Bluebloods Duke and Kansas lead an updated look at Heat Check CBB’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 college basketball rankings.
The deadline for undergraduate players to enter the transfer portal has come and gone, and decisions made there have significantly altered the college basketball landscape (again). The NBA Draft early withdrawal deadline isn’t until the end of the month, but the proverbial picture of the 2023-24 season is becoming much clearer.
Teams such as Kansas, Miami and Gonzaga have solidified their place among the projected top teams thanks to quality transfer additions over the past six weeks. Others like Creighton and Baylor have dropped slightly based on unexpected losses.
Those shakeups are the latest in what will be an underlying storyline throughout the college basketball season: different roster-building strategies. There are a number that have chosen to revamp their rosters completely through the portal while others are going all-in on freshmen. As that dynamic plays out, our team is clearly erring on the side of teams that bring back key players.
Here’s a look at our updated Heat Check CBB consensus Top 25 college basketball rankings, which are voted on by staff members Eli Boettger, Riley Davis, Andy Dieckhoff, Lukas Harkins, Connor Hope and Brian Rauf.
—HC+: Analyzing Harrison Ingram’s fit at UNC
—HC+: Long-term up-transfer additions to watch in ’23-24
—Upcoming season will be referendum on college basketball roster strategies
Received votes: Maryland, Villanova, Northwestern, Ohio State, Xavier, Wisconsin, Colorado, Clemson, Kansas State, Oregon, Boise State, Mississippi State
25. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Heels utilized the transfer portal heavily to revamp a roster that was perhaps last season’s biggest disappointment. Armando Bacot and RJ Davis return to lead a group that will also feature transfers Harrison Ingram (Stanford) and Cormac Ryan (Notre Dame). On the flip side, UNC saw seven players leave the program via the portal, headlined by Caleb Love. There’s enough talent to suggest this is a top-25 team, but there’s no denying the importance of this season for Hubert Davis.
24. Arizona Wildcats
Tommy Lloyd had to revamp his roster a bit after losing three of his top five scorers from last season, but Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson give him a solid pairing to build around. Landing Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley was huge and, paired with Kylan Boswell, gives Arizona a high-upside backcourt with elite versatility and playmaking. Depth remains a potential issue but the projected starting lineup could be lethal.
23. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia’s 2023-24 season will be defined by how well its transfer class performs. Bob Huggins went all-in on the portal and landed two high-profile players in Jesse Edwards (Syracuse) and Kerr Kriisa (Arizona), amongst others. The Mountaineers’ talented pieces appear to be odd fits on paper, but Huggins adapts his style to personnel as well as anyone in the country. Their success may depend on Edwards and Kriisa becoming the pillars WVU needs them to be.
22. UCLA Bruins
It’s the start of a new chapter in Westwood without Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez, but newer faces appear poised to step into bigger roles for UCLA. Dylan Andrews, Adem Bona and Jaylen Clark (as long as he returns to school after testing NBA Draft waters) all project to step into featured roles for the Bruins. All have the talent to thrive in them, but there may be growing pains.
21. San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State returns the core of last season’s team that made the national championship game and added Reese Davis-Waters — the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year at USC last season — in the transfer portal. The Aztecs will maintain their defensive identity but may have more perimeter scoring pop in 2023-24 with Davis-Waters joining Darrion Trammell and Final Four hero Lamont Butler.
20. Baylor Bears
Baylor has to replace its trio of starting guards from last season (Keyonte George and Adam Flagler to the NBA, LJ Cryer to Houston), but Langston Love appears ready to handle a bigger role. Freshmen Ja’Kobe Walter, Yves Missi and Miro Little will be relied on to play significant minutes right away, but all three are top-50 recruits with the talent to do so. Rated as the No. 9 overall prospect in the 247sports Composite, Walter will likely need to be a go-to weapon sooner rather than later.
19. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Aiden Mahaney emerged as one of the nation’s best guards as a freshman last season, and his continued development could potentially elevate the Gaels even further up these rankings. Even so, this Saint Mary’s team returns four of its top five scorers and plays elite defense. They also didn’t have a player transfer out this offseason, so their added continuity and experience should be beneficial. It’s also promising that they played UConn as well as anyone in the NCAA Tournament.
