10 College Basketball Teams Set for Bounce Back Seasons in 2014
Since the season ended for Kentucky, the team's top prospect declared for the NBA draft where he could go No. 1, the team's leading scorer also declared for the draft and the team's starting point guard decided to transfer.
That's a team headed south, huh? (Sound off loud buzzer.)
The smell of redemption is in the air in Lexington as they cannot wait until November to get here so they can wash themselves from the stink of an NIT season.
You cannot keep a program like Kentucky down for long, and to a lesser degree, that's the case for the nine other schools on this list as well.
In March, this was the "wait 'til next year" crowd. For one reason or another, each had a down year in 2013, but there's plenty of promise ahead in 2014.
Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are one of the best backcourts in college basketball that you didn't hear much about last season. The reason for that was Connecticut faced a one-year postseason ban.
It could be a long time before Connecticut misses the tournament again. The Huskies have a chance to become the perennial dominant team in the new American Athletic Conference. That's assuming the Huskies don't end up in another conference, which is a risky assumption to make.
Louisville will be the favorite in 2013-14 in its only season in the league, but the outlook is promising for Kevin Ollie's team for next season and beyond. Ollie returns all five starters and his seven leading scorers on a team that went 20-10 and 10-8 in the Big East.
Xavier missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2005 and the first time under Chris Mack.
As consistent as Mack had been, it was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease.
The Musketeers still performed fairly well, finishing 17-14 and 9-7 in a tough Atlantic 10. The next challenge will be navigating their way through the new Big East. That should be made a bit easier thanks to the return of guard Semaj Christon.
Mack allowed Christon to be a ball-dominant guard as a freshman, and he averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists. Xavier has had a good run of strong guard play, and that's why the program has been so consistent. Betting on Christon and Mack next season would be a smart play.
If a coach wanted to make excuses for why his team didn't reach the NCAA tournament last year, Steve Lavin would win that contest.
Here are a few:
- St. John's started all freshmen and sophomores.
- Lavin missed two games in February after his father died. His team was 15-8 overall and 7-4 in the Big East before those two games.
- St. John's leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison was suspended for the final six games of the season, five of which St. John's lost.
Here's the good news for Lavin: Everyone is back for 2013-14, including Harrison. The Red Storm will also get a lift from 5-star point guard Rysheed Jordan, who should help an offense that shot poorly from outside (24.9 percent from three in Big East play) and rarely got to the free-throw line.
Lavin has filled his roster with athletes, which didn't exactly lead to great offense, but it did benefit the defense. The Red Storm led the country in blocked shots per game (7.3), and freshman big man Chris Obekpa ranked first in block percentage, according to KenPom.com.
With a defense that should only get better and an offense that has to get better, the Red Storm have the potential to be one of the most improved teams in the country.
Washington went 18-16 last year and could be labeled an underachiever considering the talent and experience Lorenzo Romar had.
The offseason has given the program reason to see the glass as half full. It started with the news that guard C.J. Wilcox had decided to come back for his senior season.
Romar could get more good news if UNLV transfer Mike Moser decides to play his final season at Washington. Moser will be eligible right away, and CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman reported in early April that Moser was leaning toward Washington. He later tweeted that Oregon had "closed the gap."
Whether Moser decides to join the Huskies or not, there's plenty of reason to hope. For one, Wilcox played late in the year with a nagging foot injury. Romar signed McDonald's All-American point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who shined in the McDonald's game, scoring 10 points and dishing out six assists.
In addition to Williams-Goss, the Huskies will add forward Perris Blackwell, who averaged 12.6 points per game in 2011-12 for San Francisco. Those three with the addition of Moser could form one of the Pac-12's best offenses.
Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in college basketball that probably doesn't get enough credit.
The Boilermakers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2006, which was Painter's first year and also around the time Robbie Hummel enrolled. Life was tough without Hummel.
