The Day Before: What You Need to Know for the 2022-23 Season

Another offseason has come and gone in college basketball, and just over 200 days after the Kansas Jayhawks claimed their program’s fourth national championship, the 363 Division I teams will try to be the next to cut down the nets in April. The action begins tomorrow at noon Eastern, with one matchup of Division I teams seeing fifth-ranked Baylor take on Mississippi Valley State. Here’s some quick things you need to know before the season begins.

The Defending Champs

The Jayhawks come into this season tied with the aforementioned Baylor Bears at number 5 in the AP poll. It’s no surprise, even after losing three of their top four scorers. Jalen Wilson is the only double-digit scorer to return for the Jayhawks, but they’re still loaded with talent and the pollsters recognize it. Kansas landed two five-stars in this years class, being the pair of stellar forwards Gradey Dick and M. J. Rice. This talent shone in their exhibition win over Pittsburg State, as despite a slow start, letting the Gorillas begin up 12-0, the Jayhawks’ superior talent in the paint led to utter domination, outscoring their opponent 62-22 and cruising to a 94-63 victory. Jalen Wilson stepped right back into the point scoring role, leading the Jayhawks with 23, and Gradey Dick showed why he was a 5 star prospect, with 20 points of his own.

Can Kansas repeat as champions? Despite losing a lot of talent, it’s possible. The team has a good balance of first-year stars and veteran talent mixed in, as they snagged redshirt senior Kevin McCullar in the transfer portal. He and Dajuan Harris will be the senior leaders on the team, and if the Jayhawks are to make another run at the national title, it’s on their leadership for this reload in Lawrence. Kansas will have two games against Omaha and North Dakota State before their first real test in the Champions Classic against Duke.

The Preseason Peak

The AP Poll crowned the North Carolina Tar Heels as this year’s preseason top team, after their 8-seeded run to the championship fell in the title game. Along the way, they defeated 1-seed Baylor, tournament darling Saint Peter’s, and defeated Mike Krzyzewksi’s Blue Devils in the Final Four in what would be his final game as coach. It was Hubert Davis’ first year at the helm after the retirement of their own legendary coach Roy Williams, and it surely did not disappoint. They return four of five starters from last year’s runner-up team, only losing Brady Ware. It won’t take much for the Tar Heels to reload, and they have ACC preseason Player of the Year Armando Bacot to lead them to another title opportunity. Their season will begin tomorrow, November 7th, against UNC-Wilmington.

The poll wasn’t unanimous on the top spot, and though the Tar Heels received 47 out of 62 first-place votes, three other teams were the apple of the eye of a pollster. Gonzaga is the preseason number 2, looking to continue a run of utter dominance in the West Coast Conference and finally earn the title that has eluded Mark Few for so long. Houston also recieved a top-spot nod, and Kentucky got two of their own. This race at the top should sort itself out soon. Kentucky will have two difficult matchups against Michigan State in the Champions Classic, and Gonzaga in Spokane. The Zags will also be playing Tom Izzo’s Spartans, but will also face #5 Baylor, #12 Texas, #20 Alabama, and a possible matchup against #7 Duke if both make it to the finals of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. A gauntlet awaits Mark Few’s team, and it’s entirely possible we’ll see a Zags team enter WCC play with more than a couple losses, something that hasn’t happened since 2017-18.

Gonzaga celebrates winning the 2022 West Coast Conference tournament. (Credit: Mid Major Madness)

Conference Breakdown

The SEC and Big 12 are leading the way in the polls with five teams each, but 10 different conferences are represented. The Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East, and ACC also have multiple teams, while the WCC, Mountain West, and Atlantic-10 only had one of their teams crack the top 25. The B12 looks poised to once again be the best conference in basketball, with defending champs Kansas, as well as Baylor, Texas, and TCU giving the conference four of the top 15 teams in the nation.

The Big Ten, on the flipside, has been praised for it’s top-to-bottom depth in recent years, but they lack a true title contender. #13 Indiana slots in as the conference’s highest ranked team, and Michigan and Illinois sneak into the list at #22 and #23 respectively. Be on the lookout for a tight race there as Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Rutgers all sit in the receiving votes category and have the potential to make a run at the conference crown.

The ACC looks once again to be a top-heavy conference, as top-10 Duke and North Carolina are the conference’s only teams to grace the AP Poll. Miami (FL) and Florida State received votes, but neither seem to have enough talent to take the ACC crown yet.

In the Pac-12, #8 UCLA are preseason favorites, only two years removed from their First Four to Final Four run in 2021. Johnny Juzang is gone, but they still have a star-studded lineup and should have a very clear path to the title, barring a great season from #17 Arizona or a breakout season from another team. The only other team to receive votes here was USC, so a two horse race is the most likely outcome.

North Carolina and Michigan State play a game on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

Games to Watch: 11/7-11/13

The first week of games is littered with good matchups to watch, top 25 and not. Here are a few of the matchups I find the most intriguing as the year kicks off.

Michigan State @ #2 Gonzaga | November 11 | San Diego, Ca.

Basketball returns to the deck of an aircraft carrier for the first time since 2012. The USS Abraham Lincoln will play host to the Zags and Spartans as the two programs look to start their season off with a marquee win. Tom Izzo is no stranger to carrier games, having played in the original game 11 years ago against North Carolina. He will have his team prepared for the conditions, and while Gonzaga is the better team on paper, it’s hard to count out a Spartan team led by Tom Izzo.

Bellarmine @ Louisville | November 9 | Louisville, Ky.

This game intrigues me due to the nature of Bellarmine’s program. As they made the transfer into Division I, they gained notoriety as a team that rarely dribbles the ball. Louisville should easily win this game, but it will be interesting to see if Bellarmine’s pass-first pass-often philosophy can carry this team higher than expected.

Southern Illinois @ Southern Indiana | November 13 | Evansville, In.

The Screaming Eagles begin their season on November 7th against Missouri, but their home opener is what I’m most excited for from the newest Division I program. Southern Indiana has been decently successful in Division II recently, making a Final Four in 2019 before losing to Point Loma Nazarene. The Salukis are a good team that have a shot to compete for the Missouri Valley title, so this will be a good test for the home crowds in Evansville. Youngstown State transfer Jelani Simmons is going to be a big part of this team this year, and he’ll have a shot to make a statement here.

NJIT @ Saint Peters | November 7 | Jersey City, NJ.

Last year’s Cinderella, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, will start their season off against a middling NJIT team. It’s unlikely that the Peacocks will do anything near as noteworthy this year, but a win here is necessary to build momentum if they want to become a perennial powerhouse in the MAAC.

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