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Best of the Rest: Gonzaga, Houston Are Championship Contenders

Creighton Favored in Top-Heavy Big East

Not all high-quality basketball is going to be played in the five major conferences. Gonzaga and Houston are both top-five ranked teams in the national polls while the Big East could be one of the better conferences in the country.

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Julian Strawther, Houston’s Marcus Sasser, San Diego State’s Matt Bradley, and Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman are among the top candidates for the Wooden Award according to the college basketball betting lines.

Best of the Rest
Steph Chambers/Getty Images/AFP

Gonzaga and Houston come in at No. 2 and 3 in the two national polls while Creighton comes in at No. 9. Villanova is another top-20 team.

Let’s check the latest NCAAB picks, stats, injury reports, and NCAAB predictions. We’ve plenty of NCAAB expert picks for you to consider.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

  • WCC Title Odds: -1600
  • National Title Odds: +850

Returning national player of the year candidate Drew Timme was not highly sought after by NBA teams so he will get another chance to try to leave Gonzaga to a national title. He averaged 27.3 points in three NCAA tournament games.

Only North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Oscar Tshiebwe have better odds to be named the national player of the year according to the Las Vegas odds.

Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton combined for 23 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and don’t be surprised to see those numbers go up.

The Bulldogs will need to replace Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard, who were selected in the NBA draft.

Anton Watson (7.3 points, 4.7 rebounds), Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, and Ben Gregg are also back for the Bulldogs.

Smith was one of the top-rated transfers in the country. He averaged 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3 assists as a redshirt sophomore at Chattanooga while Reid averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds as a freshman at LSU.

Houston Cougars

  • AAC Title Odds: -375
  • National Title Odds: +1000

Having Marcus Stasser for more than 12 games will be a huge help as will the arrival of transfers Mylik Wilson and Sadarius Bowser as the college basketball odds view the Cougars as a dangerous title contender.

Sasser was averaging 17.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 2.2 steals per game when his season came to an end a season ago. He went off for 25 points in a one-point loss to Alabama.

Losing Kyler Edwards, Fabian White Jr. and Josh Carlton means that the Cougars will need to replace 38 points and 14.4 rebounds per game.

Taze Moore also began his professional career leaving Houston without four double-digit scorers from a season ago.

Tramon Mark, who averaged 10.1 points, 2.4 assists and 1.4 assists in seven games, will be coming back. Jamal Shead (10 points, 5.8 assists, 2.6 steals), Reggie Chaney, Jawan Roberts, and Ramon Walker Jr. also return.

Freshman Jarace Walker is being touted as a potential top-10 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Creighton Blue Jays

  • Big East Title Odds: +155
  • National Title Odds: +2200

Creighton will need to replace Ryan Hawkins and Alex O’Connell, two of the Blue Jays’ top three scorers.

However, the 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner and assist leader Ryan Nembhard will return as the Blue Jays bring back five of the seven players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game.

Former South Dakota State guard Baylor Scheierman is one of the top incoming transfers in the country. He will be joined by TCU’s Francisco Farabello.

Scheierman averaged 21 points per game to lead South Dakota State to the Summit League title and then had 18 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Providence in the NCAA tournament.

Nembhard averaged 11.3 points and 4.4 assists in an injury-shortened freshman season. The 6-foot-7 Kaluma was another talented freshman who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to Kansas in the NCAA tournament. Classmate Trey Alexander averaged 13.3 points in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Shereef Mitchell is back after being limited to six games as a junior.

Farabello started 18 games over his three seasons at TCU and was a career 40% shooter from 3-point range.

Villanova Wildcats

  • Big East Title Odds: +200
  • National Title Odds: +4000

Longtime head coach Jay Wright retired after helping the Wildcats to another 30-win season. Former Villanova assistant coach Kyle Neptune returns after being the head coach at Fordham last season.

It won’t be easy to replace Collin Gillespie’s 15.6 points and his ability to make clutch 3-pointers. Jermaine Samuels was the most reliable of Villanova’s inside players.

Justin Moore returns after averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. However, Villanova is expected to be without Moore in the early stages of the season as he continues to recover from the ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered in the NCAA Tournament.

Caleb Daniels was also a double-digit scorer a season ago despite starting only three games. Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater are a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards who combined for 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2021-22.

