The Rauf Report kicks off the new college basketball season with a bold prediction for all 32 conferences.
College basketball is, by nature, unpredictable. There are 363 teams of college-aged kids and all the inconsistencies that come along with that make the sport extremely exciting. No other American sports competition has this breadth of competition.
We know there will be upsets. We know there will be breakout teams and players. And, on the flip side, we know there are those that will fall short of preseason expectations. Where might we find those unexpected surprises?
Here at the Rauf Report, we take pride in our annual uncovering of the chaos before the new season. Of course, unpredictability isn’t just contained to the major conferences, so we take a look at all 32 leagues and predict what might happen. Last season, we did OK! We nailed six, got partial credit for three and were only way off on a handful.
How will we fare this season? Here are bold predictions for every college basketball conference in 2022-23:
—Bracketology: 10 teams with critical opening weeks
— UNC, Houston and Baylor lead Heat Check CBB’s Preseason Top 25
— Pick up your copy of The Almanac, an 800-page college basketball preview!
BRYANT CONTENDS FOR CONFERENCE TITLE IN 1ST SEASON IN THE LEAGUE
Vermont has run the America East for the better part of a decade, winning six regular season titles in a row. The Catamounts should be the class of the conference again, but they’re going to be pushed by Bryant. Jared Grasso is one of the best young coaches in the sport and he added eight transfers (most notably Earl Timberlake from Memphis and Doug Edert from Saint Peter’s) to build a formidable roster. Returning guard Charles Pride might turn into an even bigger star in a larger role, too.
cINCINNATI FINISHES THIRD, MAKES NCAA TOURNAMENT
Houston will make the NCAA Tournament — an obvious declaration considering much of the Heat Check CBB staff has the Cougars in the Final Four. Memphis likely will, too, given the talent on the Tigers roster. But the American is wide open behind those two. Cincinnati is poised to capitalize, putting Bearcats on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday. Transfers Rob Phinisee (Indiana) and Landers Nolley II (Memphis) strengthen a roster that was already playing at a high level towards the end of last season. Head coach Wes Miller is going to keep things going in the right direction.
Jacksonville beats out Liberty EN ROUTE TO ASUN TITLE
Head coach Jordan Mincy led the Dolphins to a third-place finish last season and had one of the best seasons in program history. It was the 34-year-old’s first season as a head coach, too. Jacksonville plays stellar defense and has a veteran-laden team that prides itself on getting stops. If Kevion Nolan gets some help, this team will be very good again.
Dayton does not win the a10
I say this while acknowledging that Dayton is the conference’s most talented team and also the A10 squad most likely to advance in the NCAA Tournament. But preseason favorites in this conference have a horrid track record over the last few years. The 2018-19 Saint Louis group is the last preseason A10 favorite that even made the NCAA Tournament, and it only did so because it won the A10 tournament as a No. 8 seed. Given how good VCU, Saint Louis and even Loyola-Chicago project to be, I think the Flyers fall short of the regular season crown.
UNC loses two games or fewer during regular season, wins national title
If you follow the Heat Check Hangout or listened to me at all this offseason, you know I think the Tar Heels will have a historic 2022-23 season. That’s how good Hubert Davis’ team can be this year. For more on them and the rest of the conference, check out my five bold predictions for the ACC.
K.J. ADAMS IS THE CONFERENCE’S BIGGEST BREAKOUT PLAYER
Kansas had a lot of roster turnover this offseason and players are going to be stepping into new roles. K.J. Adams has the athleticism, versatility and defensive upside to play multiple positions and be a factor from virtually anywhere on the court, making him extremely valuable. For more on Adams’ breakout and the rest of the conference, check out my five bold predictions for the Big 12.
THERE IS A SHARED REGULAR SEASON TITLE
Villanova is no longer expected to run the league post-Jay Wright, but the Wildcats are still going to be a Big East contender. Creighton should be very good and a handful of others like Providence, UConn and Xavier could be dangerous, too. All of this will lead to some combination of a shared regular season title. For more on that, check out my five bold predictions for the Big East.
david patrick WINS BIG SKY coach OF THE YEAR
Sacramento State doesn’t have an illustrious basketball history and new head coach David Patrick tried to reinvigorate the program quickly by hitting the transfer portal hard in his first offseason. Six transfers project to be in the top eight of Patrick’s rotation with two former power conference players in Gianni Hunt (Oregon State) and Akolda Mawein (Oklahoma) leading the way. These transfers will have a sizable impact and if the Hornets overachieve, Patrick will be justly rewarded for his offseason overhaul.
unc asheville wins regular season crown
Winthrop and Longwood have been the best teams in the Big South over the last few seasons and both should be good again. But the best player (Drew Pember) and best coach (Mike Morrell) in the conference are with the Bulldogs. With more rebounding and offensive firepower thanks to the transfer portal, Asheville could be the surprise regular season champ.
