College Basketball Conference Champions with No Chance to Repeat in 2015-16
The Wisconsin Badgers came painfully close to winning the 2015 men's college basketball national championship, but they are one of 10 teams we consider extremely unlikely to repeat as regular-season conference champions.
Of the 42 teams that earned a share of a regular-season title this past year, 16 were defending champions. The previous year, 11 of the 31 conferences (excluding the American in its inaugural year) had a repeat champ. That's an impressive repeat rate, but with the long-noted exception of Kansas, teams fail to repeat more often than not.
We ran this piece last October, and it ended up being quite possibly the most infamous thing I've ever written.
For the most part, it was fairly accurate. Of the 10 teams selected, only two (Davidson and Virginia) repeated. Of the nine reigning champs from 2013-14 who failed to finish above .500 in conference play in 2014-15, six made last year's list and five were in our top six—and, really, who could have seen Florida's 8-10 SEC record coming?
But by putting Davidson at the top of the list and saying, "The Wildcats could legitimately go 0-18 against their new (A-10) rivals," chances are I'll be mocked and reviled in the greater Charlotte area for at least the next few seasons.
Rest assured, though, Davidson fans, your team is nowhere near the list this year. In fact, if and when we do a "Conference Champs Bound to Repeat" piece, the Wildcats might even sneak onto that one.
Instead, it'll have to be another school that gets reverse jinxed into an unexpected conference title.
Based on a combination of departed players and expected improvement from other teams in the respective conferences, teams are ranked in increasing order of unlikelihood of hanging another banner.
10. Murray State Racers (Ohio Valley)
2014-15 Record: 29-6 (16-0 in Ohio Valley)
Noteworthy Departures: Cameron Payne, Jarvis Williams, T.J. Sapp, Jonathan Fairell, Tyler Rambo
This is basically blasphemy.
Murray State has finished at least two games over .500 in 28 consecutive seasons with an overall winning percentage of 70.3 during that span. The Racers have earned at least a share of 19 Ohio Valley conference titles in those 28 seasons, including each of the last six.
Murray State has to be regarded as one of the most consistently great college basketball programs of the past three decades. And Steve Prohm is widely renowned as one of the best young coaches in the game, having won 78.2 percent of games in his four-year career.
Yet, even the most reliable team in the country isn't immune to this much roster turnover.
Of Murray State's top seven scorers from last season, three graduated, one (Tyler Rambo) transferred and one (Cameron Payne) declared for the NBA draft, leaving the Racers relying heavily on Jeffery Moss, Justin Seymour and a bunch of transfers.
The bigger problem, though, is that Belmont returns just about everyone aside from the guy (Reece Chamberlain) guarding Payne in the above picture. With Craig Bradshaw, Taylor Barnette and Evan Bradds all back for another year, the Bruins should be heavy favorites to win the conference title.
9. Kent State Golden Flashes (Mid-American)
2014-15 Record: 23-12 (12-6 in Mid-American)
Noteworthy Departures: Devareaux Manley, Kris Brewer, Derek Jackson
Kent State was one of three teams that finished in a tie for first place in the MAC last season. One of those teams should be the overwhelming favorite to win the conference this coming year.
Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, that team is Central Michigan.
The Chippewas only lose one player from last year's roster, and Austin Keel didn't even play all that much. They still have Chris Fowler, who averaged 16.2 points, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season. They also have John Simons, who led the nation in O-rating, according to KenPom.com.
And while Central Michigan gets almost everyone back, Kent State loses three of its top four scorers and more than 89 percent of its made three-pointers.
The Golden Flashes do add a pair of transfers in Xavier Pollard (Maine) and Galal Cancer (Cornell) who should help deal with those losses, but there's little question that there won't be as much talent on the court as there was this past season—when five of their conference wins were decided by just one or two points.
Even if Central Michigan disappoints, Kent State will still have to contend with Buffalo, too. The Bulls did lose their head coach and two of their better players, but they still have Justin Moss and high hopes for Torian Graham.
To say the least, the Golden Flashes are headed for an uphill battle.
8. North Carolina Central Eagles (Mid-Eastern)
2014-15 Record: 25-8 (16-0 in Mid-Eastern)
Noteworthy Departures: Nimrod Hilliard, Jordan Parks, Anthony McDonald, Karamo Jawara
Of the three teams that went undefeated in conference last season, North Carolina Central is already the second one to make an appearance. (Calm down, Big Blue Nation. Kentucky wasn't anywhere close to a spot on the list.)
As was the case with Murray State, the sheer amount of production that NC Central is losing just feels like too much to overcome. The four players listed above combined to score 68.7 percent of the team's points while accounting for 65.1 percent of minutes played. All four averaged at least 31 minutes per game, while Dante Holmes was the only other player on the roster to average more than 16 minutes played.
