Which teams are underrated and overrated in the preseason top 25 college basketball poll? The Heat Check CBB staff debates the fresh set of rankings.
The 2022-23 college basketball preseason AP Top 25 poll dropped Monday with North Carolina leading the way at No. 1 followed by Gonzaga, Houston, Kentucky, Kansas and Baylor.
With the preseason Top 25 in place, the new season is inching closer and closer. The Heat Check CBB staff is back to discuss major Top 25 takeaways, which teams may surprise or disappoint, and mid-major teams that could crash the party.
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What is your biggest takeaway from the 2022-23 Preseason AP Poll?
Connor Hope: It doesn’t matter how down the Pac-12 and Big Ten are projected to be, the voters are going to give their top teams love. Even if teams like Florida, Miami, UConn (when healthy) and Texas A&M would likely be the second or third-best team in those two conferences; projected finish in high-major conferences still matters.
Brian Rauf: Being a blueblood holds water. We know this, but the preseason poll really just hammered that home. UNC being No. 1 isn’t a surprise, but seeing both Kentucky and Kansas in the top 5 was. Add in Duke — with a new coach and virtually entirely new roster — ahead of UCLA and Creighton and it’s clear to see who got the benefit of the doubt.
Riley Davis: It’s nice to see non-power conference teams get some love. San Diego State, in particular, has the upside of a Final Four contender — and it’s not just the analytics folks who are catching on. Meanwhile, Dayton has generated plenty of buzz for its lauded sophomore class, and it will hope that group can springboard the Flyers back into national relevancy.
Eli Boettger: Although UNC gathered roughly three-fourths of the No. 1 votes, there is quite a bit of parity at the top to start the year. Four teams — UNC (47), Gonzaga (12), Kentucky (2) and Houston (1) — all received at least one first-place vote after just two teams (Gonzaga and UCLA) did so last season.
Lukas Harkins: National media isn’t afraid to trust the Villanova brand. Jay Wright is no longer walking the sidelines on the Main Line, yet the Wildcats earned the No. 16 ranking in the preseason poll. Cam Whitmore and Mark Armstrong are a superb freshman duo to pair with returners in Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon. But Villanova was only picked third in the preseason Big East poll; coaches in the league instead favored Xavier (unranked in the AP poll) for the No. 2 slot behind Creighton. Kyle Neptune put together admirable results in his lone season at Fordham. He is now tasked with upholding an extremely high standard at Villanova.
Which team is the most underrated entering the season?
Connor Hope: There aren’t many teams in the top 25 that I feel are more than 2-3 spots off where I have them except for San Diego State, Dayton and TCU. While San Diego State’s ceiling is based on projection, TCU’s is based on what they showed to close last season. From January onward the Horned Frogs were a top-25 team (per Torvik) and KenPom had them as a top-15 defense on the season. With the Big 12’s best point guard in Mike Miles, a rising sophomore in Eddie Lampkin and three seniors in the starting lineup, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jamie Dixon has this team humming in the top 10 from start to finish.
Brian Rauf: There are some deep cuts — Miami should be ranked and Florida State might make people look silly for not having them in the top 30 — but I’m going with San Diego State. The Aztecs are in the top 20 but I feel like this group has top-10, maybe even top-5 potential. They bring back virtually everyone from a team that had the nation’s best defense a year ago and added some needed offensive pop on the perimeter via the transfer portal in Darrion Trammell and Micah Parrish. I really like them as a dark horse Final Four threat.
Riley Davis: Alabama. The Tide boasts the guard group needed to execute Nate Oats’ up-tempo attack. Ohio transfer Mark Sears and five-star freshman Jaden Bradley highlight the group, but Nimari Burnett, a once highly-touted recruit, and Dom Welch, a standout at St. Bonaventure, will also occupy key roles. Lastly, if Jahvon Quinerly returns to full health, any team in the country will struggle to keep up with this backcourt. And that’s not even mentioning Brandon Miller, a 6-9 freshman wing who could be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft.
Eli Boettger: There is a fairly substantial dropoff in voting totals between 10th-ranked Arkansas (1,026 points) and 11th-ranked Tennessee (880 points). Sure, the Vols have struggled in March under Rick Barnes, which may have caused some skepticism among the voters. However, the Tennessee roster is as talented as any during Barnes’ tenure, and this squad is certainly capable of reaching the third weekend. We may look back at this poll come April realizing that the Vols were far more of a threat than we once thought.
Lukas Harkins: I’m limiting my answer to teams that were ranked in the preseason poll or received votes. With that in mind, I think that Iowa is being undersold. The Hawkeyes might not be worthy of a preseason top-25 selection, but they only received the 36th-most votes (seventh among Big Ten teams). Iowa will look different after losing Keegan Murray, but many said the same when Luka Garza left. Kris Murray might be the biggest breakout candidate in the country and Payton Sandfort could take a leap as well. The Hawkeyes have finished in the final AP poll – and no worse than fifth in the Big Ten – in three consecutive years.
