Predicting Which College Basketball Teams Will Be the Most Overrated in 2014-15
Predicting overrated and underrated teams or players in any sport before the season is only slightly less exact than throwing darts. Before the 2013-14 college basketball season, for example, Tennessee was in multiple top 25 rankings and Nebraska was supposed to be a Big Ten doormat.
It's even harder to do in May than October. New recruits aren't on campus yet, experiencing those first few months away from home in which bad decision-making can undo years of hard work overnight. Many recruiting classes aren't even finished yet, as entire groups of players bolt in the wake of late coaching changes.
Still, the picture is reasonably complete, which makes it a good time for writers to compile early preseason top 25 lists and gives readers time to pick them apart. We come here today to do the same, noting which teams look most likely to struggle under the weight of expectations.
There are some great coaches on this list who make their teams tough to bet against. Still, that's a variable like any other. It's guesswork, but it's our job to make it educated guesswork.
These six teams—presented alphabetically—are in multiple writers' top 25 rankings and are likely to still be there when the season tips off (so no Oregon, which may soon be down to three returning players). All have plenty of talent, but there are also red flags that could herald disappointment for the unwary fan.
Great guard play can get you through the NCAA tournament. UConn proved that behind newly minted Husky icon Shabazz Napier and his skilled sidekick Ryan Boatright.
Next season, despite the loss of Napier, there will still be copious talent in the Connecticut backcourt. Boatright returns to run the offense, returnees Terrence Samuel and Omar Calhoun may face bigger roles, and newcomers Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton will provide a scoring edge.
Frontcourt questions, however, still haven't been answered. Center Amida Brimah (pictured) proved himself a potent threat on the defensive end but is still offensively raw. The Huskies lost their only sources of front line scoring when DeAndre Daniels declared for the NBA draft and Niels Giffey graduated.
UConn will need vast improvement not only from Brimah, but also from rising junior Phillip Nolan and sophomore-to-be Kentan Facey. If one or both steps up, there's good size on the front line. If not, the Huskies will be a small team prone to foul trouble (Brimah and Nolan both committed more than seven fouls per 40 minutes).
Of course, all the optimism may become moot if coach Kevin Ollie can't resist the siren song of the NBA. He currently denies interest, but don't they all? If he goes, most of the top-25 love probably goes with him.
The difference between the Top 10 and Also Receiving Votes for Louisville is clearly illustrated in the picture above. Montrezl Harrell's decision to spurn the NBA lottery for a junior season at Louisville lends an air of optimism to a program that loses one of the most decorated players in its history, guard Russ Smith.
Like former American Athletic Conference rival UConn, there's talent in the backcourt for the Cardinals. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier learned on the job alongside Smith and are now joined by top-five point guard recruit Quentin Snider. Rising senior Wayne Blackshear and sophomore-to-be Anton Gill will hold down the 2-guard spot.
Again like UConn, the questions lie up front. Harrell is the kind of franchise player UConn can't boast, but where is his support? Center Mangok Mathiang had moments in his freshman season, but is still more of a defensive threat than offensive. Akoy Agau won't be a freshman, but he may as well be. Plus, four actual freshmen join Louisville at the power forward and center positions.
If anything happens to Harrell, coach Rick Pitino will likely be able to rebuild on the fly. But is there enough here to live up to the early top-10 love being bestowed by CBS Sports and USA Today? This is very easily a top-25 team, but top 10 may be overstating things right now.
San Diego State
The biggest weakness of the 2013-14 San Diego State Aztecs was their ability to score. So, when we take that team and subtract an All-American point guard and one of the nation's best offensive rebounders, it's not unreasonable to question where the baskets will come from in 2014-15.
Rising junior Winston Shepard (pictured) is the expected leader of next year's team, and he has the talent to contend for Mountain West Player of the Year honors. However, he still needs to improve his jump shot to ensure that opponents don't scheme to take away his penetration game.
According to Hoop-Math.com, only 30 of Shepard's 80 baskets at the rim were assisted. His jumper wasn't strong enough at any range, making only 29.9 percent in mid-range and 18.4 percent from three.
Freshman forward Malik Pope and guard Trey Kell were gifted high school offensive players, but Pope needs work on his shooting release and Kell will try to improve his penetration.
Among the returnees, Dwayne Polee will look to pick up where he left off in the second half of last season. He averaged 11.1 points per game over his last 14, including 14 PPG in the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments.
