Back in November, I made a bold prediction for every conference ahead of the 2022-23 basketball season. What went right? And what went wrong?
The college basketball offseason is what I affectionately call “talking time.” In anxious anticipation of the season ahead, it’s become tradition for analysts, reporters and podcast hosts to start predicting and projecting what will happen over the course of that season.
It’s mostly a fun and innocent exercise because — let’s face it — no one expected an unranked UConn to win the national championship or for preseason No. 1 North Carolina to miss the NCAA Tournament entirely. And everyone mostly gets that it’s just for kicks!
Still, we like to hold ourselves accountable here at the Rauf Report. Too many people in this industry make outrageous claims for clicks or increased fan engagement, celebrating their correct dart throws without ever owning their biggest misses. I made a bold prediction for all 32 conferences back in November, hoping to accurately forecast what would transpire in the ensuing months; now, we’ll see how those panned out.
Read Heat Check CBB
—Rauf: In a strange year, UConn was an all-time great
—UConn captures fifth title with ease over San Diego State
—How San Diego State quietly became a national powerhouse
The unpredictability of college basketball is one of the many things that makes it so endearing, so it’s always fun to look back and see what I got right and what I got wrong. Let’s start our postmortem with the good ol’ America East:
BRYANT CONTENDS FOR CONFERENCE TITLE IN FIRST SEASON IN THE LEAGUE
Bryant was something of a disappointment this season. After a quick rise to the top of the NEC, the Bulldogs loaded up on transfer portal talent ahead of their move to the America East. Many (including myself) thought they could challenge Vermont. Instead, Bryant went .500 in conference play, lost in the first round of the conference tournament and only had two wins (Syracuse, Towson) over KenPom top-200 teams.
CINCINNATI FINISHES THIRD, MAKES NCAA TOURNAMENT
I really like Wes Miller as a coach and think he’s going to build Cincinnati back into a consistent winner sooner rather than later. Progress was there in his second season — the Bearcats won 23 games and made the NIT quarterfinals. But, for these purposes, they finished fourth and (obviously) missed the Big Dance, so this was a miss.
JACKSONVILLE BEATS OUT LIBERTY EN ROUTE TO ASUN TITLE
The Dolphins had some higher-than-normal expectations after winning 21 games in head coach Jordan Mincy’s first season, and those remained after a 7-3 start that included a victory over VCU. But Jacksonville only won six games after Christmas and lost seven of its last eight games, causing JU to miss the NCAA Tournament entirely. A different team did beat out Liberty, it’s worth noting, but it was Kennesaw State, not Jacksonville.
DAYTON DOES NOT WIN THE A10
Ding, ding, ding! We got one right! Admittedly, this was pretty broad, but it was more of a comment on how poorly the preseason favorite in the A10 has performed the last few seasons. The 2018-19 Saint Louis team is still the last preseason A10 favorite that even made the NCAA Tournament.
UNC LOSES TWO GAMES OR FEWER DURING REGULAR SEASON, WINS NATIONAL TITLE
To be fair, I said I thought the Heels would have a historic season, which they did! I just thought it would be the good kind of history and not the “first preseason No. 1 to miss the NCAA Tournament” kind of history.
K.J. ADAMS IS THE CONFERENCE’S BIGGEST BREAKOUT PLAYER
After my biggest miss comes perhaps my biggest victory lap! Adams was named the Big 12’s Most Improved Player after going from playing fewer than five minutes per game as a freshman to KU’s starting center and averaging double figures as a sophomore. His athleticism and versatility give him an immense ceiling — especially on the defensive end — indicating he could make another sizable jump in production next season.
THERE IS A SHARED REGULAR-SEASON TITLE
The Big East title race was thrilling. Marquette, Xavier, Creighton and Providence were all within a game of each other with two weeks left in the regular season, but the Golden Eagles pulled away and won the league by two games. Marquette also won the Big East Tournament, so it’s clear the stranglehold they had on the conference.
Except UConn won the national championship, so… the point about parity still stands as being correct, kind of, even though I technically got this wrong.
DAVID PATRICK WINS BIG SKY COACH OF THE YEAR
Tough to win Coach of the Year when your team loses 11 of its final 14 games! I was high on what Patrick and Sacramento State could accomplish coming into the season, but the Hornets struggled mightily from mid-January to the end of the season. Eastern Washington head coach David Riley rightfully won the award.
UNC ASHEVILLE WINS REGULAR-SEASON CROWN
Another check mark! Led by conference Player of the Year Drew Pember and Coach of the Year Mike Morrell, UNC Asheville won the Big South regular-season title by four games. The Bulldogs doubled up, too, winning the conference tournament. It was all-around domination for UNCA in the Big South this season.