What team is the most overrated entering the season?
Connor Hope: It would be easy to say Indiana since the Hoosiers are on almost every overrated list out there, but I am going to go with Oregon. I understand that we trust Dana Altman not to put together two disappointing seasons in a row, but this roster is confusing. Shooting inconsistencies could still be a huge issue; the twin towers lineup — while talented — is uninspiring, and the question marks surrounding whether combo guard Will Richardson can be both a starting point and top option are still unanswered.
Brian Rauf: Connor said it’s easy to go with Indiana, so let’s go with Indiana! Yes, the Hoosiers got hot at the end of last season, but they needed to win two Big Ten Tournament games to even get into the Big Dance. Returning the core of that group certainly isn’t a bad thing but that late run also didn’t re-establish the team’s floor. They might be a fringe top-25 team, not one safely in the top 15.
Riley Davis: Considering Auburn lost its All-American frontcourt, I don’t think it should be ranked in the top 15. Now, Johni Broome flaunts the size and physicality needed to translate to the SEC; he should remain an elite rim protector who has some stuff to him on offense as well. And freshman Yohan Traore has no shortage of talent — but neither can space the floor like Jabari Smith. The Tigers will need their guards to cut back on their erratic play to stay ranked for the majority of the season.
Eli Boettger: Maybe it’s a nod to Tony Bennett’s coaching chops, but Virginia checking in comfortably at No. 18 is rather optimistic for a team that missed the tournament last year and was 84th in KenPom entering the NIT. Moreover, the UVa roster makeup isn’t substantially different than last year. It’s more or less the same nucleus with the top six players returning and the addition of Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas. Continuity matters in college hoops but are we sure the Cavaliers can make such a dramatic leap?
Lukas Harkins: Creighton finished last season at No. 50 on KenPom and 11-1 against the site’s top 100. It was an impressive campaign for a young team with lower expectations, but the Bluejays were not elite. A leap from fringe top-50 last year into the national top 10 hinges on a rising sophomore class taking a big jump. I firmly believe in Creighton’s potential this season, but I also think they are the top-10 team most likely to disappoint. Every other program in the preseason top 12 finished in the KenPom top 20 last year. The Bluejays have all of the potential in the world to reach this expectation, but the bar is sky-high.
What team was the biggest snub from the preseason AP Poll?
Connor Hope: UConn is a team I have in my top 20 — yes, even without Andre Jackson for however long — and they belong in the Top 25. Adama Sanogo is one of the 5-10 best bigs in the country; Tristen Newton was relatively efficient even as the do-everything point guard for an incredibly inefficient team, and Nahiem Alleyne and Joey Calcaterra provide the shooting the Huskies desperately need without Jackson.
Brian Rauf: I mentioned it a little bit ago but Miami. The Canes brought back Isaiah Wong, landed one of the best transfer guards available in Nijel Pack and upgraded their frontcourt with the addition of Norchad Omier. I don’t think Miami is in the same stratosphere as Duke and UNC in the ACC, yet I also think they’re clearly better than everyone else.
Riley Davis: UConn has a strong case, but I understand its omission a little bit with the uncertainty around Andre Jackson’s timeline for return. So let’s roll with Florida. The Gators have rangy, athletic wings who could solidify a top-notch defense, not to mention Colin Castleton patrolling the paint.
Eli Boettger: Maybe it doesn’t warrant a selection in the preseason Top 25 but Florida State has the highest upside of the teams that received votes but didn’t make the cut. The Seminoles were dealt one of the worst injury bugs in recent memory last year and still managed to finish .500 in the ACC. The sophomore trio of Jalen Warley, Matthew Cleveland and Naheem McLeod are capable of breakouts while the addition of UCF sharpshooter Darin Green Jr. will keep defenses honest.
Lukas Harkins: It feels like teams that finished last year strong received a ton of respect from the preseason voters this year. North Carolina (No. 1), Creighton (No. 9) and Indiana (No. 13), for instance, all seemed to benefit from playing their best basketball late. Yet, Miami sits on the outside looking in despite winning 10 of 13 games en route to an Elite Eight appearance, where they lost to the eventual national champion. The Hurricanes return Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, plus added Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier. They aren’t in the top tier with Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, but they could have been a preseason top-25 selection.
Which team outside the top 10 is most likely to make the top 5?