The big question, though, is whether it will even matter in what has been one of the three worst auto-bid conferences for 13 consecutive years, as graded on KenPom.com.
Yes, the Eagles are losing a ton of talent, but they also have a regular-season record of 46-2 in the MEAC over the past three seasons. For all the time we spent making jokes/comments about Kentucky's bench being one of the 10 best teams in the country last season, wouldn't NC Central's reserves at least be competitive if its starters have been that unbeatable?
Howard brings back two of its three leading scorers from last year. Norfolk State will retain all three top scorers from its second-place roster. At the very least, those two teams will give a depleted NC Central a strong run for its money.
7. Harvard Crimson (Ivy League)
2014-15 Record: 22-8 (11-3 in Ivy League)
Noteworthy Departures: Wesley Saunders, Steve Moundou-Missi, Jonah Travis, Kenyatta Smith
It's hard to believe that Harvard ever became an annual contender. The Crimson went 63 consecutive years without winning more than 17 games in a season, but they have won at least 20 games in six consecutive years—including earning at least a share of five straight Ivy League titles.
It might be even harder to believe that they can keep that streak going for another year.
Wesley Saunders was the most valuable player in the Ivy League this past season, and that isn't even open for debate. The Crimson didn't really start cooking, though, until Steve Moundou-Missi finally started consistently putting up solid numbers.
Now, they have to adjust to life without either of those studs. Guys like Zena Edosomwan and Evan Cummins will need to play a big role as upperclassmen. Chris Egi and Andre Chatfield need to make sizable leaps after doing nearly nothing as freshmen. Corbin Miller needs to become a much more reliable three-point threat. And Siyani Chambers needs to bounce back from a poor junior year to become the star of the show.
That's a lot of needs, and those are just for Harvard to remain as good as it was this past season—which is to say nothing of the expected improvement of Columbia and continued strength of Yale.
Tommy Amaker has done an absolutely phenomenal job with this program over the past few years, but it might take the best season of his coaching career to keep this from being a rebuilding year.
6. St. Francis (NY) Terriers (Northeast)
2014-15 Record: 23-12 (15-3 in Northeast)
Noteworthy Departures: Jalen Cannon, Brent Jones, Kevin Douglas, Lowell Ulmer
Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones never became household names, but they should have.
The inside-outside duo put up pretty solid numbers for its entire four-year run with the Terriers, but those two guys really kicked it up a notch as seniors. Cannon averaged 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, recording a double-double in 21 of his 35 games. Jones really developed into a scorer in his fourth year, putting up 14.1 points in addition to 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
Cannon and Jones were the only Terriers who averaged 30 minutes or 10 points per game. They were also jointly responsible for 51 percent of the assists, 39 percent of the steals and 36 percent of the rebounds the team recorded. Cannon was also St. Francis' second-best shot-blocker.
Needless to say, they will be sorely missed.
Meanwhile, Mount St. Mary's is poised for a big season with all five of its per-game leading scorers back for another season. The Mountaineers struggled for the first two months of the year before winning 11 of their final 16 regular-season games. And with all that they're bringing back, they just might be able to keep that momentum going into a 2016 NEC regular-season title while St. Francis rebuilds a bit.
5. Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt)
2014-15 Record: 25-10 (15-5 in Sun Belt)
Noteworthy Departures: R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, Curtis Washington, Ryann Green
Georgia State was very much a two-man show this past season.
R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow both ranked in the top 100 nationally in percentage of possessions used and percentage of shots taken. They combined to attempt 49.4 of the team's field goals and scored 48.7 percent of Georgia State's points—both of which would have easily been above 50 percent if Harrow hadn't missed seven games and played just six minutes in an eighth contest.
But they're both gone, and so is big man Curtis Washington, leaving the team with all sorts of gigantic holes to fill.
The Panthers do add Jeremy Hollowell (Indiana) and Isaiah Williams (Samford) in the "transfers who sat out the 2014-15 season" department, but it's going to take more than a decent SoCon scorer and a Big Ten castoff to get back to where they were a few months ago.
Worse yet, Louisiana-Lafayette could be headed for a big season in Shawn Long's senior year. The big man has averaged a double-double in each of his first three years with the Ragin' Cajuns and is well on his way to 2,300 points, 1,400 rebounds and 300 blocks in his college career. And he'll have the vast majority of his supporting cast back for another year.
But, hey, we'll always have those magical tournament moments between Ron and R.J. Hunter.
4. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (Conference USA)
2014-15 Record: 27-9 (15-3 in Conference USA)
Noteworthy Departures: Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, Michale Kyser, Raheem Appleby, head coach Michael White
It was already going to be a tough year for Louisiana Tech to repeat. Smith was one of the best two-way point guards in the country. Kyser was one of the best shot-blockers in the nation for his entire career and drastically improved as an offensive weapon throughout his four seasons. Appleby was a solid and necessary volume scorer.
With all three of those players graduating, it's up to Alex Hamilton and Erik McCree to lead the way.
But now they have to do so without their coach and without a player who figured to be a key addition.
White took the job at Florida that was vacated when Billy Donovan decided to bolt for the opening with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shortly after White left, grad-transfer Jermaine Ruttley decided to reopen his recruitment, as reported by ESPN's Jeff Goodman.
It's tough to say how 17.4 points per game at Florida A&M would have translated to a better level of competition, but it doesn't look like we'll find out what he could have brought to Louisiana Tech's table.
Elsewhere in Conference USA, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee and particularly UAB return the bulk of their key players from last year's above-.500 rosters and should be the three teams primarily vying for the conference title.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
2014-15 Record: 36-4 (16-2 in Big Ten)
Noteworthy Departures: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Duje Dukan
This will inevitably be taken as a slight against Wisconsin on the heels of its second consecutive Final Four appearance, but let's be realistic. The Badgers are losing the 2015 Wooden Award winner and four of their other six leading scorers.
As a rule of thumb, that's not a good formula. Creighton went from 27-8 to 14-19 after losing Doug McDermott and company. Kentucky went from national champions to missing the tournament after watching Anthony Davis and five others leave town. Oklahoma was a No. 2 seed in 2009 with Blake Griffin and went 13-18 the following year without him and four others.
It's hard enough to replace the nation's best player without also needing to replenish much of his supporting cast.
To be fair, the Badgers do still have Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. That's a pretty strong duo to build around and enough for most to assume they'll still make the tournament.
Enough to win the Big Ten, though? That's extremely unlikely.
Unless something drastic changes between now and November, Maryland will open the season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation. Michigan State and Indiana will likely be ranked in the Top 15, and Michigan and Purdue may well debut in the Top 25.
Simply put, there's no shortage of exceptionally talented teams in this conference, and there's no question that at least two or three teams are far more likely than Wisconsin to win the Big Ten.
2. UC Davis Aggies (Big West)
2014-15 Record: 25-7 (14-2 in Big West)
Noteworthy Departures: Corey Hawkins, Josh Ritchart, Tyler Les, Avery Johnson
The Aggies came out of absolutely nowhere last season, increasing their winning percentage from .290 to .781 in one offseason. Based on everything they're losing, though, they just might return from whence they came.
At 44.7 percent, UC Davis had the best team three-point percentage in the country. In fact, they were the only team to shoot better than 42 percent in any of the past three seasons. It was the best team percentage since at least the 1997-98 season.
Unfortunately, the Aggies are waving goodbye to basically all of that long-range production. Hawkins, Ritchart, Les and Johnson combined to make 242 of the team's 274 triples and shot a combined 46.3 percent.
Take that element away from this team, and there isn't much left. Despite playing an abysmal strength of schedule, the Aggies were considerably below average on defense, committed too many turnovers and rebounded poorly. They shot their way to the majority of their wins and are losing all of those shooters.
UC Davis does add big man Nolan Berry after one lackluster freshman season at Butler, but that isn't much of a rebate for the departing seniors.
Not to mention the Big West is UC Irvine's conference to lose, anyway.
1. Charleston Southern Buccaneers (Big South)
2014-15 Record: 19-12 (13-5 in Big South)
Noteworthy Departures: Saah Nimley, Arlon Harper, Will Saunders, Cedrick Bowen, Paul Gombwer
There are reigning champions losing a lot of scorers, and then there's Charleston Southern.
If the Buccaneers had made the 2015 NCAA tournament, they would have been one of my sleeper picks because of their sheer amount of veteran leadership. Unfortunately, they didn't go dancing, and that recipe for an upset immediately became a recipe for a rebuilding year or two.
Nimley was the team's leading scorer at 21.4 points per game. Harper, Saunders and Bowen ranked second, third and fourth, respectively. Gombwer came in sixth place. In total, they combined for 78.9 percent of Charleston Southern's points in their final season before graduating.
Danny Upchurch is the second-most productive returning player, and he averaged 11.4 minutes and 2.2 points per game.
Are you getting the picture yet? Everyone is gone, and Charleston Southern isn't exactly the most popular destination for high-profile recruits and transfers.
Meanwhile, High Point still has John Brown, who has almost single-handedly led the Panthers to at least a share of three straight Big South regular-season titles.
We'll hold off on the 0-18 prediction this year, but Charleston Southern has to be the least likely team to repeat as conference champs in 2015-16.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.