CHUCKY HEPBURN MAKES FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG TEN
Hepburn is going to step into the lead perimeter role for the Badgers following the departures of Johnny Davis and Brad Davison. He showed flashes of brilliance last year and really came on down the stretch, showing signs he can produce at a high clip in a larger role. For more on his potential breakout and on the rest of the conference, check out my five bold predictions for the Big Ten.
UC santa barbara wins league by multiple games
No need to think too hard on this one. The Gauchos appear to be the clear top team in the Big West with high-level experience and defense. With improved athleticism and shooting, their offense should be better, too, which isn’t good news for the rest of the conference.
towson earns 1st ncaa tournament appearance since 1991
This is finally the year where Pat Skerry and the Tigers break through. A program-best 25-9 season in 2021-22 derailed with a loss in the CAA Tournament semis. It feels like Towson has been close to breaking through for a decade, finishing in the CAA’s top 3 six times during that stretch and winning 20-plus games on four occasions. The drought ends this season.
C-usa is a two-bid league
UAB is good enough to earn an at-large bid — the Blazers are already a fringe top-25 team — while both North Texas and Western Kentucky are capable of winning the C-USA Tournament. Either the Mean Green or Hilltoppers could get it done, placing two teams from the league in the Big Dance.
ANTOINE DAVIS finishes season as ncaa’s 2nd all-time leading scorer
Davis scored 2,734 points in his first four years with Detroit Mercy, putting him 22nd on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list. He may not catch Pete Maravich for the career mark — he would need to average over 30 points per game to do so — but posting his career average of 24.6 points per game would put him safely past Freeman Williams for second place all-time.
HARVARD WINS THE IVY
Harvard potentially has the most talented roster in the Ivy top-to-bottom. Injuries derailed this group a season ago, but with everyone healthy, this team has the size, experience and depth to return to its pre-pandemic dominance.
siena finishes 2nd IN THE MAAC STANDINGS
Iona is going to win the MAAC and there shouldn’t be many questions about it, either. There are a ton of questions behind them, though, especially given the upheaval at Manhattan. Siena could capitalize on the parity with breakout seasons from its two young guards, Jared Billups and Javian McCollum.
toledo breaks through and wins mac tournament
The Rockets have won back-to-back MAC regular season titles but were unable to cash them into an NCAA Tournament berth. That changes this season with four returning starters and improved depth. Toledo may not repeat in the regular season, but this group is focused and knows what they’re playing for this March.
norfolk state goes undefeated in meac play, wins ncaa tournament game
The Spartans bring all five starters back from last season and have one of the best mid-major coaches in the country in Robert Jones. They only lost twice in conference play in 2021-22 and should be even better this time around. Norfolk State won’t be a team any high seed wants to see in their region on Selection Sunday given their experience and consistent level of play.
drake runs the table, finishes mvc play undefeated
Even without Loyola-Chicago, the Missouri Valley is going to be good again with the additions of Belmont and Murray State. That said, Drake is head-and-shoulders above everyone else with its talent and experience. That dominance will show throughout the regular season as long as the Bulldogs can stay healthy.
SAN DIEGO STATE WINS A MW TITLE AND MAKES THE FINAL FOUR
This San Diego State team has a chance to be special. The Aztecs return virtually everyone from last season’s team, which means they will be elite defensively again. SDSU also added quality offensive pieces in Darrion Trammell (Seattle) and Micah Parrish (Oakland) to improve what was a dreadful offense. As long as its offense goes from bad to just average — which I think is the floor for this group — we’ll see the Aztecs reach their full potential. San Diego State has the size and talent to play with anyone. This could be a repeat of the 2019-20 season that saw the Aztecs go 30-2 before the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
MERRIMACK WINS LEAGUE, NCAA MAKES CHANGES TO D1 TRANSITION RULE
This prediction is rather encompassing. Both Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s left the NEC this offseason, making the league as wide open as ever. Merrimack is in the best position to fill that void. However, if the Warriors do win the league, they won’t be eligible for the NCAA Tournament as the program is in its final season of the four-year transitional period to Division 1. If you think that sounds familiar, that’s because Merrimack also won the league in 2019-20 and was ineligible for the postseason. Having a team win its conference twice during that four-year transition period will hopefully be enough for the NCAA to finally look at changing the transition period rules.
