10 College Basketball Teams Set Up for Future Tournament Success
The 2014 NCAA tournament isn’t over yet, but it’s never too early to look ahead to next year’s March Madness action. The hard-won experience of this year’s Big Dance will pay off for some programs in 2015 postseason wins.
One squad that’s primed for a serious NCAA tournament run next year is the Villanova Wildcats. Clutch-shooting Ryan Arcidiacono is just one of four starters coming back from the Big East’s regular-season champs as they look to build on a 29-win season.
Read on for more on ‘Nova’s future prospects, along with nine more teams who have the tools for deep tournament runs in 2015.
It took a miraculous three-pointer by Aaron Harrison to keep Michigan from making back-to-back Final Fours.
It’s an open question whether next year’s Wolverines will have Nik Stauskas and/or Glenn Robinson III in their bid for another Elite Eight (and beyond), but there’s no doubt that plenty of talent will remain.
Caris LeVert had a terrific postseason—including first-rate defense on Harrison on that game-winning shot—and he’ll anchor the perimeter attack even if Stauskas leaves.
Derrick Walton Jr. will be back with a year of experience at point guard, but the biggest returnee is the one Michigan didn’t have in March: NBA big-man-in-waiting Mitch McGary, who should finally be healthy again after January back surgery.
San Diego State
The impenetrable defense that won 31 games for the Aztecs—and nearly took down Arizona in the Sweet 16—will bring back most of its key pieces next season, including rim protector Skylar Spencer (2.5 blocks per game).
The offense will need a serious overhaul following the graduations of Xavier Thames and Josh Davis, but help is on the way.
Steve Fisher bounced back from last season’s disappointing recruiting performance to land one of the best freshman classes west of the Mississippi.
Lanky forwards Malik Pope and Zylan Cheatham will fit right into SDSU’s fast-break attack along with returnee Winston Shepard III, while shooting guard Trey Kell will provide a much-needed three-point threat in Thames’ absence.
After years of near misses, Tony Bennett’s defense proved how much damage it can do in winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.
Having come up just a single basket short of the Elite Eight this year, the Cavaliers are a safe bet to be back in the running in 2015, even with Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell gone.
The rise of point guard Malcolm Brogdon as an offensive weapon will go a long way toward mitigating Harris’ graduation, while sixth man Anthony Gill will make an outstanding replacement for Mitchell in the starting lineup.
Bennett also has a potential sleeper star arriving in the freshman class in the person of B.J. Stith, son of former NBAer (and UVA legend) Bryant Stith.
As usual, the cast of characters for Final Four-bound Kentucky is expected to change radically before the 2014-15 season begins.
Whichever members of John Calipari’s all-freshman starting five stick around, though, they’ll be joined by another boatload of McDonald’s All-America prospects.
Four members of next year’s freshman class in Lexington earned that distinction, led by versatile power forward Trey Lyles.
He’ll be a fine replacement for Julius Randle (the surest NBA departure of the current Wildcats), and as Coach Cal has proven repeatedly since arriving at UK, he can find ways for talent to trump experience in March.
Even after two opening-game embarrassments in three Big Dances, it’s never a good idea to count Duke out. That’s rarely been a truer statement than right now, when Mike Krzyzewski is bringing his best recruiting crop in years to Durham for 2014-15.
Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are the top-rated center and point guard, respectively, in the freshman class, and both should step right into the starting lineup.
Justise Winslow, another star-caliber freshman in the frontcourt, will step in for either Rodney Hood (who's off to the NBA) or Jabari Parker (who could well join him), while top returnee Rasheed Sulaimon provides perimeter scoring and tough backcourt defense.
Electrifying freshman Aaron Gordon is expected to be heading out the door, but the odds are that the four other starters will return for the top-seeded Wildcats.
Or, rather, five starters will return, once you include Brandon Ashley, whose broken foot kept him out of the crushing overtime loss to Wisconsin that ended Arizona’s season.
In addition to the bounty of talent and postseason experience coming back—including scoring leader Nick Johnson, entering his third year as a starter—Sean Miller has landed another high-powered recruiting class.
It won’t be easy to find minutes for bruising forwards Stanley Johnson and Craig Victor in a frontcourt that already has Ashley and defensive standouts Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but that’s a problem no coach is going to complain about.
Considering how soundly they got beaten by underdog UConn, the Wildcats may seem an odd choice for tournament success of any kind.
However, it’s well worth keeping in mind that this year’s Villanova squad (a No. 2 seed and boasting a 29-5 record) made enormous progress compared to the 2012-13 edition that barely made the Big Dance before getting bounced by North Carolina in its opener.
More importantly, those two years of hard-won experience are set to pay off next season for a roster that returns four starters, led by senior-to-be JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game).
His inside presence will balance a loaded perimeter arsenal including marksman Darrun Hilliard II and point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (heading into his third year in the starting job).
No, Andrew Wiggins won’t be back for another try at postseason glory, and Joel Embiid is expected to join him in the 2014 draft. Even with both of those stars gone, though, Kansas will be well equipped to improve on this season’s disappointing Big Dance showing.
Point guard Naadir Tharpe, already much improved after one year as a starter, will be back as a senior, with post scorer Perry Ellis and underrated SG Wayne Selden Jr. providing offense around him.
Just as important will be Bill Self’s latest extraordinary recruiting haul, which adds another elite post presence (Cliff Alexander) to replace Embiid and a high-scoring wing option (Kelly Oubre) to cover for Wiggins' absence.
Wichita State is losing some key pieces from this year’s unbeaten MVC champs—including star forward Cleanthony Early and center Kadeem Coleby—but that’s nothing new for coach Gregg Marshall.
After all, this year’s team had to replace two starters from the 2013 Final Four squad, and it didn’t turn out too badly.
The key to next year’s March Madness run lies with the backcourt, where heady point guard Fred VanVleet, sniper Ron Baker and lockdown defender Tekele Cotton all return to the starting lineup.
They’ll get help up front from 2013-14 reserve Darius Carter and a wealth of incoming JUCO talent, a group highlighted by 7’0” Texan Bush Wamukota at center.
No team in the 2014 Final Four will benefit more from the postseason experience than Wisconsin. The Badgers are set to return four starters next season, including postseason hero Frank Kaminsky (18.5 points per game in the tournament).
Also returning for their senior years will be two of Kaminsky’s classmates, defensive stopper Josh Gasser and point guard Traevon Jackson (the clutch specialist whose game-winner against Michigan State helped spark an eight-game winning streak).
Add in the inside-outside scoring punch of forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, and the Badgers should be looking at a No. 1 seed and a likely Final Four repeat next March.
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