There’s been a lot of hype around the 2023 draft, and rightfully so; on the surface this year has everything you could ask for, a few stars at the top, a deep lottery, depth at nearly every position, fun sleepers, and funky pre-draft candidates. Now that the season has started its sometimes easy to watch the same four or five teams you know and ignore some of the most interesting in basketball. To attempt to remedy this, here is my mostly comprehensive guide to who is worth watching in the NCAA this year, and I hope y’all enjoy.
A surprising amount of must-see TV this year isn’t in college basketball. I’m gonna gloss over guys like Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and the Thompson Twins as it’s literally national news where they’re playing and the point of this is more to give a guide of NCAA prospects to watch for draft-wise and as a Rockets fan.
The first team that is must-see TV this year is your hometown Houston Cougars. There’s a combination of factors at play here, but them being the only good team in Houston right now, having a real identity, a fun style of play, multiple NBA prospects, and being a true NCAA title contender should be enough reasons for you to add them to your watch list. The word you’re gonna hear over and over about this Coogs team is “culture.” They play a fast, aggressive style of defense that strongly contrasts with their slow and methodical offense built around offensive rebounding and hustle. 6-9 freshman forward Jarace Walker is a monster on the defensive end and the highest-ranked recruit that UH has ever gotten, (usurping Rockets Legend Danuel House for the honor) and he’s joined by Beaumont United’s very own Terrance Arceneaux, the 6-7 back-to-back state champion who’s one of the best defensive playmakers in the country. The two will join a team of talented and tough vets such as National POTY candidate and sharpshooter Marcus Sasser, 6-5 two way g/w Tramon Mark, and top 5 PG in the country Jamal Shead. Under reigning AAC coach of the year Kelvin Sampson, the Coogs are poised to make a deep run in the tournament and are the definition of must-see TV for anybody who’s a fan of Houston sports or college basketball.
The next team I’d consider must-see TV is Arkansas, who easily had the best transfer class in the country and a top 2 recruiting class to go along with it. They’re coached by the enigmatic Eric Musselman, who’s completely turned the program around over the last few years, going from an SEC backwater to back-to-back elite 8 appearances over the last two years. Their unprecedented recruiting class had the third, eighteenth, and nineteenth highest-ranked players in the country according to 247, and they just so happen to be Arkansas’ number 1, 3, and 5 all-time highest recruits. 3rd ranked Nick Smith is an elite 6-3 combo guard who can score from all three levels and has a sneakily well-rounded game. 18th ranked Anthony Black is a 6-7 point guard who can play on or off the ball and make every kind of pass in the book, and 19th ranked Jordan Walsh is a 6-7 do it all forward with impressive athleticism, passing chops and defense and is lowkey my favorite of the entire bunch. Their transfer class includes 6-9 big wing(?????) Trevon Brazile from Missouri, another mega athlete who can catch any lob in existence and also has a seemingly random assortment of wing skills and Ricky Council IV from Wichita, a 6-5 connector/scoring wing who will fill in the gaps for Musselman’s star-studded roster.
Despite the departure of coach K, Duke looks better than ever from a true competition standpoint under new head coach Jon Scheyer. Earlier I mentioned that Arkansas had the number 2 recruiting class in the country; well Duke’s was one. They got the top 2 high school players in the country according to 247 in 7-1 athletic center Dereck Lively and 6-5 two way wing Dariq Whitehead, though both are out to start the season. Don’t worry though, they also got the 4th best player in the country in Kyle Filipowski, a 6-11 funky moving bigman with an interesting connector skillset, and 5 star athletic combo forward Mark Mitchell. Count that out real quick, FOUR FIVE STAR RECRUITS!! WITH THREE OF THEM RANKED IN THE TOP 4!!! Ridiculous. (247 rankings don’t take into account anybody playing professionally in any capacity or anybody who may have gone to college midway through the year and redshirted) They also have somebody who was described to me as “the best prospect to ever come out of Australia” in Tyrese Proctor who will be a fun ultra connector for the stacked frontcourt and a 6-5 mega shooter in Jaden Schutt. Scheyer has the work cut out for him this year in terms of getting all these young guys to fit together, but they’re arguably the most talented team in college hoops this year.
The other blue blood worth hitting on here is Kentucky, who despite a down year in terms of recruiting still has the reigning national player of the year, two five star high school recruits, and some other funky prospects. Coach Cal grabbed the top player in Texas in Cason Wallace, an electric two way point guard who’s tough as nails, has solid size at 6-3, and could be the best point of attack defender in the country this year. They also snagged 5 star 6-6 shooter Chris Livingston who has a good shot and a great connecting skillset. Despite those two, this Kentucky team is gonna ride or die with POTY Oscar Tshiebwe, a dominant post scorer and paint protector who probably isn’t an NBA player but will probably go in the second round just because his production is otherworldly, a la Luka Garza. There are a lot of semi-interesting college players on this roster, but the only other player you really need to keep an eye on is sophomore Daimion Collins, a 6-10 mega athlete with a massive wingspan with the potential to stretch the shot out to 3.
