Biggest Questions Heading into the 2022-23 Men's College Basketball Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 4, 2022

Biggest Questions Heading into the 2022-23 Men's College Basketball Season

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    Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The start of the 2022-23 men's college basketball season is rapidly approaching, and with it come more burning questions than answers.

    What will life at Duke and Villanova look like after the retirements of Mike Krzyzewski and Jay Wright?

    Could Oscar Tshiebwe become the first player in four decades to repeat as National Player of the Year?

    What are the chances preseason AP Top 10 teams Creighton, Gonzaga or Houston win their first national championship in program history?

    And how much longer will the tournament even consist of a 68-team field?

    We'll look at all those questions and more in preparation for the beginning of the season on Monday.

Is the NCAA Tournament Expanding?

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    Kansas players celebrate during the second half of a college basketball game in the finals of the Men's Final Four NCAA tournament, Monday, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans. Kansas won 72-69. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
    AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    But in the past couple of months, a bunch of major conference commissioners have come out in support of at least looking into expanding the NCAA tournament field from 68 teams to...we don't even know.

    It might be 80 teams. It could be 96 or even 128.

    SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was the first to publicly say anything about expansion back in mid-August. Later, both ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren voiced their support of the idea at their respective league's media days in October.

    And, well, if those three guys are on board, it's probably going to happen—even though "for crying out loud, don't expand the tournament" might be the most unifying stance ever among college basketball fans.

    Frankly, though, I'll believe expansion is coming when it actually arrives, and there's no reason to believe any format change would impact the 2023 tournament.

    We got all up in arms about the seemingly inevitable expansion to a 96-team tournament back in 2010, and that never happened. (Though, it was during the summer of 2010 that they decided to expand from 65 to 68 teams for the 2011 dance. So, maybe the threat of expanding to 128 teams gets us to something like a 72-team field by 2024.)

    Still, brace yourself for a lot of "postseason expansion" banter, as has become the norm in college football over the past few years.

How Will Duke and Villanova Fare Under New Head Coaches?

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    Duke's Jon Scheyer
    Lance King/Getty Images

    There were 61 head-coaching changes across men's college basketball this year, which includes a little more than one-sixth of all programs. Just among the six major conferences, there will be new coaches at Butler, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Kansas State, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Mississippi State, Missouri, Seton Hall, South Carolina, Villanova and Xavier.

    But the biggest two, by far, are Duke and Villanova, where Jon Scheyer and Kyle Neptune are tasked with replacing legendary coaches who won multiple titles and who had their programs in the Final Four just a few months ago.

    On the Scheyer front, at least recruiting hasn't taken any sort of a hit following the retirement of Mike Krzyzewski. Duke put together the No. 1 class (per 247 Sports) for 2022, headlined by three of the top recruits overall in Dereck Lively II, Dariq Whitehead and Kyle Filipowski. Scheyer also already has the No. 1 class for 2023 with five 5-star commitments.

    How will the first-time head coach fare with the X's and O's, though?

    Can he cohesively bring together a team where Jeremy Roach and barely-saw-the-court-as-a-freshman Jaylen Blakes are the only returning players?

    At least when Hubert Davis took over for Roy Williams at North Carolina, four of the five starters and several key reserves were holdovers from the previous year. And it still took that team four months to hit its stride.

    Neptune's situation at Villanova, where he is replacing the now-retired Jay Wright, is much closer to that. He does have to replace Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, and he will be relying on a pair of highly touted freshmen in Cam Whitmore and Mark Armstrong. But he has a bunch of pivotal returnees, including Justin Moore—if and when he's ready to take the floor after suffering that torn Achilles' in March.

    Both Duke (No. 7) and Villanova (No. 16) open the season comfortably in the AP Top 25, but we are all intrigued to find out if they can stay there.

Will Manhattan Even Have a Basketball Team?

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    Former Manhattan coach Steve Masiello
    Chris Gardner/Getty Images

    Before we move on from the coaching carousel topic, we've got to point out the wildest one of all: Manhattan firing Steve Masiello literally 13 days before its season opener.

    We still don't know what happened there. If there's a scandal, it hasn't broken yet. CBS Sports' Matt Norlander noted that Masiello's contract was set to expire after this season, so perhaps things just got ugly and heated during those negotiations.

