Way-Too-Early Top 25: Who, finally, is the No. 1 team for 2023-24?

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Tuesday, October 10, 2023

When UConn finished lifting its national championship trophy six months ago, the landscape of men's college basketball looked different from now. Kyle Filipowski looked like a first-round draft pick; Zach Edey was projected to be selected by an NBA team; Hunter Dickinson was being pursued by a long list of schools; top-five recruit Ron Holland was going to play college basketball... the list goes on and on.

Six months later, the dust has completely settled from the transfer portal, the commitment flips and all the roster machinations in between. So it's time to unveil our final preseason Top 25 of the offseason.

The big question: Did we go with Duke or Kansas at No. 1?

In terms of pure talent, Duke has the edge. The Blue Devils have three players -- Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor and Jared McCain -- projected to be selected in the top 20 of the 2024 NBA draft, plus another, Mark Mitchell, in the early second round. Meanwhile, Kansas has just one such player (Elmarko Jackson) per ESPN's 2024 mock draft.

But in terms of proven quality at the college level, the Jayhawks are loaded. Dickinson is a preseason All-American -- and perhaps the biggest threat to Edey's chances at repeating as the Wooden Award winner -- while Dajuan Harris Jr. and Kevin McCullar Jr. are among the best players in the country at their positions.

Entering the 2023-24 season, we'll side with experience, and Bill Self, and go with the Jayhawks atop the rankings.

And with less than one month until the tipoff of the 2023-24 college basketball season, despite the headline, this is no longer Way-Too-Early. The season is upon us.

Updated Oct. 9, 2023

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Previous: 1

While the incoming players, most notably Hunter Dickinson, are getting most of the attention so far this offseason, the returning trio of Dajuan Harris Jr., Kevin McCullar Jr. and K.J. Adams Jr. is what makes the Jayhawks a national championship contender. Harris is one of the elite pass-first guards in the country and a terrific defender, while McCullar is versatile and really defends. Adams' role will change next to Dickinson, but he was one of the breakout stars of last season and should take an even bigger step in this one. That said, Dickinson's arrival gives Bill Self one of the most dominant players in college basketball -- and an anchor around which to build his offense.

Projected starting lineup:

Dajuan Harris Jr. (8.9 PPG)

Elmarko Jackson (No. 26 in ESPN 100)

Kevin McCullar Jr. (10.7 PPG)

K.J. Adams Jr. (10.6 PPG)

Hunter Dickinson (18.5 PPG at Michigan)

2. Duke Blue Devils

Previous: 2

Kyle Filipowski's return to Durham put the Blue Devils in a close contest with Kansas for the preseason No. 1 spot. He's a potential first-team All-American and likely draft lottery pick who was one of the best freshmen in the country a year ago. Jon Scheyer also has two first-rounders in the backcourt in sophomore Tyrese Proctor and Jared McCain, as well as experience at point guard with Jeremy Roach.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (13.6 PPG)

Tyrese Proctor (9.4 PPG)

Jared McCain (No. 12 in ESPN 100)

Mark Mitchell (9.1 PPG)

Kyle Filipowski (15.1 PPG)

3. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous: 3

It's once again all about Zach Edey in West Lafayette. The reigning Wooden Award winner is the heavy favorite to repeat as the best player in men's college basketball, and his deadline day decision to return to the Boilermakers makes them the Big Ten favorite. The supporting cast remains intact, too. Matt Painter will have all five starters back from a squad that won the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer will have to become more consistent to take the next step, however.

