NCAAB

NCAA Men’s Basketball Preview: An Early Sweet 16

Taking our shot at picking a 'Sweet 16' heading into the season.

November 2, 2023

The college basketball season is set to kick off early next week and teams are wrapping up their exhibition matchups as you’re reading this article. The landscape will undoubtedly change significantly and dramatically, but let’s take our shot at picking the top 16 teams going into the season — a Sweet 16, if you will.

1. Kansas

Tipico Sportsbook: +1100 to win National Championship, +180 to make Final Four, +195 to win Big 12

Kansas is the favorite to win the National Championship despite losing both Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson to the NBA, while also losing former top recruits in the transfer portal. They still have one of the best distributing point guards in the country in Dajuan Harris, senior big man Hunter Dickinson transferring in from Michigan, and a history of success, earning No. 1 seeds in five of the last seven NCAA tournaments.

2. Duke

+1100 to win National Championship, +200 to make Final Four, +127 to win ACC

As the odds indicate, Duke is arguably a co-favorite with Kansas. They had a down season relative to expectations in 2022-23, but Jeremy Roach is back to lead the offense. While he goes about things differently than Harris, he is an experienced scorer that will be indispensable in key regular season matchups, as well both the conference and postseason tournaments. Jon Scheyer will also be in his second year as coach and should be more comfortable in the role.

3. Marquette

+1700, to win National Championship, +330 to make Final Four, +230 to win Big East

The Big East will be a fun conference to follow, as Marquette won the conference tournament before falling in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Both of those results outperformed preseason expectations, but now they’re projected to battle with defending NCAA champion Connecticut in the Big East. This is yet another team with strong point guard play (sensing a theme?) from Tyler Kolek and the Golden Eagles still have a ton of experience up and down the roster.

4. Purdue

+1300 to win National Championship, +215 to make Final Four, +145 to win Big Ten

Purdue had an incredible regular-season run last year before a historic upset in the NCAA tournament that saw them bounced by 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. However, that shouldn’t cloud their potential, especially with Zach Edey back in the mix after winning National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year in 2022-23.

5. Michigan State

+1400 to win National Championship, +280 to make Final Four, +250 to win Big Ten

The Spartans have a history of success, but haven’t reached that same level in the last few seasons. That looks likely to change thanks to a trio of returning guards in Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins, who combined to put up 37.5 points per game last season and will once again drive the offense. They will present Purdue with its biggest intra-conference challenge.

6. Houston

+1700 to win National Championship, +320 to make Final Four, +390 win Big 12

The Big 12 will be an another incredibly competitive conference, but Houston has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the last four full seasons. Kelvin Sampson will face a tough test with three key starters having departed from last year’s roster, but they still have experienced players such as big-man J’Wan Roberts, who will be complemented by key incoming transfers LJ Cyer and Damian Dunn. Finally, Terrance Arceneaux comes into the season with expectations of taking a leap as a true sophomore.

(Florida Atlantic was) only a nine seed, but they finished last year 35-4 in the regular season.

7. Florida Atlantic

+3500 to win National Championship, +550 make Final Four, +105 to win AAC

In a strict sense, Florida Atlantic is the first mid-major on this list, but they should be taken seriously after making it all the way to the Final Four in only their second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season. They were only a nine seed, but they finished last year 35-4 in the regular season. That’s not necessarily a great predictor for many teams, but the Owls return their entire roster with the exception of only Michael Forrest, who had to depart due to eligibility.

8. Connecticut

+1500 to win National Championship, +290 to make Final Four, +275 to win Big East

This may feel like a disrespectful ranking of the defending national champs, but there are cases both for and against the chances of a repeat. They lost a significant amount of experience with the departures of three key players from last year’s roster, which means there are plenty of relative unknowns that will need to step up. The good news is, those unknowns are supremely talented. Donovan Clingan was a per-minute beast as a freshman and should be the starting big man for the Huskies. Coach Dan Hurley is also bringing in a consensus top-ten recruiting class and has proven he knows how to get the most out of his players. Ultimately, I project that the lack of experience will keep UConn from another title, but there will be plenty of highs in their season.

9. Tennessee

+1700 to win National Championship, +340 to make Final Four, +255 to win SEC

The Volunteers look to be the class of the SEC thanks to a well-rounded starting lineup. What they lack in star power, they make up for with stable production as three of their five projected starters scored in double-digits last season. A fourth member of that starting rotation should be Dalton Knecht, who averaged 20.2 points per game at Northern Colorado last season.

10. San Diego State

+8000 to win National Championship, +1100 to make Final Four, +133 to win Mountain West

Now is probably the time to get good odds on some of the less mainstream or non-traditional powers around the country who have legitimate cases to make a run in the tournament. We know the Aztecs can do so given their appearance in the championship game last year. They lost a significant amount of firepower from that roster, but they still have a well-rounded rotation led by the veteran backcourt of Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler. The experience of last season’s run should also help.

11. Creighton

+2500 to win National Championship, +390 to make Final Four, +230 to win Big East

Creighton checks a lot of boxes as a team that consistently fields top talent and performs well during the regular season. After a shaky history in the tournament in the 2010s – they were bounced in the first round in both 2017 and 2018 – they have had more success in recent seasons. The Bluejays would be higher on this had Andrew Nembhard not transferred to Gonzaga during the offseason.

12. Arkansas

+2000 to win National Championship, +360 to make Final Four, +700 to win SEC

Despite what projects to be a relative down year in the SEC, there’s an argument to move Arkansas lower on this list or remove them altogether after losing their top three starters from last season. However, they brought in a top transfer class, and the team has had previous success building their team that way through coach Eric Musselman. They’ve made three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, so they shouldn’t be discounted.

13. Arizona

+2000 to win National Championship, +390 to make Final Four, +160 to win Pac-12

We can basically copy and paste the analysis from Arkansas into this space, though there’s a little more returning talent for the Wildcats. They’re led by big man Oumar Ballo, who averaged 14.2 points per game last season. He’ll be supplemented by backcourt transfer Caleb Love, who averaged 16.7 points per game at North Carolina last season. There’s certainly an argument for Arizona to be higher on this list.

It’s often forgotten that Memphis lost to Florida Atlantic by one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament…

14. Memphis

+7000 to win National Championship, +850 to make Final Four, +180 to win AAC

It’s often forgotten that Memphis lost to Florida Atlantic by one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, in which case the teams would likely be flipped in the rankings. Recency bias is powerful. Add to that the experience that their starting five (no player is under 21 years old), and there’s a chance for a run here.

15. Texas

+3500 to win National Championship, +410 to make Final Four, +550 to win Big 12

Texas projects to have an explosive offense, but the overall outcome of their season will be dependent upon how individual players such as Tyreese Hunter and transfer Max Abmas lead the way. Combined, the duo attempted 24.9 attempts from the field per game, and they don’t have natural chemistry because they’ve never played together previously. The Big 12 will also be one of the top conferences (along with Big East) in the country, making the Longhorns’ path to a top seed a difficult one.

16. St. John’s

+7000 win national championship, +850 to make Final Four, +1100 to win Big East

This is the dark horse pick of the group. The Red Storm were an excellent program nearly every season from the mid-1980s to early 2000s. They’ve fallen on hard times since but look ready to emerge as a force once again. That starts up top with new head coach Rick Pitino, who holds tremendous name value in the sport. He retooled the roster with another top ranked transfer class and will look to change the momentum of this team. It may not come in year one, but if things come together quickly, St. John’s will surprise.

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.
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