We’ll speed through Creighton pretty quick, as they’re fun but definitely a little lower on the ladder than the first four, they’re a very well constructed team with their main prospect being 6-7 sophomore forward Arthur Kaluma, a funky two way player who can get to the rim at will on or off the ball. They snagged top transfer Baylor Scheierman, a 6-7 sharpshooter who’s arguably a top 10 shooter on planet earth right now, in the portal and will be installing him into an offense led by two sophomore guards, Ryan Nembhard( six-inch shorter clone of his brother Andrew) and Trey Alexander, a 6-4 fun combo guard with real potential to shoot the ball. The real key to their success though is gonna be 7-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner, the reigning BIG EAST defensive player of the year. They’re well-coached, smart and a fun group of players and are the last team I’d consider to be must-see TV.
Gotta See a Few Games
Florida is right on the edge of being must-see TV, but I restrained myself and kept my fetishization of their wings at bay. This is very tough because they have two of my favorite wings in the entire country, sophomores Alex Fudge and Will Richard. Fudge is 6-9/10 defensive stalwart and may be the best defender in the country when you consider NBA translatability, and Richard is a 6-5 super connector who is also a top-tier defensive playmaker. Florida also has Kowacie Reeves, a funky 6-6 shooter who could break out and maybe even go in the first round if things break correctly this season.
The other good Florida school, FSU, is also gonna be a really fun team to watch this year. Their top recruit is the 6-10 Spanish defensive savant Baba Miller, but he’s being screwed over by the NCAA and will miss the first half of the year, which is BULLSHIT, but even without him they’re worth a watch. Matthew Cleveland is a 6-6 two-way wing with flashes of self-creation and an impressive ability to get to the rim, and he’s joined in the backcourt by Jalen Wharley, a 6-6 defensive playmaker with a great feel for the game on both ends. Lastly, don’t let FSU players’ stats scare you; they will always be deceptively bad.
Texas is only worth watching for two players, five star recruit and athlete extraordinaire Dillon Mitchell out of Montverde, with great feel for the game and some funky flashes, and arguably the best transfer in the country last year, Tyrese Hunter. To me, Hunter is the star of the show and is a top two or three PG in the country this year. He can shoot it OTD, creates open shots for his teammates and defends well for a 6-1 dude. Nobody else here is an NBA anything besides Brock Cunningham, who’s apparently a cool dude.
Kansas is gonna have some fun vet wings as they always do, but Gradey Dick is the real star of the show. He’s 6-8, has one of the fastest shots in college, and can hit it off a variety of set-ups. He’ll be playing next to Kevin McCullar, the 6-7 two-way transfer from Tech who would’ve been a first rounder on my board last year if he had come out and Jalen Wilson, a solid 6-8 two-way wing who’ll have a massive role on both ends for the Jayhawks this year.
I suppose I should mention Baylor here too, though I’m not really sure what to make of this team. I’m not the biggest Keyonte George fan, and they lost their primary engine and two best defenders to the NBA and G-league. George will be an elite shooter at 6-3 and bring effort and intensity, but I’m not sold on the rest of his game, specifically as a playmaker and defender. LJ Cryer and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua will return but neither are serious NBA guys. Langston Love is the big saving grace for this team in my opinion, and at 6-4 he’s tough, a solid shooter, great scorer, and competent defender, and I’m interested to see how he looks after a medical redshirt year.
Michigan will be worth a watch over the season; they’re easily my favorite team in the Big 10 and have two potential first round picks this year. My favorite of the bunch is Youssef Khayat, the 6-9 Lebanese forward who’s an absolute unit on the defensive end with some funky guard skills and a developing shot. Pair him with 6-8 versatile forward Jett Howard, head coach Juwan Howard’s son, and you’ve got one of the best defensive frontcourts possible to insulate my bet for Big 10 POTY, Hunter Dickson. Dickinson is my favorite of all the unscaleable bigs to come out of college ball the past few years, as he’s actually got skills; he can really shoot and really pass and is a solid post-up threat. Doesn’t peak as anything more than a second round pick to me though.
Indiana is basically the exact same story as Michigan, with two exciting freshmen and a star big who probably isn’t an NBA guy. Jalen Hood-Schifino is a 6-5 point guard with a very well-rounded game, and Malik Reneau is a 6-8 do-it-all big who’s a perfect fit next to their unscaleable big, Trayce Jackson-Davis. Jackson-Davis is a great interior scorer and high feel player who’s been rumored to have an outside shot for the last few years but hasn’t shown it yet, he’s pretty solidly an “if he shoots it” guy, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They also have Miller Kopp, a 6-7 Houstonian with a funny Tiktok, great dude.
