Arkansas is No. 1 in Way-Too-Early Top 25 college basketball rankings for 2022-23

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    Jeff BorzelloESPN Staff Writer

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    • Basketball recruiting insider.
    • Joined ESPN in 2014.
    • Graduate of University of Delaware.

After an NCAA tournament that featured a 15-seed in the Elite Eight, a Duke-North Carolina rivalry game with unprecedented stakes, the final game of Mike Krzyzewski’s legendary career and as hyped a Final Four as we’ll ever see, we all need a minute to catch our breath and recharge.

Done? OK, good. Hope you’re refreshed, because it’s already time to look ahead to the 2022-23 college basketball season.

Let’s get a couple of ground rules out of the way quickly.

One, any player currently projected by ESPN to be selected in June’s NBA draft will be considered a departure for now. If that player opts to return to school, obviously we’ll adjust in the future. Players not projected to be picked will be included as a returnee, unless there’s enough reliable information pointing to a certain departure.

Two, for seniors with another season of eligibility due to the COVID year, we’re going to project them as departures — unless they’ve officially announced they’re returning to school for another year. Again, we’ll adjust as players opt for another year in college.

Both things are subject to change, but we had to draw a line in the sand somewhere at this point in the calendar.

Think that’s it for now — there are only 219 days until the season tips off, so it’s time to dive in!

8

1. Arkansas Razorbacks

There’s not a clear No. 1 entering the offseason, but five-star guard Anthony Black‘s commitment to Arkansas in late March gives the Razorbacks the edge. Eric Musselman, who has established himself as one of the best transfer recruiters and coaches in the country, is bringing the nation’s second-best high school recruiting class to a program coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Nick Smith is in contention to be the No. 1 pick in 2023, while Jordan Walsh and Black are also five-star prospects who could start right away. There are some roster questions, mainly focused on Jaylin Williams and Au’Diese Toney, but if one of the two return, I think this is the best team in the country.

Projected starting lineup:

Nick Smith (No. 6 in ESPN 100)
Devo Davis (8.3 PPG)
Anthony Black (No. 20 in ESPN 100)
Jordan Walsh (No. 10 in ESPN 100)
Au’Diese Toney (10.5 PPG)

248

2. Houston Cougars

Houston came one step short of back-to-back Final Fours, but it’s clear Kelvin Sampson has found something that works and has turned the Cougars into one of the most consistently bankable teams over the past several seasons. Jamal Shead had a terrific NCAA tournament, and Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark should be back healthy after having their seasons cut short due to injury. Jarace Walker adds some serious talent to Houston’s frontcourt, and I’m of the opinion that fellow incoming freshman Terrance Arceneaux is one of the best pure scorers in the 2022 class. This team will have more scoring options than ever to go with its usual elite defensive and offensive rebounding prowess. Also of potential significance: The 2023 Final Four will be held at Houston’s NRG Stadium.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamal Shead (10.0 PPG)
Marcus Sasser (17.7 PPG)
Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG)
Jarace Walker (No. 9 in ESPN 100)
J’Wan Roberts (3.2 PPG)

26

3. UCLA Bruins

For now, we’re projecting Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Peyton Watson to all return to Westwood, given that none of the three are currently inside ESPN’s top 60 for the 2022 NBA draft. That actually happening feels like a stretch, but it’s difficult to figure out at this point. If it does happen, Mick Cronin’s team could ultimately have a case to be preseason No. 1. The Bruins are adding Amari Bailey, arguably the best guard in the 2022 class and someone who will add plenty of backcourt dynamism, as well as five-star center Adem Bona. There’s a lot left to play out this offseason for UCLA, but the Bruins are starting off in a pretty good position.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyger Campbell (11.9 PPG)
Amari Bailey (No. 2 in ESPN 100)
Johnny Juzang (15.6 PPG)
Jaime Jaquez Jr. (13.9 PPG)
Adem Bona (No. 13 in ESPN 100)

