Kevin McCullar Jr.’s return seals Kansas at No. 1 in the 2023-24 men’s Way-Too-Early Top 25

Kevin McCullar Jr.'s return seals Kansas at No. 1 in the 2023-24 men's Way-Too-Early Top 25

While Wednesday’s NBA draft early-entry withdrawal deadline was the busiest in recent memory — with more than 40 players announcing their decisions to stay in the NBA draft or return to college — the top of the Way-Too-Early Top 25 was determined by a stay-or-go announcement more than a week before the deadline.

When Kansas forward Kevin McCullar Jr. withdrew his name from the draft and decided to return to the Jayhawks for another season, it cemented Bill Self’s team at No. 1 in the rankings. Duke had rocketed to No. 1 after Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach announced their returns to Durham, North Carolina, and seemed to have a strong hold on the top spot — but the Jayhawks moved to No. 2 after landing Hunter Dickinson and then overtook Duke with McCullar.

With McCullar in the fold, Self now brings back three starters from a team that won the Big 12 regular-season championship and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament — while also welcoming a ton of talent into the program. In addition to Dickinson, the nation’s best transfer, Kansas landed a pair of impact transfers in Nick Timberlake (Towson) and Arterio Morris (Texas) and a top-15 high school recruiting class.

But McCullar was the X factor. He’s an elite defender, one of the best in the country, and has averaged double figures in scoring in each of the past three seasons at Texas Tech and Kansas. He also brings plenty of experience and should help with roster continuity.

With No. 1 settled (for now), let’s get to the rest of the rankings.

Updated June 1, 2023

Previous: 2

While the incoming players, most notably Dickinson, are getting most of the attention so far this offseason, the returning trio of Dajuan Harris Jr., McCullar and K.J. Adams Jr. is what makes the Jayhawks a national championship contender. Harris is one of the elite pass-first guards in the country and a terrific defender, while McCullar is versatile and really defends. Adams’ role will change next to Dickinson, but he was one of the breakout stars of last season and should take an even bigger step next season.

Projected starting lineup:

Dajuan Harris Jr. (8.9 PPG)
Nick Timberlake (17.7 PPG at Towson)
Kevin McCullar Jr. (10.7 PPG)
K.J. Adams Jr. (10.6 PPG)
Hunter Dickinson (18.5 PPG at Michigan)

Previous: 1

The Blue Devils rose to the top of the rankings with the return of Kyle Filipowski, who would have been a first-round pick had he entered the NBA draft. But he returned to anchor the frontcourt, while Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell also decided to come back to Durham. Jeremy Roach‘s decision to head back to the Blue Devils and run the offense makes them the primary competition to Kansas for the No. 1 spot. Jon Scheyer will need one of the wings to step up offensively; Jared McCain could be that guy.

Projected starting lineup:

Jeremy Roach (13.6 PPG)
Tyrese Proctor (9.4 PPG)
Jared McCain (No. 12 in ESPN 100)
Mark Mitchell (9.1 PPG)
Kyle Filipowski (15.1 PPG)

Previous: 18

Purdue makes the biggest rise following the withdrawal deadline, thanks to the return of Zach Edey. The reigning Wooden Award winner took it to the final day but opted to return to West Lafayette, Indiana, where he will once again be the most dominant player in college basketball. Matt Painter now has all five starters back from a team that won both the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament before the stunning upset to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

Projected starting lineup:

Braden Smith (9.7 PPG)
Fletcher Loyer (11.0 PPG)
Ethan Morton (3.8 PPG)
Mason Gillis (6.8 PPG)
Zach Edey (22.3 PPG)

Previous: 4

We really liked Tom Izzo’s team entering the offseason, and that was before Tyson Walker and Malik Hall announced they were taking advantage of their extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and returning to East Lansing. Then A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins decided to return to the Spartans after testing the NBA draft waters. Michigan State now has experience and a high-level backcourt, as well as added depth and explosiveness with the arrival of five-star recruits Xavier Booker, Coen Carr and Jeremy Fears.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyson Walker (14.8 PG)
A.J. Hoggard (12.9 PPG)
Jaden Akins (9.8 PPG)
Malik Hall (8.9 PPG)
Xavier Booker (No. 7 in ESPN 100)

Previous: 7

Tennessee is one of the biggest portal winners of the offseason thus far, landing Jordan Gainey (South Carolina Upstate), Chris Ledlum (Harvard) and Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado), while also getting All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi and veteran starter Josiah-Jordan James back for another year. The Volunteers should have more perimeter pop than they’ve had the past few seasons, combined with what should be an elite defense when Zakai Zeigler is healthy.