Dayton has two fun prospects worth monitoring this year, DaRon Holmes II and Mike Sharavjamts. Holmes is a mega bouncy, skilled big man who can block shots and shoot a little bit. Sharavjamts, AKA Mongolian Mike, is a 6-8 g/w hybrid who can dribble, shoot, defend, pass, whatever you want. He’s the first ever D1 scholarship player from Mongolia, and he’s super skilled-probably gonna end up a first rounder on my board at year’s end.
Also(!!!) watch Alabama for Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley! (If he ever gets minutes) Miller is a 6-8 combo forward with a bunch of theoretical skills that need to be put together, and Bradley is a really high feel two way guard playing behind many other guys for Nate Oates.
Almost nobody in the entire PAC-12 is worth watching I can’t even lie. UCLA is run by a war criminal, USC is a post up shitshow, OSU is maybe the worst P5 team in the country, its very bleak out there. However, there are a few guys worth giving a look at despite the awful conference, and I gave them their own tier because they’re special in their own little way.
(If you are an absolute sicko and want to know more about the PAC-12 then any reasonable person ever should go check out my friend Bryce’s Pac-12 preview)
There are only two teams even remotely deserving of your time from an entertainment standpoint, and one of those is WSU. They’re well coached and have one of the best big men in the country in Mo Gueye. Mo is a legit 6-11 with some of the most impressive movement skills of any big ever at his size. He’s got great burst, lateral mobility, and general ground coverage that makes him the perfect scheme versatile big of the modern NBA. Bro spent a whole game chasing shooters around screens last year and was successful, he’s a machine. They also have some fun wing-y bets in Andrej Jakimovski and TJ Bamba who could be legit NBA dudes if things go right, and a fun PG in Justin Powell.
The other team worth a watch is Stanford. They have not been good but have been incredibly well coached over the last few years and have a crazy collection of potential NBA wings in their program this year. They have two of the best 6-7 shooters in the country this year, one is senior Spencer Jones and the other is freshman Jaylen Thompson. The main attraction though this year for the Cardinal is sophomore wing Harrison Ingram, a high feel 6-7 wing who played at St Marks in high school. Ingram is perhaps one of the weirdest players in the college game right now as he’s a solid ballhandler and passer but is one of the least athletic players in the game. He’ll probably be asked to play some point guard this year, and we’ll see if he’s really an NBA player after struggling some as a freshman.
Kel’el Ware will be a lottery pick, he’s 7 feet tall, can shoot, and is an elite defender. You don’t have to watch Oregon though unless you’re a sicko. They’re composed entirely of good college players who won’t touch an NBA floor and Kel’el will probably mostly be relegated to posting up, which will be very frustrating.
Henri Veesaar at Arizona will be cool one day, but we’ll see how much run he gets with the Wildcats this year. Henri is a 6-11 skilled big man with legit passing and shooting chops. Also be on the lookout for Adama Alpha-Ball, a lanky 6-6 Frenchman with some funk in his game.
Cam Whitmore – Freshman – Villanova – 6-5 mega athlete – I’m worried about his NBA translation, but he’s an incredibly skilled player that will probs go lotto, top five dunker in the class.
Mike Miles – Junior – TCU – 6-2 two way guard – can really hit tough shots and lock up opposing guards, definitely worth a watch at some point this year.
Nolan Hickman – Sophomore – Gonzaga – 6-5 combo guard – I almost felt bad about not mentioning them, but then I remembered how they’re bringing back basically everybody other than Chet Holmgren and further burying Hickman on the depth chart. Hickman can really shoot, can do it on or offball, on a variety of foot placements, the whole 9 yards, just sucks he’s at Gonzaga.
GG Jackson – Freshman – South Carolina – 6-9 big forward – GG’s got some guard skills and reclassed up from the class of 2024 to go to college early. He’s intriguing, and a fun watch but will have to beat the bumslayer allegations for me to have him lotto like some.
Terquavion Smith – Sophomore – NCST – 6-5 scoring guard – last year was one of the best shooters in the country, just couldn’t hit layups or make passes. Watch for him to make improvements in those areas and come out a lotto pick this year though.
Julian Phillips – Freshman – Tennessee – 6-8 two way wing – mostly an offball wing at this point, has some sneaky on-ball juice that could manifest. (though more likely than not if it does he’ll be shoved into the post or corner like every tallish Tennessee prospect)
Yohan Traore – Freshman – Auburn – 6-10 roll and cut big – super strong, physically gifted bigman who’s gonna feast off of Auburn’s rim pressure guards.
Colby Jones – Sophomore – Xavier – 6-6 connecting wing – do-it-all connector type with good feel for the game, doesn’t have a standout skill yet and if one shows itself this year he’s definitely draftable.
Taran Armstrong – Sophomore – Cal Baptist – 6-5 playmaker – an Aussie playing college ball is weird but so is Armstrong’s game. He’s probably the best passer in the NCAA rn and has one of the weirdest styles of anyone playing the game right now. It’s really indescribable, and I’d really suggest you check out a Cal Baptist game to watch him play.
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