2305

4. Kansas Jayhawks

After seeing its national championship dreams get canceled by COVID-19 in 2020, Kansas was able to get to Monday night for the first time in 10 years — the last time the Final Four was in New Orleans — and finish the job with its fourth national championship. Next year it’s in Houston, but the Jayhawks could get there again. Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Mitch Lightfoot and Remy Martin are all likely to be gone, but there will be some continuity with Dajuan Harris Jr. and Jalen Wilson expected back. Bill Self is also bringing in an elite recruiting class, highlighted by elite scorer Gradey Dick and powerful offensive player M.J. Rice. A third top-25 recruit, Ernest Udeh, will help replace the frontcourt talent — but returnees K.J. Adams and Zach Clemence will help, too.

Projected starting lineup:

Dajuan Harris Jr. (5.4 PPG)
Gradey Dick (No. 8 in ESPN 100)
MJ Rice (No. 19 in ESPN 100)
Jalen Wilson (11.0 PPG)
Ernest Udeh (No. 23 in ESPN 100)

153

5. North Carolina Tar Heels

Prior to the NCAA tournament run, it’s highly unlikely Carolina would have been at this spot in the rankings. But Hubert Davis clearly found something that worked with his quartet of stars and proved his coaching chops on the biggest stage in the sport. The only negative for the national runners-up is that Caleb Love might have played himself out the door after his outstanding performances. Armando Bacot might have already been heading in that direction. But for now, both are included in this projection — and a trio of Love, R.J. Davis and Bacot would be as good as it gets in college basketball next season. Throw in the development of some returnees and the addition of two top-50 recruits, and Davis will have plenty of talent again.

Projected starting lineup:

Caleb Love (15.2 PPG)
Seth Trimble (No. 45 in ESPN 100)
R.J. Davis (13.4 PPG)
Dontrez Styles (2.0 PPG)
Armando Bacot (16.5 PPG)

150

6. Duke Blue Devils

For the first time since 1980, Mike Krzyzewski will not be part of the Duke program. That will lead to more uncertainty than ever for the Blue Devils. But Jon Scheyer’s first recruiting class at the helm is by far the best in the country, with three top-five prospects leading the way. Unfortunately, Scheyer might have to start four of them, given that up to six of Duke’s top seven players are leaving the program after this season. A first-year head coach with a starting lineup featuring four freshmen? There are certainly going to be some growing pains. But there is also going to be a tremendous amount of talent on the roster, with returning point guard Jeremy Roach keeping everything together.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (8.6 PPG)
Dariq Whitehead (No. 4 in ESPN 100)
Mark Mitchell (No. 31 in ESPN 100)
Kyle Filipowski (No. 5 in ESPN 100)
Dereck Lively (No. 1 in ESPN 100)

96

7. Kentucky Wildcats

The Wildcats would move into contention for the No. 1 spot should Oscar Tshiebwe or Shaedon Sharpe return to Lexington, but given their current draft statuses, we have both players departing. But John Calipari will have a talented group next season either way. Sahvir Wheeler and Keion Brooks Jr. both return to the starting lineup, and the additions of five-star recruits Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston will add some more playmaking to the lineup. There will have to be a breakout player up front, whether it’s former five-star recruit Daimion Collins, Jacob Toppin or someone else, but there are options. Don’t forget about former Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick, one of the elite shooters in college basketball, who missed last season with a hamstring injury.

Projected starting lineup:

Sahvir Wheeler (10.1 PPG)
Cason Wallace (No. 14 in ESPN 100)
Chris Livingston (No. 12 in ESPN 100)
Keion Brooks Jr. (10.8 PPG)
Daimion Collins (2.9 PPG)

239

8. Baylor Bears

Baylor will look very different next season, with two seniors and two potential first-round picks all exiting Waco. There is always a chance Matthew Mayer returns for another season, but he’s gone for now. Scott Drew will likely use a much smaller lineup next season, with two ESPN 100 recruits — including elite guard Keyonte George, one of the best offensive players in the class — joining returnees Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer on the perimeter. The frontcourt has some questions, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua‘s health atop the list. He suffered an injury to multiple ligaments in mid-February. Flo Thamba‘s decision to take advantage of his extra year of eligibility and return to Waco is huge for Drew.