Projected starting lineup:

Zakai Zeigler (10.7 PPG)
Santiago Vescovi (12.5 PPG)
Dalton Knecht (20.2 PPG at Northern Colorado)
Josiah-Jordan James (10.0 PPG)
Jonas Aidoo (5.1 PPG)

Previous: 6

With Marcus Sasser a potential first-round pick and Tramon Mark hitting the transfer portal, it seemed like Kelvin Sampson’s perimeter group was bound to take a hit. Instead, he went out and landed two of the best guards on the market in Baylor transfer LJ Cryer and Temple transfer Damian Dunn. Jamal Shead is also back after testing the NBA draft waters, and Emanuel Sharp showed flashes of his potential last season. Houston’s transition to the Big 12 might be the biggest question mark for the Cougars.

Projected starting lineup:

Jamal Shead (10.5 PPG)
LJ Cryer (15.0 PPG at Baylor)
Emanuel Sharp (5.9 PPG)
Damian Dunn (15.3 PPG at Temple)
J’Wan Roberts (10.0 PPG)

Previous: 8

We knew Mark Few would find a way to reload his roster following the departures of Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Malachi Smith — and he landed three transfers to help offset the losses: Ryan Nembhard (Creighton), Graham Ike (Wyoming) and Steele Venters (Eastern Washington). The Zags also received positive news on deadline day, with Anton Watson deciding to return to Spokane, Washington, for another year up front.

Projected starting lineup:

Ryan Nembhard (12.1 PPG at Creighton)
Nolan Hickman (7.7 PPG)
Steele Venters (15.3 PPG at Eastern Washington)
Anton Watson (11.1 PPG)
Graham Ike (19.5 PPG at Wyoming in 2021-22)

Previous: 9

Ranking the Owls eighth in the country might seem lofty, given they were a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament and nearly lost to Memphis in the first round. But this is also a team that won 35 games, made a Final Four run and is bringing back all five starters. It’s a testament to Dusty May that he was able to keep the core of this group together, with zero players entering the transfer portal or NBA draft. FAU is stepping up in competition to the AAC, but the Owls will be the favorite to win it in Year 1.

Projected starting lineup:

Bryan Greenlee (7.4 PPG)
Nick Boyd (8.9 PPG)
Johnell Davis (13.9 PPG)
Alijah Martin (13.1 PPG)
Vladislav Goldin (10.3 PPG)

Previous: 5

UConn opened the season No. 1 following its dominant national championship run — but the Huskies have dropped several spots after the departures of Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson to the NBA draft. But Dan Hurley got Tristen Newton back and also brings in a top-five recruiting class that includes four ESPN 100 prospects. Donovan Clingan is poised for a huge season down low, while Alex Karaban should take on a bigger role offensively.

Projected starting lineup:

Tristen Newton (9.9 PPG)
Stephon Castle (No. 15 in ESPN 100)
Solomon Ball (No. 55 in ESPN 100)
Alex Karaban (9.5 PPG)
Donovan Clingan (7.1 PPG)

Previous: 3

There was minimal roster movement for Marquette for the first two months of the offseason, but then Olivier-Maxence Prosper impressed scouts and NBA teams at the draft combine and opted to stay in the draft. Fortunately for coach Shaka Smart, his most productive bench player last season should slot right into the lineup. David Joplin scored in double figures in three of his final four games and shot 40% from 3 for the season.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyler Kolek (12.9 PPG)
Stevie Mitchell (7.1 PPG)
Kam Jones (15.1 PPG)
David Joplin (9.2 PPG)
Oso Ighodaro (11.4 PPG)

Previous: 23

Arizona was active in the portal and on the international circuit to rebuild its roster, but the Wildcats saved their biggest splash for last — landing North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, one of the best guards in the portal. He’ll team with Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley and returnees Pelle Larsson and Kylan Boswell on the perimeter, while Oumar Ballo will again anchor the interior. San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson should bring defense and toughness.

Projected starting lineup:

Jaden Bradley (6.4 PPG at Alabama)
Caleb Love (16.7 PPG at North Carolina)
Pelle Larsson (9.9 PPG)
Keshad Johnson (7.7 PPG at San Diego State)
Oumar Ballo (14.2 PPG)

Previous: 25

Brian Dutcher lost a handful of veteran pieces from a team that reached the national championship game, but he brought back four players who saw at least 17 minutes in the title game, including two starters. Lamont Butler and Jaedon LeDee both withdrew from the draft shortly before the deadline, while Darrion Trammell is taking advantage of his extra year. USC transfer Reese Dixon-Waters is an underrated addition, too.

