College Basketball Players Tasked with Replacing Last Year's Biggest Stars
One of the only things in sports tougher than replacing a coaching legend is following in the footsteps of a star, and there are 12 college basketball teams that need to figure out how to replace last season's Player of the Year candidates.
In choosing last year's biggest stars, we went straight to the granddaddy of the national POY trophies: the Wooden Award. On March 5, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced the ballot of 15 finalists for the 2016 Wooden Award, 12 of which are now finished playing college basketball.
With one exception—we subbed in LSU (Ben Simmons) for Oakland (Kay Felder) because the Golden Grizzlies can't possibly be expected to have the means to replace a player that talented—those are the 12 replacement strategies you'll find on this list.
As far as the order of the slides is concerned, the teams are listed in descending order of likelihood to carry on without missing a beat. In other words, the first few teams might actually be equipped to replace their outgoing stars, while the ones at the end of the list are going to dearly miss last year's leaders.
12. Kansas Jayhawks
The Outgoing Star: Perry Ellis
16.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 43.8% 3P%
The Replacement: Carlton Bragg Jr.
It's probably going to take a while to get used to seeing Kansas play basketball without Perry Ellis, but the Jayhawks should be just fine without him.
Playing the same position as a higher-rated freshman (Cheick Diallo) who was fighting a much-publicized battle with the NCAA clearinghouse, Carlton Bragg Jr. never got the respect he deserved as a 5-star recruit and a McDonald's All-American. But with Diallo, Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson all gone, it's time for Bragg to shine.
Bragg played less than 9.0 minutes per game as a freshman, but he was effective with them, averaging 17.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per 40 minutes with a combined total of 4.5 assists, steals and blocks to boot.
Interestingly enough, Ellis averaged a similar 17.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as a freshman before Jeff Withey and Kevin Young graduated, opening the door for him to put up 13.5 points per game as a sophomore.
Bragg only attempted seven three-pointers, but he made four of them. That was never a massive part of Ellis' game, but he did gradually become more of a stretch 4 over the course of his career, attempting 1.7 triples per game as a senior. As long as Bragg comes to shoot the long ball just often enough and well enough to make opponents respect it, it'll open up even more for him to do.
The only concern is the unforced errors. Most of Bragg's per-40 numbers are nice, but the 7.2 personal fouls and 3.4 turnovers are not. For his sake, we hope that was just a matter of a young guy trying to do too much with his limited playing time.
11. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Outgoing Star: Brice Johnson
17.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG
The Replacement: Isaiah Hicks
As far as KenPom.com is concerned, Brice Johnson was the most valuable player in the country in 2015-16. Considering he averaged 23.5 points and 20.0 rebounds in two games against Duke, chances are Mike Krzyzewski would agree with that assessment. Johnson's 23 double-doubles were a huge part of what pushed the Tar Heels all the way to the NCAA championship game.
Yet, somehow, there's little to no concern about how well North Carolina will carry on in his absence.
That's because, like Kansas, North Carolina has a former McDonald's All-American ready to step into that role and dominate.
Isaiah Hicks only played 18.1 minutes per game as a junior, but he ranked second on UNC's roster in win shares per 40 minutes. And when Kennedy Meeks missed seven games early in the season due to injury, Hicks filled in admirably, averaging 23.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per 40 minutes during a portion of the season when Johnson was putting up 21.0 and 12.4 per game.
Tony Bradley, a 5-star freshman, will also be in the mix for playing time in the frontcourt, but this is Hicks' job to lose and one he has been waiting to inherit for a long time. Save for the personal fouls, Hicks put up stellar per-40 numbers in each of the past two seasons, but there simply wasn't any room for him to play starter minutes. Look for him to finally blossom into a stud in his final year.
10. Kentucky Wildcats
The Outgoing Star: Tyler Ulis
17.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 34.4% 3PT
The Replacement: De'Aaron Fox
Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine ran away with the various national Player of the Year awards, but considering how disappointing Kentucky's frontcourt was, there's a compelling case to be made that Tyler Ulis was actually the country's most important player.
The Wildcats would have crashed and burned without Ulis, particularly early in the season before Jamal Murray started raining threes and putting up 20 points per game in his sleep. The "veteran" sophomore finished the season with seven points-assists double-doubles, steering Kentucky to a No. 4 seed and keeping it in the national championship conversation all year long.
