10 College Basketball Teams Loaded with Talent for the 2014-15 Season
Talent abounds in college basketball, but it also collects in certain pockets of the Division I spectrum.
Graduation, early NBA draft departures and transfers have diluted the talent reserves of many major programs, but there are some teams that have so many capable players coming back, it's like they were hiding some in storage for just such an occasion. That's kind of true, though it was via transfers and the latest crop of incoming star recruits that they've been able to reload on talent for the 2014-15 season.
Here are 10 teams that seem to have talent coming out of their ears as we look ahead to the upcoming season.
(NOTE: All classes are as of the 2014-15 seasons; all recruiting ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.)
Yes, Arizona may have lost its best scorer in Nick Johnson and its most athletic player in Aaron Gordon, both of whom have left early to enter the NBA Draft. But they weren't the only pieces to the Wildcats team that reached the Elite Eight and fell in overtime to Wisconsin.
Arizona will once again have one of the most imposing frontcourts in the country, with junior center Kaleb Tarczewski back to control the paint. And alongside him will be junior forward Brandon Ashley, whose foot injury in early February ended his season and completely changed the Wildcats' offensive makeup.
Also back is senior point guard T.J. McConnell, sharpshooting junior guard Gabe York and versatile sophomore wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Add in another top-tier recruiting class highlighted by 5-star small forward Stanley Johnson and combo guard Kadeem Allen, who was recently named NJCAA Junior College Player of the Year, and the Wildcats might be better in 2014-15 than what we just saw.
Duke Blue Devils
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood left early for the NBA draft, but those were expected losses. The playing time those guys were leaving behind had to be part of the sales pitch that enabled Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to put together the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, one that features three 5-star players and no one ranked below 31st.
The haul is lead by No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor, a 6'11" center who should be the Blue Devils' best big man in more than a decade. Duke was eaten up inside this past season, and Okafor's presence in there should pay off on both ends of the court.
On the other end, Tyus Jones will give Duke a pure point guard to distribute to all of its many weapons, which, beyond the newcomers, also includes senior guard Quinn Cook, junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon and junior forward Amile Jefferson.
Despite playing outside the power conferences and struggling annually to get top teams to come to Spokane to play, Gonzaga has managed to remain among the college basketball elite for 15 years. It has done so by amassing the kind of talent that gets overlooked by other programs, and the team Mark Few has coming back is no different.
The Bulldogs will return three starters from last year's 29-7 team, including imposing big man Prezemek Karnowski. The 7'1" junior from Poland, whose only other offer was from California, averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and shot better than 59 percent. Also coming back are talented guards Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, both of whom will be seniors.
On the way in for Gonzaga is another class full of guys who managed to slip under other teams' radars, most notably 6'11" power forward Domantas Sabonis, the son or former Lithuanian NBA great Arvydas Sabonis. Collectively, this group should once again dominate the West Coast Conference and contend for another strong NCAA tournament seed.
Iowa State Cyclones
What does a team that has thrived on impact transfers do when it's set to lose a pair of standout players? Go back to the waiver wire, so to speak.
Iowa State has three transfers set to play in 2014-15, led by recent pickup Bryce Dejean-Jones. The senior guard led UNLV in scoring at 13.6 points per game, and because he's set to graduate this spring he will be eligible right away.
The Cyclones also will have the services of former Marquette forward Jameel McKay, who will be eligible in December, and former Northern Illinois wing Abdel Nader.
Those newcomers will blend with returning standouts such as junior forward Georges Niang (who should be completely healed from the broken foot that knocked him out of the NCAA tournament), senior forward Dustin Hogue and junior guard Naz Long to form another ragtag group that coach Fred Hoiberg will no doubt have in contention for the Big 12 title.
With Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Kansas saw nearly 14 feet worth of extreme freshman talent leave for the NBA draft after one season. But the holdovers coming back are still pretty strong, and even with a recent departure the Jayhawks appear as stacked as ever.
First, the returners. Kansas will bring back junior forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, who though not as hyped as Embiid and Wiggins, can still be imposing inside. They'll be joined by sophomore guards Conner Frankamp, Frank Mason and Wayne Selden Jr., all of whom have the ability to score from outside.
But where Kansas' talent really stands out is from what's on its way in. Bill Self has amassed another great recruiting class, one that was just bolstered by the late commitment of 3-star point guard Devonte Graham. Graham pledged to the Jayhawks on May 2, the day after point guard Naadir Tharpe announced his transfer.
