With the 2022-23 college basketball season tipping off on Monday, there will be non-stop action from now until April 3rd when the season will culminate with the national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. This past off-season was one of the wildest ones in recent history which was headlined by historic coach, Mike Krzyzewski, retiring from his head coaching position with the Duke Blue Devils. From coaching and player changes to NIL updates, we will take a deep dive into the upcoming season and give my predictions as to what to expect for the 2022-23 season.
The most eye-catching news was when legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski retired after a 42-year tenure with Duke. Here, Coach K became the winningest coach in college basketball history as he won 1,202 games along with five national championships, thirteen final four appearances, 101 NCAA tournament wins, and many more. After his retirement, Duke promoted assistant coach Jon Scheyer to its head coach position in hopes that he will fill the giant shoes Coach K left behind him. Having almost the entirety of the team's production leave is not the best start for a new coach, but if there is any team that will reload talent, it is this Duke team. With not much surprise, Duke managed to land three five-star players in the 2023 recruiting class to fill in those voids but having three freshman starters is never good. Starting point guard, Jeremy Roach, is going to be the most important player for this Blue Devil squad as he will be the glue that will hold everyone in place. He will need to lead by example and show these young players how to handle the pressure that is playing in the ACC.
Staying within the ACC, the University of North Carolina (UNC) is returning all five starters. Last year, they made an improbable run and finished runner-up in the NCAA March Madness tournament after having a disappointing regular season. Returning five starters, especially with the skill set those players have, is unheard of and as a result of this, UNC is seen as the betting favorite on many platforms. While returning to the national championship is a tall task for any team, if there is any squad to do so, it’s this UNC team. Having two stellar ball handlers in RJ Davis and Caleb Love and a dominant big man in Armando Bacot, this team has the opportunity to be special. Having experienced players in college basketball is a commodity that is often overlooked as the pressure that is felt within the tournament is unlike anything else. Not only will these players be beneficial on the court, off the court, they are used as mentors for the younger players to help them deal with the spotlight.
Now looking at arguably the best conference in all of college basketball, the Big 10 is looking to flip the narrative after a disappointing 2021-2022 season. The most memorable story from last year was not the rise of new talent or the dominance of Kofi Cockburn, it was the fight between Juwan Howard, head coach for Michigan, and Greg Gard, assistant coach for Wisconsin, after a game between the two teams in February. After a controversial move at the end of the game, Howard attempted to walk past Gard without shaking his hand. As a result, the two stopped to exchange words and ultimately, Howard threw a punch at Gard. With the PR being a mess, the on-court performances didn’t help at all as nine Big Ten teams made the tournament last year, with only two teams making it past the second weekend and none beyond that. Last month, legendary coach Jim Boeheim said the conference “sucked” during March Madness. Tall words for a coach whose conference has not had a winning record against the Big Ten during their annual cross-conference matchups since 2009. With the Big 10 looking for vengeance, these two teams are hoping to put the conference back on the map: Indiana and Illinois.
The Indiana Hoosiers are basketball royalty. At one point, they were the team to be scared of with Bobby Knight at the helm, but as of recently, they have been the punching bag of the conference and have not made a deep postseason run in 20 years. Now, with all major starters returning, they could return to their dominance and make that deep postseason run every fan is dreaming of. As I mentioned earlier, having experienced players is essential if you want to have success come playoff time, and Indiana has nothing short of that. Key big men, Trayce Jackson Davis and Race Thompson are returning along with starting 5th-year point guard Xavier Johnson giving it one last shot. A combination of veterans and promising freshmen could be the recipe for success, but only time will tell. Indiana has one of the toughest schedules in recent memory as they have to go against the bluebloods such as Kansas, Arizona, and UNC. While these games may seem daunting for Indiana fans, this passionate fanbase should be excited to watch its experienced roster go to work.