CHUCKY HEPBURN MAKES FIRST-TEAM ALL-BIG TEN
Hepburn’s numbers improved across the board this season but weren’t spectacular by any means (12.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.8 apg). That was par for the course for this underachieving Wisconsin team, which finished below .500 in Big Ten play and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention, however.
UC SANTA BARBARA WINS LEAGUE BY MULTIPLE GAMES
UC Santa Barbara won a share of the Big West title along with UC Irvine, and both were only a game ahead of UC Riverside, who finished third. That jumble at the top obviously means my prediction was wrong. However, the Gauchos did win the conference tournament and led Baylor at halftime of their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup. My faith was well-placed!
TOWSON EARNS 1ST NCAA TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE SINCE 1991
Towson’s showdown with Charleston in the CAA Tournament semis really felt like the conference’s title game. There’s a good chance the Tigers would’ve made the Big Dance had they won that heated contest. They even erased a 13-point second-half deficit! Ultimately, they fell to Charleston, and there’s no shame in that.
C-USA IS A TWO-BID LEAGUE
Conference USA didn’t get an at-large berth, but it showed during the postseason that it probably should have! FAU won more games than anyone in the country (35) on its way to a historic Final Four appearance, and the Owls were seconds away from playing for the national championship. North Texas and UAB faced off in the NIT championship game, which the Mean Green won. Heck, Charlotte even went out and won the CBI. This was one of the nation’s best leagues and deserved multiple bids.
ANTOINE DAVIS FINISHES SEASON AS NCAA’S 2ND ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER
Nailed this one! Davis finished his career four points away from breaking Pete Maravich’s all-time mark, and it’s probably a good thing the Detroit Mercy legend finished in second. Maravich compiled the record of 3,667 points in just three seasons at LSU at a time when there wasn’t a 3-point line. He averaged 44.2 points in his 83 career games. Davis’ 3,664 career points were accumulated in 144 games, 61 more than Maravich. Davis breaking the record would’ve felt manufactured in an unsettling way.
HARVARD WINS THE IVY
Nope. Not even close. Harvard was honestly kind of bad this season, posting a 14-14 record and a 5-9 mark in Ivy League play. It’s now the second straight season in which the Crimson have posted a .500 overall record and a 5-9 conference record after four consecutive years with winning marks in both categories.
SIENA FINISHES 2ND IN THE MAAC STANDINGS
The Saints were really trending that way! On Valentine’s Day, Siena was 17-9 overall and 11-4 in the MAAC, sitting comfortably in that spot. But then Siena lost the final five games of the regular season and was upset by Niagara in the first round of the MAAC Tournament. Ending the season with six straight losses isn’t ideal! Siena ultimately ended in a tie for third with Quinnipiac, trailing second-place Rider by two games and first-place Iona by six.
TOLEDO BREAKS THROUGH AND WINS MAC TOURNAMENT
I was one game away! Toledo closed its regular season with 15 straight victories and made it all the way to the MAC Tournament title game, where it faced off with Kent State. That game was close most of the way, but the Golden Flashes ultimately won 93-78. The Rockets lost in the first round of the NIT to Michigan.
NORFOLK STATE GOES UNDEFEATED IN MEAC PLAY, WINS NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME
This was a bet on a) Norfolk State dominating the MEAC and b) likely getting put in a First Four game. Well, the domination didn’t happen — the Spartans only posted a 9-5 record in conference play. But it did reach the conference title game and led Howard by four points with 25 seconds left! Win that game and Norfolk earns a tournament bid and is sent to the First Four. Instead, Howard came back and won in thrilling fashion. It is worth noting that the Bison pushed Kansas for a half, too.
DRAKE RUNS THE TABLE, FINISHES MVC PLAY UNDEFEATED
Going 15-5 certainly is not going “undefeated,” and Drake didn’t win the Missouri Valley regular-season crown (the Bulldogs finished a game behind Bradley). On the other hand, it did win the conference tournament and earned a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament. There, the Bulldogs pushed Miami for most of the game and led by eight with 4:38 to play before the Canes closed on a 16-1 run. What could’ve been…
SAN DIEGO STATE WINS A MW TITLE AND MAKES THE FINAL FOUR
I guess this one isn’t exactly correct – only because the Aztecs made it all the way to the national championship game! San Diego State swept the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles, and then used length and elite defense to pull off second-half comebacks against Charleston, Alabama, Creighton and FAU on its magical March run. A good portion of their roster is expected to return, too, so Brian Dutcher’s squad might be in line for another conference title in 2023-24.
MERRIMACK WINS LEAGUE, NCAA MAKES CHANGES TO D1 TRANSITION RULE
Oh yeah, we’re taking a victory lap here. Two in a row! Feels like we’re rolling. I know the NCAA hasn’t changed the D1 transition rule (yet), but that takes time. Merrimack won the NEC Tournament, beating Fairleigh Dickinson in the title game, yet was ineligible for the postseason because it was in the final year of its transition period. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that the Warriors won two regular-season NEC titles and a conference tournament in their first four years in Division I.