Ulis is only 5'9", but those are some big shoes to fill.
Fortunately, John Calipari once again has a few aces up his recruiting sleeve. Malik Monk will take Murray's spot, while De'Aaron Fox becomes the primary ball-handler for a team that will open the season ranked in the AP Top 11 for an eighth straight season.
But where Ulis was an elite offensive point guard, Fox's impact will be felt most on the defensive end. He'll rack up plenty of points and assists, but his ability to turn defensive possessions into points could be a real game-changer, considering Kentucky was painfully average at forcing turnovers last year.
9. Michigan State Spartans
The Outgoing Star: Denzel Valentine
19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 44.4% 3PT
The Replacement: Eron Harris
Listen, no one is going to replicate Denzel Valentine's stat line from last year. Jason Kidd was the last person to average at least 16 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists for a season, and that was more than two decades ago.
But what the Spartans need more than a nightly triple-double threat is a veteran leader, which Eron Harris can be.
Between Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston, Michigan State is replete with new talent. And while they aren't incoming freshmen, both Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins should be headed for major upticks in touches as sophomores.
Those guys need a player like Harris to guide with experience and poise.
Tom Izzo also has Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis III as seniors who will make an impact, but they're not likely to occasionally take over games the way Harris can. When Valentine was sidelined for four games following arthroscopic surgery, Harris took the reins, averaging 17.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, finally breaking out in a big way after a slow start.
Bridges, Langford and company might eventually become the stars by year's end, but the Spartans will be counting on Harris to lead them through a brutal opening month. Their first two games are against Arizona and Kentucky, and they'll have to deal with Florida Gulf Coast and the Battle 4 Atlantis (with likely title game against Louisville) before a road game against Duke—all within the first 19 days of the season.
8. Indiana Hoosiers
The Outgoing Star: Yogi Ferrell
17.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.0% 3PT
The Replacement: Robert Johnson
Indiana lost several key players from last season. Troy Williams declared for the NBA draft, while Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft both graduated. But by giving more minutes to Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan and Collin Hartman, the Hoosiers are well prepared to handle those departures.
Yogi Ferrell, though, is a different story.
Getting James Blackmon Jr. back from a knee injury—he missed the final 22 games of last season—will be a huge help. Not only will he replace Ferrell's three-point shooting (and then some), but his return at shooting guard means Robert Johnson can slide over to become the primary ball-handler.
But even though Johnson is one of just three players in the past three years to average at least 8.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds while playing fewer than 25 minutes per game, many seem to be dismissing this option. Instead, those people are looking at either Pittsburgh transfer Josh Newkirk or freshman Curtis Jones to become the starting point guard.
In other words, the Hoosiers have options.
Will any of them work?
According to ESPN.com's Andy Katz, Tom Crean said earlier this summer that the approach might be "point guard by committee," which is really just coach speak for "I have no idea." It's been said that when you have two starting quarterbacks, you actually have zero starting quarterbacks. The same might ring true for Indiana's approach with two or three potential starting point guards.
7. Utah Utes
The Outgoing Star: Jakob Poeltl
17.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG
The Replacement: Jayce Johnson
Two years ago, hardly anyone in college basketball circles knew who Jakob Poeltl was. To this day, he still isn't listed on 247Sports as a player in Utah's 2014 recruiting class, and ESPN.com merely has him listed as an unrated player with no photo or recruiting information.
(For all the talk about Stephen Curry going from "unknown recruit" to NBA MVP, at least 247Sports gave him a 3-star rating.)
But now it's hard to imagine what Utah will look like without Poeltl. The big man immediately became a star for Larry Krystkowiak, recording a double-double in his first career game and following it up four days later with seven blocks in a game against San Diego State. And as a sophomore, he was downright unstoppable—save for one dreadful performance in the NCAA tournament loss to Gonzaga.
Might Coach K 2.0 have another star waiting in the wings in Jayce Johnson?
"I think I'll be similar to Jakob," Johnson told Scout.com's Josh Gershon last October. "I'm a different person but I'll be used similarly. [Coach will] utilize me the same way. He really uses the bigs in a way they should be utilized. The guards get the bigs the ball and it's great to be able to play for someone who cares so much about my position."
And the new 7' center has already had one semester to work with the team and coaching staff. Johnson joined the team in the spring as a redshirt freshman to more fully prepare himself for the workload he's about to inherit.
