Way Too Early 2024 March Madness Contenders

Duke Blue Devils

Projected Starting 5: Tyrese Proctor, Jared McCain, Mark Mitchell, Kyle Filipowski, Sean Stewart

Incoming 2nd year head coach Jon Scheyer has managed to bring back three potential draft picks, all of whom happened to be Duke’s top 3 out 4 scorers last season in a highly successful season for a very young team and staff who got off to a rough start but turned it around bringing home the ACC Tournament Championship. With the surprising but electrifying return of big man Kyle Filipowski, who stated he wants to leave his mark in Durham. Expect Filipowski to potentially be a candidate for pre-season Naismith POY, averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds an outing his freshman season. To continue, starting freshman guard Tyrese Proctor also announced his intent to return for his 2nd season with the Blue Devils. Proctor, who just turned 19 after the season, is incredibly smooth and has a confident and pure 3-point shot. Proctor is a good game manager, who will make great strides coming into year two. The Australian prospect can score from all three levels, and he showed that throughout his progression during his freshman campaign. Mark Mitchell, who was a late scratch in Duke’s round of 32 loss against Tennessee, also announced his return. Mitchell is aggressive and is a reliable shooter as well. Not only do the Blue Devils have these three returning, but there is always a chance that veteran guard Jeremy Roach decides to return for his 4th season at Duke, which would only confirm their number 1 ranking. Jayden Schutt, a sharpshooter from Illinois who didn’t get much playing time in his freshman season will look to be a reliable sharpshooter off the bench coming into the 23-24 season. To add on to what Scheyer has brought back, Duke also has four 5-star prospects heading into Durham for this upcoming season in Jared McCain, Sean Stewart, Caleb Foster and TJ Power. Scheyer will not need as much time to adjust next season, obviously, this is early on, but Duke really could look to win their first Natty since 2015.

Connecticut Huskies

Projected Starting 5: Stephon Castle, Andre Jackson, Alex Karaban, Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton

Losing your two best players after one of the most dominant National Championship runs in tournament history definitely hurts. But, for college hoops’ newest touted blue blood, this will not be too much of an issue heading into the 23-24 campaign. Dan Hurley’s Huskies are returning an array of players that can help them see the same success they saw this past season. Returning 7’2 freshman Donovan Clingan is massive, and he will be implemented into the starting lineup in a much bigger role after backing up the Final 4’s MOP, Adama Sanogo. Heading into his 4th season, Andre Jackson will be one of the more dangerous playmakers in the country. He works so well when the Huskies turn defense into offense, something they did so well during March. Stephon Castle is a 5-star product who will look to be a big part of UConn’s backcourt next season, along with starting point guard Tristen Newton, who should end up coming back to UConn. Karaban is a great 5th guy to round out this starting lineup, as he can really shoot the ball well and can plan efficiently on both ends. 

Purdue Boilermakers

Projected Starting 5: Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Lance Jones, Zach Edey (if returns), Caleb Furst

Matt Painter, for someone who has never gotten a 5-star recruit, always seems to surprise analysts when his players blossom early on in their college careers. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer proved this exactly, when they came in and helped the Boilermakers go from unranked to #1 in the AP poll for a good chunk of the season. With one season under both of their belts, I would not be surprised if Smith is one of the better, if not the best point guards in the Big 10 next season. This is really dependent on if Zach Edey decides to return to West-Lafayette, but, with where his draft stock is (late second round), the fact that Purdue was bounced in the first round of the tournament, as well as potential for big NIL money, it would make a lot of sense for Edey to return, and if he does, him and Smith will be the best point guard-center duo possibly in the Nation. Loyer was also an awesome piece for Purdue last season, second in scoring behind Edey, Loyer can really shoot it, and his confidence is always there. He should also make some good strides going into his sophomore season. Lance Jones of Southern Illinois was a huge pickup for Painter and the Boilermakers. Although a little undersized for someone who is not the best three-point shooter, Jones just knows how to get to to the basket and make plays on both ends of the floor. His strength will really help this Purdue team, who lacked some of that last season. Painter needs to find a way for his Boilermakers team to get off to better starts, especially against teams who have no business beating them in the tournament.

Miami Hurricanes

Projected Starting 5: Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong (if returns), Wooga Poplar, AJ Casey, Norchad Omier,

The Miami Hurricanes are coming off their best season in program history, and it is causing the media to focus in one direction: NIL. After Miami’s 2021-22 run to the Elite 8, the Canes replaced PG Charlie Moore by signing top transfer Nijel Pack to a 2-year, $800,000 NIL deal. While some are attacking Miami’s credibility with this move, a lot of others are praising it, as the Hurricanes made it back to the Elite 8 as well as their first Final 4 appearance in program history. If Isaiah Wong, the ACC player of the year returns, this Miami team will easily be a top backcourt in college hoops, and the ACC will look to be one of the top conferences in college basketball again. Wooga Poplar took huge steps this season as a sophomore, showing strides in his scoring prowess, athleticism, and three-point shooting. Norchad Omier proved to be one of the best rebounders in the country in the NCAA tournament, as in the Canes’ 5 games played, Omier pulled down 60 rebounds, the most of any player in the 22-23 tournament. AJ Casey, a 4-star prospect out of Chicago saw limited playing time his freshman season and will look to solidify himself into a starting forward role. Mixing all this talent with the inevitable transfers Miami picks up through the portal, and the Hurricanes will be dangerous as ever heading into their 2023-24 campaign.