Not to be forgotten are power forward Cliff Alexander and shooting guard Kelly Oubre, a pair of 5-star recruits who signed back in November. No matter the losses, the talent still abounds.
How does Kentucky describe the talent compiled for the 2014-15 season? With one number: nine.
That's how many players on the Wildcats' roster were McDonald's High School All-Americans, an astounding statistic not so much in the number of such players who've gone to Kentucky but in how many have stuck around.
Coach John Calipari once again recruited with the anticipation that he'd lose numerous star players from this past team, as has been the case during his tenure at Kentucky. And that meant he grabbed a great four-person class, all rating at five stars, with all of them rated in the Top 21 nationally.
The problem is, there are five other such former superstar high school players who still populate the Wildcats roster and could end up being the starting five next season. That includes twin sophomore guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, along with sophomore forward Marcus Lee and junior forwards Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
Add in talented sophomore center Dakari Johnson, and we're all pitying the task Calipari has to deal with in trying to find playing time for all these stars.
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina's departures began far earlier than other teams in the 2013-14 season, after P.J. Hairston was dismissed from the team after an NCAA suspension related to improper benefits. The Tar Heels weathered that storm, though their makeup was much different than originally planned.
After the season, UNC saw James Michael McAdoo go pro and Leslie McDonald graduate, but the nucleus of the team that surged late and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament will be back for 2014-15. That's led by electric scorer Marcus Paige, a junior guard who averaged 17.5 points per game and often carried UNC late in games.
Also back are junior forwards Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto and sophomore post player Kennedy Meeks, while Roy Williams collected one of his best recruiting classes in years.
Ranked No. 3 overall, it includes 5-star forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, both of whom should play right away and help the Heels make a push for the ACC title.
Boosted by the biggest late-season recruiting get in years, Texas looks poised to make a serious run at Kansas' long streak of Big 12 supremacy thanks to a talent-laden roster that's just starting to show its value.
The Longhorns had no seniors on their roster in 2013-14, and that team was among the country's biggest surprises by finishing tied for third in the conference and reaching the NCAA tournament's third round. Even better? None of the promising young players decided to go pro or transfer, meaning Texas has the ability to start the same lineup for two straight seasons.
That's not likely to happen, though; not with Texas signing No. 2 overall recruit Myles Turner on May 1, a pickup that helped it surge up the recruiting rankings after an otherwise quiet season on the trail. Turner, a 6'10" center who chose to go to Austin instead of a long list that included Duke, Kansas and Ohio State, is a lock to be in the lineup at the start of the season.
Surrounding him will be players who earned major experience this weekend, a group that's pretty talented as well. The most noteworthy of the returns includes junior Cameron Ridley, a 6'9" center who will likely move to power forward, senior forward Jonathan Holmes and sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor.
Wichita State Shockers
At Wichita State, the definition of talent isn't based so much on acquisitions as it is development. As a Missouri Valley Conference team, the Shockers' program has typically been unable to lure top talent away from other big-name schools, though after entering the NCAA tournament unbeaten this past season that may soon change.
The names Ron Baker, Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet weren't rolling off the tongue of recruiting experts when they were in high school, but since they've come to Wichita and developed into stars under Gregg Marshall's tutelage, they've each become known as talented players. And that talent should be enough to sustain the Shockers, even with significant frontcourt losses that included leading scorer Cleanthony Early.
Wichita also has recruited six high school and junior college players. None of them are very well-known now, but soon they could be considered quite a talented bunch.
When you're talking teams bringing back tons of talent for the 2014-15 season, no list is complete without Wisconsin. That's because the Badgers pretty much bring back the entire unit that reached their first Final Four in 14 years, and that was a pretty talented bunch.
Similar somewhat to Wichita State, the group Wisconsin has isn't loaded with former blue-chip recruits like several Big Ten programs or teams from other power conferences. But in the Badgers' system, talent comes from being able to run the plays and make the shots, something everyone on that team could do.
The only significant departure was Ben Brust, the school's all-time leader in three-pointers, but his loss is minimized by the fact nearly every other player in Wisconsin's rotation can hit an outside shot. Some of them, like seven-foot senior Frank Kaminsky, can also dominate inside when he's not drawing defenders away from the basket to drain a long-range basket.
Senior guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson, junior forward Sam Dekker and Wisconsin's top reserves from last season, sophomore forward Nigel Hayes and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig, give Bo Ryan so much talent to work with it will be hard not to put up another Final Four-caliber result next season.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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