College basketball fantasy draft: Three teams, eight rounds and the country's 24 best players

The reigning Wooden Award winner returns for a season -- and was always going to be a sought-after pick in our mock draft. Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022-23 men's college basketball season is fast approaching -- and with it, the inevitable lists of best players. Instead of the traditional rankings, however, ESPN's team of Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Myron Medcalf considered a different approach this time around: What if they held a college basketball mock draft, with each building a fantasy team of eight players, including five starters and three reserves?

Armed with stats and their expertise, the would-be GMs chose a draft method (snake) and an order (determined by birthday). There were also two stipulations. One, each general manager couldn't draft more than one player from a particular team. Additionally, each team needed to include a mid-major player not from Gonzaga.

Eight rounds and a bonus coach pick later, here are the top 24 players entering the 2022-23 season, according to our experts. Which team looks best heading into the new season? Read on for their reasoning -- and ribbing. And jump to the full rosters here.

Round 1, No. 1 pick (Jeff Borzello)
Oscar Tshiebwe, C, Kentucky Wildcats

I initially didn't want the No. 1 pick, just because I wanted to see how my opponents would approach the draft. Would they lean toward taking the best NBA talent or toward proven college players? Still, it didn't take me long to decide: the reigning consensus National Player of the Year, the guy who shattered all sorts of records and put up 30 points and 16 rebounds in his final game last season. Done and done.

Round 1, No. 2 pick (John Gasaway)
Trayce Jackson-Davis, C, Indiana Hoosiers

See, this is why I tried to trade up in the draft. Reigning Wooden Award winners aren't usually available for the taking the following season. Well done, Jeff! Right, Jackson-Davis. One of the last times we saw him, he was effectively going toe-to-toe (31 points) with Iowa's Keegan Murray (32) in the Big Ten tournament, and it appears picking Murray at No. 4 in the NBA draft less than four months ago could work out pretty well for the Sacramento Kings. Also, I like old guys in this strange new college hoops era of ours, and TJD will greet March as a 23-year-old geezer.

Round 1, No. 3 pick (Myron Medcalf)
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Jeff did a great job grabbing the best player in college basketball. Someone else might have picked a player with more NBA upside. That would have been the wrong choice. And Gasaway is one of the smartest minds in the sport. But I saw too many moments last season when Jackson-Davis fell short in big moments. I'm not trying to win the Big Ten. I want the national championship. So I'll take Gonzaga's best player during last season's Sweet 16 run. Chet Holmgren showcased enough of his elite gifts in the NCAA tournament to secure a top-three spot in the NBA draft. But Timme (27.3 PPG, 11.3 PPG in the 2022 NCAA tournament), who might be entering his 19th season, will make another run at the Wooden Award this season.

Tyger Campbell's buzzer-beater gives UCLA 10-point lead at halftime

UCLA finishes the first half in style as Tyger Campbell lays it in to put the Bruins up by double digits.

Round 2, No. 4 pick (Medcalf)
Tyger Campbell, G, UCLA Bruins

Um, where are the point guards? I'm not sure. In a world where every guard is a combo guard now, it's difficult to find a pure PG to run a team. But I think Campbell's growth over the past three seasons has been overlooked. Last year, he shot 41% from 3 and 84% from the free throw line. He also had a career-best turnover rate (12.9%). And, after playing in Los Angeles, he won't be intimidated in a locker room full of stars.

Round 2, No. 5 pick (Gasaway)
Nick Smith Jr., G, Arkansas Razorbacks

Did I say something about liking old geezers? That's fine as far as it goes, but last year, teenagers such as Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero looked pretty good too. With that in mind, I'll nab Smith before one of you guys gets him. At 6-foot-5, the No. 3 pick in the 2022 recruiting class already appears to be both an efficient volume scorer and a smooth decision-maker as an 18-year-old lead guard. Every word in that sentence says "lottery pick," but Smith should first give the Razorbacks one special year. A shooter and distributor who also finishes.

Round 2, No. 6 pick (Borzello)
Jaime Jaquez Jr., F, UCLA Bruins

I would have taken Smith; I just love his size, his ability to create for himself and others, as well as his outside shooting. But Jaquez (and my next pick) are great consolation prizes. Jaquez is a matchup nightmare for most opponents, and he should be fully healthy next season. I generally don't like to construct two-big lineups, so he should slot in nicely at the four.

The best of Marcus Sasser in 2021

Check out the top plays from Houston's Marcus Sasser, who's season was cut short due to injury.

Round 3, No. 7 pick (Borzello)
Marcus Sasser, G, Houston Cougars

A fully healthy Sasser is one of the premier scorers in college basketball. He was averaging 17.7 points and shooting 43.7% from 3 until his season was shut down 12 games in because of a foot injury. There aren't many elite multidimensional scorers who can really shoot, so Sasser felt like good value here. In stark contrast to my roots in covering recruiting, I've started my roster with two 22-year-olds and a 21-year-old.