Painter went from coaching a team that seemed to always have experience to starting three freshmen. It was a transition year, and Purdue still managed to go 8-10 in a loaded Big Ten.
With the team's three leading scorers returning—Terone Johnson, A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson—along with the addition of three talented freshmen, that should be enough ammo for Painter to sneak back in the tourney.
This is another team on the list mostly because of its coach.
Bob Huggins had not coached a losing team since 1985. Surely, it can't happen again, right?
Huggins signed the No. 26th-ranked class, according to Rivals.com, and he returns some players with potential, most notably freshmen wings Eron Harris and Terry Henderson.
West Virginia also should expect better seasons from transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray. Part of the reason that Staten, a pass-first point guard, struggled was that he didn't have great options to pass to. Murray spent part of last season in Huggins' doghouse, but he's a pro prospect and needs to play better as a senior to get a shot at the NBA.
With the Big 12 down, Huggins has the pieces to at least finish in the top-half of the league.
Kevin Stallings had loaded up to make a run in 2011-12. That team won 25 games, beat eventual national champion Kentucky for the SEC tournament crown and had three players drafted in the 2012 NBA draft.
What was leftover was a roster highlighted by two players who had averaged 3.1 and 2.4 points per game in 2012.
Considering Stallings had to replace the top seven players in his rotation, the Commodores went a very respectable 16-17 overall and 8-10 in the SEC. They also won six of their final eight games, including a run in the SEC tournament with wins over Arkansas and Kentucky.
This time around everyone is back. Stallings also adds center Damian Jones, the eighth-ranked center according to Rivals.com, and point guard Eric McClellan, who started 16 games for Tulsa as a freshman in 2012.
Tennessee big man Jeronne Maymon had to redshirt this past season when his recovery from knee surgery did not go as quickly as expected.
Maymon's do-over at his senior year could be a blessing in disguise. The Vols have one of the SEC's most talented rosters returning as Maymon, a second-team All-SEC performer as a junior, will join 2013 first-teamer Jordan McRae and second-teamer Jarnell Stokes. McRae and Stokes helped the Vols win eight of nine to finish the SEC regular season.
Tennessee also adds 5-star shooting guard Robert Hubbs. If you're looking for a darkhorse pick to shock Kentucky and win the SEC, this would be it.
In the last four years, Scott Drew has coached two Elite Eight teams and two teams that missed the NCAA tournament entirely.
So, naturally, next year's team will probably make an Elite Eight run.
This past season was a bad look for the Bears until the postseason. Baylor had the most talented roster that did not make the NCAA tournament, and the proof was Baylor's steamroll through the NIT.
Next year the Bears will be without stud point guard Pierre Jackson, but they return two big men who would have been drafted had they left early (Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin). Reserve big man Rico Gathers is another who could end up as a pro.
The one hole for Drew's team was a wing with good size who would allow Drew to switch back and forth between man and a 2-3 zone as he was able to do the year before. Drew filled that hole with 6'5" swingman Ishmail Wainright. He also signed a JUCO point guard, Kenny Chery, to replace Jackson.
Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 tourney team that returns most of its pieces, and the conference will be down. Even with the loss of Jackson, Baylor should fare much better and get back to the tournament.
Forget this is Kentucky for a moment.
What if I were to tell you that a team would make the NIT and then its coach would be able to handpick his freshmen class from the best prospects in America? And that team would be the pick by most to win the NCAA title the next season. Would you believe it?
I would tell you to come back from that fantasy land, but fantasy land is where Big Blue Nation is able to reside. Calipari was essentially able to handpick which players he wanted to sign. Any of UK's top six would be the headline prospect for most programs.
I'm hesitant to pick the Wildcats as the preseason favorite to win the title before watching all these blue-chippers take the court together, but even if a few disappoint, the 'Cats should have what would be considered a bounce-back year for any other program.
Calipari had talent this past year, but there's simply too much talent this time around for it to go as wrong as it went in 2013.