NCAA Basketball Teams That Have Changed Significantly During the 2015 Offseason
Thus far in college basketball's 2015 offseason, Kentucky, Purdue and Wichita State greatly improved their chances of winning the 2016 national championship while Dayton and Memphis suddenly look like teams with almost no hope of dancing.
As far as we're concerned today, the college basketball offseason doesn't truly begin until after the NBA draft declaration deadline at the end of April. All of the chaos that takes place between the end of the tournament and that deadline is almost its own entity, perhaps best referred to as the post-postseason. But the offseason is when things start to slow down and people like Jeff Goodman and Jon Rothstein can catch an hour of sleep without risking missing any breaking news.
So who has changed the most since May 1, and did they change for better or for worse?
Between late-signing recruits, transfers, dismissals and suspensions, we've compiled a list of 10 noteworthy teams who have experienced the biggest facelifts over the past five-plus months. Some have improved significantly, but others have really dropped off the map.
Note: Louisville and SMU were not included, because even though things have gotten pretty ugly for those programs in the past few weeks, there haven't been any personnel changes yet, and SMU will probably attempt to appeal the postseason ban to postpone it until the following year.
For Better: Wichita State
Let's note right off the bat that Peyton Allen won't be eligible to play until the 2016-17 season. However, that doesn't mean the Shockers can't immediately benefit from the addition of a 3-star will-be sophomore shooting guard who was offered by Butler, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and others before signing with Texas A&M. It's one thing to have two great guards in Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but giving them Allen and Conner Frankamp to practice against will make all four that much better.
But it's not the ineligible, walk-on transfer who made Wichita State one of the most improved teams of the offseason. That honor belongs to Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady. Poor Cleveland State has lost Bryn Forbes (Michigan State), Trey Lewis (Louisville) and Grady in the past two offseasons, but it's the big man at the end of that list who will ensure the Shockers spend at least one week in the AP Top 15 for a fifth consecutive season.
With Darius Carter graduating, Gregg Marshall desperately needed some help in the frontcourt. Shaquille Morris (4.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG) and Rashard Kelly (2.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG) played relatively well as limited-role freshman forwards, but Wichita State couldn't afford to just hope that they both develop into full-time assets in both Baker and VanVleet's final year of eligibility.
Thus, the Shockers pilfered Grady from the Vikings, hoping to profit from the 19.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks he averaged per 40 minutes last season. If he can put up similar numbers while upgrading slightly from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference, I have a hard time believing this team won't win at least 30 games for a fourth straight year.
For Worse: Michigan State
Do you remember how hard people fell in love with Michigan State in April? Not only were the No. 7-seeded Spartans the oddballs in a Final Four otherwise consisting of three No. 1 seeds, but less than a week after that appearance in the national semifinals, they signed 5-star big man Caleb Swanigan.
ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan wrote in his revised (Still) Way-Too-Early Top 25 on April 30:
No team has risen higher in our rankings than Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, who checked in at No. 24 on April 7. ... Almost overnight, the Spartans went from a team with some nice pieces (Denzel Valentine, West Virginia transfer Eron Harris) and obvious holes (left by Travis Trice and forward Branden Dawson) to having more sheer talent than most of the rest of the Big Ten.
So, when Swanigan changed his mind less than a month later, shouldn't MSU have dropped back to the bottom of the projected Top 25? And shouldn't the Spartans have subsequently suffered a slightly further drop when projected starting shooting guard Harris was suspended for a OWI arrest?
Evidently, both of those developments flew under the radar, though, as Michigan State remains a Top 20 team in seemingly all of the Top 25 projections, including a No. 15 ranking in the beloved Blue Ribbon Top 25.
By no means are we suggesting Michigan State is going to be terrible this season. The Spartans still have a strong frontcourt in the Matt Costello-Gavin Schilling center tandem and freshman power forward Deyonta Davis.
Harris will most likely play a lot this season, and they certainly wouldn't be in bad shape with Bryn Forbes and Matthew McQuaid sharing the job previously assumed to belong to Harris. Still, expectations for Michigan State in 2015-16 should be markedly lower than they were at the end of April.
For Better: Purdue
Michigan State's loss was very much Purdue's gain, as Caleb Swanigan's switcheroo made the Boilermakers one of the country's only teams to add multiple projected starters since the beginning of May.
As a result of Swanigan's commitment, Purdue has one of the most ridiculously talented frontcourts in the nation. A.J. Hammons is an outstanding senior center, and 6'7", 220-pound Vince Edwards was woefully underappreciated last year as a freshman forward. This isn't quite a "Kentucky platoons" situation, but it hardly seems fair that the Boilermakers have Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman and Isaac Haas as reserves.