    Whatever the cause, though, the players were understandably livid.

    They did the only thing they reasonably could do to protest the move: Hit the transfer portal.

    Jose Perez was named the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year in mid-October. Two weeks later, he had transferred to West Virginia.

    Omar Silverio transferred in from Hofstra this offseason and was expected to be the starting shooting guard. He is also now in the portal.

    So are (formerly) projected starter Samba Diallo and top reserve Samir Stewart.

    The original "threat" was that the entire team would enter the portal. That hasn't happened yet. Maybe some of the guys are still finalizing their paperwork. But Manhattan instantly went from one of the top candidates to win the MAAC to "might be a total dumpster fire."

    KenPom originally had Manhattan projected as an 11-point underdog in its season opener at VCU. That line should end up closer to 30, provided the Jaspers are able to even field a roster.

Who Is the Most Important Transfer in the Country?

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    North Carolina's Pete Nance
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Kentucky was one of the best teams in the country last season because of the additions of transfers Sahvir Wheeler, Kellan Grady and National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe.

    En route to their No. 1 seeds, Baylor (James Akinjo) and Gonzaga (Rasir Bolton) both relied heavily upon a starter who had not been with the program the previous year. One of the other No. 1 seeds (Arizona) also had a pair of new transfers as its most used reserves.

    North Carolina would not have made it to the 2022 national title game without Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek.

    And with darn near 1,800 players in this year's transfer portal (per Verbal Commits), there are bound to be plenty more cases of new faces leading the way in new places.

    Who will likely be the most important ones?

    At the top of the list is Manek's replacement at North Carolina, Pete Nance. The 6'11" stretch 4 averaged 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from three-point range last year at Northwestern. He wasn't the volume shooter for the Wildcats that Manek was for the Tar Heels, but look for him to further embrace the perimeter now that he no longer has to serve as his team's primary big man.

    Johni Broome at Auburn is another big man to watch. He averaged 16.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and a staggering 3.9 blocks per game last season at Morehead State, and Bruce Pearl will be banking on him to replace last year's shot-blocking star, Walker Kessler.

    There were also a pair of major intra-conference transfers in the Big 12, with Tyrese Hunter relocating from Iowa State to Texas and Kevin McCullar Jr. moving from Texas Tech to Kansas. In both cases, they're great perimeter defenders who should immediately start with their new schools. If either one improves considerably as a perimeter shooter, even better.

    But the most intriguing transfer is Keyontae Johnson. He was a star at Florida in 2019-20 and was named the preseason SEC POY the following year before his terrifying collapse on the court two Decembers ago. He hasn't played since, but he has been medically cleared to resume his basketball career at Kansas State. If he plays a significant role for the Wildcats and they unexpectedly make the NCAA tournament, it will be a massive story.

Can Antoine Davis Catch Pistol Pete?

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    Detroit Mercy's Antoine Davis
    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Detroit Mercy doesn't win many games. The Titans haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2012 and haven't posted a winning record since just barely getting there with a 16-15 mark in 2015-16.

    So, if you haven't paid much attention to Antoine Davis over the past four years, you surely are not alone.

    However, between having a permanent green light and averaging 37.3 minutes per game, the star of the Titans has racked up 2,734 points. And thanks to the 2020-21 season not counting against anyone's eligibility clock, Davis will be back for a fifth season within almost reasonable striking distance of the all-time scoring record.

    That record belongs to "Pistol" Pete Maravich, who scored 3,667 points over half a century ago at LSU.

    Of course, if Davis does somehow manage to score 934 points (which would match what Doug McDermott did as a senior in 2013-14) to break the record, there would be a gigantic asterisk on it. Davis has already played in 111 games and would end up somewhere in the vicinity of 145. Maravich set the record in 83 games.

    Still, it will be fun to watch Davis chase history.

    Even if he falls short of catching The Pistol, as long as he stays healthy, Davis will surely end up in second place on the all-time leaderboard. He only needs 516 points to get there, which should take around 21 games based on his career scoring average of 24.6 points per game.

Will Creighton Live Up to the End-of-Last-Season Hype?

