With football season coming to an end, it’s time for fans of college athletics to shift their attention toward basketball. While many individuals don’t put too much thought into college hoops until March, it’s nice to look at the early favorites for the 2023 CBB championship to know who the best bet could be.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels are no strangers to making noise in the NCAA tournament. However, it was surprising to see the eighth-seeded Tar Heels make it to the championship game last season. They will look to ride that momentum in 2022–23 with core members of a team that blistered through the field.
UNC is returning with four of their starting five as the bearded wonder, Brady Manek, maxed out his eligibility. The four that remain are Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, and R.J. Davis. Of those four, Bacot has the most impact considering he is a double-double machine who broke the school record by nabbing 511 rebounds in a single season.
To accompany the sensational quartet is Manek’s replacement, Pete Nance, an incoming transfer from Northwestern. Nance averaged nearly 15 points per game and shot a remarkable 45 percent from beyond the arc. With Nance seamlessly stepping in for Manek, head coach Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels should make plenty of noise again.
Death, taxes, and Gonzaga falling short in the NCAA tournament are the three guarantees in life. However, the Bulldogs are looking to change the narrative with an experienced team that should cruise to another one-seed.
The Zags seek to reclaim their position atop the WCC, a goal they will certainly achieve given their number two preseason AP national rating. Drew Timme returns with his mustached machismo for his senior season, looking to win the WCC Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.
The departing Chet Holmgren leaves one glaring hole in their lineup, but Malachi Smith, the transfer from Chattanooga, should step right into the fold for Mark Few’s Bulldogs. It’s possible that with Holmgren gone, the Zags will focus on evenly distributing the ball rather than force-feeding the former freshman superstar.
John Calipari is looking to rebound after Kentucky’s quick exit from the tournament thanks to everyone’s favorite underdogs, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks. At the fourth-best odds to cut the nets, Kentucky has championship aspirations again despite a tough SEC this season.
Typically, Calipari looks to a group of freshmen to lead the way, but this year will be a tad different for the one-and-done master. Kentucky should have three seniors in their starting lineup—Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin dominate in the backcourt, and Oscar Tshiebwe is the Wildcats’ version of Armando Bacot. Tshiebwe has averaged a staggering 17.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game.
When Kelvin Sampson went to Houston, who could have thought the team would return to glory with him on the bench? The Houston Cougars are a perennial contender in the AAC and the NCAA tournament. Houston made it to the Final Four two years ago, and trended in the direction of the championship last year until two of their starters, Tramon Mack and Marcus Sasser, suffered season-ending injuries.
Even with those backbreaking losses, Houston made the Elite Eight, including a victory over the one-seeded Arizona Wildcats. Sasser and Mack are returning at full health this season, giving Sampson the talent and experience needed to put Houston back in national championship contention.
Eric Musselman’s high-energy personality and coaching methods have turned the Razorbacks into a formidable foe for the SEC heavyweights. The Razorbacks have been in the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons, losing by 9 points to Baylor and Duke in the previous two campaigns. During this period, the Razorbacks averaged around 26 wins each season, with analytics proving they are a top offensive and defensive squad.
If Calipari is the one-and-done king, Musselman is the transfer portal tycoon, welcoming 12 transfers in his first three seasons and adding five more this year. Arkansas will take a somewhat different approach if it hopes to match or exceed its success from the prior two seasons. Junior guard Davonte Davis will be the sole surviving player from the team’s nine-man nucleus as Musselman has lost several players to the NBA and transfers.
As for last year’s champions, Bill Self’s Jayhawks may not be the powerhouse that went 34–6 en route to a comeback win in the championship game against North Carolina. However, they will always be a contender until proven otherwise. Their top player, Ochai Agabaji, is no longer on the court, leaving Christian Braun as their new best player. Braun led the Big 12 in minutes played, averaging 14 points a game.
Duke Blue Devils
Coach K’s retirement tour was less than optimal since his last two losses were to Duke’s rivals on Tobacco Road, with the last involving their first-ever meeting in the Final Four. Newcomer Jon Scheyer will follow up Krzyzewski’s final season with an entirely different roster.
The only familiar face on the court for Duke is Jeremy Roach, the junior guard who averaged only 8.6 points per game. Jacob Grandison, a senior transfer from Illinois, is teaming with Roach in the backcourt. In the front court is a trio of freshmen, including three of the four top-rated recruits in the nation. Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski, and Dereck Lively II will have to live up to the hype if Duke wants another Final Four run. But with all that talent, it’s always a possibility.
Rick Barnes-led teams are notorious for falling short in March, and last year’s Tennessee Volunteers didn’t do anything to erase that stigma around Barnes’ name. After a second-round exit to the Michigan Wolverines that saw the team score only 8 points in the final 7:45 of the game, the Vols whimpered out of the tourney. They will look to avenge their less-than-stellar conclusion from last season with four seniors manning the court, highlighted by a potential Jerry West winner, Santiago Vescovi.
Scott Drew is entering his 19th season with the Baylor Bears, proving he is one of the finest basketball coaches in the country. Two years after winning his first title, Drew will look to do it again with a new cast of characters in Waco. Luckily, the Bears return with their leading scorer, Adam Flager, as the offense’s main cog. The Bears also welcome a five-start prospect to the mix with Keyonte George, as they hope he can fill the gaps left by four players who averaged 9 points per game.
The NCAA predictions today and these championship contenders’ odds will change as the season progresses, but this look at the early favorites for the 2023 CBB championship showcases the most probable teams to be the last ones standing as “One Shining Moment” plays.
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