Connor Hope: I’ll let Brian continue his SDSU love, and instead pivot to Villanova. The Wildcats have broken into the top 5 in seven of the last nine seasons, gained Final Four experience on the roster last season, and have two excellent freshmen ready to contribute. With Justin Moore projected to be back sometime in early Big East play, this team could start to turn heads by March. The knock of course is the retirement of Jay Wright, but Kyle Neptune has been preparing under Wright for years.
Brian Rauf: I said it already: San Diego State. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Aztecs got close to the top 5 after the Maui Invitational. That event has a loaded field this year but SDSU has the talent to get it done.
Riley Davis: The Vols could vault up the rankings much like they did in football. Santiago Vescovi, an All-SEC First Teamer, and breakout candidate Zakai Ziegler will captain the offense, while the defense should remain near the top of the country with Josiah-Jordan James back for his senior campaign. Keep an eye on big man Olivier Nkamhoua — last year, the Finnish forward was flourishing as a two-way contributor before an ankle injury derailed his season.
Eli Boettger: San Diego State probably has the best defense in college basketball, and the SDSU offense only needs to be serviceable to cruise through the regular season. The additions of transfers Darrion Trammell and Micah Parrish as well as redshirted forward Jaedon LeDee should spark a significant improvement on that end.
Lukas Harkins: I mentioned earlier that I thought Villanova was deserving of its preseason placement. Now, I will back the Wildcats again as a team with a tremendously high ceiling. Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon are back as potential all-conference players, and they might not even be the best players on the team. Cam Whitmore is a stud freshman, as is point guard Mark Armstrong. If Justin Moore is able to healthily return during the conference schedule, they would be adding a Big East Player of the Year caliber performer. In his lone campaign at the helm, Kyle Neptune led Fordham to just its fourth .500-or-better season in the last 30 years. His impressive season with the Rams has gone a bit overlooked. Program pedigree is on his side.
What mid-major conference team not in the preseason poll is most likely to sneak in by the end of November?
Connor Hope: I am going to fudge the definition of “mid-major conference” enough to include the A-10 and say Saint Louis will absolutely sneak into the Top 25 by the end of the month. While frontloading a non-conference schedule with high-major opponents is usually a recipe for disaster, a team with the experience, continuity and talent like Saint Louis can get the job done. They will be the first KenPom preseason top-40 team faced by Murray State, Memphis, Maryland, Providence or Miami, and Auburn — all in November. Being the toughest team on team’s calendars — Iona, Boise State and Drake all have SLU as their toughest teams in the nonconference play in December — can be a blessing or a curse, but if SLU does well, they should vault up on the name recognition of their opponents alone.
Brian Rauf: To be ranked by the end of November, you either need to have a solid amount of preseason hype and turn that into immediate wins or have opportunities to pick up monumental victories. UAB obviously has a great chance and is the likely answer. They bring a lot back from last season’s NCAA Tournament team and have a star in Jelly Walker. Two others to watch out for, though, are Liberty and James Madison. Liberty’s Darius McGhee is one of the best mid-major players in the country and if the Flames beat Alabama on Nov. 11 in Tuscaloosa, who knows what could happen? JMU projects to be one of the favorites in the Sun Belt and plays at UNC in late November. I don’t think the Dukes shock the world but they’re good enough to surprise.
Riley Davis: The UAB Blazers are the obvious choice, so I’ll zig and choose their C-USA counterparts in Western Kentucky. Under Rick Stansbury, the Toppers haven’t really capitalized on their high-end talent. However, this squad may come with the highest pedigree yet. Two high major transfers in Khristian Lander (Indiana) and Dontaie Allen (Kentucky) enter the fold, along with point-forward/defensive ace Emmanuel Akot (Boise State). Oh yeah, WKU also deploys the nation’s top shot blocker in the 7-5 Jamarion Sharp.
Eli Boettger: It would require an unbeaten start and at least one signature win (and maybe some program caché) for a mid-major team to slip into the Top 25 in the season’s first three weeks. VCU is a decent option here. The Rams play in the Legends Classic in the middle of the month with games against Arizona State and either Michigan or Pitt. The No. 4 turnover defense then turns around and heads to Memphis next to face the Tigers, which ranked 351st in turnover rate last season. A 6-0 start — with the other matchups at home vs. low-majors — would almost certainly propel VCU into the Top 25.
Lukas Harkins: Saint Mary’s carries a strong reputation as a unit that has finished in the KenPom top 40 for six of the last seven seasons. The Gaels’ recent success level should already have them on voters’ radars for this season, and their opening schedule provides opportunities to rise in the rankings. They won’t be able to acquire any true “signature wins,” but face an impressive group of mid-majors. The Gaels will host Oral Roberts, Vermont, North Texas, and Hofstra – all contenders in their respective leagues – before heading to the Wooden Legacy. An undefeated November, even with many games coming at home, would garner attention.