Projected starting lineup:

Darrion Trammell (9.9 PPG)
Lamont Butler (8.7 PPG)
Micah Parrish (7.7 PPG)
Reese Dixon-Waters (9.8 PPG at USC)
Jaedon LeDee (7.8 PPG)

Previous: 16

Greg McDermott had an up-and-down offseason, with starters Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma entering the transfer portal, but Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner all withdrew their names from the NBA draft to return to Omaha, Nebraska. Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth should step into the backcourt, while Mason Miller and Virginia transfer Isaac Traudt should help offset Kaluma’s departure.

Projected starting lineup:

Steven Ashworth (16.2 PPG at Utah State)
Baylor Scheierman (12.8 PPG)
Trey Alexander (13.6 PPG)
Mason Miller (2.3 PPG)
Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.9 PPG)

Previous: 10

Arkansas was busy on deadline day, seeing top recruiting target Ron Holland go to the G League, while retaining Devo Davis and losing Jordan Walsh to the NBA. Eric Musselman’s team is absolutely loaded on the perimeter, with Davis and top-30 recruit Layden Blocker joining four experienced transfer guards. If Trevon Brazile is healthy, the frontcourt shouldn’t be an issue, either. Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davenport provides a different dimension at power forward.

Projected starting lineup:

Keyon Menifield (10.0 PPG at Washington)
Khalif Battle (17.9 PPG at Temple)
Devo Davis (10.9 PPG)
Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG at Houston)
Trevon Brazile (11.8 PPG)

Previous: 20

Hubert Davis started the offseason with two anchors: R.J. Davis at one guard spot and Armando Bacot down low. He then went out and surrounded those two returning stars with intriguing complementary players. Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan is a veteran shooter, while Harrison Ingram from Stanford is a versatile wing. Then top-10 2024 prospect Elliot Cadeau opted to reclassify and suit up for the Tar Heels this fall. He’s a truly elite passer and playmaker who could have the ball in his hands from day one.

Projected starting lineup:

Elliot Cadeau (No. 10 in ESPN 100)
R.J. Davis (16.1 PPG)
Cormac Ryan (12.3 PPG at Notre Dame)
Harrison Ingram (10.5 PPG at Stanford)
Armando Bacot (15.9 PPG)

Previous: 15

Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both tested the NBA draft waters but opted to return to Coral Gables, Florida. Those two will form one of the best inside-outside duos in the ACC next season. Jim Larranaga also replaced Jordan Miller with an ACC-proven forward in Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland, who should add more rebounding and paint production. The Hurricanes are still in the hunt for another guard to help fill Isaiah Wong‘s shoes.

Projected starting lineup:

Nijel Pack (13.8 PPG)
Wooga Poplar (8.7 PPG)
Bensley Joseph (5.2 PPG)
Matthew Cleveland (13.8 PPG at Florida State)
Norchad Omier (13.3 PPG)

Previous: 19

Will the Aggies pick up where they left off in the second half of 2022-23, when they won 19 of 22 games before falling in the SEC championship game and the first round of the NCAA tournament? Having Wade Taylor IV back to run the show is a huge plus, while Buzz Williams also has three other returning starters after Tyrece Radford decided to come back. Dexter Dennis is the lone starter leaving, but transfers Jace Carter (UIC) and Eli Lawrence (Middle Tennessee) will help replace him.

Projected starting lineup:

Wade Taylor IV (16.3 PPG)
Tyrece Radford (13.3 PPG)
Jace Carter (16.6 PPG at UIC)
Henry Coleman III (9.0 PPG)
Julius Marble (9.1 PPG)

Previous: NR

After Villanova missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, Kyle Neptune clearly wanted to avoid a repeat entering the second season of his coaching tenure. The Wildcats had as much success in the transfer portal as any team in the country, landing TJ Bamba (Washington State), Hakim Hart (Maryland) and Tyler Burton (Richmond), while also returning veteran stalwarts Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. The starting five is as experienced and proven as you’ll find in the Big East.

Projected starting lineup:

Justin Moore (13.5 PPG)
TJ Bamba (15.8 PPG at Washington State)
Hakim Hart (11.4 PPG at Maryland)
Tyler Burton (19.0 PPG at Richmond)
Eric Dixon (15.4 PPG)

Previous: 14

Despite the transfer decisions of Tre White and Reese Dixon-Waters, USC will have one of the best backcourts in the country after the addition of Bronny James. Isaiah Collier is the top-ranked recruit in the country, and he’ll be running the show, while Boogie Ellis is an all-conference player and the team’s leading scorer. James will be a terrific third option offensively, someone who can make open shots and be a secondary ball handler while also guarding opponents at the other end.

