Wednesday, December 7, 2022

College basketball season starts in 68 days: Get ready with 68 names, games, storylines to know for 2022-23

Football gets going in earnest, on the college side, this week/weekend. The NFL’s start is merely eight days away.

So, now is quite clearly an optimal time for some optimism on college hoops, yeah? What we have here, in fact, is a calendar-induced piece of content. Wednesday marks 68 days until the start of the 2022-23 season. We’re more than 75% of the way through the offseason. Woohoo!

Can we rev up our engines of anticipation just a little? I think it’s time. Preview season is almost here, so consider this an inception to 2022-23. School is back in session, summer’s effectively over. It’s time to look ahead with a happy hoops hodgepodge of facts, predictions, things to know and what to be excited about for a season that will be here before you know it.

1. If you did the math and think a mistake was made re: 68 days until season-openers, alas, no. The ’22-23 season will indeed begin on Nov. 7 — a Monday. The reason: it’s the day before Election Day, and so there was an initiative to get teams to play on Monday instead of a day of civic duty and engagement. (Many teams decided to abide by this, but some still opted to play on Nov. 8.) It’s an uncommon occurrence. And unfortunately, it will make for an underwhelming opening.

2. The best game of the opening night of the season?  Murray State at Saint Louis, I guess? Memphis is also playing at Vanderbilt. Uh, hey there, Oral Roberts-Saint Mary’s. It’s not ideal.

3. If you’re wondering why the Champions Classic isn’t slotted on opening night like usual, again, check the calendar. Monday night in November = Monday Night Football on ESPN. College basketball has no place in that house, let alone at that table. The Champions Classic will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and as always features Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State.

4. Meantime, the projected top team in the sport won’t have a high-profile game until the Friday after Thanksgiving. That team: North Carolina. Don’t take it from me (I’m not convinced of that yet), take it from the coaches. They just voted the Tar Heels as the best team in our Candid Coaches series. If UNC winds up as preseason AP No. 1 it will mark the first time since 2016 that North Carolina has started a season No. 1 and the 10th time overall that Carolina’s landed preseason top billing. That would break a tie with — of course — Duke (nine apiece). More trivia for you. The last time UNC wasn’t ranked in the preseason: 2006.

5. If UNC isn’t the best team, then is it Gonzaga? The Bulldogs sit atop the CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1. Mustachioed muck-a-muck Drew Timme, arguably college hoops’ most famous player, is back for his senior season. Gonzaga is coming off a definitive Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas. I was there. In the aftermath, I wrote this. At the time, I thought Timme would opt to leave college. Thankfully, he didn’t. It seems Gonzaga has one more big-window year of opportunity to win a national championship. Will Mark Few and Co. do it?

7. Speaking of Timme, you’ll be forgiven if you think this is the Year of the Big. In fact, college hoops has had many Years of the Big in recent seasons, and will likely continue to feature more traditional 4s and 5s as the NBA continues to relegate such players. It’s no longer a once-every-few-years trend; this is the norm, and it’s a good thing for college hoops. That in mind, the best of the bigs figure to be Timme, reigning NPOY Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky), Armando Bacot (UNC), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Zach Edey (Purdue) and Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), among many others. The aforementioned oaks are prime preseason first/second/third team All-American candidates.

8. Hoops on the high seas! It’s been a decade since a college basketball game took place on an aircraft carrier. They said it wouldn’t be done again and they were wrong! Gonzaga vs. Michigan State is scheduled to tip on the USS Abraham Lincoln on Veterans Day (Nov. 11). That’s the first Friday of ’22-23 and should have served as the start of the season. Gonzaga will almost definitely be ranked in the top three, while Michigan State is also destined to have a number next to its name in the preseason polls.

9. The biggest regular season spectacle will be the game on the ship, but the biggest regular season event is the return of the Phil Knight-themed, 16-team, dual basketball tournament happening the week of Thanksgiving in Portland, Oregon. It’s the PK85, in honor of Knight’s 85th birthday. All 16 men’s teams (and eight women’s teams) are Nike-backed schools. I was there in 2017 and it was magnificent. I expect more of the same this year. Notable teams involved: North Carolina, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan State, UConn, Purdue and Alabama, among others. Strangely absent again: Kentucky (a Nike school).

