Important Lessons Learned About Top NCAA Basketball Teams in 2014 Offseason
Just because there aren’t any games being played doesn’t mean the NCAA basketball offseason is lacking in drama. Recruiting commitments, transfers and NBA draft decisions can change a team’s future in a heartbeat, and that’s not even accounting for those programs that get thrown a curve by something totally unexpected.
One school in the latter category is SMU, which had hopes of building on last year’s NIT runner-up finish with the biggest recruiting success in school history. However, star point guard Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to start his pro career overseas means that the Mustangs will need to lower their expectations in a hurry.
Read on for more on the fallout from Mudiay’s surprise move, along with 19 more lessons garnered from the biggest offseason developments around the country.
Kansas Knows How to Roll with the Punches
Bill Self’s Jayhawks are accustomed to replacing NBA-bound stars, but steady point guard Naadir Tharpe looked like a safe bet to return to campus. Instead, the senior-to-be left to be closer to his ailing daughter, sending his old team scrambling for a floor leader.
Remarkably, Self managed to find a good one among the late recruiting scraps, landing freshman Devonte Graham to join a class that already included celebrated forwards Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander.
As long as Graham and rising sophomore Frank Mason can add up to one competent point guard, Kansas will have no trouble staying near the top of the Big 12 standings yet again.
Florida Won’t Have Much Help from the Bench
With four of last year’s starters graduating, Florida knew well in advance that depth was going to be an issue in 2014-15. Now, one of the team’s top projected reserves has been lost for the year.
DeVon Walker, who started seven games as a sophomore while Billy Donovan was sorting out his rotation, suffered a torn ACL in July that will cost him the entire season.
Freshman Brandone Francis will be under even more pressure to succeed from the get-go now that Walker is no longer an option off the bench.
Marquette Will Actually Be Able to Score
You don’t usually expect a team that loses its top three scorers to come back stronger on offense. Marquette (which just saw standout guard Todd Mayo leave to turn pro) has a good chance to be an exception to that trend.
New coach Steve Wojciechowski has some terrific rising sophomores at his disposal (plus redshirt freshman Duane Wilson), but it’s one of Wojo’s own additions who will be the real difference-maker.
Former BYU point guard Matt Carlino, coming off a potent combination of 13.7 points and 4.3 assists per game, arrives to provide an immediate spark as a graduate transfer.
Oklahoma State Is in Even Worse Trouble Than It Appeared to Be
Oklahoma State fans had plenty of reasons to be disappointed when Marcus Smart’s second NCAA tournament ended in his second opening-game defeat.
Since the Cowboys’ on-court year wrapped up, though, their prognosis for 2014-15 has only gotten gloomier.
The losses of Smart (to the NBA) and Markel Brown (to graduation) were givens, and Brian Williams announced he was transferring even before UConn cut down the 2014 nets.
On top of all that, Kamari Murphy—one of the Cowboys’ few viable big men—jumped ship in May, leaving Michael Cobbins virtually alone in the frontcourt as he rehabs his torn Achilles tendon.
Kentucky Isn’t Just About the Freshmen
Only at Kentucky could the return of three sophomores make the team look loaded with experience.
That’s the pleasant surprise that faces John Calipari, however, because three starters from his all-freshman Final Four lineup opted to stick around for a second year in Lexington.
The Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson will even be joined by some actual upperclassmen, rising juniors Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
Even with forward Trey Lyles headlining another of Coach Cal’s usual top-flight recruiting classes, Big Blue will have the rare luxury of being the more experienced team in many NCAA tournament matchups next March.
Saint Mary’s Will Be a Factor in the WCC Again
Stinging from NCAA penalties incurred in a recruiting scandal, Saint Mary’s limped to an 11-7 finish in conference and missed the NCAA tournament.
Despite being short on scholarships, coach Randy Bennett has made some moves to ensure that the Gaels won’t be back in the also-ran category next year.
Bennett landed a pair of graduate transfers from the Pac-12, with ex-Stanford guard Aaron Bright (a midseason acquisition) set to headline the offense following Stephen Holt’s graduation.
Up front, former Washington forward Desmond Simmons isn’t much of a scorer, but he’ll pair with rising senior star Brad Waldow to make St. Mary’s one of the toughest rebounding teams in any mid-major conference.
