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Looking back at the biggest storylines of the 2022-23 college hoops season

From the Champions Classic to Monday’s title game, it was a big year in college hoops

North Carolina v Marquette Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Every sport has a season. No major sport that I know of operates year-round without an offseason, and the different structures of each sport’s season lend to their beauty and thrill.

Baseball is long and teams are playing almost every single day from the end of March to the end of September as they play 162 games before they even start the playoffs, but college basketball is short and sweet. Teams play one to three times a week for four months, and then for two weeknights, two four-day weekends, one Saturday, and one Monday get smashed together in a particle collider of utter craziness.

The offseason is two full months longer than the season itself, but that only makes the winter and early spring hoops of America’s college campuses that much more anticipated, hyped, and packed with all kinds of storylines that get talked about even in the summer. Let’s roll back some of the biggest talking points, headlines, and results of this past season.

Preseason favorite North Carolina collapses and misses NCAA Tournament

After stunning college basketball with a run to the title game last season as an 8-seed that only managed to land inside the field of 68 after a late-season surge, the Tar Heels entered the year the consensus preseason #1 after bringing back nearly the entire roster. Yet that roster was also the same one that struggled most of the season prior, and there was no February rally to save them this time. In 2022-2023, North Carolina became the first AP preseason #1 to miss the NCAA Tournament entirely, as when the dust settled on Selection Sunday they found themselves in the First Four Out. Everyone thought they’d find a way to slide in right at the end, but a severe lack of Quad 1 wins doomed them in the end.

Kentucky flirts with disaster time and again but steadies ship to avoid UNC’s fate

Part of what made the UNC story so big was that for much of the season, UK was on the exact same downward trajectory after starting as the #4 preseason team and a projected 1-seed. After a shocking home loss to South Carolina on January 10th that dropped the ‘Cats to 10-6, some fans were even calling for Coach Cal to take a hike and hope seemed almost lost for an NCAA bid. Unlike UNC, however, the ‘Cats clawed back, vaulting comfortably into the field at 21-11 with two critical victories over eventual 4-seed Tennessee combined with SEC road victories that separated their final destiny from that of the Tar Heels. They almost reached the Sweet Sixteen too, prevailing against Providence to get the no-tourney-wins-since-the-dinosaurs monkey off their back and coming just short against hero-baller Markquis Nowell and Kansas State.

Louisville loss tracker adds up all season as Cards have historically horrendous season

When the Louisville Cardinals dropped a preseason exhibition game 57-47 against Lenoir-Rhyne on October 30th, the Kenny Payne Era officially began, to the agony of Cards fans everywhere. They attracted the national spotlight in every way you don’t want to as they broke record after record with their awful performances on the hardwood, dropping their first three games to Bellarmine, Wright State, and Appalachian State in the Yum! Center all by a point each before flying to Maui—and they didn’t lose those by just one point. By the time they finally managed a win over Western Kentucky after starting 0-9, they had already posted their worst start since 1940-41 and the second worst start in modern history (and only because California was concurrently sliding to 0-11 right next to them!) When the 1st round of the ACC Tournament finally brought their season to a close at 4-28, they had made it official: their 2022-2023 season had the most losses in any year of Cardinals history. I’ve never seen a dumpster burn bright red before, but that’s what happened from October to March nonstop on the banks of the Ohio.

Kansas State goes from picked last to 3rd and Elite Eight in Jerome Tang’s first year

Dead last. That’s where K-State was “supposed” to finish we all thought in October. Yet Jerome Tang had a roster and an attack no one saw coming, and the Wildcats started 15-1, triumphed at Texas 116-103 without overtime, beat arch-rival Kansas in Manhattan, and finished 3rd in the standings as they earned the 3-seed in the East region. From there they proved Big 12 play and non-con weren’t flukes, knocking out Kentucky and Michigan State on their way to the Elite Eight where they came up just short against Florida Atlantic 79-76. The Michigan State game in particular cemented the status of Markquis Nowell as a Kansas State legend, where his pass to Keyontae Johnson for a reverse slam in overtime filled highlight reels all weekend. All this in Jerome Tang’s first season as a D-1 coach—an amazing success story.