The biggest addition is Cameron Whitmore, rated by ESPN as the No. 5 power forward in the class of incoming freshmen and the No. 21 recruit nationally. Whitmore was selected as the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year.

San Diego State Aztecs

  • Mountain West Title Odds: Even
  • National Title Odds: +6600

The return of Matt Bradley is not good news for the rest of the Mountain West Conference.

Second-leading scorer Trey Pulliam is gone, but the Aztecs do return Lamont Butler, Keshad Johnson, and Nathan Mensah.

Forward Michal Parrish comes in from Oakland while guard Darrion Trammell is a transfer from Seattle.

Bradley averaged 16.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while starting all 32 games for the Aztecs.

Parrish averaged 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds as a sophomore at Oakland.

Trammell averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 assists during his two seasons at Seattle. He had 39 points in a loss in the WAC semifinals in his final game at Seattle.

Dayton Flyers

  • Atlantic-10 Title Odds: +175
  • National Title Odds: +8000

Dayton returns its top five scorers from last season and is in a position to make a run at the Atlantic-10 title.

DaRon Holmes, Toumani Camara, Malachi Smith, Kobe Elvis, and Koby Brea combined for 52 points and 23 rebounds per game last season.

R.J. Blakney and Zimi Nwojeki are also returning while Dayton added forward Tyrone Baker from Georgia.

Freshman Mike Sharavjamts started in the exhibition game against Capital while sophomores Mustapha Amzil and Brady Uhl were two of the first players coming off the bench.

The Flyers did see Elijah Weaver, Lynn Greer, and Moulaye Sissoko transfer to Chicago State, Saint Joseph’s, and North Texas.

UConn Huskies

  • Big East Title Odds: +450
  • National Title Odds: +6600

Adama Sanogo is the top returning scorer as he averaged 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. The Huskies will have to wait 5-6 weeks to get Andre Jackson back.

Things will look a little different without top scorer R.J. Cole and No. 3 scorer Tyrese Martin. Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley have also moved on, leaving the Huskies without four of the top five scorers from a season ago.

Plenty of eyes will be on exciting in-state product Donovan Clingan as the 7-foot-2 freshman will bring a different dimension to the Huskies.

The Huskies were active on the transfer portal. Tristen Newton averaged 17.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5 assists as a junior at East Carolina. Hassan Diarra contributed 6.1 points in 16.6 minutes during his two years at Texas A&M. Joey Calcaterra was a double-digit scorer in two of his four seasons at San Diego while Naheim Alleyne made 153 3-pointers in his three years at Virginia Tech.

Saint Louis Billikens

  • Atlantic 10 Title Odds: +300
  • National Title Odds: +10000

The Billikens not only return their top four scorers but also bring in former Missouri standout Javon Pickett.

Saint Louis won 23 games and advanced to the Atlantic 10 semifinals a season ago while playing without injured star Javonte Perkins. Perkins, who has averaged 15.9 points in his time with the Billikens, returns to make an already talented roster downright scary.

Gibson Jimerson, who led last season’s Saint Louis team at 16.3 points per game, is joined by Yuri Collins (11.1 points, 7.9 assists), 6-foot-9 Francis Okoro (10.1 points, 8.1 rebounds), Fred Thatch (9.3 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Terrence Hargrove.

Saint Louis added Pickett, who averaged a career-high 11.1 points last season at Missouri.

Xavier Musketeers

  • Conference Odds: +450
  • National Title Odds: +8000

Former Arizona head coach Sean Miller takes over at Xavier. He’ll get to work with three of the top four scorers from last year’s team.

Jack Nunge, Colby Jones, and Zach Freemantle combined for 39 points and 22.5 rebounds a season ago. Adam Kunkel also returns.

Second-leading scorer Paul Scruggs graduated as did Nate Johnso while Dwon Odom transferred to Georgia State.

Souley Boum, who averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game at UTEP, has transferred in and is expected to play a key role.

Freshman Desmond Claude started in the exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan and was one of four starters to score in double figures.

Wyoming Cowboys

  • Mountain West Title Odds: +450
  • National Title Odds: +15000

Wyoming returns eight of its top nine scorers led by Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado, who averaged 19.5 and 18.5 points per game a season ago.

The Cowboys did lose double-digit scorer Drake Jeffries.

Wyoming brought in Max Agbonkpolo and Ethan Anderson from USC as well as former UCLA guard Jake Kyman.

 

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