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After a three-year hiatus, the Lahaina Civic Center will once again host the Maui Invitational. Getty Images

10. The Maui Invitational is back to normal this season. This year marks the event’s return to Hawaii for the first time since 2019, due to COVID-19. The teams: Arkansas, Creighton, Arizona, Ohio State, San Diego State, Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Louisville. Every team except Creighton has a hue of red as a dominant feature in its colorway, so watch the red-less Bluejays go out and win the thing.

11. Duke after Coach K. First big game is against Kansas in the Champions Classic. How will Jon Scheyer do in Year One? He brings in the top-rated freshman class to pair up with one returning starter from last season’s Final Four team. Fortunately, that starter is in charge of running the offense. Welcome back, Jeremy Roach.

12. College basketball after K. It’s one thing to see how Scheyer adapts and how Duke transitions for the first time in 43 years without having Krzyzewski on the sidelines or running the program. That’s going to be a storyline for not just this season, but really at least the first three years of Scheyer’s go of it. Beyond that, for me and for a majority of people reading this, ’22-23 will be the first time we’ll experience a college basketball season that won’t have K coaching in it. That’s going to take some getting used to. He was a fixture, an institution, the greatest coach in basketball. That void will in part eventually have to be filled by someone. But it won’t be …

13. Villanova after Jay will be almost as drastic as Duke after K. Jay Wright’s retirement on April 20 was a stunner. At 60 years old, it seemed like he was poised to coach another five years at least and become the conscience of college basketball. Instead, former assistant Kyle Neptune is now manning the best program in the Big East, a top-three program in the past decade and historically one of the 10 best programs in the sport’s history. How’s this going to go?

14. Kansas’ encore … or lack thereof? Bill Self winning a second national championship was one of those things that seemed inevitable. If he stuck around long enough, it was going to happen; he’s too great of a coach not to join that club. Kansas has been top-10-good all but a few years over the past near-two-decades in the Self era. Will the champs be able to keep that going, or will the IARP case that continues to grow mold eventually be settled and lead to punishments that hamper KU’s outlook on the season ahead? Something to monitor as we draw closer to the season. For Self’s part, he begrudgingly took on a school-imposed ban on in-person recruiting this past offseason.  

15. It’s fair to declare that ’22-23 is the most pressure-packed season of John Calipari’s career as a college coach. Thanks to a nine-win season two years ago (amid COVID chaos) and losing as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament back in March, Kentucky fans are irritated. Cal also lost coveted assistant Jai Lucas to Scheyer and Duke. He then received blowback for his mid-August comments centered around his belief that UK’s practice facilities should be upgraded, insulting the football program and coach Mark Stoops in the process. Fortunately for Calipari, he seems to have a team capable of making a Final Four run, so this bluster has the potential to blow away if the pieces fit. If not, the drama may find a new volume.

16-20. Five seniors to know. We’ll go all four year classifications and start with the vets. I’ll go five apiece for each class and will avoid having the same team represented twice. The list starts with Tshiebwe, who will try to become the first player since Ralph Sampson in the early 1980s to win national player of the year in consecutive seasons. If he doesn’t do it, it might be because Timme leads Gonzaga to another 1-seed campaign and ups his already-impressive averages. Then again, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot is coming off a record-breaking six-game run in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a strong third option for preseason POY. Two other seniors, both on the West Coast: UCLA‘s Jaime Jacquez has a viable claim as the nation’s most underrated player heading into the season; at San Diego State, Matt Bradley could be the MVP of a Mountain West team that will have its sights on a No. 3 seed or better.

