Back in January, CBS Sports found that since the ABA and NBA merged in 1976, every college basketball national champion yielded at least one top-30 pick in the NBA Draft. Forty-four of those 45 teams produced a first-round pick, with only 1987 Indiana failing to hit that checkpoint because there were only 23 first-round picks at the time (Steve Alford went with the No. 26 overall pick). That trend continued this past season with Kansas winning the national championship in large part thanks to Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, who went No. 14 and No. 21 overall, respectively, in June’s draft.
Obviously, having a first-round pick doesn’t make a team a national title contender, nor does the 46-year streak of top-30 picks mean that the 2022-23 title-winner is guaranteed to have one. However, it’s been an indicator to track. And while some first-round picks aren’t truly on our radars right now — Braun, for example, wouldn’t have been a projected first-round pick at this point a year ago — generally speaking, most of the top prospects were considered such well ahead of traditional mock draft season.
So, as a fun exercise, we looked at Kyle Boone’s recent never-too-early 2023 NBA Mock Draft to see which teams project to have a first-round talent on their roster. As a reference, we’ve added where those teams sit in Gary Parrish’s Top 25 and 1. Not every team with a potential first-round pick will eventually be in the running to win a national title, but the baseline at leaves gives a glimmer of hope for the following programs:
Drew Timme may be back for the Bulldogs, but it’s Julian Strawther (No. 17) and Nolan Hickman (No. 29) who slip into the first round here. Strawther tested the waters this spring after averaging 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 36.5% from 3. Hickman could slide into Andrew Nembhard’s point guard spot as a sophomore after producing 5.1 points and 1.3 assists in 17.2 minutes per game as a key freshman reserve. Top 25 And 1 rank: 1
The Cougars look like a top-five team in 2022-23 with Kelvin Sampson bringing in five-star power forward Jarace Walker (No. 18) to go with scoring guard Marcus Sasser (No. 28). Walker already has a pro-ready body and earned strong reviews in workouts, while Sasser averaged 17.7 points per game and shot 43.7% from 3 before suffering a season-ending injury. Top 25 And 1 rank: 3
NBA teams are looking for 3-and-D archetypes, but often the latter part of that equation is a little less valued. But in freshmen Cason Wallace (No. 7) and Chris Livingston (No. 27), Kentucky has two players who are likely to embrace work on the defensive end right away. It’s the shooting element that could determine just how high they go next summer. Top 25 And 1 rank: 4
The Blue Devils signed the top-ranked class in the 247Sports Composite in Jon Scheyer’s first year on the trail as Duke head coach. That includes three of the top four players, according to 247Sports, in Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead and Kyle Filipowski. Whitehead actually slides ahead of Lively in Boone’s mock draft, with the former going No. 8 and Lively picked at No. 12. Filipowski also earned first-round pick status at No. 21. Top 25 And 1 rank: 5
The Razorbacks landed the No. 2 recruiting class in the 247Sports Composite thanks to three five-star prospects. All three of those players made it into Boone’s predicted first round with Nick Smith (No. 4) and Anthony Black (No. 9) sliding into the lottery and Jordan Walsh following at No. 22. Top 25 And 1 rank: 6
Keyonte George had a strong Baylor debut in dropping 32 points in 28 minutes against Italy in the GLOBL Jam. A pure scorer and the No. 8 player according to 247Sports checked in at No. 10 in Boone’s mock draft. Top 25 And 1 rank: 7
The Jayhawks brought in arguably the best shooter in the 2022 class in 6-foot-7 guard Gradey Dick. And while Dick faces a heated battle to earn a first-team job — the final spot next to Kevin McCullar and Jalen Wilson is likely to go to Dick, fellow freshman MJ Rice or sophomore Bobby Pettiford — he lands a spot in Boone’s mock at No. 24. Top 25 And 1 rank: 8
The Volunteers inked the No. 18 player in the country in 247Sports’ rankings in Julian Phillips, a 6-foot-8 wing. And the high-potential freshman could use his combination of length and athleticism to leave school early, with Boone projecting Phillips as the No. 23 pick. Top 25 And 1 rank: 9
An athletic combo guard, Amari Bailey finished the 2022 recruiting cycle as the ninth-best player in 247Sports’ rankings. And while the Bruins have some older players to soak up the pressure, Bailey should be an impact player and a top 20 (No. 19 on Boone’s mock draft) pick. Top 25 And 1 rank: 10
Arthur Kaluma averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, but showcased his potential with 24 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and four made 3-pointers in the Bluejays’ tight loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. He just slips into the lottery here at No. 13. Top 25 And 1 rank: 11
Chris Beard received good news when three starters elected to return to Austin. However, it also didn’t hurt to add in some outside pop, and that’s what he did with five-star athlete Dillon Mitchell, who could use that athleticism and defensive potential to go No. 11, where Boone has him. Top 25 And 1 rank: 12
Cam Whitmore should be one of college basketball’s most dynamic players as a freshman with a combination of power, aggression and athleticism. That led Boone to put Whitmore just outside the top five in his mock draft, at No. 6. Top 25 And 1 rank: 15
Kel’el Ware shot up the rankings to No. 6, according to 247Sports. And while the five-star 7-footer has top-five draft potential, he was the first pick outside the lottery at No. 15 in Boone’s mock draft. Ware is a bit raw, but his tools with his length could lead to a one-and-done existence. Top 25 And 1 rank: 20