Projected starting lineup:

Dillon Hunter (No. 54 in ESPN 100)
Keyonte George (No. 3 in ESPN 100)
Adam Flagler (13.8 PPG)
LJ Cryer (13.5 PPG)
Flo Thamba (6.2 PPG)

156

9. Creighton Bluejays

Creighton entering the season as the Big East favorite is a big call, but given the way the Bluejays were playing late in the season and the returnees to Omaha, it’s hard to argue otherwise. They won 10 of their final 14 games this past season, including an NCAA tournament victory over San Diego State and a 27-point win over Providence in the Big East tournament. Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner should both be healthy in plenty of time for the season, while freshmen Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander are also back as starters. Greg McDermott might need to find a little more scoring pop with Ryan Hawkins and Alex O’Connell gone, but the portal is very much open.

Projected starting lineup:

Ryan Nembhard (11.3 PPG)
Rati Andronikashvili (1.8 PPG)
Trey Alexander (7.4 PPG)
Arthur Kaluma (10.4 PPG)
Ryan Kalkbrenner (13.1 PPG)

12

10. Arizona Wildcats

This is another ranking that can fluctuate wildly in the coming weeks. For now, we’re assuming Bennedict Mathurin is certainly gone, while Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry are also projected to be picked in ESPN’s latest mock draft. If Tommy Lloyd loses all three players, this ranking might look a little high. If either Koloko or Terry returns, then we could see the Wildcats rise. Arizona was clearly not the same team without a fully healthy Kerr Kriisa, but he and Pelle Larsson should form a quality backcourt — while Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo will continue to give Arizona a size advantage over most teams up front. The question is on the wing, where Adama Bal could be poised for a huge step forward.

Projected starting lineup:

Kerr Kriisa (9.7 PPG)
Pelle Larsson (7.2 PPG)
Adama Bal (1.5 PPG)
Azuolas Tubelis (13.9 PPG)
Oumar Ballo (6.8 PPG)

130

11. Michigan Wolverines

Hunter Dickinson nearly left Ann Arbor for the NBA draft last summer, and he could certainly take the next step this year, but latest projections have him going undrafted — so there’s a chance Juwan Howard gets him for another campaign. If he does return, Michigan will again have one of the biggest frontcourts in the country, with Howard hoping Caleb Houstan can become more consistent on the wing. It will be interesting to see how the Wolverines replace DeVante’ Jones and Eli Brooks; Frankie Collins showed flashes down the stretch, while Dug McDaniel is a tough, quick freshman entering the fold. Kobe Bufkin, a former McDonald’s All American, will also return on the perimeter.

Projected starting lineup:

Dug McDaniel (No. 60 in ESPN 100)
Frankie Collins (2.8 PPG)
Caleb Houstan (10.1 PPG)
Moussa Diabate (9.0 PPG)
Hunter Dickinson (18.6 PPG)

2250

12. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Perhaps the biggest NBA draft decision to impact the rankings in the coming weeks will be that of Drew Timme. One of the best players in college basketball throughout his career, Timme could legitimately go either way. He’s projected as a late second-round pick, but he could also return and look to set all kinds of records in Spokane. If he leaves, Mark Few will have his least proven roster in a long time. Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis, both former five-star recruits, should get their chance to shine in the backcourt, while Julian Strawther and Anton Watson return up front. Where does Few turn if Timme doesn’t return? He will likely pursue a number of transfer bigs.