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Hunter Dickinson averaged 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds as one of the five best players in the Big Ten. Getty Images

21-25. Players to know: the juniors. We’ll lead with Dickinson at Michigan, who healthily increased his averages last season, and if anything, was slightly underappreciated in a Big Ten chock-full of big-time attractions. The Big Ten probably has the best array of juniors, as Dickinson will have two other bigs he’ll compete with for player of the year in IU’s Jackson-Davis and Edey at Purdue. If a wing is going to steal the show like last year, Iowa‘s Kris Murray is the best bet. One more junior to put on your radar and it’s another big: UConn stalwart Adama Sanogo might be due for a star turn.

26-30. Players to know: the sophomores. You want to know how much influence recruiting rankings have over players’ draft decisions? Emoni Bates, who will be a sophomore at Eastern Michigan, is the only player in 247 Sports’ rankings from the top 15 of 2021 who is going to play college this season. And the only reason Bates is going to play college is because he was not eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft. He’ll be an intrigue machine at Eastern Michigan, which is based in his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan. Aside from Bates, four more sophomores piquing my interest are Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard (could grow into the best point guard in the country), TexasTyrese Hunter (transferred from Iowa State), Stanford‘s Harrison Ingram (Stanford will be desperate for him to be a stat monster) and NC State‘s Terquavion Smith (maybe the best player who opted not to remain in the draft).  

31-35. Players to know: the freshmen. I wouldn’t call this a megawatt class, but there are marquee attractions and sure-fire lottery talents across the country. The five newbies who intrigue me most are Duke big Derrick Lively, Arkansas guard Nick Smith, Baylor combo Keyonte George, Kansas wing Gradey Dick and South Carolina tweener G.G. Jackson. Lively will be one of many highly ranked frosh at Duke, whereas Smith could be the talent to send Arkansas to its first Final Four in 27 years. George could be the best Baylor freshman ever, and Dick will probably have to be a shooting machine to give Kansas a shot at winning the Big 12. As for Jackson, he reclassified and has given South Carolina fans as much optimism heading into a season as they’ve had in ages.

36. The NIL game in college hoops will hit its next phase. In light of how UNC players were able to capitalize on their unexpected push to the national title game, I think the good-hearted NIL stories will get even better, more creative and more noteworthy in the second season of this new era. I don’t know if college hoops has a Decoldest Crawford-type dream NIL pairing, but I think the positive stories surrounding this will bring more good pub to the sport. Then you’ve got Nijel Pack at Miami, whose $400,000 deal was intentionally made public when it was signed in May. That will put a spotlight on him akin to an NBA player being scrutinized for performance due to his salary. A consequence of this new era.

37. There are some coaching homecomings to track, three of them in the Big East. The biggest splash is Sean Miller’s return to Xavier. He went 120-47 in his five previous seasons there (2004-09), helping set the table for a few years down the road when X upgraded from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East. A lot of people in college basketball believe this was a home run, maybe the best hire of 2022 (Arizona baggage and all). It seems like it’s going to work. I’ve got more on Xavier below.

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Thad Matta returns to coaching at his alma mater after stepping away at Ohio State in 2017 USATSI

38. Thad Matta’s return to Butler. Matta, a BU alum, spent only one season at Butler back in 2000-01 before getting the Xavier job. He last coached in 2017, resigning from Ohio State because of health issues stemming from his drop foot. He’s back and he brings with him a .740 career winning percentage. Maybe he turns Butler into a Big East powerhouse. Wouldn’t that be something?

39. Shaheen Holloway scoots back to Seton Hall. So completes the Big East trifecta of come-on-home narratives. Unlike Miller and Matta, Holloway is not a former head coach here, but he did play at SHU and he was a longtime assistant under Kevin Willard. Coming off Saint Peter’s Elite Eight run (which, five months removed, is already feeling like a top-three Cinderella story in the history of the tournament), can Holloway keep the Pirates relevant nationally and in the top half of the Big East? We’ll have more on Holloway here at CBSSports.com next week.

