College basketball way-too-early Top 25 rankings for 2022-23: UNC surges

North Carolina jumps into the top 3 of our college basketball way-too-early Top 25 rankings for the 2022-23 season.

The second edition of our way-too-early college basketball Top 25 rankings is hot off the presses. Many transfer commitments have been sorted out over the past few weeks and the list of players mulling draft decisions is beginning to slim.

North Carolina is the biggest winner since our first way-too-early installment, which dropped when the Tar Heels were seeking a national title in New Orleans. Hubert Davis is set to bring back four starters from his national runner-up team, making for one of the major storylines of a busy college hoops offseason.

As always, our rankings are a consensus of each of the Heat Check CBB staff writers. We will continue to update our Top 25 rankings throughout the offseason.

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Without further ado, our college basketball way-too-early Top 25 rankings for the 2022-23 are below.

Rankings last updated on May 16, 2022.

Received votes: Indiana, Colorado State, Saint Louis, Florida, Texas A&M, Miami, Purdue, Wyoming

25. Illinois Fighting Illini

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Skyy Clark, Terrence Shannon, RJ Melendez, Coleman Hawkins, Dain Dainja

Illinois’ stock has faded since losing Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo. Like many other high-majors, though, Illinois has rebooted with a promising recruiting class (No. 7 nationally), key transfers (Terrence Shannon and Dain Dainja) and some up-and-coming returners (RJ Melendez and Coleman Hawkins). With so much roster turnover, it could take some time before the Illini get up to speed. Assuming they find their footing, Brad Underwood‘s group should be able to carve out another top-4 finish in an otherwise weaker-than-usual Big Ten.

24. Virginia Cavaliers

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Kadin Shedrick

Since winning the national title in 2019, Tony Bennett‘s Cavaliers have won 68.9 percent of their games, ranking 45th nationally over the three-year span. Needless to say, it’s been far from the same level of success Virginia had when it recorded four 1-seeds in the prior six-year stretch. Returning 90 percent of last year’s minutes should help, particularly when paired with the country’s No. 11 recruiting class and MAC first-teamer Ben Vander Plas (Ohio). The ’22-23 Cavs should have more offensive versatility than in recent years and a significantly deeper rotation than the one that ranked 350th in bench minutes a year ago.

23. UConn Huskies

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Tristen Newton, Jordan Hawkins, Nahiem Alleyne, Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo

UConn has been one of the primary winners of the 2022 transfer portal. Three backcourt players from major conferences are now Huskies: Tristen Newton (East Carolina), Nahiem Alleyne (Virginia Tech) and Hassan Diarra (Texas A&M). Jordan Hawkins could prove to be the most important factor next season. UConn was 9-1 when Hawkins scored at least six points and 14-9 otherwise. The Big East All-Freshmen honoree likely slots into a starting role as a sophomore. Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo anchor a strong defensive front.

22. Florida State Seminoles

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Caleb Mills, Darin Green, Matthew Cleveland, Jaylan Gainey, John Butler

The ’21-22 season was a disappointing one by Leonard Hamilton standards. Injuries, inexperience and constant rotation shuffling led to 12 unique starting lineups and also a dozen players averaging at least 10 minutes a night, many of whom missed several games. Fortunately for Seminoles fans, each of the commitments from FSU’s 10th-ranked 2021 recruiting class are expected to return for another season along with two all-conference transfers. Caleb Mills is the leading returning scorer, seeing career-highs in scoring efficiency and a substantial bump in assist rate. Sophomores Matthew Cleveland and John Butler still have room to grow but are surefire breakout candidates with their natural abilities. Look out for transfers Darin Green (UCF) and Jaylan Gainey (Brown). Green is a tremendous 3-point sniper and Gainey is a 6-9, 220-pounder who made 70 percent of his shots last season and led the Ivy League in blocks two straight years.

21. Dayton Flyers

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Malachi Smith, Kobe Elvis, RJ Blakney, Toumani Camara, DaRon Holmes

Dayton was the very first team left out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament field. Given the Flyers had the youngest roster in college basketball this past season, Dayton fans can expect to read plenty of articles this summer about the team’s breakout potential. Anthony Grant’s team nearly pulled out an at-large bid despite a 1-3 start that included losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay, finishing the year 23-8 and gaining over 80 spots in KenPom. The trio of lead distributor Malachi Smith, interior force DaRon Holmes and athletic forward Toumani Camara will be must-watch material.