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    Creighton's Ryan Nembhard
    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Toward the end of the 2022-23 campaign, the Creighton Bluejays were all the rage.

    They only got a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, but that's because it took a while for this young team to find its footing. Creighton blossomed into a contender as its freshman trio of Ryan Nembhard, Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander began to flourish and 7'1" sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner became a machine in the paint, averaging 16.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks over his final 12 games.

    Unfortunately, they lost Nembhard to a season-ending wrist injury in late February, and Kalkbrenner suffered a knee injury in Creighton's tournament-opening win over San Diego State.

    Even without their primary point guard/center duo, though, the Bluejays nearly upset the eventual national champions in the second round. Creighton had the ball, down by one, with a little over a minute remaining against Kansas but couldn't quite pull off the upset.

    Still, it was an impressive enough showing for the Bluejays to make the leap from a No. 9 seed to No. 9 in the preseason AP poll. The only other ranked Big East team is Villanova at No. 16, so Creighton could reasonably win the Big East and earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the dance for the first time in program history.

    The Bluejays did lose two key veterans in Ryan Hawkins and Alex O'Connell. Hawkins led the team in both scoring and rebounding, and the duo combined to make more than 60 percent of the team's three-point field goals last season.

    But they brought in Baylor Scheierman from South Dakota State, who has made 45.6 percent of his three-point attempts over the past two seasons. The 6'7" guard also averaged 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists last year, so he's much more than just a perimeter shooter.

    If Scheierman can deliver while making the transition from the Summit League to the Big East—and if the freshmen make the proverbial sophomore-year leap—Creighton could be great.

Is Gonzaga Finally Going to Win It All?

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    Gonzaga's Mark Few and Drew Timme
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Instead of "The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf,'" it has become "The National Media Who Cried 'Gonzaga'" over the past half-dozen years.

    The Zags almost won it all in 2017. They also made it to the title game in 2021 with a perfect 31-0 record, only to get annihilated by Baylor.

    Gonzaga was also a No. 1 seed in both 2019 and 2022, reaching the Elite Eight in the former and getting ousted in the Sweet 16 in the latter. The Bulldogs would have been a No. 1 seed in 2020, as well.

    Over the past six seasons, they have won 21 more games (192) than their next-closest challenger (Kansas with 171). Dating back to the 2015 dance, Gonzaga leads all programs in NCAA tournament victories with 22, narrowly edging North Carolina (21), Villanova (21), Duke (19) and Kansas (19), each of which has won at least one title during that time.

    But because the Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference and because they have not yet managed to cut down the most important nets of all, a lot of college basketball fans act like they're a no-good paper tiger incapable of winning it all.

    Well, here we go yet again with Gonzaga ranked No. 2 in the preseason AP Top 25.

    The Bulldogs lost shot-blocking stretch-5 Chet Holmgren and veteran point guard Andrew Nembhard, but there's still a ton of talent in Spokane, headlined by Drew Timme.

    Feels like Timme has already been there forever, but he actually has another year of eligibility remaining after this one, if he chooses to use it. Gonzaga also added Malachi Smith, who averaged 20 points per game last season at Chattanooga and should immediately become Gonzaga's best perimeter defender.

    Per usual, Gonzaga absolutely could win it all.

    Will it finally happen, though?

Who Is This Year's Saint Peter's?

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    KC Ndefo of Saint Peter's
    Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    In this glorious, wacky sport, we are forever trying to figure out who the next March Madness Cinderella might be. And that search really intensifies the year after Florida Gulf Coast, UMBC or Saint Peter's makes history for the underdogs.

    So, who will that team be in 2023?

    Before we offer up a candidate to shock the world as a No. 15 seed, let's first point out that Conference USA should have a banner year.

    UAB and North Texas were both fringe at-large candidates last year, and they ought to rank among the best mid-major teams not named Gonzaga, Houston or San Diego State. Western Kentucky should also be a major factor after the addition of several talented transfers. And don't sleep on Florida Atlantic with basically everyone returning from a 19-win roster.

    They're all more in that No. 10-12 seed range of underdog candidates, though.

    If you want a deep sleeper, how about Louisiana-Lafayette?