40. We haven’t had a season unaffected by COVID cancellations since 2018-19. Will this be the one? Please? As we sit on the precipice of September, it feels like we’ve moved into the later stages of living with this virus. But administrators were of a similar hope nearly a year ago. Then Omicron wrecked a month of the season and triggered scheduling PTSD. Fingers crossed that era is forever behind us.        

41. Let’s get to a few more games you should already be marking on your calendars. Here are 10 flavorful nonconference pre-Christmas battles. I’m not including any November tournaments or the Champions Classic here. Team rankings are according to our Top 25 And 1.

·       No. 1 Gonzaga @ No. 12 Texas, Nov. 16

·       No. 16 Villanova @ No. 25 Michigan State, Nov. 18

·       No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, Nov. 20

·       No. 2 North Carolina @ No. 17 Indiana, Nov. 30

·       No. 11 Creighton @ No. 12 Texas, Dec. 1

·       No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, Dec. 2

·       No. 21 Alabama @ No. 3 Houston, Dec. 10

·       No. 17 Indiana @ No. 8 Kansas, Dec. 17

·       No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 10 UCLA, Dec. 17

·       No. 9 Tennessee @ No. 15 Arizona, Dec. 17

When you factor in the four- and eight-team MTEs in addition to another dozen quality home-and-homes on the books for this season, there’s going to be a lot to take in during the first six weeks. I don’t think the average informed fan even realizes how good November and December’s slate will be from a Quad 1 games standpoint.

42. Love the smell of a new gym. Two teams will get the exciting opportunity to open new digs this season: Texas (Moody Center) and Georgia State (GSU Convocation Center). Texas’ building holds north of 10,000 for basketball games, while GSU’s is about 7,500 in the heart of Atlanta. The Moody Center seems like it’s the best multi-purpose venue in college athletics. 

43. The one new rule in place for this season: technical fouls for flopping. Long overdue. Here’s the official language from the NCAA: “Flopping continues to be a major concern in our game, and the rules committee felt that the current penalty of an initial warning for flopping has not deterred players from continuing to flop. An immediate penalty for flopping is needed to curb this behavior. The rules committee will also provide additional guidance to players, coaches and officials to better define flopping. This rules change has been reviewed and supported by the Division I Men’s Basketball Competition Committee as well as the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee.” Hear, hear!

44. Sensible conference realignment! No, not Texas and Oklahoma and UCLA and USC. Those are still down the road. In ’22-23 we have Loyola Chicago now in the Atlantic 10, while the Ramblers were replaced in the Missouri Valley by the satisfying 1-2 of Murray State and Belmont. There’s a path for the MVC to become a multi-bid league more reliably moving forward, should the league produce at least four top-100 teams annually. If curiosity has your noodle on this front, here’s every new team in a new league for 2022

45. Conferences change and so has D-I’s registrar … again. It’s now up to 363 teams, five more from a year ago. D-I has grown by 36 programs in the past two decades, an 11% increase since 2002. When does it end? No one else is brave enough to scream it, so I will: There are too many teams in D-I. Lock the door. Here are the latest schools to squeeze themselves into an already-too-crowded party: Lindenwood (think I’ve seen this at a Home Depot), Queens (no, not that Queens), Southern Indiana (we sure this isn’t just a really good high school?), Stonehill (stuffy country club, ice cream producer or D-I program — you decide) and Texas A&M Commerce (potentially just another team formed by Buzz Williams over the summer).

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Kendric Davis is one of the best points guards in college hoops. He transferred from SMU to Memphis. Getty Images

46. There were 1,784 transfers for the 2021-22 academic year, which was down from the 2021 all-time high of 1,834. Truth is, approximately 1,740 transfers really won’t matter on a national level, but it’s inevitable that a few dozen will wind up playing a significant role in how teams either make the NCAA Tournament or win games once the Big Dance begins. I’m not saying the names below are destined to be the best, but here’s a baker’s dozen worth of transfers to keep an eye on:

  1. Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley to Texas Tech)
  2. Emoni Bates (Memphis to Eastern Michigan)
  3. Manny Bates (NC State to Butler)
  4. Keion Brooks Jr. (Kentucky to Washington)
  5. Andre Curbelo (Illinois to St. John’s)
  6. Kendric Davis (SMU to Memphis)
  7. Dawson Garcia (UNC to Minnesota)
  8. Jaelin Llewellyn (Princeton to Michigan)
  9. Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure to Florida)
  10. Matthew Mayer (Baylor to Illinois)
  11. Kevin McCullar (Texas Tech to Kansas)
  12. Nijel Pack (K-State to Miami)
  13. Courtney Ramey (Texas to Arizona)

47. As mentioned earlier, Calipari is entering a season with more pressure on him than ever before … and he might have Hall of Fame company. The more I think about it, I think something sort of similar could be in play at Syracuse. No, Jim Boeheim cannot be on a true “hot seat” there. But: SU hasn’t finished better than two games above .500 in league play, nor won more than 19 games in a regular season, since 2013-14, which was the last time the program received a seed better than No. 8 in the NCAAs. Syracuse fans are hungry and fidgety. Maybe the Orange surprise people this season.

48. Dick Vitale embodies the essence of enthusiasm for college basketball and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some space in this column to congratulate Dickie V for recently being cancer-free. If ever the universe were to nod in someone’s direction, Vitale is as worthy as anyone to be spared of having an endless bought with cancer. Few have done more to rally and raise funds for cancer research than him. This was some of the best news of the summer. Can’t wait to have you back at the games, Dick.

49. Five non-obvious schools whose football programs will have better seasons than their men’s basketball counterparts: Kansas State, Louisville, Michigan State, NC State, Utah.

50. Five non-obvious schools whose men’s basketball programs will have better seasons than their football counterparts: Purdue, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, USC.

51. Power-conference programs with NCAA Tournament droughts of seven years or longer that will still not be making the Big Dance in ’23: DePaul (2004), Boston College (2009), Penn State (2011), South Florida (2012), Nebraska (2014), Georgia (2015).

52. The lone power-conference program I’m predicting ends its lengthy NCAA Tournament drought: Stanford. (Barely.) Jerod Haase has stud sophomore Harrison Ingram, plus two of the team’s other three top leading scorers from last season. The schedule is manageable and this is a NCAAs-or-bust season for Haase, who avoided a firing after a sixth consecutive season without fielding an NCAA Tournament team. The Cardinal are in the midst of their longest Big Dance hiatus since the ’80s, having last punched a ticket in 2014.

53. Virginia might be poised for a strong return to the upper echelon. The Cavaliers won the 2019 title, then finished 42nd at KenPom in 2020, was 19th (and one-and-done in the NCAAs) in 2021 and all the way down at 72nd last season, failing to field an NCAA Tournament-level team for the first time since 2013. But from 2014-19, Virginia finished anywhere from 12th to 1st at KenPom. I think Tony Bennett gets UVA back, minimally, to top-15 stature this season.

54. The WAC’s wild standings initiative. If you missed the story earlier this offseason, one of the more intriguing developments for ’22-23 will be the WAC’s unprecedented approach to how it will determine its regular season standings and seeding its conference tournament. Modern analytics taken too far, or an overdue meritocratic approach to fairly seeding teams with unbalanced league schedules?

55. Now hear this. If you are loving this type of college hoops content, here’s where I remind you that there is no better way to regularly engage with this sport than to subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast. We reliably publish at least three episodes per week, and you can also see every show live on YouTube. (With a lot of bonus content.) If you’re not already a regular, we’d love to have you. I’m told we’ll have shirts available soon!

56. There were 61 coaching changes in 2022. Last year I said seven new coaches would strut straight to the NCAAs in Year One at their new spot; I went six for seven, only missing on Porter Moser and Oklahoma. This year I think six tango right away: Todd Golden (Florida), Jonas Hayes (Georgia State), Sean Miller (Xavier), Kyle Neptune (Villanova), Jon Scheyer (Duke) and Kevin Willard (Maryland).