20. San Diego State Aztecs

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler, Matt Bradley, Keshad Johnson, Jaedon Ledee

San Diego State has enjoyed a tremendous offseason that seems to get better by the day. First, it was Matt Bradley and Adam Seiko using their extra years of eligibility. Then, Seattle U transfer Darrion Trammell announced he was returning to his home state before SDSU beat out Michigan State for Oakland transfer Micah Parrish. One remaining puzzle piece? Rim-protecting center Nathan Mensah potentially exercising an extra season. Overall, the Aztecs have the makings of a breakout season thanks to two elite defensive playmakers in the backcourt, a shot creator in Bradley and a frontcourt that prides itself in the dirty work.

19. Tennessee Volunteers

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Zakai Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, Julian Phillips, Josiah-Jordan James, Uros Plavsic

As a top-5 seed, Tennessee has made the second weekend just once in four tries under Rick Barnes. But even with some notable departures, the Vols have a capable roster in place for ’22-23. Zakai Zeigler looks to build off an excellent freshman season and four players who started at least 20 games are also back, including Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua. The additions aren’t too shabby, either: Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key (17.2 ppg in ’21), five-star small forward Julian Phillips and top-100 point guard BJ Edwards.

18. Villanova Wildcats

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Chris Arcidiacono, Justin Moore, Cam Whitmore, Brandon Slater, Eric Dixon

Last time we were here, Villanova was led by one of the sport’s most accomplished coaches in Jay Wright. Thanks to an unexpected retirement, longtime assistant Kyle Neptune takes over following a year as Fordham’s head coach. As for the roster, the health of Justin Moore (torn Achilles) and Jordan Longino (torn meniscus) will go a long way in the team’s ‘22-23 outlook. Caleb Daniels and Brandon Slater are both expected to take advantage of extra eligibility years, Eric Dixon is back after starting 38 games, and five-star swingman Cam Whitmore enters. For the first time since 2015, the team’s starting point guard will be someone besides Collin Gillespie or Jalen Brunson. There are at least three viable candidates for the job, which will go a long way in determining how Neptune’s first season unfolds.

17. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Projected 2022-23 lineup: De’Vion Harmon, D’maurian Williams, Jaylon Tyson, Kevin Obanor, Fardaws Aimaq

Texas Tech reached the Sweet 16 in Mark Adams‘ first season as head coach and looks to carry the momentum into Year 2. Kevin Obanor is back and will hope to shoot the triple like he did with Oral Roberts, hitting 33.6 percent of his 3s last season after a 46.3 percent clip in ’20-21. The rest of the starting five could be incoming transfers. De’Vion Harmon (Oregon) is back in the Big 12 as a former Oklahoma Sooner and he will team up with 3-point specialist D’maurian Williams (Gardner-Webb) in the backourt. Jaylon Tyson is a former top-30 recruit who played just 55 minutes with rival Texas last season before leaving the program. Fardaws Aimaq, formerly of Utah Valley, averaged 14.2 rebounds per game over the past two seasons and is rounding out his offensive game.

16. Texas Longhorns

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Marcus Carr, Arterio Morris, Dillon Mitchell, Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop

Texas benefitted from starters Marcus Carr and Timmy Allen using their extra year of eligibility to return for another season. They were the team’s leading scorers last season and ensure that Chris Beard’s team has experience and shot creation to go along with five-stars Arterio Morris and Dillon Mitchell. Three-time All-WAC honoree Sir’Jabari Rice provides backcourt depth as a perimeter threat and plus rebounder. Barring a significant frontcourt portal addition, the Longhorns will probably go as far as Christian Bishop and Dylan Disu can take them.

15. TCU Horned Frogs

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Mike Miles, Damion Baugh, Micah Peavy, Emanuel Miller, Eddie Lampkin

Jamie Dixon continues to bring his alma mater to new heights. TCU is fresh off its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1987 and returns all of its top six players. While the Horned Frogs could desperately use some perimeter help (321st in 3-point shooting percentage), the overwhelming physicality (1st in offensive rebounding rate) of the roster isn’t going anywhere.