Projected starting lineup:

Braden Smith (9.7 PPG)

Fletcher Loyer (11.0 PPG)

Ethan Morton (3.8 PPG)

Trey Kaufman-Renn (4.5 PPG)

Zach Edey (22.3 PPG)

4. Michigan State Spartans

Previous: 4

Tom Izzo has a little bit of everything on this season's roster: experience, elite guards, and depth and explosiveness in the form of talented newcomers. Tyson Walker and Malik Hall opted to take advantage of their extra year of eligibility, while A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins decided to return to East Lansing instead of turning pro. And Izzo is adding a high-level recruiting class that includes top-30 recruits Xavier Booker, Jeremy Fears and Coen Carr.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyson Walker (14.8 PG)

A.J. Hoggard (12.9 PPG)

Jaden Akins (9.8 PPG)

Malik Hall (8.9 PPG)

Mady Sissoko (5.1 PPG)

5. UConn Huskies

Previous: 5

The reigning national champions are entering the season with expectations of another deep NCAA tournament run, despite losing Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson Jr., Jordan Hawkins and others. Donovan Clingan should recover from his foot injury in time for the season, while Alex Karaban and Tristen Newton are back as starters. Dan Hurley also brings in a top-five recruiting class led by Stephon Castle, while the addition of Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer provides big-time shooting ability.

Projected starting lineup:

Tristen Newton (9.9 PPG)

Stephon Castle (No. 15 in ESPN 100)

Cam Spencer (13.2 PPG at Rutgers)

Alex Karaban (9.5 PPG)

Donovan Clingan (7.1 PPG)

6. Houston Cougars

Previous: 6

Houston's transition from the AAC to the Big 12 might be the biggest question mark for Kelvin Sampson's team this season -- because there are very few holes on the roster. Sampson replaced Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark with transfers LJ Cryer and Damian Dunn, while double-figure scorers Jamal Shead and J'Wan Roberts are both back. Emanuel Sharp or Terrance Arceneaux becoming a reliable wing scorer might be the key, along with Houston continuing its dominant rebounding and defense.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamal Shead (10.5 PPG)

LJ Cryer (15.0 PPG at Baylor)

Emanuel Sharp (5.9 PPG)

Damian Dunn (15.3 PPG at Temple)

J'Wan Roberts (10.0 PPG)

7. Marquette Golden Eagles

Previous: 10

Entering the offseason, it looked as if Shaka Smart would be able to run his entire team back for another season. But Olivier-Maxence Prosper blew away scouts and NBA teams at the draft combine and opted to stay in the draft rather than return to the Golden Eagles. Every other key player is back, though, including All-American Tyler Kolek and three other starters, as well as sixth man David Joplin, who should slot right into the lineup for Prosper.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyler Kolek (12.9 PPG)

Stevie Mitchell (7.1 PPG)

Kam Jones (15.1 PPG)

David Joplin (9.2 PPG)

Oso Ighodaro (11.4 PPG)

8. Tennessee Volunteers

Previous: 8

Rick Barnes entered the offseason knowing his team needed to improve on the offensive end. An elite defensive team the past three years, the Volunteers were too often let down by scoring droughts. So he brought in Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado) and Jordan Gainey (South Carolina Upstate) to boost the perimeter shooting and scoring, while early buzz about freshman Freddie Dilione is hugely positive. All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi and veteran starter Josiah-Jordan James are both back, but Zakai Zeigler's health and availability will be the key.

Projected starting lineup:

Freddie Dilione (No. 38 in ESPN 100)

Santiago Vescovi (12.5 PPG)

Dalton Knecht (20.2 PPG at Northern Colorado)

Josiah-Jordan James (10.0 PPG)

Jonas Aidoo (5.1 PPG)

9. Creighton Bluejays

Previous: 13

It was an up-and-down offseason for Greg McDermott, who lost starters Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma to the transfer portal but convinced Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner to withdraw their names from the NBA draft and return to Omaha. Then there's Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth, who should fill Nembhard's shoes. Mason Miller and Virginia transfer Isaac Traudt should help offset Kaluma's departure.

Projected starting lineup:

Steven Ashworth (16.2 PPG at Utah State)

Baylor Scheierman (12.8 PPG)

Trey Alexander (13.6 PPG)

Mason Miller (2.3 PPG)

Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.9 PPG)

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous: 7

We knew Mark Few would find a way to reload his roster after the departures of Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Malachi Smith -- and he landed three transfers to help offset the losses: Ryan Nembhard (Creighton), Graham Ike (Wyoming) and Steele Venters (Eastern Washington). Anton Watson will once again start and provide two-way ability and leadership, but Few will need consistency from Nolan Hickman and the rest of the newcomers to provide depth.