Projected starting lineup:

Nolan Hickman (5.1 PPG)
Hunter Sallis (4.3 PPG)
Julian Strawther (11.8 PPG)
Anton Watson (7.3 PPG)
Ben Gregg (2.4 PPG)

222

13. Villanova Wildcats

On paper, Villanova doesn’t have a ton of proven talent ready to go next season. But who are we to count out Jay Wright? The man has won two of the past six national championships and is coming off another Final Four appearance. But there are certainly some questions. Justin Moore — assuming he’s healthy — and Eric Dixon are the lone returning starters, unless Brandon Slater comes back for another year. Cameron Whitmore fits Villanova perfectly as a tough, physical, high-motor frontcourt player. But the backcourt is up in the air. Is Mark Armstrong ready to make an impact? Does Jordan Longino or Bryan Antoine or Chris Arcidiacono show some consistency?

Projected starting lineup:

Mark Armstrong (No. 63 in ESPN 100)
Jordan Longino (1.8 PPG)
Justin Moore (14.8 PPG)
Cameron Whitmore (No. 29 in ESPN 100)
Eric Dixon (9.1 PPG)

2633

14. Tennessee Volunteers

After looking like one of the best teams in the country over the final six weeks of the regular season and in the SEC tournament, Tennessee’s season came to a halt with a loss to Michigan in the second round. Only one starter is gone, but that’s Kennedy Chandler, one of the best freshmen in the country last season. That will put more pressure on Zakai Zeigler, who emerged as a key piece for Rick Barnes’ team. Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Uros Plavsic are back as starters, while Olivier Nkamhoua should be healthy. Tennessee had some stretches early in the season where the offense disappeared for long periods of time; without Chandler, the Vols will need someone to step up to provide scoring pop.

Projected starting lineup:

Zakai Zeigler (8.8 PPG)
Santiago Vescovi (13.3 PPG)
Josiah-Jordan James (10.3 PPG)
Olivier Nkamhoua (8.6 PPG)
Uros Plavsic (4.2 PPG)

333

15. Alabama Crimson Tide

Prior to Jaden Shackelford‘s decision on Sunday to enter the NBA draft — with a statement that doesn’t indicate much of an interest in returning to Tuscaloosa — I had the Crimson Tide ranked inside the top 10. Now, they drop several spots, but I still like Nate Oats’ team. Jahvon Quinerly is back, as are three other key pieces of the Alabama rotation. A lot of the optimism stems from an elite recruiting class that features five-star prospects Jaden Bradley and Brandon Miller, as well as ESPN 100 recruits Rylan Griffen and Noah Clowney. We also have to wait and see whether JD Davison and Keon Ellis — two projected draft picks — return to Tuscaloosa for another season.

Projected starting lineup:

Jahvon Quinerly (13.8 PPG)
Jaden Bradley (No. 15 in ESPN 100)
Darius Miles (5.8 PPG)
Brandon Miller (No. 18 in ESPN 100)
Charles Bediako (6.7 PPG)

2

16. Auburn Tigers

Bruce Pearl’s biggest task will be replacing future first-round picks Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, who only spent one season at Auburn but became arguably the best frontcourt duo in the country at both ends of the floor. Pearl took a big step toward finding reinforcements in late March, when former LSU commit Yohan Traore picked Auburn — he should start right away. Wendell Green Jr., K.D. Johnson and Zep Jasper are all back on the perimeter; the key for them will be decision-making and shot selection. It will be interesting to see whether Allen Flanigan can return to his 2020-21 form. He entered last season as a projected first-round pick after averaging 14.3 points, but missed the first half of the season due to injury and struggled to get going offensively.

Projected starting lineup:

Wendell Green Jr. (12.0 PPG)
K.D. Johnson (12.3 PPG)
Allen Flanigan (6.3 PPG)
Jaylin Williams (5.6 PPG)
Yohan Traore (No. 36 in ESPN 100)

356

17. Illinois Fighting Illini

Another key pivot point in the preseason rankings for next season will be whether Kofi Cockburn comes back to Champaign for another go-round. Because he’s not projected to be selected, we have him returning — and that’s essentially the lone reason Illinois is ranked in the Top 25 right now. But Cockburn has made his NBA decision late in the process the past couple of years, and he might decide it’s time to move on regardless of draft status. If that happens, Brad Underwood potentially has a huge rebuild on his hands with Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison all seniors this past season. It’s no surprise the Fighting Illini are in the mix for several remaining high schoolers and transfer targets.

