College Basketball Teams Most in Need of a Big April Signing
College basketball's offseason is hardly a week old yet there's been no shortage of activity, most of it coming in the player movement department. NBA draft declarations in addition to transfer announcements have led to major roster turnover beyond the standard attrition that comes from graduation, and it has meant some high-profile teams are in desperate need of fresh bodies.
Thankfully, quite a few notable high school prospects remain uncommitted or have yet to sign with the school they intend to play for (while others have managed to get out of those national letters of intent and are back on the market). And with the spring signing period right around the corner, this provides a golden opportunity for teams to land someone capable of making an instant impact.
Players can start signing Wednesday, so ahead of that occasion we've identified some teams that could greatly benefit from picking up a big name or two. Some of these teams have commitments from notable recruits but since they're not official until pen hits paper we're including them as being in need.
Depending on the draft decisions of a few players who have not announced their plans, Arizona could be replacing six of its top seven scorers from this past season. Freshmen Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons are gone and sophomore Chance Comanche is testing the waters while sophomore Allonzo Trier and freshman Rawle Alkins have until May 23 to decide if they're going to stay or go.
Arizona only lost one notable senior in guard Kadeem Allen, but the early entry losses will be significant even if Alkins and Trier stay and Comanche comes back. The Wildcats were prepared for most of this movement by signing the No. 3 class for 2017, a group that includes No. 1 overall player DeAndre Ayton, but they could certainly use at least one more prospect.
That might just be Brian Bowen, a 6'7” wing who would make for the final piece of an incoming class that already includes two big men and two perimeter prospects. Bowen, from prep national champion La Lumiere School in Indiana, is rated No. 19 overall and the fifth-best small forward in the 2017 class.
Bowen is deciding between six schools—Arizona, Creighton, DePaul, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Texas—and it's likely he's waiting to see what happens with some yet-to-declare players like Trier.
Kevin Ollie won a national title with Connecticut in his second year on the job, the program's second championship in a four-year span. And since then the Huskies and Ollie have been living in the shadow of those titles with disappointing results, going 61-43 with just one NCAA tournament appearance in the past three seasons.
The 2016-17 Huskies went 16-17, their first losing record since Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun's first season in 1986-87, and some major turnover from the latest squad is afoot. In addition to graduating seniors Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey and Rodney Purvis, UConn is losing three players to transfer in forwards Steven Enoch, Juwan Durham and Vance Jackson.
Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog noted UConn is going after former Washington forward Mamoudou Diarra, while the Huskies also hope they can land ex-Georgetown signee Tremont Waters, a 4-star point guard, who was granted his release in March.
Two consecutive top-15 recruiting classes helped Florida State earn its first NCAA tournament bid since 2012 as well as a No. 3 seed. But once the Seminoles were upset by Xavier in the second round a stark reality set in with the knowledge that most of the best players from that squad were moving on.
Freshman Jonathan Isaac, sophomore Dwayne Bacon and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes, FSU's top three scorers, all turned pro with none of them retaining the option to come back. The 'Noles also said goodbye to senior big men Michael Ojo and Jarquez Smith.
The loss of Bacon and Rathan-Mayes thins out FSU's backcourt, but it returns the likes of Terrance Mann, Trent Forrest and PJ Savoy. Adding one more shooter would help, though, which is why landing 5-star guard M.J. Walker would be huge.
Walker, rated No. 23 overall and fourth-best among shooting guards, is looking at FSU as well as Georgia Tech, Kansas, Maryland, Ohio State, UCLA, UNLV and Virginia Tech.
Still desperately clinging to its glory years, Georgetown continues to hope coaches with a connection to the great John Thompson are the answer. Top assistant Craig Esherick was fired after five seasons and then son John Thompson III ran things for the last 13 before he was let go after a second consecutive losing record.
Now its Patrick Ewing, arguably the greatest player in Hoyas history and a member of their 1984 national title team, who is in charge. This is his first head-coaching job after spending the last 15 years as an assistant in the NBA, so there could be a steep learning curve for him in re-acclimating to the college game. Former St. John's great Chris Mullin has experienced as much since taking over his alma mater before the 2015-16 season, going 22-43 in two seasons.