Round 3, No. 8 pick (Gasaway)
Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina Tar Heels

Let's not overthink this. Bacot closed last season with eight consecutive double-doubles spanning the ACC and NCAA tournaments. That run included his downright Tshiebwe-like 21-rebound effort in just 33 minutes against Duke in the Final Four. With Bacot, I get a two-way rebounding machine and volume 2-point scorer who also happens to be a returning first-team All-ACC performer and, oh, yes, the 2022 East Region Most Outstanding Player. That'll do.

Round 3, No. 9 pick (Medcalf)
Jalen Wilson, F, Kansas Jayhawks

I'm so jealous of these previous four picks. I probably should've grabbed Smith. He's a star. Jaquez can blend with any team. Sasser was Houston's best player before his injury. And Bacot led his team to the national title game. Great job, fellas. Instead, I'll take the versatile standout who was vital in Kansas' national title run in March. He's a projected wing at the next level but also an interchangeable big in Bill Self's potent small-ball lineups. Plus, he can guard multiple spots. I think the All-Big 12 third-teamer could have a breakout season and build off his 15-point effort in the championship win over North Carolina.

Hunter Dickinson makes beautiful dish for a basket

Hunter Dickinson makes a nice pass to set up an Eli Brooks.

Round 4, No. 10 pick (Medcalf)
Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan Wolverines

OK, I probably need a guard who can score here. I know. But I can't pass up another player with legit Wooden Award aspirations. Dickinson scored 48 points combined in matchups against Colorado State and Tennessee in the NCAA tournament before struggling in a 6-for-15 effort in the Wolverines' loss to Villanova. But he's back, and he's prepped for another strong campaign under Juwan Howard.

Round 4, No. 11 pick (Gasaway)
Hunter Maldonado, G, Wyoming Cowboys

"With the 11th pick in the ESPN.com college basketball draft, John Gasaway ..." elects to keep this Hunter streak going. My team needs a steady veteran presence in the backcourt alongside young Nick Smith Jr. Maldonado fits that profile perfectly. And I'm taking zero "Who's going to have the ball?" snickering from either of you, understood? A rotation can never have too many lead guards. When he's not lobbing exquisite assists for Graham Ike dunks, the 6-7 Maldonado is often backing his typically bewildered "Hey, no fair! I'm a guard!" defender down into the paint.

Round 4, No. 12 pick (Borzello)
Cameron Whitmore, F, Villanova Wildcats

I'm not sure where I'm going to use Whitmore, but I've been enamored with his game ever since I saw him at the 2021 Peach Jam. He has a motor that never stops running, he's elite in transition, has a strong and powerful body that allows him to finish through contact, and he simply finds ways to be productive. And he's getting top-10 NBA draft buzz. He might be my sixth man, he might start in bigger lineups, I don't know -- I just know I wanted him on my team.

Round 5, No. 13 pick (Borzello)
Kendric Davis, G, Memphis Tigers

I needed a point guard, and at this point, there weren't a ton of options. But Davis stood out. He was the No. 1 player in the portal last spring, the 2022 AAC Player of the Year and has put up huge scoring and assist numbers over the past three seasons. He's also a 37% outside shooter. A 5-11 and 6-2 (Sasser) backcourt isn't ideal, but we'll make it work. My coach will have some ideas.

Bolton buries the smooth 3-pointer for Gonzaga

Rasir Bolton is smooth as silk as he crosses his defender and drills the step-back 3-pointer to extend the Bulldogs' lead.

Round 5, No. 14 pick (Gasaway)
Rasir Bolton, G, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Bolton is my pick for national breakout fifth-year senior of the year in 2023. He should get a few more possessions thrown his way this season, and we're also talking about a natural featured scorer who averaged two made 3s per outing in 2021-22 on 46% shooting. Plus, Bolton is older than Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett. He has emerged from the collapse of not one but two coaching regimes (at Penn State and Iowa State). True survivor.

Round 5, No. 15 pick (Medcalf)
Caleb Love, G, North Carolina Tar Heels

I love the Bolton pick, Gasaway. A smart veteran who finally gets a slice of the spotlight on a team with national title aspirations. Kudos. Love will play that role for North Carolina this year. He'll boost my backcourt, too. And yes, I can hear the doubters around a player who can be both brilliant and misguided. But I'm banking on the Caleb Love who scored 28 points in the Final Four win over Duke -- not the guy who went 5-for-24 in the national championship game.

Round 6, No. 16 pick (Medcalf)
Dereck Lively, C, Duke Blue Devils

I watched him practice in Durham. I was impressed. I need more bounce and explosiveness on my roster, and this projected lottery pick has plenty of both. We're going to turn him into 2014-15 Willie Cauley-Stein, who helped the Wildcats win their first 38 games of the season. I think he gives us a spark we're missing with his energy. Big dunks, big blocks. His presence changes the vibe on our team. But damn, I have a lot of big men. I believe I've assembled a team that will be a contender in the 2005-06 Big East race.

Murray brothers combine for 42 points vs. Michigan

Keegan and Kris Murray combine for 42 points as they lead Iowa to a 82-71 win over Michigan.