I hope the NCAA makes the change soon to justly award the teams that are successful right away. Purdue probably does, too. I think they would’ve rather faced Merrimack than FDU, probably?
PARKER STEWART WINS PLAYER AND NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Stewart did not win either. Morehead State’s Mark Freeman was named Player of the Year and Eastern Illinois’ Cameron Haffner claimed Freshman of the Year (the OVC did not hand out a Newcomer of the Year award). He did, however, earn first-team All-OVC honors after averaging 16.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
UCLA WINS LEAGUE BY MULTIPLE GAMES, SWEEPS POSTSEASON HONORS
First things first – UCLA did win the Pac-12 by multiple games. Four games, in fact! The Bruins went a stellar 18-2 in league play, comfortably beating out Arizona and USC, who each went 14-6.
The awards were a near sweep for UCLA, too. It had the Player of the Year (Jaime Jaquez Jr.), Defensive Player of the Year (Jaylen Clark), Freshman of the Year (Adem Bona) and Coach of the Year (Mick Cronin). Certainly not a bad haul, even if it missed winning Most Improved Player (Oumar Ballo, Arizona) and Sixth Man of the Year (Reese Dixon-Waters, USC). We’ll give ourselves half credit here.
COLGATE BEATS SYRACUSE – AGAIN
Another winner! Colgate is rolling right now under Matt Langel. It’s honestly incredible he’s still there considering the Raiders have made each of the last four NCAA Tournaments. They didn’t just beat Syracuse, either — they dominated the Orange. Colgate won by double digits and led by as many as 18 points.
OSCAR TSHIEBWE WON’T BE KENTUCKY’S MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
There’s no real tangible way to quantify this, but it was clear throughout the season that Kentucky was at its best when Cason Wallace was as involved as possible. Tshiebwe was still awesome, don’t get me wrong, and I didn’t expect him to suddenly struggle. But I was correct in thinking that someone on the perimeter would prove to be more important to raising Kentucky’s ceiling, with Wallace emerging as that person.
JAKE STEPHENS BECOMES A FIRST-ROUND PICK
There’s still time for an NBA team to fall in love with Stephens during the pre-draft process, but that appears to be something that would happen in the second round, not the first. The 7-foot, 275-pounder averaged 22.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for Chattanooga while shooting 40.8 percent from three. He also averaged over two blocks per game.
TEXAS A&M-COMMERCE MAKES NOISE IN 1ST SEASON IN DIVISION 1
How do you define noise? Commerce went 9-9 in Southland play, putting them in the top half of the conference in its first season in Division I. I’d consider that noise. If you don’t, then I submit the amount of Demarcus Demonia dunks that took over social media and SportsCenter Top 10 countdowns. Screw it, I’m taking a victory lap here, too.
JACKSON STATE WINS AT LEAST ONE CONFERENCE TITLE
Jackson State did take steps forward in its first season under Mo Williams. Its 14 overall wins are the most the Tigers have had in three seasons, and JSU went 12-6 in conference play, which was good for third place behind Grambling State and Alcorn State. However, they did not win a league title.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE REPEATS, SWEEPS BOTH CONFERENCE TITLES
Did I say South Dakota State? I clearly meant Oral Roberts! The Golden Eagles were the only team in the country to post an undefeated record in conference play and earned a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they were a popular upset pick against Duke. That upset never came to fruition, but it was an excellent season for ORU nonetheless. At least South Dakota State finished second, I guess.
A TEAM GETS INTO AT-LARGE CONVERSATION
OK, so no Sun Belt team actually got into serious bubble territory, but five teams in the league — Marshall, Louisiana, South Alabama, James Madison and Southern Miss — all finished ranked in the KenPom top 100. That’s more than the league has ever had. It was still a great season for the league, even if this prediction was wrong.
PORTLAND FINISHES IN THE TOP 5
I was really high on Portland having a breakout season in head coach Shantay Legans’ second year in charge. And, after a quality non-conference schedule that saw the Pilots upset Villanova while nearly beating North Carolina and Michigan State as well, I thought we were well on our way. But Portland stumbled in WCC play, going just 5-11 to finish eighth out of 10 teams. Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount were the teams that enjoyed breakout seasons instead.
GRAND CANYON RETURNS TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Always good to end on a win! Grand Canyon’s regular season wasn’t anything spectacular — just 10-7 in WAC play to finish sixth — but the Lopes played their best basketball in March. They finished the season winning eight of their final 10 games, including a tough run through the WAC Tournament to claim the conference’s automatic bid. It even led Gonzaga by as many as seven in their first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament before an eventual 82-70 loss to the Bulldogs.