14. Arizona Wildcats

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Kerr Kriisa, Pelle Larsson, Dalen Terry, Azuolas Tubelis, Oumar Ballo

Arizona had a breakout season under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd and now looks to keep the momentum going in Year 2. Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko are projected first-round draft choices and Justin Kier is out of eligibility, but the rest of the group could be back. Dalen Terry has the makings of the star if he comes back for a third year in Tucson.

13. Alabama Crimson Tide

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Mark Sears, Jaden Bradley, Brandon Miller, Noah Gurley, Charles Bediako

The 2021-22 campaign didn’t go the way Nate Oats had hoped, but the talent level in Tuscaloosa is still palpable. The nation’s No. 3 class enters, highlighted by a pair of five-stars in small forward Brandon Miller and guard Jaden Bradley. The returning frontcourt duo of Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako will also be aided by top-60 recruit Noah Clowney and JUCO transfer Nick Pringle. Keep an eye on former Texas Tech guard Nimari Burnett, a top-30 2020 product who struggled with the Red Raiders but could shine once he’s fully healthy. Ohio transfer Mark Sears could also make for one of the offseason’s top additions. He will be called upon early with Jahvon Quinerly reportedly likely to miss the start of next season due to a torn ACL.

12. Auburn Tigers

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Wendell Green, KD Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Yohan Traore, Johni Broome

Auburn was at one point the No. 1 team in the country this past season before a March flameout, finishing the year just 6-5 after a 22-1 start. Bruce Pearl and the Tigers turn the page with hopes of defending their SEC title, and most of the team’s contributors besides Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler are expected to return. Newcomers Yohan Traore (five-star recruit) and Johni Broome (Morehead State transfer) immediately replace the Smith/Kessler duo to keep Auburn humming along as an SEC contender. If the backcourt can be a bit more steady, the Tigers will once again be a Final Four threat.

11. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, Dominick Harris, Julian Strawther, Efton Reid

It was a disappointing end to the season for the Bulldogs, especially with their current championship window closing momentarily. While Julian Strawther and Drew Timme still have important decisions to make regarding their future in Spokane, their return would allow the Zags to run a small lineup reminiscent of the team that lost to Baylor in the 2021 title game. Mark Few can swap Hunter Sallis and Anton Watson between big and small lineups. LSU transfer and former top-25 recruit Efton Reid will either be first off the bench if Timme stays or start at center if he turns pro.

10. Michigan Wolverines

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Jaelin Llewellyn, Jett Howard, Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabate, Hunter Dickinson

The Wolverines bounced back from an up-and-down regular season by reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. All eyes now turn to Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate, both of whom were 2021 five-stars but had inconsistent freshmen campaigns. Rumors are swirling around Houstan potentially receiving a first-round draft promise, prompting his decision to decline a combine invitation. Should Houstan leave, it takes some wind out of the sails of the Wolverines looking like a second-weekend team. Elsewhere, an up-transfer will start at point guard for the third consecutive season, this time in Jaelin Llewellyn (Princeton). Big Ten second-teamer Hunter Dickinson is back for another year as well.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Dajuan Harris, Kevin McCullar, Gradey Dick, Jalen Wilson, Ernest Udeh

Bill Self and the defending champs have plenty to replace this upcoming season and it could take a minute or two before the Jayhawks reach their full potential. Swingman Christian Braun is unlikely to return and forward Jalen Wilson has been a riser in the pre-draft process, meaning Kansas will have either three or four new starters this November. However, Self has a trio of top-30 recruits on the way in wings Gradey Dick and MJ Rice and big man Ernest Udeh to fill the scoring void. Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar will provide Big 12 experience to the Jayhawks after 10 points and three assists per game last season.

8. UCLA Bruins

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Tyger Campbell, Amari Bailey, Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez, Adem Bona

Even with Johnny Juzang and Peyton Watson off to the pros, UCLA has one of the highest ceilings in the country for ’22-23. Juzang’s Final Four running mate Jaime Jaquez is back once again as well as two-time Pac-12 first-teamer Tyger Campbell. Jules Bernard would be the third returning starter if he withdraws from the NBA Draft, but junior Jaylen Clark is already an all-league defender on the wing in case Bernard leaves. Meanwhile, Mick Cronin brought in a top-10 recruiting class that includes five-stars Amari Bailey in the backcourt and Adem Bona down low. The Bruins check all of the boxes of tournament experience, returning upside and incoming talent.