Projected starting lineup:

Isaiah Collier (No. 1 in ESPN 100)
Boogie Ellis (17.7 PPG)
Bronny James (No. 19 in ESPN 100)
Kobe Johnson (9.2 PPG)
Joshua Morgan (7.0 PPG)

Previous: 17

Scott Drew is essentially starting from scratch on the perimeter, with Keyonte George and Adam Flagler entering the NBA draft and LJ Cryer transferring to Houston. But he’s bringing in two impact freshmen in Ja’Kobe Walter and Miro Little and welcomes back Langston Love. The Bears also landed two high-level transfers in RayJ Dennis (Toledo) and Jayden Nunn (VCU). Jalen Bridges could be poised for a breakout campaign in the frontcourt — if he returns to Waco, Texas.

Projected starting lineup:

RayJ Dennis (19.5 PPG at Toledo)
Jayden Nunn (9.3 PPG at VCU)
Ja’Kobe Walter (No. 14 in ESPN 100)
Jalen Bridges (10.3 PPG)
Josh Ojianwuna (4.2 PPG)

Previous: 13

Randy Bennett received great news early in the offseason when Alex Ducas announced he was returning for another season. The Gaels now have three key returnees to build around next season: Ducas, Aidan Mahaney and Mitchell Saxen. Mahaney could become a household name with another year. The Gaels also brought back Augustas Marciulionis and welcome four-star guard Jordan Ross and Harvard transfer Mason Forbes.

Projected starting lineup:

Jordan Ross (four-star)
Aidan Mahaney (13.9 PPG)
Augustas Marciulionis (5.9 PPG)
Alex Ducas (12.5 PPG)
Mitchell Saxen (11.6 PPG)

Previous: 21

We’re projecting Colorado to make a big jump from the inconsistent NIT team it was this past season. The Buffaloes showed their potential in a win over Tennessee and a blowout victory over Texas A&M but couldn’t do it on a regular basis. With Tad Boyle adding potential lottery pick Cody Williams and TCU transfer Eddie Lampkin Jr. to KJ Simpson and Tristan da Silva, though, they should be much improved in 2023-24. Offense is the key. Colorado ranked second in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency, but just 10th at the other end of the floor.

Projected starting lineup:

KJ Simpson (15.9 PPG)
Julian Hammond III (6.9 PPG)
Cody Williams (No. 6 in ESPN 100)
Tristan da Silva (15.9 PPG)
Eddie Lampkin Jr. (6.3 PPG at TCU)

Previous: 12

The NBA draft process was a mixed bag for Nate Oats and Alabama. Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney were expected departures, but Charles Bediako came as a surprise. Mark Sears and Jahvon Quinerly did return for another season, though. There’s plenty of perimeter talent in Tuscaloosa, with Aaron Estrada (Hofstra) and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (Cal State Fullerton) entering the fold. But the Tide badly need frontcourt help.

Projected starting lineup:

Jahvon Quinerly (8.7 PPG)
Aaron Estrada (20.2 PPG at Hofstra)
Mark Sears (12.5 PPG)
Rylan Griffen (5.9 PPG)
Nick Pringle (3.5 PPG)

Previous: 11

As of June 1, Kentucky has only seven scholarship players on its roster: five freshmen — talented ones, certainly, but still freshmen — and two sophomores who combined to average 4.8 points per game. Oscar Tshiebwe, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin and Chris Livingston all went pro, and another four players hit the portal. The wild card is Antonio Reeves, who withdrew from the NBA draft — but rumors have been swirling for weeks about him potentially transferring.

Projected starting lineup:

Robert Dillingham (No. 11 in ESPN 100)
D.J. Wagner (No. 2 in ESPN 100)
Antonio Reeves (14.4 PPG)
Justin Edwards (No. 1 in ESPN 100)
Aaron Bradshaw (No. 4 in ESPN 100)

Previous: NR

Rodney Terry did an incredible job taking over for Chris Beard last season, guiding the Longhorns to 29 wins, a Big 12 conference tournament title and an Elite Eight appearance. But now comes the reloading process. Texas brings back Tyrese Hunter at point guard and landed Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas, one of the premier scorers in college basketball. The key will be Dillon Mitchell taking a step forward on the wing.

Projected starting lineup:

Tyrese Hunter (10.3 PPG)
Max Abmas (21.9 PPG at Oral Roberts)
Dillon Mitchell (4.3 PPG)
Dylan Disu (8.8 PPG)
Kadin Shedrick (6.2 PPG at Virginia)

Dropped out:

Wisconsin Badgers (No. 23)
Maryland Terrapins (No. 24)

Next in line:

Wisconsin Badgers
Maryland Terrapins
West Virginia Mountaineers
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Auburn Tigers

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