Look for Aqeel Quinn to compete with freshman Kevin Zabo for Xavier Thames' vacated point guard position. Neither is anywhere near Thames' level as a scorer, which makes the newcomers' evolution that much more important.
The SDSU defense will still be potent, but the name of the game remains scoring more points than the opponent. The Aztecs may experience some early growing pains, but don't be surprised if they hit their stride in MWC play.
Texas brings back every member of last season's team and adds two talented freshmen, one of whom ranks among the top 10 prospects in America. They'll be dangerous from the get-go next season, but after sneaking up on everyone last year, how will the still-youthful Longhorns adapt to being the hunted?
The Horns lived on offensive rebounds last season, and there's no reason to expect they can't do so once more. Still, there will likely be moments early on, while coach Rick Barnes is trying to integrate star freshman Myles Turner with returning bigs Cameron Ridley (pictured) and Prince Ibeh, where everyone will be tentative, trying to avoid the misplay for fear of losing minutes.
If the putbacks aren't coming—UT scored 191 second-chance baskets according to Hoop-Math, good for nearly 11 PPG—can guards Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland improve their shooting efficiency? The trio shot a combined 38.3 percent from the floor last season.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman ranked Texas a lofty sixth in his Fab 50 rankings (subscription required). While there's certainly enough talent to earn such acclaim, and the returnees have gained some valuable experience, those returning players still have improvements to make in order to contend for the Big 12 title.
Villanova frequently lived and occasionally died by the three-point shot last season, and its most prolific gunner has exhausted his eligibility. The Wildcats will need to diversify the offense a bit if they intend to live up to their early top-10 billing.
Guards Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono (pictured) return to provide perimeter punch along with wing Kris Jenkins, but getting post presences JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu more consistently involved will help open up shots.
The biggest key may be rising sophomore wing Josh Hart. Hart showed tremendous ability to finish at the rim—77.1 percent from close range per Hoop-Math—but was also a 31-percent threat from downtown. If he can improve his consistency from a rookie year that saw him score in double figures only three times after January 20, he could contend for All-Big East honors.
Speaking of the Big East, it may be a double-edged sword for the Cats next season. With so much talent leaving the conference—Doug McDermott (Creighton), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Semaj Christon (Xavier) and JaKarr Sampson (St. John's) to name a few—last season's contenders have some retooling to do. Villanova will have a harder time finding signature wins in the league, while any losses will sting even more than usual.
Finally, the departed James Bell (81.5 percent) was one of the only Wildcats who was consistently reliable at the free throw line. The team will need to improve on last season's 71.6 percent foul shooting to survive more close games, especially once postseason play rolls around.
In case anyone needs motivation, film of VU's Big East tournament loss to Seton Hall (15-25 from the line) should suffice.
Wichita State isn't likely to drop out of the top 25 unless the non-conference schedule completely bites them in the backside.
Considering the lack of respect the Shockers get from high-major potential opponents—CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel detailed some of the reasons here—it would be a surprise if they find any games stronger than a neutral-site game against Memphis in Sioux Falls, S.D. That would make any stunning loss all the more painful.
Still, to survive even the winnable games, the typically veteran Shockers will need more contributions from freshmen than they're used to getting during the Marshall era. This may result in the occasional head-scratching loss, a problem that never reared its head last season.
The backcourt trio of Fred VanVleet (pictured), Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton return, and there's a solid case to be made they're the best guard trio in the nation. Their support, however, is highly unproven.
Junior-to-be Evan Wessel needs to rediscover confidence in his shot after making only 37.2 percent from the floor last season. Redshirt freshman Ria'n Holland and true frosh Corey Henderson Jr. are the only other options.
Up front, rising senior Darius Carter should be the undisputed master of the low post after the graduation of Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby. Like the guards, however, his supporting cast lacks experience. Junior college import Tom Bush Wamukota is offensively raw, while redshirt freshman Shaq Morris is struggling to get his conditioning right.
Another JUCO transfer, wing Tevin Glass, may walk right into a starting role the way Cleanthony Early did. Glass is touted as a solid rebounder who can score around the rim, but he's still working on his stamina and jump shot. He'll compete with freshmen Rashard Kelly and Zach Brown.
The Shockers are currently considered top-10 caliber by USA Today, CBS Sports and ESPN's Goodman. Another undefeated run may be needed to keep them there. That will require several of Marshall's new recruits diving right into the college game and swimming like fish from day one.