18. Texas Longhorns
With Rodney Terry now instated as the full-time head coach of the Longhorns, Texas will enter the new season with high expectations again. Terry was able to land two of the best transfers available in Max Abmas (Oral Roberts) and Kadin Shedrick (Virginia), which should ease the blow of losing players like Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop. If Tyrese Hunter and Dylan Disu can take the next steps in their respective developments, Texas will be in the mix at the top of the Big 12 again.
17. Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018 as a result of last season’s breakthrough under Buzz Williams, and now appear poised to take another step forward as a program. They return four starters and added some reinforcements via the transfer portal in Eli Lawrence (Middle Tennessee) and Jace Carter (Illinois-Chicago). The SEC title race looks like it’ll be a crowded one, but Texas A&M should be in the mix.
16. Arkansas Razorbacks
Eric Musselman did what Eric Musselman does, landing a five-person transfer class headlined by Tramon Mark (Houston) and El Ellis (Louisville). Arkansas will add them to a solid returning core and a recruiting class that includes five-star prospects Baye Fall and Layden Blocker. There are some questions about fit — the roster has a lot of guards that expect playing time — but no one pieces things together quite like Muss. Arkansas has the talent to make the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend for a fourth-straight season.
15. USC Trojans
USC checks in as our highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 thanks to the incoming recruiting class Andy Enfield managed to put together. Yes, Bronny James is obviously going to steal the headlines, but Isaiah Collier — the nation’s top-ranked prospect — will be the focal point of the Trojans’ attack. Throw in the fact this group is returning several core pieces like Boogie Ellis and Vincent Iwuchukwu, and this USC squad can compete with anyone from a talent perspective.
14. Creighton Bluejays
Yes, losing Ryan Nembhard (Gonzaga) and Arthur Kaluma to the transfer portal certainly stinks. But the Bluejays do return two All-Big East performers in Ryan Kalkbrenner (testing NBA Draft waters) and Baylor Scheierman, along with every other significant contributor aside from the departing transfers. Creighton also added one of the portal’s best guards in Steven Ashworth, an elite shooter who averaged over 16 points per game while leading Utah State to the NCAA Tournament last season. The top of the Big East will be incredibly strong in 2023-24, but expect this group to be in the thick of things.
13. Florida Atlantic Owls
FAU is returning all five starters from last season’s Final Four run — which wasn’t a fluke. The Owls won 35 games and took home both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles, a feat that wasn’t fully respected until we all saw how well that conference performed in the postseason (North Texas won the NIT, UAB made the NIT title game, Charlotte won the CBI). Now moving to the American, Dusty May’s squad will face a higher level of sustained competition, but we don’t see that being an issue for this experienced group led by Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin.
12. Kentucky Wildcats
Could this coming season be John Calipari’s last stand? The Wildcats haven’t made the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend since 2019 and only have one SEC title in the last five seasons. That’s fine in a lot of places — but Lexington isn’t most places. Naturally, Calipari did what he does and brought in the nation’s top recruiting class, but this group is different. Cal’s haul includes three of the nation’s top six prospects, four of the top 15 and five of the top 40. That group is being paired with a quality core headlined by Oscar Tshiebwe. On paper, this group could be special.
11. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee returns three of its top four scorers from a season ago, and that trio (Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler and Josiah-Jordan James) provides the two-way dominance that has vaulted the Vols to national prominence under Rick Barnes. Losing Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua to the transfer portal certainly hurts, but new additions Chris Ledlum (Harvard), Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado) and Justin Gainey (USC Upstate) should improve Tennessee’s offense in a way that makes the Vols more dangerous than in years past.
10. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Drew Timme is gone, and while the Zags will look different in 2023-24, they’re still going to be incredibly effective. Four of their top seven rotation players return, led by Anton Watson and Malachi Smith (assuming both return to school after testing NBA Draft waters), while high-profile transfers Ryan Nembhard (Creighton), Graham Ike (Wyoming) and Steele Venters (Eastern Washington) ensure this team will be as deep and talented as what we’ve come to expect from Gonzaga. Mark Few has guided this program to eight straight Sweet 16 berths and this group has the ability to continue the streak.
9. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has to replace projected top-5 pick Brandon Miller and unexpectedly lost freshmen Noah Clowney (NBA Draft) and Jaden Bradley (transfer). Regardless, Nate Oats still brings four of his top seven scorers back from last season’s team that earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Hofstra transfer Aaron Estrada will join Jahvon Quinerly and Mark Sears in the backcourt, giving the Tide one of the most experienced and dangerous backcourt trios in the country.
8. Miami Hurricanes
Miami’s run of recent success appears to be something Jim Larrañaga has this program set up to maintain. Starters Nijel Pack, Norchad Omier and Wooga Poplar return from last season’s Final Four squad, and the Canes added Florida State transfer (and former five-star prospect) Matthew Cleveland. Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller were two of the best players in program history, yet there’s more than enough here for Miami to stay at or near the top of the ACC.
7. Houston Cougars
Houston has a roster set to compete with the best teams in the nation (again) and it prepares for its debut in the Big 12. Five of its top eight scorers return, led by Jamal Shead, and the Cougars brought in LJ Cryer from Baylor, giving them a starter who already has Big 12 experience. If they get anything from freshmen bigs Joseph Tugler and Jacob McFarland, Kelvin Sampson’s squad will immediately be competing for a conference championship.
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Disappointing NCAA Tournament loss to Fairleigh Dickinson aside, Purdue does return six of the top seven scorers from a team that won both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, earning a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance in the process. One of those returners is reigning National Player of the Year Zach Edey, too, so long as he withdraws from the NBA Draft as expected. It may be hard to look at the Boilermakers the same given their struggles down the stretch (particularly against defensive pressure), but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about another successful season here.
5. Michigan State Spartans
A program like Michigan State doesn’t really have “breakout” seasons given its status in the national pecking order. However, the 2023-24 season projects to serve as a return to dominance for the Spartans. They return five of their top six scorers and welcome a top-10 recruiting class highlighted by five-star center Xavier Booker and top-30 point guard Jeremy Fears. Tom Izzo will have as much talent, experience and depth as he has had since Michigan State made the Final Four in 2019. This group has the potential to get there, too.
4. UConn Huskies
The defending national champions are losing the Final Four MOP (Adama Sanogo) and a projected lottery pick (Jordan Hawkins), yet aren’t expected to take a significant step back. Donovan Clingan will step into a starting role as a sophomore and looks poised to take a Zach Edey-type leap. He and Andre Jackson Jr. lead a quality returning core that will add a top-5 recruiting class, headlined by five-star guard Stephon Castle. Dan Hurley’s squad has the potential to chase a second consecutive national championship.
3. Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette is poised to receive its highest preseason ranking in program history. The Golden Eagles return everybody of consequence from last season’s group that won both the Big East regular season and tournament titles, headlined by reigning conference Player of the Year Tyler Kolek. This is a team capable of repeating last season’s feat and making the program’s fourth trip to the Final Four.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas experienced as much success in the transfer portal as anyone. Landing former Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson was obviously huge and gave the Jayhawks a National Player of the Year candidate at what was a position of weakness, but they also brought in former five-star prospect Arterio Morris from Texas and mid-major star Nick Timberlake from Towson. That trio projects to join returners Dajuan Harris and KJ Adams in the starting lineup with a bench that will be bolstered by a top-10 recruiting class.
1. Duke Blue Devils
This Duke team has the potential to be special. The Blue Devils return their top four scorers from last season, headlined by second-team All-ACC forward Kyle Filipowski and point guard Tyrese Proctor, who appears poised for a breakout season. Jon Scheyer is also welcoming the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruiting class that features four top-20 prospects. If Duke can build off the momentum it closed last season with, this will be the team to beat in 2023-24.