    The Ragin' Cajuns bring back the vast majority of last year's roster, including former 5-star recruit Jordan Brown, now at his third school and finally living up to the hype a bit. And the Sun Belt does have its fair share of upset history between Chris Beard's Arkansas-Little Rock team in 2016 and R.J. Hunter's Georgia State squad against No. 3 seed Baylor the year prior.

    Or perhaps a non-Drake team from the Missouri Valley?

    I say "non-Drake," because the Bulldogs could be a No. 12 or No. 13 seed with their potential this season. But this is Arch Madness we're talking about. The favorite rarely wins the Valley's tourney, so we could see a veteran-heavy Indiana State, Missouri State or Southern Illinois sneak in as a No. 15 seed and bust brackets.

Can Oscar Tshiebwe Win Back-to-back NPOYs?

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    Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe
    Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Got to go straight from Saint Peter's to the blue blood it upset to begin that magical run.

    In that game, Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe did his usual thing, finishing with 30 points, 16 rebounds and a two in each of the blocks, assists and steals categories. It was his 28th double-double en route to all of the National Player of the Year awards. The Naismith, AP, Wooden Award and Oscar Robertson Trophy each had "Big O" as their pick.

    And he's back to defend his crowns.

    Since Ralph Sampson in the early 1980s, no one has double-dipped for any of those four awards. Of course, that's because it's extremely rare for a player to be named NPOY and not enter the NBA draft.

    The most recent player to do so was Tyler Hansbrough, who won all the individual awards in 2008 before returning as a senior to win the 2009 national championship. Aside from him, though, the most recent player to win Naismith, Wooden or Oscar Robertson and come back was Sampson in 1982-83. (Shaquille O'Neal was named AP Player of the Year in 1990-91 and played one more dominant year at LSU.)

    Could Tshiebwe repeat?

    Well, how much better than last season does he need to be in order to pull it off?

    Hard to imagine he improves in the rebounding category after setting the single-season record (since 1985-86) with 15.2 rebounds per game. But maybe he takes a sizable step forward in the scoring department, since it wasn't until midway through last season that Kentucky actually started feeding the big man in the paint?

    Tshiebwe averaged 10.1 field-goal attempts and 15.2 points per game through his first 14 contests, compared to 12.6 and 18.9, respectively, over the final 20.

    And, you know, 12.6 shots per game still isn't that much. Iowa's Keegan Murray averaged the exact same number of minutes played per game (31.9) and got up 15.8 shots per contest.

    John Calipari has never been one to rely on a single star player for scoring, only twice producing a player at Kentucky who averaged more points per game in a season than Tshiebwe did last year. But Big O is dominant enough to have a 23 PPG, 13 RPG type of year for more NPOY awards.

Are the Houston Cougars the Team to Beat?

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    Houston's Marcus Sasser
    David Becker/Getty Images

    North Carolina is No. 1 in the preseason poll and Kansas is the reigning national champion.

    But could this be the year Houston makes the leap from contender to front-runner?

    The Cougars have ended each of the past five seasons in the AP Top 25, earning a No. 5 seed or better in the NCAA tournament three times. But they didn't spend a single week of any of those seasons ranked higher than fifth in the AP poll, perpetually lurking as a team that should make the Sweet 16 and could win a title.

    Now, they open the season at No. 3 in the AP poll—their highest ranking since the Phi Slama Jama Cougars who went to three consecutive Final Fours from 1982-84.

    This despite losing four double-digits scorers from last season.

    Expectations are sky high with the return of Marcus Sasser, who missed most of last season with a toe injury but who might be one of the five best players in the nation. They also get Tramon Mark back from an injury that limited him to just seven games played in 2021-22. Additionally, Kelvin Sampson's staff signed two of the three highest-rated recruits in Houston's 247 Sports history in the form of 5-star forward Jarace Walker and high 4-star wing Terrance Arceneaux.

    If it all comes together, this team could be special.

    We know they'll defend like mad, because Houston always does. The Cougars might not have the shot-blocking prowess of recent years, but they'll contest everything, force turnovers and generally annoy teams into submission.

    With Houston, it really just remains a question of whether the shooting will be good enough. And with Sasser back, it might be.