Round 6, No. 17 pick (Gasaway)
Kris Murray, F, Iowa Hawkeyes

Never mind his relatives. Murray in his own right was one of the most efficient scorers in the Big Ten as a sophomore last season, albeit in limited minutes. It's not a stretch to think he might earn more starts this season than he did in 2021-22 (one). I'll take a guy who personally accounted for 26% of his team's shot attempts while he was on the floor for what was, along with Purdue, the Big Ten's best offense.

Round 6, No. 18 pick (Borzello)
Max Abmas, G, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Gasaway keeps throwing curveballs -- Maldonado, Bolton, Murray. I'm intrigued to see how his roster turns out. I likely would've gone with Lively as a versatile frontcourt player had Myron not selected him, but I also needed an offensive spark off the bench. Abmas fits that perfectly as one of the most prolific scorers and shooters in the country the past two seasons, and he also checks off our mid-major criteria.

Round 7, No. 19 pick (Borzello)
Keyonte George, G, Baylor Bears

More scoring -- and finally, a guard with some size (he measured nearly 6-5 at the Hoop Summit last spring). George was one of the elite scorers in the 2022 high school class, and he made waves with his performances in Canada with Baylor this summer. He rounds out my backcourt alongside Davis, Sasser and Abmas. It's a quartet that will really put pressure on defenses with its shot-making.

Round 7, No. 20 pick (Gasaway)
Adama Sanogo, C, UConn Huskies

Do I have the best frontcourt depth in history or what? Sanogo was actually taking more shots during his minutes last season than either Jackson-Davis or Bacot. He's a tireless rebounder who defends the rim, and as a sophomore his accuracy at the line shot up by 11 percentage points. The trajectory looks really interesting for Sanogo.

Round 7, No. 21 pick (Medcalf)
Matt Bradley, G, San Diego State Aztecs

Borzello's backcourt is just downright scary. Love the George pick. And I like Sanogo a lot, man. Hey, Gasaway, I think the Los Angeles Lakers could use your personnel insights. This is where my team gets older and better. The 23-year-old wing made 48% of his 3-point attempts in league play last season. And he'll get a lot of solid looks with Gasaway's and Borzello's squads sending help to stop my bigs in the paint. I think Bradley will be an All-American sleeper this season.

Round 8, No. 22 pick (Medcalf)
Will Richardson, G, Oregon Ducks

Richardson averaged 14.1 PPG and shot 39% from 3 for Dana Altman's squad last season. He's also 23 years old. One thing that's clear to me about the one-and-done era: Young teams rarely win national championships in college basketball. Richardson adds more experience to my crew. And now that he's healthy -- he missed the end of last season with an unspecified injury -- he'll be ready to take the next step in his game. I think he'll stabilize my bench, too.

Round 8, No. 23 pick (Gasaway)
Jordan 'Jelly' Walker, G, UAB Blazers

That sound you hear is my evil and supremely confident cackle. All my team needs to mercilessly dominate both of you guys is proven 3-point shooting at a high volume. Walker brings that to the table, to the tune of 3.4 makes per game on 40% shooting last season.

Castleton puts Florida up late with a jam

Colin Castleton rises up for a jam to put Florida up over Iona.

Round 8, No. 24 pick (Borzello)
Colin Castleton, C, Florida Gators

I badly needed a backup big, and I assumed I could wait and just take the best of whichever post player was still available. In retrospect, I probably should have taken Sanogo and then gone with Dariq Whitehead as my final pick. I also could have probably gone with Zach Edey instead of Castleton, just because of his size against some of the jumbo lineups my two opponents will trot out. But Castleton was terrific last season at Florida and held his own defensively as well. I do regret not grabbing Whitehead somewhere along the way, however.

... And a bonus coach pick

Borzello: Rick Pitino, Iona Gaels

I'm assuming this hypothetical season would basically be a couple of exhibition games against my two opponents, and there's no better one-off coach in the game than Pitino. I think my roster fits how he'd like to play, too: an experienced team with a slew of versatile players at the one through four spots, a quartet of shot-makers and offensive-minded guards, players who excel in transition and a couple of anchors at center.

I've got the most talent on my roster, and now I have the best tactician too. Championship, here we come.

Gasaway: Drew Valentine, Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Maybe I'm ridiculous, but when it comes to coaches, I'm all about what you've done for me lately. Take your average Hall of Famer, rename him John Gasaway, look at his past 30 or 60 games, and would we really genuflect with awe? I'm not saying Valentine is destined to be John Wooden Jr. or anything, but I was impressed by his calm and effective stewardship of a successful program as a rookie head coach. Plus, my players won't need the obligatory cool, young assistant to translate what the old guy's going on about.

Medcalf: John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats

I think even Drew Valentine might say you're ridiculous, Gasaway. But any guy that age who gets that job at that stage of his career must be special. And I like the Pitino pick, Jeff. If you give him high-level talent, he usually gets to the Final Four. That's his history. But I'll go with his rival. I have a lot of egos in my locker room. There are a bunch of guys vying for national awards and hoping to elevate their respective draft stock. A challenge for any coach, but just another day for Calipari. He's the best ego manager in the business. And he'll let these guys run an offense that'll allow them to play to their strengths. Calipari with Wooden Award candidates, a handful of elite playmakers and a couple talented shooters? Should we just cut the nets down now or wait until April?