The 2023-24 men's college basketball season is here and there are plenty of new faces to get acquainted with who will be instant impact players, as well as familiar players who will be playing for different teams this year (thank you, transfer portal). Hunter Dickinson and Caleb Love both made moves to other Power Five programs and are key transfer players to watch this year.
Defending champion UConn lost Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. to the 2023 NBA Draft but added freshman Stephon Castle, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming draft next June. Kentucky and Duke are bringing in the top two freshman classes and it will only take a few games to see which transfers and top freshmen will be the most impactful this college season.
Kansas is entering the season at No. 1, according to the preseason Associated Press poll, but there are a few teams dominating competition during fall scrimmages that could be NCAA tournament favorites by the time March rolls around. Yahoo Sports breaks down the top college players to watch and way-too-early Final Four favorites and sleepers ahead of the season.
Top NBA Draft prospects to watch
Justin Edwards, Kentucky
Out of all the top freshmen coming in this year for Kentucky, Edwards fits the mold and looks the part of a future NBA wing. He’s long with his 6-foot-8 frame and has shown improvement in his shot selection, particularly from 3-point range. Edwards should see plenty of early minutes at Kentucky and his role will increase because of what he can do on the defensive side of the ball. Edwards is one of the best players in defensive transition with the way he reads passes and shoots the gaps. He’s already shown how effective he can be in turning defense into offense during the summer and fall and if his 3-point shot starts to fall, he could be the triple threat Kentucky is looking for this season and a player NBA scouts are targeting this year at the top of the draft.
Stephon Castle, UConn
NBA scouts have been hitting the road for fall practices and preseason scrimmages and no freshman player has received more buzz than Castle. He's a big guard at 6-6, 215 pounds and was the high scorer for the Huskies in their overseas tour in August, averaging 16.7 points and adding 2.3 steals per game while shooting 60% from the field and 43% from 3-point range. There should be a lot of two-way play on offense between Castle and 7-foot sophomore Donovan Clingan and if Castle executes his reads consistently, he could solidify himself as a top-five draft pick.
Tyrese Proctor, Duke
Proctor elected to return for his sophomore season after being one of the youngest players in college basketball last season. Originally from Australia, Proctor reclassified up a grade and committed to Duke as a five-star prospect. He dealt with a few injuries last season and worked through the growing pains of facing stronger players and dealing with a faster pace. This year, Proctor is high on scouts' radars as he has another year to grow into his 6-5 frame and get more comfortable within head coach Jon Scheyer's offense. Duke is bringing in four five-star freshmen but returning three starters with Proctor, 7-0 center Kyle Filipowski and point guard Jeremy Roach.
Isaiah Collier, USC
Collier was the No. 1 recruit coming out of the 2023 high school class and dominated at the McDonald's All American game, leading all players with 25 points and adding two steals and two assists. He is the top freshman guard to watch at USC with Bronny James's status unknown after his collapse in August and ensuing heart surgery. Collier and senior guard Boogie Ellis showed great chemistry in the backcourt during USC's overseas summer trip to Greece and Croatia, leading all players in points or assists in three games. Collier has great size at the guard position at 6-5, 210 pounds and is one of the best players at the rim with his body control and touch around the basket.
Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor
Walter possesses a lot of traits several NBA teams covet. He has length at 6-6 with a 7-1 wingspan and shoots the ball extremely well from behind the arc. At a practice ahead of the season, Walter made 41 3-pointers in a row in an attempt to break the Baylor record (64), a goal he has for the season. Walter can be seen in practice pulling up from NBA 3-point range during drills and practicing taking players off the dribble to work on being more than just a catch-and-shoot threat. At just 19 years old, he exhibits a lot of traits NBA teams love in a young perimeter player and is someone that a team could draft high to develop in their system.
Most impactful transfers
Hunter Dickinson, Kansas (transferred from Michigan)
Dickinson was the most high-profile player in the transfer portal during the offseason. During his junior year at Michigan he averaged 18.5 points and nine rebounds, was named All-Big Ten first team and recorded 14 double-doubles. Dickinson joins standout freshman Elmarko Jackson this season as the duo looks to dominate the pick-and-roll option in head coach Bill Self’s offense, something the Jayhawks mastered when they won the national championship in 2022.
“I think the thing that sold me about Kansas was it felt like it checked all the boxes in terms of having one of the best coaches of all-time present, having the history and tradition of Kansas basketball, but also him having that pedigree of developing bigs,” Dickinson told Rock Chalk Unplugged in July. “My biggest thing was I wanted to go somewhere to win.”
Caleb Love, Arizona (transferred from North Carolina)
Love first committed to Michigan after entering the transfer portal and was nixed by the school due to academics. He decommitted from Michigan on May 17 and quickly signed with Arizona 13 days later. During his junior year at North Carolina, Love averaged 16.7 points and 2.8 assists per game. He joins sophomore guard Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer guard Jaden Bradley in the backcourt at Arizona this year with the Wildcats hoping to bounce back in the Pac-12.
