GCU, ASU head-to-neck in CBS Sports’ Basketball Top-100 for 2022-23

Grand Canyon State will have a strong say in the college basketball ecosystem this year.

Widely considered a top-25 team, the Arizona Wildcats ranked 17th for men’s basketball in The Associated Press’ preseason poll.

Down the valley, the Arizona State Sun Devils and Grand Canyon Antelopes have goals for the NCAA tournament, and reasonable ones at that.

For CBS Sports, Matt Norlander’s annual preseason ritual of ranking every college hoops this season was reduced to a top-100 (and one), and these three Arizona varsities made the list. Arizona came in 19th, but interestingly, Norlander has GCU just ahead of ASU, in 79th versus the 80th-place Sun Devils.

Last season, WAC’s top five teams in the league lost either four or five times. More of the same could be in store for 2023 and six teams are proud of their chances of attending the conference. But because of its accumulation of talent and its depth, I will choose Grand Canyon to run like some runaway antelope.

For reasons to believe the Antelopes can make a run under coach Bryce Drew, who has a 40-15 start in two seasons at GCU, Norlander points to returning guard Jovan Blacksher as well as perimeter transfers Presbyterian and Rayshon Harrison Noah Bauman from Georgia.

Blacksher averaged 15.8 points, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals last season as a junior and shot 39% from three.

The 6-foot-4 Harrison averaged 17.1 points but also 3.0 assists for Presbyterian a season ago. Throw in the 6ft 6 Baumann, a high-volume 41% three-point shooter, and there’s plenty of ground clearance and playmaking between this trio.

Grand Canyon was predicted as the winner of the conference in the WAC preseason poll.

As for the Sun Devils, there’s a lot the team could swing. First on that list is the health and performance of Marcus Bagley, a former NBA draft prospect who only played 15 games in his first two years at Tempe.

Marcus Bagley, it seems you have a big season ahead of you. Bagley should be ASU’s best player. Hurley also has DJ Horne back after averaging 12.1 points in the backcourt. The big signing is Desmond Cambridge, who scored 16-a-night in Nevada. Yet another difficult Pac-12 read. Hurley may have to get the NCAAs to stay for Year 9.

Bagley has averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in his small sample of appearances at ASU.

The Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, a relatively confident vote by media researchers for a team with a decent amount of turnover amid a muddled conference.

And as for the rival Wildcats, two returning starters have an opportunity to grow after losing three teammates to the NBA.

Azuolas Tubelis is the U of A’s best player, a talented option down the middle flanked in the lead up by Oumar Ballo, a senior recruited from Lloyd zu Gonzaga. Ballo has limitations, but there’s a flash of fun talent. In the guard game, Arizona should remain fun as hell and competitive: Kerr Kriisa is a nasty trash-talker who doesn’t take trash from anyone, and Texas transfer Courtney Ramey could be a sweet addition to the playstyle. The guaranteed breakout player: Pelle Larson has looked great all offseason and should be a solid pick on offense.

Tubelis averaged 13.9 points from time with 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season.

Kriisa finished with 9.7 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 33.6% from three-point range.

And Larsson expects to move into a starting role after averaging 7.2 points, with an overall average of 48% and a strong full-back last season.

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