7. Kentucky Wildcats

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, Antonio Reeves, Chris Livingston, Oscar Tshiebwe

Kentucky looks to avenge the Saint Peter’s upset loss with another talented group that features a mix of productive transfers, five-star freshmen and the first returning Naismith winner since Tyler Hansbrough. Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler are the lone returning starters and they will be joined by a tremendous off-ball scorer in Illinois transfer Antonio Reeves and a pair of five-stars on the wings in Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston. Don’t forget about Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick, a lifetime 46.6-percent shooter from downtown who missed all of last season with a leg injury.

6. Creighton Bluejays

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Ryan Nembhard, Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, Arthur Kaluma, Ryan Kalkbrenner

Creighton was one of the pleasant surprises of the ‘21-22 season, finishing fourth in the Big East and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind an inexperienced and hobbled roster. Newly extended head coach Greg McDermott has an awesome core back in Omaha in guards Ryan Nembhard and Trey Alexander and frontcourt starters Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Kalkbrenner. The Bluejays found an elite scorer in the portal in South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman, locking Creighton as preseason Big East favorites.

5. Duke Blue Devils

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Jeremy Roach, Dariq Whitehead, Mark Mitchell, Kyle Filipowski, Dereck Lively

It’s a new era in Durham. Jon Scheyer officially succeeds Mike Krzyzewski as the Duke men’s basketball head coach. The Blue Devils have plenty of talent to work with in Year 1 of the Scheyer regime, headlined by the nation’s top recruiting class that has a quartet of five-stars in big men Dereck Lively and Kyle Filipowski and swingmen Dariq Whitehead and Mark Mitchell. Junior point guard Jeremy Roach could be the most important player in America next season after finishing the year on a tear.

4. Baylor Bears

Projected 2022-23 lineup: LJ Cryer, Adam Flagler, Keyonte George, Jalen Bridges, Flo Thamba

The departures are substantial (James Akinjo, Jeremy Sochan, Kendall Brown, Matthew Mayer), but Scott Drew’s Baylor squad is capable of a deep tournament run once again in 2023. Keyonte George has lottery-pick potential in the backcourt and he will team up with sharpshooting vet Adam Flagler and the promising LJ Cryer. Frontcourt depth will be pivotal, though. Transfers Jalen Bridges (West Virginia) and Caleb Lohner (BYU) join returning starter Flo Thamba. Consistent production from this trio will determine Baylor’s ceiling.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels

Projected 2022-23 lineup: RJ Davis, Caleb Love, Leaky Black, Puff Johnson, Armando Bacot

Minus Brady Manek, second-year head coach Hubert Davis will bring back the core of its national runner-up roster, including studs Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, RJ Davis and Leaky Black. Few teams, if any, will match the level of returning talent this season. The biggest question will be the power forward position, which could belong to Puff Johnson or an incoming transfer. Three top-80 recruits are on the way, highlighted by guard Seth Trimble, who could be the future of the UNC backcourt.

2. Arkansas Razorbacks

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Anthony Black, Nick Smith, Davonte Davis, Jordan Walsh, Jaylin Williams

It took no time for Eric Musselman to leave his impact in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks reached the Elite Eight for the second year in a row, the first time the program had accomplished the feat since 1994-95. The 2022-23 season could be even better. Musselman welcomes the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, including three of the seven highest-rated commits in program history in Nick Smith, Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black. If fringe draft prospect Jaylin Williams returns for Year 3 to anchor the defense, Arkansas could compete for the national championship.

1. Houston Cougars

Projected 2022-23 lineup: Jamal Shead, Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, Jarace Walker, J’Wan Roberts

The 2021-22 season should serve as a reminder that we should never doubt Kelvin Sampson. The Cougars returned just 23 percent of their minutes from the 2021 Final Four team, then lost stars Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark to season-ending injuries, and proceeded to have one of the program’s best seasons since the Hakeem Olajuwon days. This time around, Houston projects to have another deep rotation while adding top-10 recruit Jarace Walker, the highest-rated in UH history. If Sasser pulls his name from the draft, the Cougars will be on the shortlist of 2023 national title contenders.