Parker stewart wins player and newcomer of the year
There is also a power vacuum at the top of the OVC following the departures of Belmont and Murray State. It remains to be seen who will fill it — UT-Martin, Morehead State and others have solid shots — but I don’t think there will be any doubt about the league’s best player. Parker Stewart was an All-OVC selection in 2019-20 before becoming a solid starter at Indiana. Now he’s back and should produce at a very high level right away.
UCLA WINS LEAGUE BY MULTIPLE GAMES, SWEEPS POSTSEASON HONORS
The Bruins were better than many expected last season, return most of their core and add a pair of extremely talented freshmen. Throw in a down year for the other top teams in the Pac-12 and UCLA should dominate. For more on what may happen elsewhere in the conference, check out my five bold predictions for the Pac-12.
COLGATE beats syracuse – again
The Raiders haven’t left much intrigue in the Patriot League, and I don’t expect there to be again; they should win the league rather comfortably. This group’s statement will come on Nov. 15 at Syracuse when they knock off the Orange for the second year in a row.
OSCAR TSHIEBWE WON’T BE kENTUCKY’S MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning National Player of the Year, is absolutely one of the country’s most dominant talents. But Kentucky needs its wings to produce offensively if it’s going to reach its full potential, which means freshman Cason Wallace could be UK’s key. For more on what else may happen in the conference, check out my five bold predictions for the SEC.
Jake stephens becomes a 1st round pick
It feels like Stephens is set to become a household name among hoopheads this season. Already productive at VMI (averaging 19.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks per game), the senior will be the focal point of Chattanooga’s attack, where he’ll further showcase his all-around skillset. But how many college players are 7-feet with a 7-10 wingspan and shoot 49 percent from three? NBA scouts are going to fall in love with Stephens this year.
Texas A&M-Commerce makes noise in 1st season in division 1
The top of the Southland should feature an entertaining race between Nicholls State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. However, the rest of the conference is full of question marks. Commerce is making the transition to D-1 this season but has a strong defensive identity and potential all-conference player in Demarcus Demonia. While the Lions may not finish in the top half of the Southland yet, they should do some damage in Year 1.
JACKSON STATE WINS AT LEAST ONE CONFERENCE TITLE
It can be either a share of the conference’s regular season crown or the Tigers winning the SWAC Tournament, but Mo Williams‘ squad will have success in his first year at the helm. This group has a talented, experienced lineup with some size, dynamic scorers and depth.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE REPEATS, SWEEPS BOTH CONFERENCE TITLES
The Jackrabbits went undefeated in league play last season. It won’t happen again, but this program is still the class of the Summit League. Eric Henderson is entering his fourth season as South Dakota State’s head coach and has won at least a share of the regular season title each time. It won’t change this time around.
a team gets into at-large conversation
Sun Belt basketball doesn’t get the respect it deserves. However, there is going to be a chance the league puts two teams into the NCAA Tournament this year. Remember when the SoCon nearly got two bids a few years ago but UNC Greensboro was the last team out? Think of that situation happening this year with the Sun Belt. Georgia State, James Madison, Louisiana, South Alabama and Texas State all have really talented teams that can beat anyone from any conference. Two of those five will put together tournament resumes strong enough to be considered.
PORTLAND FINISHES IN THE TOP 5
The WCC is going to take a step back after its banner season a year ago. Gonzaga will still be very good, and Saint Mary’s should be in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Everyone else has questions, though. That includes Portland, but the Pilots have one of the nation’s best young coaches in Shantay Legans. Finishing in the top half of the WCC may not seem like much, but Portland hasn’t done that since the 2010-11 season, back when there were only eight teams in the league.
GRAND CANYON RETURNS TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The WAC is a really fun league with a handful of quality teams at the top. New Mexico State has been the standard-bearer but, with a good deal of turnover there, the door is open for someone else to step into that role. Grand Canyon has been building for a while and has the talent and coaching to take advantage. A 2023 bid would be the ‘Lopes’ second NCAA Tournament berth in three seasons.