Projected starting lineup:

Jayden Epps (No. 90 in ESPN 100)
RJ Melendez (3.8 PPG)
Luke Goode (2.0 PPG)
Coleman Hawkins (5.9 PPG)
Kofi Cockburn (20.9 PPG)

2168

18. Dayton Flyers

After falling just short of the NCAA tournament, Anthony Grant and the Flyers shouldn’t have to sweat out Selection Sunday in 2023. Dayton returns all five starters from a team that beat Kansas, Miami, Virginia Tech and Davidson — and with six of its top seven players last season only freshmen, it could be the start of a very successful run for Grant. Malachi Smith was one of the best freshman point guards in the country this past season, while 6-foot-10 big man DaRon Holmes II is a future NBA player. Dayton was elite shooting the ball last season and also had a top-40 defense for most of the season. If the young core takes the expected step forward, the Flyers could be very, very good.

Projected starting lineup:

Malachi Smith (9.3 PPG)
Kobe Elvis (8.9 PPG)
R.J. Blakney (6.5 PPG)
Toumani Camara (10.9 PPG)
DaRon Holmes II (12.8 PPG)

2483

19. Oregon Ducks

I’m a proponent of giving Dana Altman-coached teams the benefit of the doubt, and that backfired on me this past season, with the Ducks missing the NCAA tournament after being ranked inside the top 20 in the preseason. But 2021-22 will likely end up as an outlier. De’Vion Harmon, Quincy Guerrier, N’Faly Dante, Franck Kepnang and Rivaldo Soares are all back from the rotation, while the Ducks are bringing in high-level recruits Kel’el Ware and Dior Johnson. Ware has as much potential as anyone in the 2022 class, while Johnson has had hype surrounding him since early in his high school career and will be ready to make an immediate impact.

Projected starting lineup:

De’Vion Harmon (10.8 PPG)
Dior Johnson (No. 28 in ESPN 100)
Quincy Guerrier (10.1 PPG)
Kel’el Ware (No. 16 in ESPN 100)
N’Faly Dante (8.1 PPG)

2752

20. Xavier Musketeers

I had Xavier ranked inside the top 15 before Dwon Odom entered the transfer portal Monday morning; without him, a lot will be put on the shoulders of incoming freshman Desmond Claude (four-star) at the point guard spot. Or the Musketeers could hit the portal. Talent wasn’t an issue this past season; they just hit a wall in early February and couldn’t snap out of it before Selection Sunday. But they put it together to make a run and win the NIT championship. And now they have Sean Miller, who was one of the most consistently successful coaches in the country during his time at Arizona and Xavier. Three double-figure scorers are back from this past season, while Kam Craft should make an immediate impact as a freshman as a scorer. The Musketeers are also undoubtedly still looking to add pieces this month.

Projected starting lineup:

Desmond Claude (four-star)
Kam Craft (No. 59 in ESPN 100)
Colby Jones (11.6 PPG)
Jack Nunge (13.4 PPG)
Zach Freemantle (10.4 PPG)

84

21. Indiana Hoosiers

Trayce Jackson-Davis falls into the same category as Cockburn, Dickinson and the UNC and UCLA players — not projected to be drafted in 2022 at this point, but could certainly opt to leave. If Mike Woodson does get Jackson-Davis back, however, Indiana will return most of the core pieces that got the Hoosiers back to the NCAA tournament. Miller Kopp was the only senior, and he appears likely to return for another year. Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson are back in the starting lineup, and Woodson had other options in Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo and Tamar Bates. Jalen Hood-Schifino is a top-25 recruit, and I’m very high on fellow incoming freshman Kaleb Banks.

