College Basketball Teams Headed for a Huge Letdown in 2014-15 Season
Every year, we see teams go from good to bad because of NBA defections, transfers or graduation. Consistency is extremely difficult in college basketball.
Now that the NBA draft deadline has passed, most rosters are close to set for next season, and it's a good time to start forecasting which teams will go from good to bad.
Typically, how you're performing in November is how you're performing in May. For the teams still looking to add a guy, it's rare that any summer additions turn into impact players.
To make this list, a team had to be in the NCAA tournament this past year and also play in one of the traditionally strong basketball conferences.
Most of these teams are either traditional powers or have been good for several years now, so the fact that they're about to fall off will be tough for their fanbases to accept. This will be the "wait till next year" crowd by the time the calendar turns.
Key Losses: Kyle Anderson (NBA draft), Jordan Adams (NBA draft), Zach LaVine (NBA draft), David Wear (graduation) and Travis Wear (graduation)
It was already expected that Kyle Anderson would leave—he had put himself on the Marcus Smart plan before his sophomore year—but both Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine were at least slight surprises.
Had the UCLA Bruins returned both LaVine and Adams, you could have made a case for them as a preseason top-15 team and the best competition for Arizona in the Pac-12. Now, preseason predictions should probably include three letters that will make UCLA fans cringe: NIT.
Steve Alford's program is in better shape than most on this list, and he at least has some potential on the wing and in the backcourt in the spots that Anderson, Adams and LaVine would have held down. Bryce Alford had an impressive freshman year. Isaac Hamilton will be eligible after being forced to sit out last year. And Norman Powell is a solid veteran.
Up front, UCLA has some nice pieces with Tony Parker returning and the addition of Kevon Looney, the 10th-rated player in the 2014 class, according to Rivals.com.
The cupboard is not exactly bare. And if one of those guards—Alford, Hamilton or Powell—emerges as a great scorer and Looney has a big impact right away, this could be a tournament team. But it's just as easy to imagine a scenario where the inexperienced Bruins really fall off.
Key Losses: Jarnell Stokes (NBA Draft), Jordan McRae (graduation), Jeronne Maymon (graduation) and Antonio Barton (graduation)
Tennessee was already looking at a rebuilding year with the loss of four starters. Then Cuonzo Martin left to take the Cal job, and all four incoming freshmen who had signed with Tennessee asked to be released from their letters of intent.
Now the Vols should search for different terminology to identify this first season under Donnie Tyndall. "Transition year" probably works best.
Tyndall at least has some talent returning on the perimeter, led by Josh Richardson. Richardson will likely take over McRae's role as the team's go-to scorer. Freshman guards Robert Hubbs III and Darius Thompson also showed some promise this past year.
But what the Vols were all about this past year, particularly on their Sweet 16 run, was big-boying every opponent up front with the front line of Stokes and Maymon. They'll be thin up front without those two and thin on numbers overall, although Tyndall is working to make some last-minute moves.
He's already reeled in a big man, Jabari McGhee, and the Volunteers are also still in consideration for one of the recruits who opted out, Phil Cofer. The power forward is being re-recruited by Tennessee, and Tyndall had an in-home visit last Tuesday, according to Rob Lewis of VolQuest.com (subscription required).
No matter who Tyndall gets at this point, Tennessee is still going to take a step back.
Key Losses: Tyler Ennis (NBA Draft), C.J. Fair (graduation), Jerami Grant (NBA Draft) and Baye Moussa Keita (graduation)
With Ennis, Fair and Grant gone, a lot of the scoring responsibility will fall on Trevor Cooney, who was hit or miss this past season.
When Cooney was on, the Syracuse Orange were really good. He had a stretch where he made 31 of 59 threes over eight games. When he was off—he went 14-of-63 over the final nine games, six of those losses—Syracuse was closer to average than great. And that was with Ennis, Fair and Grant still on the roster.
So where is the scoring going to come from when Cooney is off?
The other returners who played significant minutes (Michael Gbinije, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman) were all role guys.
The top-rated recruit coming in, Chris McCullough, is a nice athlete, but he's not a great offensive weapon. Another guy who could see his minutes go up, Tyler Roberson, was highly rated coming out of high school, but Jim Boeheim obviously didn't trust him as a freshman, or he would have played more.
I'm not ready to go as far as to say Syracuse will miss the tournament entirely. There's still plenty of length and athleticism on the roster for the zone to be pretty good. But the Orange are definitely going to take a step back.
Even more pressure will likely fall on Cooney's shoulders; another perimeter scorer or two is going to have to emerge. At this point, even Boeheim would probably have a tough time telling you who that will be.
Key Losses: Doug McDermott (graduation), Grant Gibbs (graduation), Jahenns Manigat (graduation) and Ethan Wragge (graduation)
Here's a shocker. It's really, really difficult to replace one of the best scorers in the history of college basketball. It's also kind of tough to lose four starters.
