Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men's basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport's landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions, and will post the results over a three-week span.

I posted Version 1.0 of the CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1 college basketball rankings immediately after the title game of the 2023 NCAA Tournament and have updated it a total of 19 times over the past five months. In my head, it's now clear that Kansas should be No. 1 thanks to the presence of Hall of Fame coach Bill Self and the addition of former All-American Hunter Dickinson via the transfer portal.

KU is loaded.

For what it's worth, the Jayhawks (+350) are the favorites in the betting markets to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament -- but what do college coaches think? With this in mind, we decided to wrap our annual Candid Coaches series by asking roughly 100 college basketball coaches the following question:

Who will be the best team this season?

Michigan State12.3%
Florida Atlantic2.8%

Quotes that stood out

On Kansas

  • "In my opinion, it's Kansas. They have a really good mixture of young and old guys [after] cleaning up in the portal with Hunter Dickinson, Arterio Morris, Nicolas Timberlake. Sometimes with younger teams it takes a month or two for them to be hitting on all cylinders, but with the veterans that Kansas has, this could be the team that cuts down the nets when it's all said and done."
  • "It's difficult to pick against Kansas considering how talented they are combined with the fact that they are also very experienced and deep. They have a coach that knows how to win in March, and they will not be relying on any freshmen to play starters' minutes, which I believe is important in today's college basketball landscape."
  • "Bill Self's coaching [is the difference-maker]. He wins -- and now he's got Dickinson. They're going to be awesome. Nothing against other [highly ranked preseason teams], but there's nothing quite like Kansas. They are just able to reload so well."

On Purdue

  • "Purdue could've won it all last season and they brought nearly everybody back. [Matt] Painter might get his first Final Four and his first national championship in the same year."
  • "I feel that they will utilize last year's experience similar to what Virginia did in 2019."

On Duke

  • "[Jon] Scheyer is going to get these guys playing high-level ball -- and they will play their best ball towards the end of the year as the talent gains experience and gets comfortable in playing at this level."

On Michigan State

  • "It should be Duke on paper -- but I doubt it will be. Honestly, I think the addition of Hunter Dickinson is overrated for Kansas because, while he is damn good, he also makes your defense suck. So I will go with Michigan State. Talent and experience with Tom Izzo coaching, I'll take that combination."

On Marquette

  • "[Shaka Smart's the] perfect coach for that place. Guys stayed because they know [they can win it all.]"

The takeaway

As you can see from the breakdown of votes, the coaches we polled largely agree with the betting markets and the Top 25 And 1. The coaches also made Kansas their de facto favorite to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament -- although more than half who answered picked somebody other than the Jayhawks.

Purdue got votes.

Duke got votes.

In all, 10 different schools got votes -- but 45.4% of the vote did go to Kansas with nobody else getting more than 17.9%. In other words, the Jayhawks got more than twice as many votes as anybody else, presumably because they really do check every box you need to check to have a reasonable chance to win a national championship.

Here's KU's probable starting lineup:

  • G: Dajuan Harris
  • G: Nick Timberlake
  • G: Kevin McCullar
  • F: KJ Adams
  • C: Hunter Dickinson

As I've explained before, that's a lineup with size, shooting and experience -- one so strong that five-star high school prospects Elmarko Jackson and Arterio Morris will likely begin games on the bench. Harris is arguably the country's best run-the-team point guard. Timberlake shot above 41% from 3-point range on 6.7 attempts per game last season. McCullar is a double-digit scorer and two-time Naismith Memorial Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist. Adams started 36 times for the reigning Big 12 champions last season. And Dickinson is maybe the best center in college basketball not named Zach Edey.

Those five players have already combined to play parts of 17 seasons of college basketball, which means Kansas' starting lineup should be one of the oldest in the sport. That's an advantage in this era, where teams too heavily reliant on freshmen tend to struggle more than flourish.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course.

Any single-elimination tournament that requires six straight victories to hold a trophy lends itself to upsets, which is why even the favorite in any given season is an underdog to the field. Kansas is an underdog to the field. But, on paper, the Jayhawks have long projected as the team most likely to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament, and 45.4% of the coaches we polled told us that they agree with that sentiment.

Previous Candid Coaches questions