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Five Men’s Teams That Look Primed to Break Through in College Basketball

These groups have the right mix of talent and personnel to take the next step in 2022–23.

Of the eight teams that received No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the 2022 men’s NCAA tournament, four missed the Big Dance the year before. A team’s fortunes can change in a hurry in college basketball, and Sports Illustrated is on the hunt to find this year’s breakthrough programs. Which five teams have the best chance of putting together a special season and rising to the top of the sport? These clubs have returning talent, proven coaching and plenty to look forward to in the ’22–23 campaign.


Creighton was clearly ahead of schedule in its rebuild last year, going to the NCAA tournament and winning a game there despite having to replace five starters from 2020–21 and relying heavily upon freshmen. The Bluejays withstood multiple significant injuries and saw young talent blossom as the season went on: Big man Ryan Kalkbrenner emerged as one of the best frontcourt players in the country down the stretch, Trey Alexander stepped up at point guard when Ryan Nembhard went down with a season-ending injury and Arthur Kaluma played his best game of the season in the NCAA tournament vs. Kansas.

The nucleus of Nembhard, Alexander, Kaluma and Kalkbrenner was already one of the best in the sport, and then the Bluejays raided the transfer portal to add an elite shooter in Baylor Scheierman (South Dakota State) this spring. The combination of returning production, NBA upside and breakout potential for a team that became battle-tested last season are the reasons why Creighton is listed in the top 10 of virtually every preseason poll. The expectations are high: This team has the potential to be the best in Creighton history and should be a Final Four contender.

San Diego State

The Aztecs have never made it past the Sweet 16, but they have a group with the potential to get over that hump in 2022–23. Remember the SDSU team that started 26–0 and was in line to contend for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in ’20? This year’s group might be just as good. Brian Dutcher’s team might not have one individual player as good as Malachi Flynn was for the ’19–20 Aztecs, but it should be elite defensively and it has the pieces necessary to improve on the offensive end.

San Diego State’s main weakness offensively in 2021–22 was at the point guard position, but that need was addressed through the portal with the addition of Darrion Trammell from Seattle. Trammell, Micah Parrish (Oakland) and Matt Bradley should provide enough shotmaking to make the offense run smoother in ’22–23, and the return of Nathan Mensah gives Dutcher perhaps the nation’s best interior defender to anchor a well-schemed, extremely disciplined defense. The Aztecs will be tested early at the Maui Invitational in November, but don’t be surprised if SDSU is in the mix to win that tournament and make an early statement.

Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis high-fives Miller Kopp

Jackson-Davis (right) will play a big role if Indiana is to have a special season.


The Flyers were the first team left out of the men’s NCAA tourney in 2022, but the fact they were even in the mix after a disastrous first two weeks of the season shows just how impressive Dayton was for much of the season. To win as much as this team did in the A-10 despite playing a rotation almost exclusively made up of freshmen and sophomores speaks to the talent level of this group, and the Flyers really found something playing through crafty point guard Malachi Smith and uber-talented center DaRon Holmes II.

The Holmes/Smith duo figures to terrorize A-10 opposition for as long as the two stars stay in school. The Obi Toppin comparisons for Holmes are unfair, but a breakout second season seems inevitable … particularly with a high-level distributor in Smith there to get him the ball. Kobe Elvis emerged as the season went on as a scorer, Toumani Camara is a versatile athletic forward and freshman guard Mike Sharavjamts could be quite the x-factor if he lives up to his enormous upside. This group has second weekend potential in the NCAA tournament.

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It could be a big Year 2 under Mike Woodson for the Hoosiers after going dancing in 2022. Experience wins in college basketball, and Indiana will likely start four seniors to go with a talented young supporting cast off the bench. That group is headlined by Trayce Jackson-Davis, who should be an All-American candidate as a senior after spurning the pros for one more year with the Hoosiers. Jackson-Davis is something of a known quantity, a physical post presence with strong shot-blocking instincts and the ability to score with either hand.

What really unlocked the Hoosiers late in the season was inspired play at point guard from Xavier Johnson after the Pitt transfer struggled at times in Big Ten play. In the season’s final 10 games, Johnson averaged 16.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while shooting more than 45% from three and posting an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2:1. That’s elite-level point play, and IU has a high ceiling if Johnson plays like that all season in 2022–23.


A third of TCU’s NCAA tournament appearances since 1960 have come since Jamie Dixon took over in Fort Worth in 2016. And with tons of returning production from last season’s team that was painstakingly close to the Sweet 16, the potential is there for a major breakthrough for the Horned Frogs in ’22–23.

The strength of this group is its toughness and physicality, particularly on the boards. TCU was the nation’s best offensive rebounding team in the country last season per KenPom, which helped make up for ghastly shooting and turnover numbers that each ranked in the bottom 50 nationally. Those numbers could improve this year with a veteran backcourt duo of Mike Miles Jr. and Damion Baugh back, but the Horned Frogs’ big strength will remain their ability to pound teams into submission up front. The x-factor there? Center Eddie Lampkin Jr., a monster on the offensive boards who put up 20 points and 14 rebounds in the NCAA tournament against Arizona in March. Lampkin blossoming into an all-conference-caliber option at center would raise the ceiling in a big way. 

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