Oregon Won’t Be as Deep as It Would Have Liked
Joseph Young’s decision to pass up the NBA draft kept Oregon’s offense from falling off a cliff, but all is not well in Eugene. The rest of the Ducks backcourt, which should have been one of the Pac-12’s best units, was gutted by the offseason’s ugliest incident.
Three of Oregon’s most talented guards—Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin—were dismissed from the team amid allegations of sexual assault.
Dana Altman’s team still has its share of talent, but the would-be Pac-12 contenders took a huge step back with those departures.
Texas Is Still a Recruiting Force to Be Reckoned With
Rick Barnes entered the offseason in a recruiting slump, at least by his lofty standards. Of his previous three classes, 2011 had lost nearly all its players to transfer, and 2013 hadn’t brought in a single 5-star. Moreover, 2014’s crop looked like another disappointing one.
That outlook turned around in a hurry in April, when Barnes added coveted center Myles Turner.
Ranked by ESPN as the second-best freshman in the country, the multitalented 7-footer—the coach’s biggest coup since Kevin Durant—has the deep Longhorns justified in aiming for a Big 12 title run.
North Carolina’s Off-Court Problems Haven’t Yet Been Put to Rest
It’s been two years since the Tar Heels’ hoops program avoided NCAA sanctions in a massive university-wide probe into academic fraud. This summer, Roy Williams learned that the scandal is far from over.
The NCAA, citing new evidence, has reopened its investigation into Chapel Hill’s suspect classes.
Although not the official cause of the new probe, the most obvious factor in putting UNC back under the microscope was former Tar Heels star Rashad McCants’ very public declaration that he’d participated in academic fraud while playing for the 2005 national champs.
Missouri’s New Coach Is Fast on His Feet
As a Missouri player, Kim Anderson knew how to put points on the board in bunches. As his alma mater’s new head coach, Anderson has been scoring just as many points with top high school players.
One of his first challenges in his new job was holding on to prize forward JaKeenan Gant, a 4-star talent, per Rivals.com, who had committed to the Tigers under Frank Haith.
Not only did Anderson keep Gant in the fold, but he just added another high-end freshman: Teki Gill-Caesar, who reclassified from 2015 so that he’ll be able to join Mizzou’s roster this fall.
Iowa State Has Some Suspensions Looming
Even though many of the transfers Fred Hoiberg has brought to Iowa State had clashed with their former coaches, The Mayor has done a great job of keeping his charges focused once they arrive in Ames.
Ironically, it’s one of Hoiberg’s own former high school recruits who’s added to the off-court headaches this summer.
Matt Thomas, coming off an encouraging freshman season for the Cyclones, got arrested for DWI in June.
Considering that Abdel Nader (a Northern Illinois transfer) was already on indefinite suspension for the same offense in April, Hoiberg’s bench is certain to have a few holes when the season opens.
Arizona’s Future Is Still Bright
As Yogi Berra might say, Arizona is a team that always has its future in front of it. Even before elite 2014 freshman Stanley Johnson has played his first game, the Wildcats have their eyes on ensuring long-term success with even more recruiting triumphs.
In spite of the unexpected departure of former 2015 commit Tyler Dorsey, Sean Miller’s next crop of prospects is shaping up to continue his string of top-10 classes.
Justin Simon, one of the class of 2015’s top point guards, has been joined by athletic forward Ray Smith in the ranks of forthcoming Wildcat stars.
Maryland Will Be Unrecognizable
The move to the Big Ten isn’t the only major change facing Maryland for the fall. A flood of transfers—incoming and outgoing—will leave Dez Wells as one of the only familiar faces on the Terps’ 2014-15 roster.
Seth Allen, who led the team in assists and placed second in scoring, headlines a group of five departing players who all played double-digit minutes last season.
The news isn’t all bad for coach Mark Turgeon, who also brought in Georgia Tech’s Robert Carter (who won’t be eligible until 2015-16) and graduate transfer Richaud Pack (from North Carolina A&T) to join celebrated freshman Romelo Trimble on the revamped roster.
UNLV’s Freshmen Have Been Abandoned
Dave Rice brought in an impressive crop of 2014 recruits, and the youngsters appeared to have a respectable foundation to build on.
