet 16 with his 23-point performance in the win over a Big East champion Marquette team. In essence, he is the closer for Tom Izzo.
The reigning Big East Player of the Year is back at Marquette, and the Golden Eagles have championship expectations again with him at the point guard spot. All Kolek did last season was tally 270 assists to just 90 turnovers while leading Shaka Smart’s team to the conference regular season and tournament crowns. In the Big East Tournament, he averaged 18.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists en route to the Most Outstanding Player honor at Madison Square Garden. The senior point guard fits Smart’s system and program well and plays mistake-free basketball.
7. Isaiah Collier, USC (and a note on Bronny James)…
The No. 1 ranked freshman in college basketball is a USC Trojan. It’s going to be fascinating to see just how good Collier, the 6-5 guard, three-time Georgia Mr. Basketball honoree and Naismith High School Player of the Year, ends up being in his one-and-done season in Los Angeles. He joins veteran guard Boogie Ellis in a backcourt that is filled with options, with one hovering storyline over the Trojans as well: the status of Bronny James. Will we see the 4-star freshman guard step on the hardwood in a college basketball game following his cardiac arrest incident in July? Regardless, Collier will impact this USC team, and it’s an interesting wrinkle that the top freshman in the country doesn’t reside at a blue-blood institution this time around.
8. Donovan Clingan, UConn
The pride of Bristol, Connecticut, Clingan is a dream for UConn to have on its side.
The 7-2 center looks poised to take over as the main option on the interior after Adama Sanogo held that role on Connecticut’s fifth national title team last season. In just 13 minutes per game, Clingan averaged seven points and six rebounds. He blocked a shot for right around every seven minutes he played. He could very well be a contender for Big East Player of the Year, All-American status and everything in between.
His numbers are downright amazing, and he’s already made history, having helped Oral Roberts reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in the school’s history back in 2021. Abmas is the active leading scorer in the country with 2,562 career points in 4,280 minutes of college basketball. He is a great get for first-year Texas head coach Rodney Terry, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what the fifth-year guard’s final chapter entails in Austin.
The Big Ten has two all-conference first-team honorees from last year back for this season: Edey and Shannon. If Brad Underwood’s team is going to be a consistent top-20 squad it’s because of Shannon, who averaged 17.2 points per game last season. Yes, Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja will control the frontcourt and Quincy Guerrier was a nice add, but Illinois has backcourt questions beyond Shannon. He will have to put this team on his back.
Last season, Gonzaga went 31-6 and reached the Elite Eight. As incredible as Drew Timme was, though, Mark Few just didn’t have enough consistency from Rasir Bolton, Nolan Hickman and the Zags’ guards. Enter Nembhard, who was also in the Elite Eight with Creighton. He’s following in the footsteps of his older brother Andrew, who was the WCC Sixth Man of the Year during the Zags’ national runner-up season in 2020-21. The Zags will go as far as Nembhard takes them this upcoming year. He averaged 12.1 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game and could very well be leading a top-15 team.
This is the most fascinating transfer storyline of the season. Love, an All-ACC Honorable Mention selection who ranks eighth all-time in UNC history with 200 made 3-pointers, essentially had a mutual parting of ways from Chapel Hill after a disastrous season. He was going to head to Michigan, but didn’t have a sufficient number of credits to transfer from Chapel Hill.
Two weeks following the Wolverines saga, Love announced he was off to Arizona to play for Tommy Lloyd. He joins a program that has gone 61-11 over the last two seasons. That being said, he joins a core on the perimeter that includes Kylan Boswell, Jaden Bradley and Pelle Larsson. There is competition present for Love. Will he play under control? He’s combined to turn the ball over 277 times in three years of college basketball. That has to change, and he’s relying on Lloyd’s coaching and a change of scenery to help.
Once he returned to the swing of things after an Achilles injury suffered the previous year, Moore showed just how much he means to Villanova. The Wildcats finished the season 7-3 in their final 10 games. Moore averaged 15 points per game, was clutch in key situations and more than anything, settled Villanova down. Now, the fifth-year guard charges a Villanova team that is stacked with Eric Dixon, transfers Tyler Burton, TJ Bamba, Hakim Hart and Lance Ware, along with sophomore point guard Mark Armstrong.
What a wild offseason in Morgantown with Bob Huggins’ disastrous end to his Hall of Fame tenure. Interim head coach Josh Eilert gets an opportunity to run WVU, and he will rely on the Arizona transfer to lead the Mountaineers backcourt. Kriisa is a veteran guard, having averaged 9.9 points and 5.1 assists per game this past season. The bad news: turnovers. He totaled 91 giveaways this past season, close to three per game. Can Kriisa put his best basketball together as a senior and find his mojo in the Big 12?
15. Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton
You can’t overstate how much the 7-1, 270-pound center means for Greg McDermott’s Bluejays. A two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Kalkbrenner is an elite rim protector with 199 blocks in his three seasons. On the offensive end, he averaged 15.9 points and 6.1 rebounds this past season and is currently sixth in NCAA history with a 67% field goal percentage. Here’s the thing about Creighton: The Jays are always known for being offensively efficient and having terrific guards. Kalkbrenner makes them elite defensively.
Deion Sanders isn’t the only superstar in Boulder, as Da Silva is one of the most skilled players in college basketball. With a 6-9 frame and an ability to knock down perimeter shots consistently, having made over 39% of his looks from beyond the arc this past season, Da Silva’s return automatically makes Tad Boyle’s team a Pac-12 title contender.
Coming off a broken foot that ended his season this past December, the Indiana point guard enters his sixth season of college basketball as the clear leader of Mike Woodson’s Hoosiers. With Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino gone, Indiana needs Johnson to lead the new-look backcourt. He should be one of the best in the Big Ten in assists and is the big certainty for an IU team that has some other questions to answer.
It feels weird stating this about a team that followed up an Elite Eight appearance in 2022 with the school’s first Final Four appearance in program history: The Miami Hurricanes are going to be a national contender yet again, and it doesn’t feel like that’s getting discussed enough. Pack is the headliner guard for the Canes. The 6-footer enters his senior year as a quick, explosive guard who’s coming off winning NCAA Midwest Region Most Outstanding Player after he combined for 41 points in wins over Houston and Texas en route to the Final Four.
After taking a major sophomore leap with the Aggies this past year and being named a consensus first-team All-SEC selection, Taylor enters his junior season as a star guard to lead Buzz Williams’ squad in College Station. Taylor was one of three D-I players with 500-plus points, 125-plus assists and 50-plus steals while making 85% or better on free throw attempts.
A two-time SEC All-Defensive Team selection, Zeigler fits Rick Barnes’ system incredibly well and is great at making plays for others, having averaged 5.4 assists with 10.7 points per game this past year. The issue: the tough, 5-9 guard’s status is up in the air as he is working his way back from an ACL tear suffered last February against Arkansas. If Zeigler is healthy, he can elevate Tennessee to being an SEC title team and a Final Four dark horse contender.
21. Lamont Butler, San Diego State
Well, Butler is back and will help lead SDSU’s backcourt on a team that still has three of their top four scorers back from a year ago and added rising junior guard Reese Dixon-Waters from USC. Look for Butler to be a double-digit scorer in his senior season and one of the faces that comes up when next March rolls around for his heroics on college basketball’s biggest stage last April.
Young transferred from Charlotte to the Terrapins in 2022 to help head coach Kevin Willard put Maryland basketball back on the map and taste the NCAA Tournament. Young not only experienced March Madness, but he helped guide the Terps to a first–round win over West Virginia. The fifth-year guard will be one of the best in his conference and has the burst-ability to get buckets in bunches with nine 20-plus point performances this past year.
23. Jon Scheyer, Duke
While reeling in a combined seven five-star recruits in his first two years at the helm has been impressive, Scheyer stands out even more for the high-impact returning stars on his roster. After a 27-win season and an early first-weekend exit in the NCAA Tournament, there’s unfinished business for Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell, Filipowski & Co. There’s a lot in place that would suggest Scheyer could lead the Blue Devils to a Final Four. We’ll see how he handles the critical situations of the season with a year under his belt now.
24. Rick Pitino, St. John’s
There was not a more interesting offseason coaching move in the country than Pitino returning to Madison Square Garden and taking the St. John’s job. Everywhere the 71-year-old Hall of Famer has gone, he’s won. That’s what makes this so intriguing, because the Big East-based Red Storm have been irrelevant for the better part of the last two decades and are without an NCAA Tournament win since 2000. Pitino has overhauled the roster with high-impact transfers Jordan Dingle, Chris Ledlum and Daniss Jenkins, among others. He’s elevated the game count at Madison Square Garden this year to eight contests, the most for the Johnnies since the 2014-15 campaign. Pitino could very well snap that March Madness drought with a top-25 caliber team.
25. Eric Musselman, Arkansas
It’s really incredible what the 58-year-old has done in four years with the Razorbacks. I love this stat: Before 2021, Arkansas had not appeared in a Sweet 16 since 1996. Musselman has led the program to three consecutive appearances and two Elite Eight slots in the last three years. He consistently wins the transfer portal season, and this year was no different, not to mention Devo Davis and Trevon Brazile are back.
26. John Calipari, Kentucky
Calipari has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country with Justin Edwards, Aaron Bradshaw and DJ Wagner highlighting the group. Bradshaw has a foot injury that remains concerning, which will be a situation to monitor. Having veterans Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell certainly helps, but here’s the fact of the matter: In a world where being old is what wins in March, Calipari is still mostly relying on youth. The Wildcats haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in five seasons. Can Cal break that drought? The pressure is on.
27. Bill Self, Kansas
He’s the complete package and will have the No. 1 team in the country heading into the season. If the Jayhawks can win it all in April, Self will join Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and John Wooden as the only coaches in men’s college basketball history with three or more titles.