After losing several key players to the draft and transfer portal, the Illini have some big shoes to fill. With that being said, Coach Underwood did a great job in the transfer portal and landed two big-time players: Terrance Shannon Jr. and Michael Mayer. After barely getting past 13-seed Chattanooga, Illinois eventually lost to Houston in yet another disappointing March Madness campaign. This Illinois team has yet to get past the second round of the tournament since their improbable 2005 run when the team made it to the national championship. Despite all this negativity, Underwood has turned this program around and is looking to make his mark on the basketball world this year after reloading on talent. Not only did he manage to recruit two of the biggest names in the transfer portal, but he also landed one of the top recruits in the 2023 class in Skyy Clarke. Only 2 out of the 5 projected starters on this year's team were on the team last year so there are many unfamiliar faces, but a clean slate could be what Illinois needs. Illinois never has an easy schedule as they are in the Big 10, but their non-conference schedule is what takes it up a notch. They get a tough matchup against UCLA and will then face either Baylor or Virginia, two powerhouse organizations. This non-conference play continues as they go to face the Syracuse Orange in the annual ACC/Big Ten matchup. While their schedule may seem tough, Fighting Illini fans should be excited as this team has a ton of experience, depth, and talent.
On the court, there is a lot to look forward to, but off the court, the most impactful decision happened that changed the college basketball landscape for the better. For years, there have been many conversations surrounding the fact of whether or not college athletes should be paid. In July of 2021, these conversations were put to rest as it became legal for NCAA athletes to profit from their Name, Image, and Likeness, better known as NIL. Athletes did not skip a beat once this became legal and many signed with agencies or pursued sponsorships on their own. With NIL becoming legal, this allowed many athletes to stay at college and pursue their degrees while also making some serious money on the side. College basketball is unique as they have a one-and-done rule where players with high potential can leave after their freshman year and enter the NBA draft. While players are still able to do so, the pressure of getting to the NBA as soon as possible has decreased as now athletes can make money while at school. Former Illinois center Kofi Cockburn had this to say about the introduction of NIL, “you are able to get money. And, not leaving college, I think it’s a huge factor because kids can take their time in the process. They are not rushed to go to the NBA. I feel like kids could reflect on that and say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s stay in college.’ Some kids might want to get a degree.”
With that being said, that is exactly what Gonzaga Star Drew Timme did. With the introduction of NIL, Timme decided to stay at Gonzaga for a final year. Timme signed a NIL deal with Dollar Shave Club after the brand became the official razor of NCAA and March Madness. While the specifications of the deal were not announced, it is reasonable to assume that he will make a pretty penny promoting their products. Additionally, after a historic run to the NCAA Championship, UNC star player, Armando Bacot, completely declined the pre-draft process and opted to stay one more year with the Tar Heels. Bacot was seen as a first round draft pick but decided that the NIL opportunities were worth more. He had this to say about his decision, “I get a chance to get better, get my degree, be around all my friends, and then also make some money.” For a while, there has been much scrutiny regarding the “one-and-done” rule, a rule in which college basketball players are able to forgo their college eligibility and enter the NBA draft after their freshman year. In instances, highly ranked freshmen would enter the draft at 18 years old because the monetary benefits outweigh a degree. Not only do these players have a degree to their name, they will have the ability to grow on the court and continue to develop. Teams will be able to have experienced players year after year and not have to rebuild. With the implementation of NIL, the narrative might have been switched for better and players and teams are already reaping the benefits of staying put. Athletes are now more encouraged to pursue a degree while simultaneously earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. Anthony Hamitlon Jr., guard on Chicago State, is earning $400,000 after he signed 11 NIL brand deals.
With the off-court and on-court updates covered, we have reached the moment we all have been waiting for: my conference and championship predictions. I am going to focus on the Big Ten and ACC for my predictions, along with who I believe will win the NCAA Championship. With that being said, I strongly believe that Indiana and UNC will come out on top in their respective conferences, as they both have the most experience in their conferences. Despite not mentioning this team once, I believe the Houston Cougars will win the NCAA tournament this year. While this may seem like a surprise to some readers, this cougar team has a ton of experience with Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead, and a promising young freshman who will fill the big man role for the team. Along with these players, their head coach Ralph Sampson is a defensive mastermind and has consistently led this team to deep runs based on their overwhelming defense and impressive shot-making. Fans have a ton to look forward to this upcoming 2022-23 college basketball season from a talent standpoint but also a competitive standpoint. Who are you rooting for to be the last team standing?