Brandon Miller and Alabama earn #1 overall seed but under extreme heat amid scandal

The Alabama Crimson Tide had a season so dominant it rivaled their football team in ‘22-’23 behind star forward Brandon Miller, but after January 15th when Michael Davis and Alabama reserve forward Darius Miles were charged with capital murder, their season was never the same. Word got out that Miller was involved with the scandal, delivering the gun to the scene, and while the investigation continued throughout the winter Nate Oats’s decision to allow Miller to continue playing turned fanbases across the country on the Crimson Tide, booing with rage in every one of their games and grumbling bitterly as Miller led them to the #1 overall seed. By the time the Sweet Sixteen rolled around, the demise of their regions 2, 3, and 4 seeds and utter chaos in the East region below left the possibility that what had become America’s most vocally disliked team would probably win the national championship. Yet San Diego State shut them down in the Yum! Center, Miller declared for the draft some days later, and Nate Oats and the Tide are heading into the offseason hoping that all the heat is behind them.

Florida Atlantic’s regular season romp and Final Four run

Every year we get a mid-major that storms through their schedule and heads into their conference tournament not even needing the auto-bid, but 31-3 Florida Atlantic, who had only ever had one NCAA Tournament appearance in their program’s history, turned out to not only be the best mid-major but one of the best teams in the country. Scoring under the rim with two seconds left to escape the Memphis Tigers in the Round of 64, they went on one of the greatest Final Four runs of all time, slightly benefitted from being just the second 8/9 team to draw a 16 in the Round of 32 but completely justified with back-to-back triumphs over Tennessee and Kansas State before coming a missed San Diego State buzzer-beater away from becoming the lowest seed to ever reach the title game. Almost the entire roster is returning next year, as is Dusty May, who has cemented his legacy at FAU forever and will be looking to play at a top 25 level come next November.

A 16 seed wins again

Can NCAA Tournaments get any crazier? Not only did a 15-seed win in the Round of 64 for the third straight season, but 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson, coming out of the First Four play in game, toppled Purdue 63-58 in a true David vs. Goliath game as their shortest team in D-1 bested the tallest team in D-1, led by NPOY Zach Edey. We’d seen it before with UMBC against Virginia, but this one felt far more shocking, more unfathomable, yet as the final buzzer sounded there they were celebrating. Now every 16-seed sent to the First Four knows their game matters, and anyone can go to Dayton as just a starting point for deeper March runs. Massive exclamation point on a wild tournament.

Bizarre NCAA Tournament culminates in unprecedented Final Four

For the first time since 1970, three of the four teams in Houston were making their Final Four debut. For the first time in Final Four history, there were no 1, 2, or 3-seeds to be found. Dan Hurley’s 4-seeded UConn Huskies, Jim Larranaga’s 5-seeded Miami Hurricanes, Brian Dutcher’s 5-seeded San Diego State Aztecs, and Dusty May’s 9-seeded Florida Atlantic Owls were a sight to see on graphics everywhere. Never has a Final Four quite like this year’s been assembled, and four remarkable stories had immediately been written. The coach who took George Mason on one of the greatest mid-major tournament runs of all time was back with banner-deprived Miami, immediately across the bracket from a living all-time great mid-major run in FAU. The Mountain West’s tournament woes were known far and wide, yet the one team that escaped the first round found themselves in the last round also—the first team from the conference to ever play for a national title. Dan Hurley’s Huskies had seen their previous two tournament trips end in first round upsets, but when they cut down six nets on their way to the national title they did it with all double-digit victories. You never know what you’ll get each hoops season, and that’s probably why so many of the headlines are so big—because no one has any idea what direction they came from.