Projected starting lineup:

Xavier Johnson (12.1 PPG)
Jalen Hood-Schifino (No. 24 in ESPN 100)
Miller Kopp (6.0 PPG)
Race Thompson (11.1 PPG)
Trayce Jackson-Davis (18.3 PPG)

251

22. Texas Longhorns

It’s difficult to project what Texas will look like next season. Timmy Allen, Marcus Carr, Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Jase Febres are all seniors. Christian Bishop is the only projected returnee who averaged more than 3.7 points per game. But there’s some optimism in Austin. Dylan Disu should be healthier next season up front; he was a double-double threat every night at Vanderbilt, and Chris Beard will hope he returns to form. The Longhorns are also welcoming two five-star recruits on the perimeter, with playmaking guard Arterio Morris and explosive Dillon Mitchell entering the fold. Mitchell is a legitimate one-and-done prospect who makes his biggest impact defensively and in transition.

Projected starting lineup:

Arterio Morris (No. 22 in ESPN 100)
Devin Askew (2.1 PPG)
Dillon Mitchell (No. 7 in ESPN 100)
Dylan Disu (3.7 PPG)
Christian Bishop (7.0 PPG)

2509

23. Purdue Boilermakers

Outside of Duke, Purdue might have had the toughest loss to swallow of anyone in the NCAA tournament. The Boilermakers saw their region open up with the top two seeds losing in the first weekend, but they then lost to Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16. And now Matt Painter has to replace All-American Jaden Ivey and four players who started at least 19 games — along with Trevion Williams, one of the best big men in the sport the past few years. The frontcourt should be OK with Mason Gillis, Caleb Furst and Zach Edey, but the backcourt has major questions. Ethan Morton and Brandon Newman have seen minutes on the perimeter, but is Fletcher Loyer ready for a major role?

Projected starting lineup:

Ethan Morton (2.4 PPG)
Fletcher Loyer (No. 94 in ESPN 100)
Mason Gillis (6.4 PPG)
Caleb Furst (4.1 PPG)
Zach Edey (14.4 PPG)

2641

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Does Mark Adams get the “benefit of the doubt” treatment already? At this point last season, we had no clue what the Red Raiders’ roster was going to look like — and all Adams did was build a team that eventually took Duke to the wire in the Sweet 16. And it’s more of the same this spring. Kevin McCullar is the only returning starter, although three rotation pieces are also back in the fold, as well as former top-50 recruit Jaylon Tyson, who left Texas after eight games. But we know Tech is going to hit the portal for players, and we know it is going to be one of the best defensive teams in the country. That’s enough for me to put the Red Raiders in the top 25 for now.

Projected starting lineup:

Mylik Wilson (2.5 PPG)
Clarence Nadolny (3.5 PPG)
Jaylon Tyson (1.8 PPG at Texas)
Kevin McCullar (10.1 PPG)
Daniel Batcho (2.2 PPG)

139

25. Saint Louis Billikens

This might be my out-on-a-limb pick for the Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25. Last year I started out with Virginia Tech in the top 10, and I had Creighton at No. 2 in 2020, so it doesn’t always work out. In which case — sorry, Saint Louis. But I’m a big fan of the Billikens’ roster for next season. Travis Ford’s top seven scorers are back from this past season, including Yuri Collins, the nation’s assist leader, and elite 3-point shooter Gibson Jimerson. Saint Louis is also getting back Javonte Perkins, a second-team All-Atlantic 10 selection in 2021 who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. They’ll have to make strides defensively, but they have the firepower to compete with anyone.

Projected starting lineup:

Yuri Collins (11.1 PPG)
Javonte Perkins (17.1 PPG in 2020-21)
Gibson Jimerson (16.1 PPG)
Jordan Nesbitt (8.2 PPG)
Francis Okoro (10.8 PPG)

Next in line:

Virginia Cavaliers
Ohio State Buckeyes
USC Trojans
Texas A&M Aggies
Michigan State Spartans

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