However, point guard was the big issue they needed to address this summer, and they're hoping they've done so in grad-transfer Johnny Hill.
Purdue will be Hill's third stop on the college tour, previously playing for Illinois State and Texas-Arlington. He was considerably better at the former than the latter, indicating that there's a strong amount of potential, despite a very inefficient few months with UTA.
The Boilermakers don't need a wizard, though. A point guard who gets noticed for great play would obviously be nice, but one who doesn't get noticed for poor play would more than suffice.
Jon Octeus didn't put up big numbers last season, but the grad-transfer did enough to help Purdue bounce back from a rough first six weeks to make the tournament. If Hill can provide a similar degree of leadership at the point while adding Swanigan to the equation, this is a team that could make some serious noise in the race for the Big Ten title.
For Worse: Dayton
September 20: Dyshawn Pierre suspended for first semester (at least)
A few weeks ago, Dyshawn Pierre was an extremely legitimate candidate for projected A-10 Player of the Year. Few teams in the country are going to be as singularly reliant on one player as Dayton would have been with Pierre.
But Dayton's postseason hopes took a big hit when it was reported that Pierre was suspended for the first semester of the season for what soon thereafter was connected to a sexual-assault allegation, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman.
Without digging into the details of the situation or speculating on if or when he'll return, let's just note that Pierre logged more minutes, points and rebounds than any other returning Flyer and was almost certainly destined for an even bigger role following the graduation of Jordan Sibert.
By the end of the first semester, Dayton will play Alabama, North Florida and Vanderbilt, as well as the Advocare Invitational, which includes an opener against Iowa before two other potentially high-profile games.
Regardless of what you want to believe about the A-10, there aren't many resume-building games to be won in conference. The Flyers don't even play road games against Davidson, George Washington or VCU this year. So without Pierre for (at least) those six games in November and early December, Dayton might be "auto bid or bust" just one month into the season.
For Better: Kentucky
Even as 5-star player after 5-star player signed elsewhere in April and early May, didn't you just know deep down that John Calipari had something more than JUCO transfer Mychal Mulder up his sleeve?
With all due respect to Mulder, this is Kentucky we're talking about. In the previous five recruiting classes, the Wildcats averaged 3.8 McDonald's All Americans per year. And to make up for losing seven players to the 2015 NBA draft, they needed to make at least one more, bigger splash.
At long last, Jamal Murray came in like a cannonball.
The Canadian import had an unbelievable summer, making the Nike Hoop Summit and Pan Am Games look like his own personal NBA draft workout. In the process of dominating the competition and reclassifying to the class of 2015, Murray catapulted all the way to No. 6 in the latest 2016 DraftExpress mock draft. He might be the best player on a roster that was already projected for a No. 1 seed without him.
Calipari didn't stop there, though, later convincing Australian big man Isaac Humphries to reclassify to help beef up a frontcourt that was beginning to look pretty shallow.
They won't be as deep as last year, but with the two guys the Wildcats added this summer, they are very well equipped for another run to the Final Four.
For Worse: Memphis
By and large, college basketball news in the doldrums of summer is horrible for the teams involved. (See: Mudiay, Emmanuel; circa July 2014.)
There's always a deluge of news about transfers, draft decisions, coaching changes and late signees in April and May. From June through August, though, you're just hoping not to hear anything about your favorite team, because it's usually an injury, suspension, arrest or scandal of some sort.
Such was the case when one of the biggest stories of the offseason was Austin Nichols' intent to transfer and Memphis' subsequent intent to keep him from going anywhere he wanted to go.
We've seen some ugly breakups throughout the years, but this one felt especially nasty—given the way it was drawn out like a hostage situation over multiple days in which literally nothing else was happening in the world of college hoops or, frankly, any popular USA sport aside from midseason MLB action.
Regardless of how it went down, though, the end result is a Tigers team that lost the most important player from its roster at a point in the year when it's too late to do much of anything about it. They do still have one more year of Shaq Goodwin and incoming freshman forwards Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Nick Marshall, but without Nichols, it's really difficult to envision Memphis improving on its disappointing 2014-15 season.
Maybe For Better?: Indiana
It's kind of brutal to say that a team is better off without certain players, but addition by subtraction is a very real phenomenon.
Maryland was much better last season after Nick Faust, Charles Mitchell, Shaq Cleare, Seth Allen and Roddy Peters all transferred. The Terrapins did have a pretty great "addition by addition" in the form of Melo Trimble, but the departure of those aforementioned players really opened the door for guys who were more willing and able to buy into Mark Turgeon's plan.
Of course, those five players chose to transfer out of Maryland. With Indiana, we're dealing with three players getting kicked out of the program after multiple drug-related issues. In the Hoosiers' case, it's even easier to make the argument that it should benefit the team to move on without those distractions.
