College Basketball Players with the Biggest Shoes to Fill in 2013-14 Season

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2013

College Basketball Players with the Biggest Shoes to Fill in 2013-14 Season

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    The impact of early departures to the NBA and seniors graduating is felt by many college basketball programs every year.

    Some programs have the ability to simply reload. Others have to rebuild.

    Whether it's an incoming recruit, a transfer from another school or a player on the current roster who is expected to assume a greater role, each season provides the opportunity to fill a void left by the departure of someone else.

    As we look ahead to the 2013-14 season, here are 10 college basketball players with the biggest shoes to fill.

LaQuinton Ross: Ohio State

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    While the Buckeyes can look forward to the return of point guard Aaron Craft, Thad Matta has to replace one of the most efficient scorers in the country from last season with the departure of Deshaun Thomas.

    Thomas averaged 19.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 45 percent from the field for an Ohio State team that was built around defense.

    With Thomas taking his talents to the NBA, the team will look to LaQuinton Ross to become more consistent and serve as the primary scoring option.

    Ross was inconsistent during his sophomore season, but the light appeared to come on in the 2013 NCAA tournament, when he scored in double figures in Ohio State's final three games, including two huge buckets late in the win over Arizona.

    At 6'8" and 225 pounds, Ross has a similar build and style of play as Thomas. Now, the Buckeyes need him to become just as reliable as Thomas was.

Jabari Bird: California

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    Welcome to California, Jabari Bird. All you have to do is replace Allen Crabbe, the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year who then became the 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year.

    Crabbe averaged over 18 points per game last season and was a big part of the reason the Golden Bears finished in a tie for second place in the Pac-12 regular-season standings.

    Now, Mike Montgomery turns to Bird to make an instant impact as a freshman. Bird was a 2013 McDonald's All-American and a local Californian who is excited about playing for his hometown team.

    Known as a talented wing player who can get to the basket, Bird might score in different ways than the more perimeter-oriented Crabbe, but he will still put points on the board.

Greg Whittington: Georgetown

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    Perhaps last season would have ended differently for the Georgetown Hoyas if Greg Whittington had been on the floor in the game against Florida Gulf Coast.

    Instead, Whittington could only watch after being ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season after playing the first 13 games.

    With Whittington out, Otto Porter Jr. stepped up for the Hoyas and performed like one of the best players in the country, which is part of why he declared for the NBA draft following the end of the season.

    The roles will now reverse as Whittington has to emerge to make up for the loss of Porter.

    After averaging 12.1 points and seven rebounds per game through the first part of last season, it's clear Whittington has the ability to be a dynamic all-around player like Porter was. The key is for Whittington to play like it for an entire season.

Angel Rodriguez: Miami

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    Shane Larkin was arguably the best point guard in the country last season.

    He sparked Miami throughout the regular season and then carried the team to its first ACC tournament championship.

    Unfortunately for Jim Larranaga, Larkin joined the mass exodus of players leaving the Miami program by declaring for the NBA draft.

    It would be a surprise if the Hurricanes don't struggle next season after losing so much talent, but the team could get a big boost if Angel Rodriguez is granted a waiver by the NCAA to be eligible to play immediately after transferring from Kansas State.

    Rodriguez, who spent his first two seasons with the Wildcats, isn't nearly the playmaker or scorer Larkin was, but he could help bring some experience to a team that will badly need it.

Kenny Gaines: Georgia

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    Just when it looks like Mark Fox is about to have a great season at Georgia, he loses a talented player to the NBA.

    It happened when Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins left for the NBA after the 2011 season, and the same thing happened again after this past season when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope declared early for the NBA draft.

    After averaging 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and winning the 2013 SEC Player of the Year award, it's hard to argue with Caldwell-Pope's decision to forgo his final two seasons as a Bulldog.

    The loss of the talented guard means there is now an opportunity for Kenny Gaines to shine.

    Gaines saw limited time playing behind Caldwell-Pope but still averaged 10 minutes per game in his freshman season. He can expect to see his minutes and scoring opportunities increase as a sophomore.

    It remains to be seen whether more opportunities for Gaines will be a good or bad thing for the Bulldogs.

Sam Dower: Gonzaga

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    Sam Dower was a valuable role player during Gonzaga's incredibly successful 2012-13 season. He scored 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds while averaging 16 minutes per game.

    His role will be very different next season as the team needs him to help make up for the loss of Kelly Olynyk.

    Olynyk was a first-team All-American and led the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game while shooting over 62 percent from the field.

    It's impossible to expect Dower to replace Olynyk's production, and he's a very different player, but the Bulldogs need him to become a double-figure scorer and increase his rebounding numbers.

Josh Davis: San Diego State

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    How does San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher replace Jamaal Franklin, a two-time All-Mountain West performer? He finds one of the most remarkable transfers in the country in Josh Davis.

    Davis averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds last season at Tulane, making his numbers slightly better than the 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game Franklin averaged for the Aztecs.

    Aside from the strong statistics, Franklin also served as a consistent leader and great defender during his time at San Diego State.

    As a fifth-year senior, Davis will need to provide the same kind of strong leadership to help the Aztecs remain one of the best teams in the Mountain West.

Tyler Ennis: Syracuse

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    Syracuse's postseason hopes for 2014 are dependent upon Tyler Ennis' ability to take over the point guard position for the Orange.

    Ennis has the responsibility of replacing Michael Carter-Williams, who ranked fifth nationally in assist average with 7.3 per game. Next season, Carter-Williams will be on an NBA roster while Ennis tries to lead the Orange as a freshman.

    With talented frontcourt players like C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant all coming back next season, Ennis will have plenty of guys around him to distribute the ball to who can help take the pressure off of him.

    Still, it's difficult to predict how a freshman point guard will transition to being the starter at one of the most high-profile programs in the country.

Andrew Wiggins: Kansas

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    Ben McLemore, one of the best freshmen in the country, declared for the NBA draft after only one season at Kansas.

    No problem for Bill Self—he goes out and lands the No. 1 ranked recruit in the country in Andrew Wiggins.

    Wiggins is already being projected by as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft and is expected to be a star at Kansas, which the Jayhawks will need him to be.

    Not only is Wiggins having to make up for the loss of McLemore, he will also have to carry a team that lost all five starters from last season's squad that nearly reached the Final Four.

Spike Albrecht: Michigan

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    You have some pretty big shoes to fill when you're replacing the national player of the year, which is exactly what Spike Albrecht has to do for Michigan next season.

    Trey Burke nearly led the Wolverines to a national championship, but now it will be Albrecht's job to lead the team as Burke moves on to the NBA.

    Based on his performance against Louisville in the national championship game, Albrecht looks like a player who thrives under the spotlight. Michigan fans are hoping he will have the same type of success with an increased role next season.

    If he does, Michigan will have enough talent to navigate its way back to another Final Four.