The Post’s Zach Braziller gives five bold predictions for the 2023-24 college basketball season.
A resurgence in Chapel Hill
Forget last year for the moment. Forget the disappointment of starting the season No. 1 and not making the NCAA Tournament. Just look at this roster: One of the premier big men in the sport in Armando Bacot, a prototypical pass-first point guard in five-star freshman Elliot Cadeau, and talented scorers like R.J. Davis, Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan and Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram around them. Hubert Davis may have underachieved last year, but he did reach the title game in his first season, and his third campaign will be more similar to his first. Because of last winter, the Tar Heels are underrated this year. That won’t last for too long, however. This team has top-10 talent, and it will play up to it this year. The Post sees Davis getting this group to Glendale, Ariz., for the Final Four.
Fade Florida Atlantic
Cinderella is still hanging around the after-party. A year after its stunning run to the Final Four, Florida Atlantic is back with its entire starting five, and a preseason ranking of No. 10. The sequel won’t be nearly as much fun as the original. That’s not to say that the Owls won’t be a good team or reach the NCAA Tournament, because they will go dancing. But sometimes we get carried away with March. Let’s not forget, this team nearly lost its opening-round contest against Memphis, then was fortunate to play No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson instead of top-seeded Purdue in the second round. It will enter this season in the spotlight, facing the likes of Illinois and Arizona during a beefed-up non-conference schedule in its first year as a member of the AAC. This won’t be a top-25 team, let alone one that belongs in the top-10. A double-digit seed and a quick NCAA Tournament exit will be the disappointing follow-up to Florida Atlantic’s storybook season.
Villanova reclaims its throne in Big East
The Big East has three teams ranked in the top 10 — Marquette, defending national champion Connecticut and Creighton. All are true Final Four contenders. But none of them will win the loaded league. Instead, it will be Villanova. Yes, there are questions about coach Kyle Neptune, legitimate concerns about a guy who has spent just two seasons as a college basketball head coach. But he was dealt a tough card last year, injuries handicapping an underwhelming roster. The Wildcats start this season healthy, and they had a huge offseason — bringing in impact transfers TJ Bamba (Washington State), Tyler Burton (Richmond) and Hakim Hart (Maryland), to join a quality nucleus led by Justin Moore, a top-10 guard in the country, and undervalued forward Eric Dixon. It’s a group of versatile shotmakers who will create matchup problems for everyone — much like Jay Wright’s best teams did.
Clingan stands tallest
It feels like the year of the big man, an elite group of centers led by the reigning National Player of the Year, Zach Edey of Purdue. It also includes North Carolina’s Bacot; Kansas big man Hunter Dickinson, previously of Michigan; Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner; new Gonzaga center Graham Ike; and Kentucky blue-chip freshman Aaron Bradshaw. Connecticut’s Donovan Clingan will be the most impactful of them all. The 7-foot-2 Clingan spent his freshman year serving as Adama Sanogo’s caddy, putting up impressive numbers — 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 13.1 minutes — in limited action. This year, he gets unleashed. Clingan is a monster around the basket — a dunking, shot-blocking force — and he will be given the opportunity to show his entire repertoire, which includes shooting 3-pointers. Somehow, he wasn’t picked by Big East coaches to the league’s preseason first team. NBA teams won’t make the same mistake in June when he’s a top-10 pick.
Duke’s return to the top
Duke has a unique blend of high-end talent and experience, the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class and its four leading scorers from a year ago all back. No one is more important than elite sophomore forward Kyle Filipowski, who will lead the Blue Devils to their first national championship since 2015 en route to National Player of the Year honors. The 7-foot Filipowski can score at all three levels and takes a step forward as a 3-point shooter this year. It certainly helps that he is surrounded by playmaking guards Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor, in addition to five-star freshmen TJ Power and Jared McCain.
This story originally appeared on NYPost