Kel’el Ware, Indiana (transferred from Oregon)
Heading into his freshman year at Oregon, Ware was a projected first-round pick and coming off a great senior year as a McDonald’s All American and winning a gold medal for Team USA in the 18-under FIBA Americas Championship. He struggled during his one year at Oregon, averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16 minutes on the court. Ware entered the transfer portal shortly after the season and committed to Indiana on April 10. Ware, a versatile 7-1 center, will add some much-needed rim protection for the Hoosiers after losing Trayce Jackson-Davis to the NBA Draft.
Grant Nelson, Alabama (transferred from North Dakota State)
Nelson was one of the hottest names to hit the transfer portal last year after he dominated the Summit league for North Dakota State and was named to the 2023 All-Summit Team and All-Summit Defensive Player of the Year. Nelson, a 6-10 center, chose Alabama over Arkansas after averaging 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during his junior year with the Bison. Nelson joins forward Trevon Brazile in one of the most exciting frontcourt duos to watch this season.
Max Abmas, Texas (transferred from Oral Roberts)
Abmas elected to enter the transfer portal for his senior season and quickly committed to the Longhorns after visiting mid-April.
“It’ll be different than playing in the Summit League, for sure,” Abmas told The Field of 68 podcast after his commitment. “It’s a gauntlet night in, night out. But that’s what I want: to challenge myself at the highest level, understanding that’s what I have to play at in order to improve my draft stock, putting myself in the best position to play at the next level.”
Abmas averaged 21.9 points and four assists last year for Oral Roberts and joins returning guard Tyrese Hunter in the backcourt for the Longhorns.
Final Four favorites
The Jayhawks are off to a rocky start after losing to Illinois in a charity exhibition game on Oct. 29, but there were some positive things to build on offensively. Kevin McCullar, a Texas Tech transfer, and Dickinson combined for 47 points and will be instrumental in Kansas' success this year. There is a ton of depth and talent on Bill Self’s squad this year. The Jayhawks are returning point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. and wing KJ Adams, and adding projected lottery pick Jackson in the backcourt is the perfect balance of young talent and experience that makes up an elite tournament team.
Duke fans might still be on cloud nine after landing Cooper Flagg, the No. 1 high school player in the country, but there’s a lot to like about this year’s team too. Head coach Jon Scheyer retained two key players in Proctor and 7-foot center Kyle Filipowski. Jeremy Roach, the starting point guard, returned for his senior season as well. Duke also has the No. 2 recruiting class coming in, led by five-stars Jared McCain, TJ Power, Sean Stewart and Caleb Foster.
The Huskies are looking to repeat this year and have reloaded their roster at the guard position, adding Castle. Clingan showed glimpses of what he’ll be this year with limited minutes in the NCAA tournament last year; he's a potential lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. He’ll be the best rim protector in the Big East this season and averaged nearly two blocks per game in just 13 minutes on the court last year. Returning in the backcourt this year is graduate senior guard Tristen Newton, who averaged 10.1 points and 4.7 assists per game last season.
The Owls were seconds away from playing in the national championship game last year but fell to San Diego State in a buzzer-beater. They made a Cinderella run last March but have a bigger target on their backs, entering the season No. 9 in the AP preseason poll. FAU is returning eight of its core nine players from a 35-4 team, including the starting five. The Owls are moving to the American Athletic Conference (from a mid-major schedule in Conference USA) this season and are favored to win the conference and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Final Four sleepers
Head coach Tommy Lloyd is returning the majority of his roster from last year and added two key transfers in Love and Bradley. Boswell is one of the top point guards in the Pac-12 after seeing limited playing time as a freshman due to a shoulder injury. They have a polished roster with experienced inside-out players, including 7-0 bigs Oumar Ballo and Dylan Anderson, in addition to Boswell and key transfers in the backcourt.
Coach Eric Musselman knows how to get the best out of his players, particularly in the NCAA tournament where the Razorbacks have made three straight runs to the Sweet 16 and made it to the Elite Eight in 2021 and 2022. Arkansas only has two freshmen on the roster (Baye Fall and Layden Blocker) and Brazile is returning this season after sitting out almost all of last year with a torn ACL.
Marquette finished first in the Big East last season and is returning a majority of its roster, including its two highest-scoring players on the team, Kam Jones (15.1 points per game) and Tyler Kolek (12.9 points per game). Head coach Shaka Smart runs a fast-paced offense that is difficult to defend. The Golden Eagles have a lot of the tools needed to make a deep run in postseason play. Prior to losing to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, Marquette went 15-1 to close out the season.
Head coach Dennis Gates is only in his second season at Mizzou, but there's plenty to like about this year's Tigers team. Junior guard Tamar Bates transferred from Indiana and John Tonje transferred from Colorado State, where he was one of the best players in the Mountain West Conference. Sophomore wing Aidan Shaw can play multiple positions on the court with his 6-8 frame and athleticism and could have a breakout season.