However, after a 20-win season featuring some eye-catching individual performances, the Rebels will be starting from scratch this fall.
A combination of transfers and NBA early entry has cost UNLV four of its top five scorers from last year—including shot-blocking ace Khem Birch—and the fifth one was graduating senior Kevin Olekaibe.
If much-hyped freshmen Rashad Vaughn and Dwayne Morgan hope to win next year, they’ll need classmate Goodluck Okonoboh to live up to his name.
Buzz Williams Isn’t Wasting Time in Rebuilding Virginia Tech
Even before the 2013-14 season ended, Virginia Tech got a huge jolt of hope for the future with the surprise acquisition of former Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
The defensive guru has a long way to go in turning a team with a 2-16 ACC record into a contender, but he’s spent the offseason showing how much of a difference he can make in a short time.
Williams’ arrival completely reshaped the Hokies’ recruiting class, bringing in a much-improved group headlined by combo guard (and ex-Marquette commit) Ahmed Hill.
While the promising freshmen look to get Virginia Tech out of last place in 2014-15, Maryland transfer Seth Allen will be waiting in the wings to boost the offense further down the road.
Kelvin Sampson Is Not off to a Strong Start at Houston
The Houston Cougars were hoping to make a statement with the signing of Kelvin Sampson, the program’s most accomplished coach since the legendary Guy Lewis retired. Unfortunately, the statement their players have made in response is, “See you later.”
The Cougars’ top two scorers from last season, TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House, followed James Dickey (who recruited them) straight out the door.
Considering that both transferred to bigger-name programs (Oklahoma and Texas A&M, respectively), the moves are hardly a good omen for Sampson’s tenure with his new team.
Auburn’s Backcourt Will Have Some Bite
New Auburn coach Bruce Pearl couldn’t do any recruiting on the high school scene, thanks to lingering NCAA penalties from his Tennessee days.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the same restrictions didn’t apply to current college players, and Pearl landed a pair of good ones to pump up his new corps of guards.
New Mexico State transfer K.C. Ross-Miller is a heady veteran of two NCAA tournaments, while ex-Niagara guard Antoine Mason (son of the NBA’s Anthony) is the leading returning scorer in the country at 25.6 points per game.
Both are eligible immediately (subscription required) to join rising senior K.T. Harrell, no slouch as a scorer in his own right at 18.3 points a night.
SMU Is Out 1 Superstar
Larry Brown has already done wonders for SMU’s national profile and turned a perennial nonentity into a team that came within two points of an NIT championship.
His biggest coup to date was the signing of incoming freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay—ranked as high as No. 2 nationally by Rivals.com—but now the famously inconstant coach is getting a taste of his own medicine.
Mudiay has opted to forgo college altogether, signing a pro contract with China’s Guangdong Southern Tigers.
Whatever Mudiay’s motivation (and there are rumblings that he might not have been eligible anyway, per CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish), the result is that SMU reverts from trendy top-25 newcomer to middling NCAA tournament prospect in the blink of an eye.
The ACC Had Better Not Look Past Louisville
Louisville, for all its success in the past couple of seasons, has been all too close to a one-man show since Russ Smith joined the starting lineup.
With Smith having graduated, the remainder of the Cards’ Sweet 16 team might not look like much of a threat as it joins the top-heavy ACC, but that’s a dangerous impression.
Montrezl Harrell is coming off a terrific season at power forward, and the 6’8” speedster defied expectations by putting off the NBA in favor of a return to campus.
His decision, coupled with the arrival of a stacked recruiting class and the return of playmaking guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, will make Louisville more than capable of taking down Final Four hopefuls such as Duke or Virginia in 2014-15.
Michigan State’s Lack of Star Power Is Decidedly Temporary
The simultaneous departures of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris have left the Spartans’ immediate future in the hands of some former role players.
Whether or not Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine et al. run into trouble in 2014-15, though, there’s ample hope on the horizon.
2015 recruit Deyonta Davis, who committed way back in December, has improved to the point that ESPN now places the 6’9” forward at No. 18 in the national rankings.
More importantly (and more recently), Tom Izzo landed the gem of this year’s transfer market: former West Virginia scoring machine Eron Harris, who piled up 17.2 points per game as a freshman in the Big 12.