57. Let’s get to some conference-champ predictions. We’ll start with the American Athletic Conference. The best Houston team … potentially ever. At least in terms of where it stands in a given season. The Coogs have a proud history, but the roughly 100 coaches we polled across the country indicated to us that this team should be No. 2 in the land. It’s going to have its best offensive battalion under Kelvin Sampson, and it’d be a shock if the defense wasn’t again among the nation’s most rugged. This is UH’s final season in the American, and it should once again represent and uplift the conference.

58. In the ACC, the most practical pick is North Carolina. Almost the entire roster is back from a team that won 29 games, finished 16th at KenPom and was a win away from the national title. Caleb Love could make the jump to All-American status. Northwestern transfer Pete Nance will add 3-point legitimacy. Bacot might be the best player in the country. Everything’s in place in Chapel Hill.

59. The Big 12 once again rated as the best conference last season. In fact, the league’s +4.28 efficiency margin gap on No. 2 SEC was the second-largest separation in KenPom history (dating back to 2002). I don’t expect the Big 12 to be that dominant again, a prediction that will be reflected by the league standings. Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas are the four outfits under consideration to win the league title. Hard to go against Kansas, but with the IARP timeline for punishment still unclear, I will lean Baylor. If Scott Drew’s team wins the Big 12, it will mark the third consecutive year BU ends atop the league ledger, which would be a program record.

60. I told you I had more on Xavier back at item 37, so here it is: I’m taking the Musketeers as my dark horse pick to win the Big East. I recently explained why here in our weekly Dribble Handoff roundtable. There’s almost always at least one surprise team that wins a power conference. X is my pick for 2023.

61. The Big Ten’s had a noisy offseason, mainly due to football. On the hardwood, the league should produce at least six NCAA Tournament teams, but I’m not convinced it will be a top-two conference this season. Picking the regular-season champ feels like a crapshoot. I’m getting closer to convincing myself the title will be shared. Let’s fling a dart here … and … Illinois! OK!

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Senior Jaime Jacquez will be the centerpiece for a UCLA team projected to win the Pac-12. Getty Images

62. Can Arizona go back-to-back and take the Pac-12 in Year Two under Tommy Lloyd? The Wildcats lost two first-round NBA picks (Benn Mathurin, Dalen Terry) and an early second (Christian Koloko). Meanwhile, UCLA returns Jacquez and veteran PG Tyger Campbell, in addition to the powerful addition of five-star prospect Amari Bailey. The Bruins are the practical pick in what again feels like a top-heavy league. 

63. Since Calipari got to Kentucky in ’09, the Wildcats have never gone three straight seasons without a claim to the SEC’s regular-season title. After Alabama took it in 2021, then Auburn this year, I’m predicting Calipari’s streak will continue. Give me Tshiebwe and the Wildcats to win their 52nd regular season SEC crown.

64. Seven best-of-the-rest teams to watch out for: Wyoming, Dayton, UAB, Saint Louis, VCU, Grand Canyon, Furman.

65. Selection Sunday is March 12. If looking at a mock bracket 193 days from the real thing is your thing (and why wouldn’t it be?), here’s a recent portrait from Jerry Palm.

66. I like how the NCAA makes a point to return to cities that go long stretches between hosting tourney games. Big Dance sites returning after a long hiatus: Birmingham is back and hosting a first weekend for the first time in 15 years. Albany’s waited even longer: it will host tourney games for the first time in 20 years. 

67. In terms of regionals, 2023 will be a flashy set. The men’s tourney returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2017. (Florida’s Chris Chiozza’s buzzer-beater over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.) Also: Las Vegas will host for the first time, which is setting the table for the inevitability of Sin City hosting a Final Four by the end of the decade. There’s a lot to be excited for with how and where the 2023 men’s tournament is built. The full list of sites and dates are here.

68. Finally, the 2023 men’s Final Four is in Houston. It’s the fourth time the city has hosted (1971, 2011, 2016). The last time Houston got the big stage, the greatest ending in NCAA Tournament history happened. 

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