Top 4 college basketball title favorites for 2022-23
College basketball tips off in just under 50 days, and it's time to start projecting the teams that have the best realistic chance of actually winning the National Championship in 2023. While I've made it clear my overrated and underrated teams for the 2022-23 season, many fans and college basketball "experts" are in disagreement over who will actually be competitive for March Madness.
Last season, my top four teams that I thought had a chance to win the 2022 National Championship consisted of these teams in this order: #1 Villanova (Lost in the Final Four to Kansas), #2 Kentucky (Lost in the first round to St. Peter's), #3 Duke (Lost in the Final Four to North Carolina), and #4 North Carolina (Lost in Championship game to Kansas). Now all but one (Kentucky) didn't let me down last season, and even though I didn't predict the actual champion, my top three teams all came down to the wire.
Top 4 college basketball title favorites for 2023
#1. Houston Cougars
As of right now, Houston is tied with Gonzaga for the highest odds (+850) in all of college basketball to win the championship in 2023. Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars are returning junior guards, Jamal Shead and Tramon Mark, along with forwards, J'Wan Roberts and Reggie Chaney, and most importantly, senior guard Marcus Sasser. Though they're losing four of their top seven scorers from a season ago, three of those top seven scorers from last season averaged 10.0+ points and are returning to the team.
The return of senior guard, Marcus Sasser, is the biggest key to success for Houston basketball this upcoming season. In 12 games before his toe injury that held him out for the remainder of the season, Sasser averaged 17.7 points, 3.8 three-pointers made, and 2.2 steals.
Adding more to the already stacked roster, Sampson was able to get a commitment from 5-star forward from IMG Academy, Jarace Walker. Walker is going to bring a whole new element to Houston's offense, especially as a guy that can handle the ball and create for others with his size, length, and athleticism. He fits the bill in the Cougars system very well and will be a major key for Houston's chance to win a title in 2023.
And what better way to win a national championship than in Houston, with all the home fans on your side? The Final Four and National Championship for 2023 is being played at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Last season, Houston went 32-6 (.842), which is the second best team record for the Cougars since 1984-85 (2019 -- 33-4, lost in Sweet 16). The Cougars have made it to the Elite Eight or better in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. Is this the year for Houston to finally break through?
#2. Creighton Bluejays
I personally put Houston and Creighton in the same boat this upcoming season as 1A and 1B with the best chances to win the title in 2023. The Bluejays rank with the 11th best odds (+2500) of all college hoops teams to win the championship this season, which is the exact reason I put them as my #1 most underrated team for the upcoming season.
With a fully healthy team in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Creighton could have taken down the eventual national champions, Kansas, in the second round. Instead, the Bluejays lost 79-72 without Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner.
In his freshman campaign, guard Ryan Nembhard averaged 11.3 points, 4.4 assists, and 1.3 steals and led the way as a leader for the Bluejays on both sides of the ball. Creighton basketball was 7-3 (.700) when Nembhard recorded 10+ points and 5+ assists in a game last season. The freshman guard averaged the third most assists in the Big East and was clearly the most important player on the floor for McDermott's team. With being named to the All-Big East Freshman team alongside fellow teammates Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander, Nembhard is in for a big sophomore campaign.
As a sophomore, Ryan Kalkbrenner averaged 13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks on his way to an All-Big East honorable mention last season. Kalkbrenner finished the season with the fifth-best offensive efficiency rating in all of Division I (best in the Big East) with a rating of 132.8. Creighton was undefeated (6-0) when Kalkbrenner recorded a double-double last season.
#3. North Carolina Tar Heels
The 2022 National Championship runner-ups have returned four of their five starters from the 2021-22 season and the magical run they made in the 2022 NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed. In Hubert Davis' first season after legendary coach, Roy Williams, retired, Davis led his underdog squad to a Final Four run and gave the Kansas Jayhawks a run for their money in the title game, despite falling short 72-69.
Armando Bacot Jr. made the surprising decision to return to Chapel Hill for his senior season and run it back to compete for the first title for North Carolina basketball since 2017. Last season, Bacot averaged 16.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks as a junior and finished the season with the most double-doubles (31) in a single season since Blake Griffin (30, Oklahoma). Expect Bacot to show up and show out for the Tar Heels as he looks to build up his draft stock and bring home a trophy for Chapel Hill.
With Bacot anchoring the paint, the junior backcourt duo of Caleb Love and R.J. Davis returning is huge for Hubert Davis for the upcoming season. Love and Davis combined to average 29.4 points, 7.2 assists, and 4.1 three-pointers made. Though Love struggled to make shots in the title game, he averaged 18.8 points, 3.1 three-pointers made, including a 28-point performance against Duke in the Final Four.
The loss of Brady Manek would have hurt a lot more if the Tar Heels didn't replace him with Pete Nance, a transfer from Northwestern that averaged 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in the tough Big Ten. Nance brings plenty of big-game experience with him to UNC, and he will be vital in leading the incoming 4-star freshmen, Seth Trimble, Jalen Washington, and Tyler Nickel.
Guard play and big-game experience is so important in postseason play, that's why the Tar Heels will be one of the toughest teams to beat this upcoming season.
#4. Texas Longhorns
The only key players that Texas basketball lost from a season ago where they lost in the second round to Purdue are Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones, who both struggled to find their shots last season. In Chris Beard's first season in Austin, he was still adjusting the culture and style of game play for his roster. With many returning players, Beard will have a huge chance to make some noise this upcoming season.
Marcus Carr is returning to Texas for his fifth and final season, after struggling at times with the transfer from Minnesota to Texas last season. Carr averaged just 11.4 points and 3.4 assists in his first season with Texas, when the season prior with Minnesota, he averaged 19.4 points and 4.9 assists. Expect the senior guard to be a bit more comfortable in Beard's system this season, especially with more reliable weapons around him.
I promise I would not be considering the Longhorns as a title favorite if it weren't for the addition from the transfer portal from Iowa State, Tyrese Hunter. As a freshman, Hunter averaged 11.0 points, 4.9 assists, and 2.0 steals, but he showed up in a big way in the NCAA Tournament, leading the Cyclones to a Sweet 16 appearance as an 11-seed. With another year under his belt and playing alongside Carr, Hunter is in for an exciting sophomore campaign.
Taking all of this in, the Longhorns have no reason to not finish in the top 2 of the Big 12 and finish with at least a 3-seed or better for the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Guard play again plays a big factor for Texas' success this upcoming season, along with the addition of two 5-star freshmen, forward Dillon Mitchell from Montverde Academy and guard Arterio Morris from Dallas, TX.