We are officially only 17 days away from the Ohio State’s season opener against Robert Morris. Enough said. Time to lock in.
Last week, we debated how many Big Ten teams we think will go dancing in March. Connor said 10 and Justin said nine. The only difference was Connor had Wisconsin in, while Justin did not. A bold take on a team that’s only missed the NCAA Tournament once since 2000!
Splitting the votes were Justin with 15 and ‘fewer than nine’ with 15, so we officially have our fourth tie in 72 weeks, except this time one of our writers wasn’t even involved. Tough week for Connor once again.
With this tie between other and Justin, here are the updated standings through 72 weeks, or something like that. At some point, we’re going to lose count.
After 72 weeks:
(There have been four ties)
Without further ado, let’s jump into this week’s debate:
Today’s question: Who will make the 2023 men’s basketball Final Four?
If we’ve learned anything about the NCAA Tournament, it’s that:
A) The Final Four won’t go chalk. If you’re penciling in four teams that are starting the season in the top-10, go ahead and try again.
B) Old wins. Specifically, old guards win. Experience wins in the tournament, and elite backcourt play wins in the tournament.
Those two ideas helped me make up my mind. Keep an eye on these four teams this season, and don’t say I didn’t tell you so!
AP Rank: 1
KenPom Rank: 9
Yeah, this one isn’t too terribly hard. North Carolina wasn’t a great team during the regular season, but they got hot, hot, hot in the NCAA Tournament and made a run all the way to the national championship game. They’re the preseason No. 1 team, the favorites to win the ACC, and have the preseason ACC Player of the Year in Armando Bacot — all very strong arguments to pick them here.
They also return Caleb Love (seen above) who can be a bit of a gunslinger with his shot selection, but has established that he can drop 30 points on any given night. R.J. Davis — North Carolina’s junior point guard — is back as well. He dropped 30 points on Baylor in the second round of the tournament, but will probably be the Tar Heels’ fourth option on offense.
The reason Davis won’t be needed to score as much? Former Northwestern forward Pete Nance transferred to Carolina, too. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Ohio-native shot 45% from three last season. He could be the piece that puts them over the top.
AP Rank: 3
KenPom Rank: 7
The most impressive thing about Houston’s 32-6 record last season and run to the Elite Eight? They did it without their two best players — Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark. Both guards return this season, as well as Jamal Shead, who averaged double-digit scoring in their absence. The Coogs also bring in five-star/6-foot-8/235-pound freshman forward Jarace Walker, who will clog up the paint and open up space for Shead, Sasser, and Mark.
All of that offensive firepower is nice and alone could carry Houston to the Final Four, but we can’t forget that the Cougars have also been one of — if not the — best defensive team in the nation over the past five seasons. They’ve been in the top-20 in defensive efficiency each of the past five seasons, and top-10 each of the past two years. They suffocate you on defense and then make it rain offensively — the Coogs will be tough to beat.
AP Rank: 14
KenPom Rank: 16
Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs were one questionable foul call away from beating top-seeded Arizona in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. They return last season’s go-to scorer, Mike Miles — who also became the first TCU player ever to be named Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. He averaged 15.4 PPG last season, but will need to improve his three-point shooting a bit to become the all-around threat TCU needs him to be.
They also return double-double behemoth Eddie Lampkin, who scored 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in that 85-80, overtime loss to Arizona in the tournament. He was one of the best offensive rebounding big men in the nation last season, and he’ll present a terrible mismatch for most teams.
AP Rank: NR
KenPom Rank: 42
Miami is my wild card, and this could go horribly wrong. But I’m willing to put my name on it and say that I’m convinced the ‘Canes are going to make some serious noise in the ACC this year. Most publications are pegging them as a six or seven-seed in the NCAA Tournament. I think their ceiling is so much higher than that.
Isaiah Wong averaged 17 PPG as a sophomore, 15 PPG as a junior, and can really fill it up. He has the potential to be an All-American by year’s end. The Hurricanes also added Nijel Pack, a flamethrowing guard from Kansas State who was one of the best players in the Big 12 the last two seasons. On top of that, they also added Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound double-double machine from Arkansas State.
Defense and rebounding are going to be a struggle for Miami. But they’ll be in the tournament. And when they get there, that combo of Wong and Pack is going to be a duo that absolutely nobody will want to face.
The four teams that I took are very likely not going to happen because three of them are top five teams in the country, and the tournament doesn’t normally work itself out like that. But, nevertheless, it is hard to predict which teams will overachieve so we will just go with the ones we know.
My context I will always give for a preseason prediction like this is that the NCAA Tournament is heavily predicated on matchups, which could make all of this null and void. But since we don’t have that info at our disposal obviously yet, we will make do.
AP Rank: 1
KenPom Rank: 9
There’s nothing wrong with some low hanging fruit. North Carolina is the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason AP poll — and for good reason. They went to the Final Four last season and return four of their five starters and a coach with another year of experience under his belt.
The Tar Heels are returning Armando Bacot, RJ Davis, Caleb Love and Leaky Black. They lost Brady Manek to eligibility, but they did not skip a beat as they added Pete Nance from Northwestern.
Even though they are the No. 1 team in the country, I think they will have some struggles in conference play. They aren’t incredibly deep, and guys like Davis and Love can be hot and cold. However, like last year, this is a team built for March. Experienced, great guard play and well coached. That’s the recipe.
AP Rank: 3
KenPom Rank: 7
Houston is very weird. They are incredibly talented and also lost a ton of talent. They lost Josh Charlton, Kyler Edwards, Taze Moore and Fabian White but return Jamal Shead, Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark and add one of the top recruits in the country Jarace Walker. Sasser is one of the top players in the country, the Cougars have depth, and you can never count out Kelvin Sampson.
Cougs to the Final Four.
AP Rank: 9
KenPom Rank: 22
Hand up. I absolutely love this Creighton team. They return Ryan Nembhard, Alex Kalkbrenner, Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander and bring in a top three transfer in the whole country, Baylor Scheierman. Scheierman is an elite level scorer whose game will transfer right into the Big 12 with no problem.
Losing Ryan Hawkins is tough with him averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game last season. As long as their depth steps up and helps replace some of that production, this team is incredibly talented.
AP Rank: 18
KenPom Rank: 5
This is my one shot in the dark. I really like this Cavalier team and their makeup. First of all, they pretty much lose no one. The only rotation player they are losing from last season is Kody Stattman, who averaged 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds.
They return Kihei Clark, Jayden Gardner and Reece Beekman who are all possible first team all-conference selections and bring in one of the top transfers Ben Vander Plas, who averaged 15 points and 6.8 rebounds per game at Ohio University. They will need to improve their defense which normally isn’t an issue on the Tony Bennett coached team, but if they can do that then this team can make some noise in the ACC.
Whose Final Four seems more reasonable?
This poll is closed
North Carolina, Houston, TCU, Miami (Connor’s)
North Carolina, Houston, Creighton, Virginia (Justin’s)