Projected starting lineup:

Ryan Nembhard (12.1 PPG at Creighton)

Nolan Hickman (7.7 PPG)

Steele Venters (15.3 PPG at Eastern Washington)

Anton Watson (11.1 PPG)

Graham Ike (19.5 PPG at Wyoming in 2021-22)

11. Florida Atlantic Owls

Previous: 9

Ranking the Owls 11th in the country might seem lofty given they were a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament and nearly lost to Memphis in the first round. But this is also a team that won 35 games, made a Final Four run and is bringing back all five starters. It's a testament to Dusty May that he was able to keep the core of this group together, with zero players entering the transfer portal or NBA draft. FAU is stepping up in competition to the AAC, but the Owls will be the favorite to win it in their first season there.

Projected starting lineup:

Bryan Greenlee (7.4 PPG)

Nick Boyd (8.9 PPG)

Johnell Davis (13.9 PPG)

Alijah Martin (13.1 PPG)

Vladislav Goldin (10.3 PPG)

12. Arizona Wildcats

Previous: 11

Tommy Lloyd has won 61 games in his first two seasons in Tucson, but Arizona has departed the NCAA tournament earlier than expected in both seasons. So the Wildcats sought toughness and offensive creativity in the offseason, and they're hoping transfers Caleb Love (Arizona), Jaden Bradley (Alabama) and Keshad Johnson (San Diego State) will fit those needs. Starters Pelle Larsson and Oumar Ballo are back, andKylan Boswell is poised for a breakout campaign.

Projected starting lineup:

Kylan Boswell (4.6 PPG)

Caleb Love (16.7 PPG at North Carolina)

Pelle Larsson (9.9 PPG)

Keshad Johnson (7.7 PPG at San Diego State)

Oumar Ballo (14.2 PPG)

13. Villanova Wildcats

Previous: 16

After Villanova missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, Kyle Neptune clearly wanted to avoid a repeat in the second season of his tenure. The Wildcats had as much success in the transfer portal as any team in the country, landing TJ Bamba (Washington State), Hakim Hart (Maryland) and Tyler Burton (Richmond), while also returning veteran stalwarts Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. This is as experienced and proven a starting five as you'll find in the Big East.

Projected starting lineup:

Justin Moore (13.5 PPG)

TJ Bamba (15.8 PPG at Washington State)

Hakim Hart (11.4 PPG at Maryland)

Tyler Burton (19.0 PPG at Richmond)

Eric Dixon (15.4 PPG)

14. North Carolina Tar Heels

Previous: 15

Hubert Davis started the offseason with two anchors: RJ Davis at one guard spot and Armando Bacot down low. He then went out and surrounded his two returning stars with intriguing complementary players. Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan is a veteran shooter, andHarrison Ingram from Stanford is a versatile wing. The final piece to the puzzle was top-10 2024 prospect Elliot Cadeau, who opted to reclassify and suit up for the Tar Heels this fall. He's a truly elite passer and playmaker.

Projected starting lineup:

Elliot Cadeau (No. 10 in ESPN 100)

RJ Davis (16.1 PPG)

Cormac Ryan (12.3 PPG at Notre Dame)

Harrison Ingram (10.5 PPG at Stanford)

Armando Bacot (15.9 PPG)

15. Kentucky Wildcats

Previous: 17

While questions remain over the experience and youth in this season's Kentucky squad, there are no doubts about the talent level in Lexington. In ESPN's 2024 mock draft, the Wildcats have two of the five highest-ranked college players (Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner) and five players (Edwards, Wagner, Ugonna Onyenso, Aaron Bradshaw, Robert Dillingham) ranked inside the top 42 overall. That doesn't include veterans Antonio Reeves or Tre Mitchell, who should both start for John Calipari this season.