6. Virginia Cavaliers
The Outgoing Star: Malcolm Brogdon
18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 39.1% 3PT
The Replacement: Kyle Guy
Pardon the pun, but it's going to take more than one Guy to replace the 2016 ACC Player of the Year.
Malcolm Brogdon was the star on both ends of the floor for the Cavaliers for the past several years. His defense didn't often show up in the box score in terms of steals or blocks, but he was the leader of a team D that ranked top six in the nation in adjusted efficiency in each of his four seasons. He made life miserable for opposing guards, and then he often went down to the other end of the court and scored all over them.
Though Kyle Guy is one of the highest-rated recruits Tony Bennett has ever signed, expecting him to replace that much production as a freshman would be silly.
Rather, it may take a joint effort from a bunch of players. Devon Hall, Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok are each returning after averaging at least 15.0 minutes per game last year. They'll be significantly involved in the replacement process, and we certainly wouldn't rule out one member of that trio becoming the starting shooting guard if and when he shows he can take and make a lot of three-pointers.
But Guy should get the first crack at it because of his offensive range. Alongside London Perrantes, Guy gives Virginia a backcourt that can rain three-pointers.
We'll have to wait and see what he can do as part of Bennett's heralded pack-line defense, though the addition of Austin Nichols as an elite shot-blocker means Guy doesn't have to be nearly as good as Brogdon in order for this defense to remain one of the best in the nation.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Outgoing Star: Jarrod Uthoff
18.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 38.2% 3P%
The Replacement: Dom Uhl
Despite solid sophomore and junior seasons, Jarrod Uthoff was the most surprising Wooden Award candidate last year.
After averaging 16.6 points and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes in his first two seasons with Iowa, he bumped both of those numbers up around 50 percent to 24.6 and 3.3, respectively. He led the Hawkeyes in points, minutes and blocks and ranked second in rebounds while becoming the star of the team that dominated the first two-thirds of the season before dropping off a cliff in February.
But Fran McCaffery might have a viable replacement for Uthoff in Dom Uhl.
Iowa's sixth man didn't shoot all that much, but Uhl did make 45.0 percent of his three-point attempts while pulling down rebounds at a rate nearly identical to Uthoff. He'll need to improve in just about every other aspect of the game to make up for all that Iowa is losing in Uthoff, but it's a start.
The bigger problem for the Hawkeyes is replacing the sheer volume of players they lost. Even if Uhl becomes Uthoff 2.0 and plays a good sidekick to Peter Jok, who's filling in for Anthony Clemmons, Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell? And assuming Uhl is ascending to the starting lineup, who takes his spot as the sixth man?
More questions than answers for the Hawkeyes with the start of the season just beyond the horizon.
4. Providence Friars
The Outgoing Star: Kris Dunn
16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 37.2% 3PT
The Replacement: Kyron Cartwright
As was the case for Iowa and each of the remaining teams on this list, it's more than just the one star Providence is losing—and we're not entirely sure how the Friars intend to replace either Kris Dunn or Ben Bentil.
Given his immense contributions on the defensive end, Dunn is the bigger of the two losses, though. He was Providence's most important player on both ends of the floor, as evidenced by the team's narrow wins over Rider and Bryant in the two games he missed with a stomach virus.
But Kyron Cartwright stepped up in a big way in his absence, averaging 9.5 points, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals in those contests.
Even when Dunn was in the lineup, the sophomore point guard had solid numbers last year. He didn't shoot much, but he did show more range (20-of-55 on three-pointers) than he did as a freshman (4-of-33) while averaging 4.0 assists per game and 2.84 assists per turnover.
However, it wasn't that difficult to get assists with Dunn and Bentil around to average a combined 37.5 points per game. In 2016-17, Cartwright will be tasked with captaining a ship that lost its two best rowers.
Even with Alpha Diallo, Maliek White, Emmitt Holt and George Mason transfer Isaiah Jackson joining the team, that might be too much to ask. But Ed Cooley has done more with less. No one expected Bentil to average more than 20 points per game as a sophomore, so perhaps Cartwright will be a star this year.
More likely, though, Providence will be gearing up for a major push in 2017-18. With Junior Lomomba transferring to Western Kentucky, the Friars won't have a single senior who scored a point last season on this year's roster.
