It’s never too early to start looking ahead!
Check below for our list of 5 dark horse candidates that could reach the 2023 Final Four.
In no particular order:
TCUs: The Horned Frogs return 89 percent of their scoring and all five starters from a team that won 21 games and was inches away from beating Arizona in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran guard Mike Miles (15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists) should push for All-American honors as a junior while the rest of TCU’s starters — Damion Baugh, Chuck O’Bannon Jr., Emmanuel Miller, and Eddie Lampkin — all boast all-conference caliber potential. This will be the best team that Jamie Dixon has had at his alma mater since he became TCU’s head coach in 2016.
San Diego State: The Mountain West’s flagship program hasn’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2014, but it’s got an outstanding chance to do so in 2023. San Diego State arguably returns the conference’s best player in fifth-year senior Matt Bradley (16.9 points , 5.4 rebounds) plus the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 6-10 veteran Nathan Mensah. Lamont Butler, Keshad Johnson, Aguek Arop, and Adam Seiko are also back as valuable role players who averaged 15 minutes or more on last year’s team that won 23 games and lost to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee is expected to make a major impact up front while Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell (17.4 points) should instantly add offense and quickness. San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher posted a 30-2 record during the 2019-20 season prior to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament due to COVID and never got a chance to coach as a high seed in the bracket. Don’t be shocked if he gets another opportunity to do so in March of 2023.
Virginia: Can a team miss the NCAA Tournament one year and then play deep into the bracket the next? Yes, if that team is Virginia. The Cavaliers return 93.1 percent of their scoring from last season’s team that won 21 games, headlined by a pair of fifth-year seniors in Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner. All five of Virginia’s projected starters—Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, and Kadin Shedrick—are either juniors, seniors, or graduate students. Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas (14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds) should also make an immediate impact because of his outside shooting (67 made three-point shots in 2021-22). Expect a significant jump in Charlottesville.
Indiana: The Hoosiers may be viewed as the favorite in the Big Ten by default, but you can’t argue with the facts: Indiana returns 90.9 percent of its scoring from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last season and boasts a seasoned frontcourt with All- American Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson. Xavier Johnson and Miller Kopp also return as starters while Jordan Geronimo, Trey Galloway, Tamar Bates are rotation players who return with game experience. Indiana also added a pair of five-star newcomers in freshmen Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau. The talent base in Bloomington has drastically improved.
Tennessee: It’s not an oversight, it’s an insult. If you consider both Zakai Zeigler and Olivier Nkamhoua as starting caliber players (I do), then Tennessee returns four of its top five scorers and four starters from last season’s team that won 27 games and the SEC Tournament. The Vols’ other two returning starters — Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James — should both be all-conference players in 2022-23. Add five-star freshman Julian Phillips and you’ve got a team that looks like the top challenger to Kentucky in the SEC in terms of returning personnel and overall experience.