Projected starting lineup:

D.J. Wagner (No. 4 in ESPN 100)

Antonio Reeves (14.4 PPG)

Justin Edwards (No. 3 in ESPN 100)

Tre Mitchell (11.7 PPG at West Virginia)

Aaron Bradshaw (No. 6 in ESPN 100)

16. Arkansas Razorbacks

Previous: 14

As we've come to expect from Eric Musselman-coached teams, the Razorbacks' roster looks very different than it did when last season ended. Anthony Black led a group of four players who opted to turn pro, so Arkansas brought in seven transfers and two top-30 recruits. This season's performance likely rests on the development of Davonte "Devo" Davis, the health of Trevon Brazile and the immediate impact of Houston transfer Tramon Mark.

Projected starting lineup:

Khalif Battle (17.9 PPG at Temple)

Devo Davis (10.9 PPG)

Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG at Houston)

Trevon Brazile (11.8 PPG)

Makhi Mitchell (7.0 PPG)

17. Baylor Bears

Previous: 20

Scott Drew is essentially starting from scratch on the perimeter, with Keyonte George and Adam Flagler entering the NBA draft and LJ Cryer transferring to Houston. But he's bringing in two impact freshmen in Ja'Kobe Walter and Miro Little, welcomes back Langston Love, and landed two high-level transfers in RayJ Dennis (Toledo) and Jayden Nunn (VCU). Jalen Bridges' return to Waco was important for Drew -- and the summer buzz around freshman big man Yves Missi was notable.

Projected starting lineup:

RayJ Dennis (19.5 PPG at Toledo)

Jayden Nunn (9.3 PPG at VCU)

Ja'Kobe Walter (No. 14 in ESPN 100)

Jalen Bridges (10.3 PPG)

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (5.1 PPG)

18. San Diego State Aztecs

Previous: 12

Brian Dutcher lost a handful of veteran players from a team that reached the national championship game but brought back four players who saw at least 17 minutes in that title game, including two starters:Darrion Trammell and Final Four hero Lamont Butler. Meanwhile, Jaedon LeDee and Micah Parrish should see increased roles. USC transfer Reese Dixon-Waters was an underrated addition after winning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year.

Projected starting lineup:

Darrion Trammell (9.9 PPG)

Lamont Butler (8.7 PPG)

Micah Parrish (7.7 PPG)

Reese Dixon-Waters (9.8 PPG at USC)

Jaedon LeDee (7.8 PPG)

19. Miami Hurricanes

Previous: 18

After Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier opted to return to Coral Gables instead of entering the NBA draft, Jim Larrañaga had one of the best inside-outside duos in ACC around which to build. The big question was how Miami was going to replace Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller. Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland should fill Miller's shoes, but Larrañaga will need Bensley Joseph to be a factor alongside Wooga Poplar on the perimeter.

Projected starting lineup:

Nijel Pack (13.8 PPG)

Wooga Poplar (8.7 PPG)

Bensley Joseph (5.2 PPG)

Matthew Cleveland (13.8 PPG at Florida State)

Norchad Omier (13.3 PPG)

20. Texas A&M Aggies

Previous: 19

Will the Aggies pick up where they left off during the second half of the season, when they won 19 of 22 games before falling in the SEC championship game and first round of the NCAA tournament? Having Wade Taylor IV back to run the show is a huge plus, and Buzz Williams has three other returning starters, including Tyrece Radford. Dexter Dennis is the lone starter leaving, but transfers Jace Carter (UIC) and Eli Lawrence (Middle Tennessee) will help replace him.