Projected Starting 5: Alijah Martin, Nick Boyd, Johnell David, Vlad Goldin, Bryan Greenlee

The Florida Atlantic Owls just signed Head Coach Dusty May to a huge 10 season extension, solidifying his spot in South Florida, and his journey of building FAU from a mid-major to a genuine contender. Alijah Martin is testing out the draft process, but if he stays, which it seems like he is trending towards staying, FAU should have all their pieces back from their legendary Final 4 run. Vlad Goldin will only continue to fill out, and Nick Boyd will only continue to get more confident, as he thrived in a three-point shot making role this past season. It seems like May will certainly recruit talent to FAU, he is an experienced coach who has proven himself, and his players were hungry this past tournament, vastly under-seeded. They are soon making the move to the AAC, a more competitive conference, which should help their recruiting process. Regardless, the Owls should be seriously considered next season as a team who can dance their way back into the Final 4.

Michigan State Spartans

Projected Starting 5: AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Malik Hall, Mady Sissoko, Jaden Akins

For a team that had such an up and down season, Izzo proved again to really be that guy in March. The Spartans took down USC and defeated an incredibly hot Marquette team to be the only Big 10 squad to make it out of the first weekend and into the Sweet 16. When Walker and Hall announced they would return to East Lansing for another season, MSU instantly became contenders to win the tournament next season. Hoggard is a really tough point guard who will be one of the better PGs in the conference and starters Sissoko and Akins (when healthy), are also both expected to be returning next season. For a team that made it to the Sweet 16 and is returning all of its starters except for Joey Hauser, the sky is the limit for the Spartans, who will project to come in as a top-5 team in the pre-season AP poll.

Marquette Golden Eagles

Projected Starting 5: Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, Oso Ighodaro, David Joplin, Stevie Mitchell

Height could be a problem for this team, but look for Marquette’s two top scorers to return for the 23-24 season. Tyler Kolek made a name for himself this season, and it only elevated as he lifted Marquette to their first ever Big East Tournament Championship victory. Kolek will be one of the best guards in the country next season, and really does it all on both ends of the floor. Mixing that with fluid scorer Kam Jones was huge this season, and again, should only be elevated with their return and with the experience under their belts. Oso Ighodaro, the team’s leading rebounder, who also averaged double-digit points per game, will look to make a bigger role with the team, along with Stevie Mitchell who started this past season and David Joplin, who came off the bench for the Golden Eagles. Shaka Smart has proven time and again that he is great in the regular season, but, he has lost 7 of his last 8 in March Madness. Smart’s job is not going anywhere, but, the window to take Marquette seriously as a contender is probably coming to a close once Kolek and Jones depart.     

Houston Cougars

Projected Starting 5: Jamal Shead, LJ Cryer, Damian Dunn, Terrance Arcenaux, J’Wan Roberts

Year in and year out it seems like Houston always is a contender. Kelvin Sampson plays high-speed, high-pressure defense that has positively turned into offense, and a whole lot of wins, in his tenure as the Houston Cougars head coach. The Cougars entered this past tournament as a #1-seed, and the outright #2 seed in the country. They were dismantled by a Miami Hurricanes team who pushed the pace and didn’t get halted by Houston’s defense. Next season, Houston is losing Marcus Sasser, one of the best shooters and guards in the country. They are returning an array of players though, and just received a commitment from Baylor transfer LJ Cryer, who will carry a huge scoring role for the Cougars this upcoming season. Sampson has proven he can recruit and has proven he prepares teams for big time games. Houston’s out of conference play will really be a big determination on how they will compete come March. Regardless, Sampson is bringing back a lot of talent from a team that finished the 22-23 season with an outstanding 33-4 record.

Kansas Jayhawks

Projected Starting 5: Dejuan Harris, KJ Adams, Joseph Yesufu, Ernest Udeh, Elmarko Jackson

Kansas is losing Gradey Dick, Jalen Wilson and Kevin McCullar following Kansas’ loss to Arkansas in the round of 32. On the surface, that does not look great, but taking a deeper look at the Jayhawks headed into the 23-24 season, they will be a contender. Dejuan Harris can really facilitate and score at the rim. If his shot improves this off-season, he will be one of the best point guards in the country. KJ Adams took huge strides this season, and his return is massive for the Jayhawks going into next season. Former McDonald’s All-American Ernest Udeh was in and out of the rotation all season long, and will most likely have to take on the starting center role for Kansas next season. Elmarko Jackson is an incoming 5-star, and Joseph Yesufu was able to produce solid minutes off the bench for Kansas this past season. Bill Self will inevitably get players in the transfer portal, and when this happens, Kansas will start to look like a real contender next season.

Honorable mentions:  Wisconsin,  Michigan,  Baylor,  Colorado,  USC,  Arizona,  Creighton and  Kentucky

Ben Silver

Vegas Sports, Inc.

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