3. Iowa State Cyclones
The Outgoing Star: Georges Niang
20.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 39.2% 3PT
The Replacement: Darrell Bowie / Merrill Holden
Though he never managed to record a triple-double, Georges Niang was a consistent triple threat over the past four seasons. He's one of just three players in the past two decades to finish his college career with at least 2,200 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists, and he's the only one to do so since Morehead State's Ricky Minard from 2001-04.
Niang is also in a unique club with college basketball legends Doug McDermott and Keith Van Horn as the only players to score at least 2,000 points in a career while shooting at least 50.0 percent from the field, 37.0 percent from three-point range and 76.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Translation: Niang was pretty good, and he did a lot of things that will need replacing.
The problem is his teammates in the frontcourt are also gone. Between Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay graduating and Brady Ernst transferring, the Cyclones only have 12 returning points from players 6'5" or taller.
Steve Prohm has a couple of incoming 3-star forwards in Solomon Young and Cameron Lard, but it's the graduate transfers (Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden) he's hoping will fill those voids. And of the two, Bowie is slightly more equipped to play the stretch 4, though neither has done much of anything from three-point range to this point in their respective careers.
Another potential option for the Cyclones would be to just go small by starting four guards (Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton) while letting Bowie/Holden split time at the 5. But the moral of the story is, frontcourt production and defense will likely be a problem for Iowa State this year.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
The Outgoing Star: Buddy Hield
25.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 45.7% 3PT
The Replacement: Christian James
Shooting guards come in two varieties: efficient and volume; but it's almost always either/or. In the past two decades, 48 players (roughly 2.5 per year) have averaged at least 25.0 points per game. During that same span, 137 players (roughly seven per year) have made at least 80 three-pointers while shooting 45 percent or better.
Players who score with both high efficiency and high volume, though, come along once in a blue moon. Buddy Hield was the only player to fit both of the above descriptions in the last 20 years.
There's simply no way to replace that kind of talent and production. It's why Hield became the first senior in a decade to be taken No. 6 or higher in the NBA draft. NBA executives love young talent, but they knew Hield was just too good to let go.
So, yeah, good luck Christian James!
To be fair, James did shoot 17-of-34 (50.0 percent) from three-point range as a freshman. Though he only played 9.5 minutes per game and only attempted 13.8 percent of the team's shots while on the court (compared to Hield's 30.9 percent), he was pretty lethal when he did pull the trigger.
And it was evident from the NCAA tournament that Lon Kruger is preparing to use him much more as a sophomore, as his playing time increased to 20 minutes per game in Oklahoma's final four games, in which he averaged 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
But he's got a long, long way to go to match what Hield gave the Sooners.
Freshman shooting guard Kameron McGusty will help, too, and senior point guard Jordan Woodard will likely become even more of a volume scorer this year. However, with Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler also graduating, it's more than just one of the best scorers of the past two decades Oklahoma has to replace.
1. LSU Tigers
The Outgoing Star: Ben Simmons
19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG
The Replacement: Um...
Like Hield, Ben Simmons put up once-in-a-lifetime-type numbers.
In fact, Simmons was so much better than anyone in recent memory, you can reduce each of his averages by 18 percent to 15.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per games, and he's still the only player in at least 23 years to put up those numbers.
Whether he pans out in the NBA remains to be seen, but with all due respect to Brandon Ingram and others, it's downright laughable that there was ever any debate over who should be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
LSU's game plan for replacing Simmons is a big question mark.
The Tigers do still have former Arizona transfer Craig Victor, but he was already a starter who averaged 27 minutes per game. Aside from Victor, juniors Aaron Epps and Elbert Robinson are the only returning frontcourt players who scored a single point in 2015-16.
Epps might be an option. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. However, it should be noted that he did the vast majority of his damage early in the season against the likes of Kennesaw State, North Florida, Gardner Webb, Oral Roberts and American. The SEC isn't shaping up to be much of a power conference this year, but there's little to suggest Epps can hang with guys like Tyler Davis, Moses Kingsley or Yante Maten.
The only incoming option is JUCO transfer Duop Reath, who averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last year for Lee College. Those would be great numbers if he can post them against D-I competition, but JUCO transfer rarely if ever match or exceed what they did against community colleges.
It was hard to believe LSU missed the NCAA tournament with Simmons, but it's almost impossible to fathom this team making the 2017 tourney without him.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.