The idea of losing three forwards from last year's roster would have been pretty catastrophic, but now that they have Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt in the picture, it probably wasn't a very difficult decision to part ways with Devin Davis, Emmitt Holt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea.
For Better: California
When the 2015 NCAA tournament ended, there were still eight very highly touted recruits available: Caleb Swanigan, Ivan Rabb, Thon Maker, Jaylen Brown, Malik Newman, Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo and Brandon Ingram. By the time the April 30 draft declaration deadline rolled around, though, six of the eight had chosen a school, and it was looking increasingly inevitable that Maker would end up reclassifying to 2016, leaving Brown as the only unclaimed stud.
It wasn't long at all before he became the first major splash of the offseason, joining Rabb in California to put a nice bow on an overnight turnaround for Cuonzo Martin and the Golden Bears.
Last year, Myles Turner was the big-name player who held out for seemingly forever before signing with Texas, inevitably leading to a lot of offseason Longhorns hype that most of the nation got pretty sick of reading. Same goes for California in this offseason, but it's hard not to get excited about a team that adds arguably one of the nation's five best freshmen, while the vast majority of the other 350 teams have done nothing to keep pace.
Only time will tell what California's starting lineup actually looks like—ESPN's Jeff Goodman noted on Twitter last week that Kingsley Okoroh could start at center—but Brown will likely be the star of the team, regardless of whether he's starting at small or power forward. The likely lottery-bound, one-and-done star is the difference that propelled California from a team that might make the NCAA tournament to a team that might win it.
For Worse: St. John's
As mentioned a few slides ago, no good college basketball news breaks in the summer. Thus, it wasn't great for the 2015-16 prospects at St. John's to have multiple stories develop in June.
The Johnnies were already pretty much destined for a rebuilding year. Four of their six leading scorers were seniors, and they got a new head coach in Coach Mullin. That much turnover is rarely a recipe for a championship season, but there was hope that the Red Storm would remain competitive with Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa serving as the veteran leaders on an otherwise extremely young roster.
But then word began to surface that Jordan was going to be academically ineligible, per the New York Post's Zach Braziller, eventually resulting in his decision to leave the school to play professionally. And given the facts that Obekpa filed paperwork to transfer the previous summer and was suspended from this past season's NCAA tournament game, it wasn't much of a surprise when he decided to leave, too, eventually landing at UNLV.
All of a sudden, the Red Storm's highest-scoring returning player was Amar Alibegovic, who had 37 points against 42 personal fouls last season.
To Mullin's credit, he got busy in a hurry, adding Missouri State's Ron Mvouika, Iowa Western's Darien Williams and Pittsburgh's Durand Johnson, all of which will be immediately eligible. He also signed freshmen Marcus Lovett, Yankuba Sima, Malik Ellison and Kassoum Yakwe, as well as 2016 SG Shamorie Ponds. Still, St. John's has a pretty huge hill to climb to move on from losing all six of its top scorers in one offseason.
For Better: Teams Adding Grad-Transfer Shooting Guards
May 2: Ike Nwamu transfers to UNLV
May 6: Dylan Ennis transfers to Oregon
May 11: Rasheed Sulaimon transfers to Maryland
May 12: Adam Smith transfers to Georgia Tech
May 16: Sterling Gibbs transfers to Connecticut
May 17: Derrick Gordon transfers to Seton Hall
August 8: Khalid Lewis transfers to Illinois
Transferring in college basketball has been out of control for the past few years, but the graduate-transfer rate seems unusually high this year—at least in terms of the sheer number of quality players making an impact with big-name programs.
We certainly can't fault the coaches for grabbing available players and neither the student-athletes for using their final year of eligibility to try to either get more playing time or contribute to a title contender. Still, here are seven shooting guards who transferred after April 30 and who will likely start for teams with at least some chance of making the NCAA tournament.
I don't know what the "proper" number should be, but seven players in that subset seem like an awful lot. Throw in the ones who transferred in April and you're adding Trey Lewis (Louisville), Damion Lee (Louisville), Korey Billbury (VCU), Four McGlynn (Rhode Island), Ricky Tarrant (Memphis) and Sterling Smith (Pittsburgh) to the list as well—and that's still only the shooting guards.
Aside from Byron Wesley, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Nick Zeisloft, Jon Octeus and maybe M.J. Rhett, can you even name a grad-transfer at any position who made a big impact last season?
But I digress. The big ones from this offseason's list are Rasheed Sulaimon, Sterling Gibbs and Dylan Ennis. Sulaimon didn't really transfer so much as find a new school after being told to leave his old one, but regardless of the semantics, all three will be crucial contributors for teams almost certain to make the NCAA tournament.
Recruiting "star" rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.