Projected starting lineup:

Wade Taylor IV (16.3 PPG)

Tyrece Radford (13.3 PPG)

Jace Carter (16.6 PPG at UIC)

Henry Coleman III (9.0 PPG)

Julius Marble (9.1 PPG)

21. Texas Longhorns

Previous: 24

Rodney Terry did an incredible job taking over for Chris Beard partway through last season, guiding the Longhorns to 29 wins, a Big 12 conference tournament title and an Elite Eight appearance. But now comes the reloading process. Texas brings back Tyrese Hunter at point guard and landed Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas, one of the premier scorers in college basketball. Dillon Mitchell taking a step forward will be the key, although a full season of health from Dylan Disu will make a difference inside.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyrese Hunter (10.3 PPG)

Max Abmas (21.9 PPG at Oral Roberts)

Dillon Mitchell (4.3 PPG)

Dylan Disu (8.8 PPG)

Kadin Shedrick (6.2 PPG at Virginia)

22. Alabama Crimson Tide

Previous: 22

Alabama underwent plenty of roster turnover, with starters Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney and Charles Bediako leaving for the NBA and key guards Jaden Bradley, Jahvon Quinerly and Nimari Burnett all hitting the portal. But Nate Oats rebuilt as expected, landing high-level impact transfers Aaron Estrada (Hofstra) and Grant Nelson (North Dakota State) and five-star recruit Jarin Stevenson. Mark Sears returns as a starter, and Rylan Griffen is poised for a bigger role.

Projected starting lineup:

Aaron Estrada (20.2 PPG at Hofstra)

Mark Sears (12.5 PPG)

Rylan Griffen (5.9 PPG)

Grant Nelson (17.9 PPG at North Dakota State)

Nick Pringle (3.5 PPG)

23. Saint Mary's Gaels

Previous: 23

Saint Mary's has three key returnees from last season's co-WCC champions for Randy Bennett to build around this season: Aidan Mahaney, Alex Ducas and Mitchell Saxen. Mahaney will become a household name, if he's not already, after flashing throughout his freshman campaign. Ducas is a terrific shooter, and Saxen is a dominant shot-blocker and offensive rebounder. The Gaels also bring back Augustas Marciulionis and welcome four-star guard Jordan Ross along with Harvard transfer Mason Forbes.

Projected starting lineup:

Aidan Mahaney (13.9 PPG)

Augustas Marciulionis (5.9 PPG)

Alex Ducas (12.5 PPG)

Josh Jefferson (2.2 PPG)

Mitchell Saxen (11.6 PPG)

24. USC Trojans

Previous: 21

Andy Enfield will have one of the nation's premier backcourts in returning all-conference guard Boogie Ellis and elite incoming freshman Isaiah Collier, the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class. Expect those two to handle most of the scoring responsibilities, while Kobe Johnson and Washington State transfer DJ Rodman will provide toughness and 3-point shooting. If Bronny James is able to play, USC's perimeter will be as deep and versatile as any in college basketball.

Projected starting lineup:

Isaiah Collier (No. 1 in ESPN 100)

Boogie Ellis (17.7 PPG)

Kobe Johnson (9.2 PPG)

DJ Rodman (9.6 PPG at Washington State)

Joshua Morgan (7.0 PPG)

25. St. John's Red Storm

Previous: 25

It might take time for the revamped St. John's roster to get going, but on paper there's more than enough talent to be a factor toward the top of the Big East -- especially when factoring in Rick Pitino on the sideline. Joel Soriano is one of the most productive big men in the country, while Jordan Dingle and Chris Ledlum were high-level scorers in the Ivy League. With a combination of Daniss Jenkins, Glenn Taylor Jr., RJ Luis, Simeon Wilcher and Nahiem Alleyne on the wings, it's hard not to envision early success for Pitino.

Projected starting lineup:

Jordan Dingle (23.4 PPG at Penn)

Daniss Jenkins (15.6 PPG at Iona)

Glenn Taylor Jr. (11.6 PPG at Oregon State)

Chris Ledlum (18.8 PPG at Harvard)

Joel Soriano (15.2 PPG)

Dropped out:


Next in line:

Wisconsin Badgers

Florida Gators

UCLA Bruins

Illinois Fighting Illini

Auburn Tigers