28. Dan Hurley, UConn
The head coach of the defending national champions has a reloaded Huskies team with Clingan, Alex Karaban and Tristen Newton back, sharpshooter transfer Cam Spencer added to the fold, and the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class.
29. Dusty May, FAU
What an interesting and refreshing case Dusty May is in college hoops. From serving under Bob Knight as an undergraduate manager at Indiana, to 13 years as an assistant, to getting his head coaching chance in 2018, May’s journey is remarkable. The fact he kept FAU’s Final Four roster together is extraordinary in the transfer portal age. He and the Owls will be firmly in the spotlight now, playing one of the best non-conference slates in the country.
30. Kyle Neptune, Villanova
It’s a massive Year 2 for Neptune, who struggled in his first season at the helm of the Wildcats as they missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. There’s no shortage of talent. Can he get all the pieces to come together?
31. Adrian Autry, Syracuse
When you search Adrian Autry’s name on Google, one of the automated questions that comes up is: “Will he play zone defense?”
That sums up what it’s like to follow Jim Boeheim, whose 47-year run as Syracuse’s head coach ended in March. Autry has said he will go to much more man-to-man defense and that the Orange will look different under him. Autry finally gets his chance to show that he can be a head coach in college hoops, and he has two high-level guards to work with in Judah Mintz and Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling.
32. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
The Hall of Famer has something serious cooking in East Lansing. The Spartans are coming off a really strong finish, making a 15th appearance in the Sweet 16 under Izzo. They’ve got all of their major pieces back and a top-tier recruiting class. Could Izzo be the one to snap the Big Ten’s title curse? It’s certainly possible, and the storybook feels like it still has another big chapter in store for Izzo.
33. Matt Painter, Purdue
He’s one of the best coaches in the sport, but nationally, the narratives don’t reflect that right now because of the loss last March to 16-seed FDU. That’s what makes this year the most fascinating of his head coaching career. How much did he learn from that historic NCAA Tournament defeat? Can he shut up the critics and lead Edey and the Boilers on a Final Four run? He’ll be under the microscope entering March Madness next year — fair or not.
34. Mick Cronin, UCLA
Cronin has done a great job in Westwood in his four years leading the Bruins, with three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances and a Final Four run in 2021, but the 2023-24 season will be his biggest challenge yet as Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell are gone. Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews, big man Adem Bona and 7-3 freshman Aday Mara, who is ranked 15th in the 247 Sports recruiting rankings, will be tasked with keeping things moving.
35. Scott Drew, Baylor
There are some unknowns with the Bears heading into this season, but with the No. 4 recruiting class in the country this season, including highly touted guard Ja’Kobe Walter, plus transfers RayJ Dennis and Jayden Nunn — not to mention Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua returning — you can’t count out Drew and his Bears.
36. Mike Woodson, Indiana
The upcoming season, his third at the helm in Bloomington, will be Woodson’s most challenging. He has his point guard, Johnson, back in the fold and brought in big men Kel’el Ware from Oregon and highly touted freshman Mackenzie Mgbakpo. Will the Hoosiers have enough perimeter shooting?
37. Hubert Davis, North Carolina
His first season saw the highest of highs seemingly out of nowhere, as he led the Tar Heels to the national championship game. His second year featured the lowest of lows with dysfunction and disappointment. So, Davis has seen it all in a short period, but he did a nice job bringing in transfers that I believe will fit in well. If all the pieces connect correctly, this could be a team that contends at the top of the ACC and is in the top 20-25.
38. Kim English, Providence
He is regarded as one of college basketball’s rising stars and takes over a Providence program that has an expectation to contend in the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament. He has Bryce Hopkins, a Big East Player of the Year candidate, as well as Swiss Army knife guard Devin Carter back, along with a nice set of additions to the roster. We’ll see how English handles the gauntlet of the Big East.
39. Ed Cooley, Georgetown
January 27, 2024 will be the wildest atmosphere in college basketball when Cooley has to return to Providence after being the first coach to leave one Big East school for another this past March. Cooley was synonymous with Providence, and Friars followers feel betrayed.
As for Cooley and his new stop, it’s been a while since we’ve talked about the Hoyas in a positive light because they’ve been in the darkness for years. This doesn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team this upcoming season, as size is a concern. But the backcourt carries upside and Cooley has proven an ability to grind out wins in the Big East. Regardless, Georgetown is no longer irrelevant.
40. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
The Big 12 has already been college basketball’s best conference in recent years. Add in a program that prides itself on toughness and physicality, and it only adds to the rich competitive nature of the league. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the Cougars, who look like a top-10 team, fare in their inaugural year in the Big 12. Life without Marcus Sasser presents challenges, but Sampson made additions with Baylor transfer LJ Cryer and Temple transfer Damian Dunn to join Jamal Shead in the backcourt.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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