Greg McDermott will be in major rebuilding mode and also reshaping the identity of his team. Creighton's top two returning scorers, Austin Chatman and Devin Brooks, are similar guys. They're both jitterbug guards who thrive on using their quickness to get into the paint.
McDermott is always going to try to put as many shooters on the floor as possible, but Creighton will likely play a bit more traditionally next season with true big man Will Artino as one of the go-to guys.
The Big East isn't expected to be stacked, so maybe immediate life after Doug McDermott will not be as bad as it looks on paper. But the Bluejays would probably be satisfied just getting an invite to the NIT.
Key Losses: Sean Kilpatrick (graduation), Justin Jackson (graduation) and Titus Rubles (graduation)
Not only do the Cincinnati Bearcats graduate their three leading scorers, those three also were their best three defenders and the heart and soul of the program.
Mick Cronin is one of those coaches—much like a Jamie Dixon—whose team is always going to be better than expected. You know Cronin's guys are going to defend and bring a certain toughness to the table.
There's still likely to be a significant drop-off, and it will be a major chore replacing Kilpatrick's offensive production. Kilpatrick was one of the best guards in the country and didn't get as much love as he should have. (We here at Bleacher Report did name him a first-team All-American.)
The one nice thing for the Bearcats is that it's wide-open to become the third- or fourth-best team in the American Conference next season. After SMU, Connecticut and Memphis, it's anybody's guess as to who will be good. Really, other than SMU, most rosters have major question marks. Both UConn and Memphis have a lot of production to replace as well.
Key Loses: Marcus Smart (NBA Draft), Markel Brown (graduation) and Brian Williams (transfer)
Remember how Oklahoma State looked this past year when Smart was suspended? The Cowboys, for those who forgot, lost all three games.
Now imagine how the Cowboys would have looked if their other best player, Brown, was taken away as well.
Travis Ford does have more production returning than most coaches on this list, with both Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte still around. The offense will not be as good without Smart and Brown, but it's not going to be in shambles.
The bigger question is how the Cowboys will defend. That's where Smart made a huge difference, and his effort rubbed off on teammates. It will help that Michael Cobbins, who was sidelined 13 games into the season with an torn Achilles, will be back as the team's best rim-protector.
It will be a key season for Ford after his team didn't live up to expectations this past year, and he wasn't exactly lauded for how he handled Smart. If the Cowboys stink now that Smart is gone, Ford could be on the hot seat.
Key Losses: Kendall Williams (graduation), Cameron Bairstow (graduation), Alex Kirk (NBA Draft) and Cleveland Thomas (transfer)
A case could have been made for New Mexico as one of the Mountain West favorites had Kirk returned for his senior season. Kirk declaring for the draft was one of the more puzzling early entrants this year as it's no given he even gets drafted.
The Lobos will now lean heavily on the backcourt of Hugh Greenwood and Cullen Neal along with incoming Juco All-American Jordan Goodman. Goodman was a big late addition, and maybe the fact that both Bairstow and Kirk are gone convinced him to come to New Mexico because he could come in and be the man right away.
Craig Neal should get the luxury of time to rebuild the program now that his three best guys are gone. Last year's team was still the core of the group Steve Alford brought to New Mexico, and the Lobos made their third straight NCAA tournament.
Now it's on Neal to put his stamp on the program. That transition would have been made easier if he had Kirk around for one more season.
Key Loses: Jordair Jett (graduation), Dwayne Evans (graduation), Mike McCall (graduation), Rob Loe (graduation) and Jake Barnett (graduation)
Jim Crews will go from relying on all seniors—he had five senior starters—to mostly freshmen and sophomores next season.
The Saint Louis Billikens were definitely all-in with that senior class, who had been to three straight NCAA tournaments. Now, it's a true rebuild.
The closest thing Crews has to "proven" experience is in the backcourt with last year's sixth man Austin McBroom and Villanova transfer guard Achraf Yacoubou. Yacoubou averaged 12 minutes per game two years ago at Villanova, which is enough to make him experienced on this roster.
Up front, Grandy Glaze and John Manning were both minute-eaters in the interior for the Billikens.
If all goes according to plan, SLU will be relevant again in a year or two, led by the incoming freshman class. As for next season, it'll be a real surprise if SLU is able to finish anywhere near the top of the Atlantic 10.
Key Losses: Jahii Carson (NBA Draft), Jordan Bachynski (graduation), Jermaine Marshall (graduation) and Egor Koulechov (transfer)
The Arizona State Sun Devils lost their three leading scorers in Carson, Marshall and Bachynski, and one of the best rim-protectors in the country (Bachynski).
Last season was the first since 2009 that Arizona State had made the NCAA tournament, and the Sun Devils have only been relevant in recent years when they have a future pro at guard. Back in 2009, it was James Harden. The last two years, it was Carson.
Now it's likely back to the Pac-12 basement, although the outlook could be even worst. The Sun Devils did get a gift from the NCAA when the organization gave Shaquielle McKissic a sixth year of eligibility. Shaquielle McKissic will be the team's leading returning scorer at 8.9 points per game.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.