10 College Basketball Teams Doomed for a Rebuilding Year in 2014-15
With its small rosters and quick departures, college basketball features the biggest offseason changes of any sport—for both good and bad. For every Kentucky squad that rides a new crop of freshmen to go from the NIT to the national title game, there’s an Indiana team that sees its top players disappear and goes from national prominence to afterthought status just as fast.
One program set for such a fall is the Syracuse Orange, which was the No. 1 team in the polls for so much of last season. C.J. Fair’s graduation alone is a serious blow to the ‘Cuse offense, and he’s far from the only key player departing from a 28-6 roster.
Herein is a closer look at the challenges ahead for Jim Boeheim, along with nine more successful teams facing calamitous drop-offs in the college hoops season to come.
Setting aside the question of whether Isaiah Austin did or didn’t make a mistake in declaring for the NBA draft, there’s no uncertainty about what his departure will do to Baylor.
Already precarious with Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson graduating, the Bears’ offense tips into impending-doom territory without Austin’s inside-outside firepower.
Former JUCO standout Kenny Chery is a first-rate point guard, but the rising senior won’t have many weapons to feed next year.
Rebounding ace Rico Gathers doesn’t have a detectable jump shot, and promising forwards Royce O’Neale and Taurean Prince have been wildly erratic thus far.
Traditionally, Atlantic 10 teams are supposed to win with great team basketball, not by riding one unstoppable star (mostly because they can so rarely get the unstoppable stars).
Last year’s Minutemen, though, were an obvious exception, fueled by peerless point guard Chaz Williams.
UMass’ 5’9” superstar has graduated (taking high-flying Raphiael Putney and physical Sampson Carter with him) and even the good players remaining in Amherst will look a lot more ordinary without him.
Rising junior Derrick Gordon will go from sidekick to leading man in the backcourt while towering Cady Lalanne mans the post, but their supporting cast no longer has the depth or skill to keep the Minutemen in conference contention.
Even with a wealth of talent in the backcourt, Memphis only managed a 12-6 league record in its inaugural AAC season. A weakened conference will help next season’s Tigers, but not as much as graduation will hurt their offense.
With Joe Jackson and the senior-laden backcourt departing en masse, freshman PG Dominic Magee will have to play way over his head to give Josh Pastner any semblance of a perimeter game.
The Tigers have size to spare—including versatile center Shaq Goodwin and scoring PF Austin Nichols—but with so few ball-handlers or shooters, it’s not going to matter much.
Four-year starter Kendall Williams is gone, and his absence won't be the only one reshaping the Lobos’ lineup.
Big men Cameron Bairstow (graduation) and Alex Kirk (NBA) are also out the door, leaving second-year coach Craig Neal with a much tougher job than the one he inherited from Steve Alford.
The coach’s son, Cullen Neal, is the top returning scorer, and his long-range shot will be vital for next year’s squad.
Even with the younger Neal and the versatile Hugh Greenwood in the backcourt, though, New Mexico’s lack of effective forwards or impact freshmen will send them spiraling down into the large pool of also-rans in next year’s Mountain West.
Any team would be hard-pressed to weather the simultaneous losses of a deadeye three-point shooter (Ethan Wragge), a steady senior point guard (Grant Gibbs) and a backcourt stopper (Jahenns Manigat).
Creighton sees those three standouts depart at the same time as it faces the impossible task of replacing Doug McDermott, the fifth-leading scorer in Division I history.
McDermott’s father Greg, the Blue Jays’ head coach, will lean heavily on rising senior Austin Chatman, a combo guard who becomes the new focal point of the offense.
If Creighton is really lucky, Chatman’s 6’11” classmate Will Artino will finally play up to his size and (maybe) keep the team in NIT contention.
After a 25-2 start, Saint Louis limped to a 2-5 finish and a third-round NCAA exit, barely escaping an upset by 12th-seeded N.C. State in the process.
Unfortunately for coach Jim Crews, there’s not much hope of stopping the Billikens’ slide as 2014-15 arrives.
All five starters from last year’s No. 5 seed are gone, leaving no one who averaged more than 7.3 points per game to carry an offense that wasn’t anything special to begin with.
Veteran reserves John Manning and Grandy Glaze will keep the defense from vanishing altogether, but a fourth-straight trip to the Big Dance is well out of reach for this scoring-poor bunch.
By season’s end, Oklahoma State had settled into a six-man rotation. Of those six, Brian Williams is transferring, Markel Brown has graduated and Marcus Smart (perhaps belatedly) is off to the NBA.
That leaves an awfully small arsenal for coach Travis Ford, even if Phil Forte III and Le’Bryan Nash do have considerable scoring ability between them.
Ford’s recent missteps in recruiting—he whiffed on Myles Turner and had to throw last year’s top recruit, Stevie Clark, off the team—will come back to bite next season’s Cowboys very hard.
Cincinnati won 27 games last season on the strength of great team defense and one spectacular scorer. Graduation has made a shambles of both assets, handing Mick Cronin as daunting a job as he’s faced since he rebuilt the Bearcats from the sub-.500 team he inherited.
Sean Kilpatrick, who scored more points than any Cincinnati player not named Oscar Robertson, takes 30 percent of the team’s offense with him into the graduation sunset.
Among his departing classmates were the two best individual defenders on the roster, Justin Jackson inside and Titus Rubles outside.
That leaves the inconsistent likes of Shaq Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn to go from role players to leading lights with too little time or talent to make the leap.
For the second year in a row, Syracuse must break in a true freshman point guard trying to replace a superstar. Unlike predecessor Tyler Ennis, though, newcomer Kaleb Joseph will have a severely depleted roster around him.
Jerami Grant left early for the NBA, C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita graduated, and the result is that the Orange will be a far weaker team on both ends of the floor.
Promising freshman forward Chris McCullough will help, but Syracuse has too little in the way of reliable scoring or rebounding to be much more than a bubble team in the top-heavy ACC.
After enjoying a rare glut of offensive firepower last season, the Spartans will be coming back to earth hard in 2014-15.
Keith Appling and Adreian Payne have graduated, Gary Harris is off to the NBA draft and nearly 45 points per game worth of scoring will go with them.
A second-straight subpar recruiting showing by Tom Izzo leaves Michigan State dependent on the development of its returning role players.
Athletic Branden Dawson and slick-passing Denzel Valentine can certainly play, but with little in the way of shooting on hand, what was an Elite Eight squad will be scrambling for points all year.