What would certainly help Ewing is a splashy signing this month, or at least getting back a prospect who'd previously signed with Georgetown. Four-star point guard Tremont Waters asked out of his letter of intent in March, possibly anticipating JTIII's impending termination, leaving the Hoyas with only one signee (three-star wing Antwan Walker) for 2017-18.
Georgetown's top scorer, guard Rodney Pryor, has graduated, while junior L.J. Peak has turned pro after averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
When Josh Pastner jumped from Memphis to Georgia Tech last spring the move reeked of desperation, Pastner trying to get out of a worsening situation for one that was even more problematic. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein famously tweeted that the Yellow Jackets had the worst power-conference roster he'd ever seen and they wouldn't win a game in ACC play.
Instead, Georgia Tech went 8-10 in the league and Pastner was named ACC coach of the Year. The Yellow Jackets didn't make the NCAA tournament but did reach the NIT finals, falling to TCU in the championship game. And that was without much in terms of notable talent in terms of incoming hype, as standouts Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers weren't expected to do anything close to what they did in 2016-17.
Now comes the hard part: being able to replicate (if not surpass) what he did in his first season, something that could be made easier by landing some impact recruits. Currently Tech has three players in its 2017 class, 3-star guards Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood and forward Moses Wright.
Managing to pick up someone a little more significant—maybe guard M.J. Walker or wing Jordan Tucker, both 4-star prospects from Georgia—would drastically raise the Yellow Jackets' expectations for 2017-18. That could be good and bad, though, since Pastner never lacked for talent at Memphis but wasn't able to do much with it in his last few seasons.
Few power-conference programs have been as dismal in recent years as Missouri, which has gone 27-68 with only eight SEC victories since Frank Haith skipped out for Tulsa after the 2013-14 season (leaving behind a boatload of NCAA violations). Not surprisingly, Kim Anderson was fired and replaced by a coach whose recruiting acumen has been well-chronicled of late.
Cuonzo Martin lured a pair of 5-star prospects to California in wing Jaylen Brown and forward Ivan Rabb, and Mizzou are hoping he's able to do the same thing for their program. The first step in that process was hiring assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. away from Washington, thus prompting No. 5 overall prospect Michael Porter Jr. to ask out of his national letter of intent at Washington and join his father's new staff.
Porter is set to sign with the Tigers this week, a major addition to a 2017 recruiting class whose only other members are 3-star guards Blake Harris and C.J. Roberts, the former previously set to play at Washington like Porter. That alone should help Mizzou be somewhat better in 2017-18, even with three of its top scorers graduating or transferring, though one or two more additions would really do the trick.
Oh how quickly they fall.
This time a year ago Oklahoma was still basking in the glow of its first Final Four since 2002, a feat made possible mostly because of the efforts of national player of the year Buddy Hield. He was a senior, and his departure (along with guard Isaiah Cousins and forward Ryan Spangler) made a rebuilding season in 2016-17 very possible.
Few expected that to mean going 11-20, its worst record in 36 years, and a ninth-place finish in the Big 12.
Lon Kruger has made his career on turning around programs that were down in the dumps when he inherited them but in many of his stops he's had to do some rebuilding midway through his tenure as well. That's the case with the Sooners, since leading scorer Jordan Woodard has graduated and Kruger's set to only have one senior (forward Khadeem Lattin) on the roster for 2017-18.
Reinforcements are on the way, though, in the form of what's currently the No. 16 class in the country. The feature attraction is 5-star point guard Trae Young, who committed to the Sooners in February over Kansas.
One more notable signee would be great, though their top remaining target (former Washington guard prospect Daejon Davis) ended up committing to Stanford on April 1.
Shaka Smart was supposed to revive a listing Texas program but so far he's been struggling just to tread water. He managed to win 20 games in his first season, using mostly previous coach Rick Barnes' players, then this past season, with his own recruits, dipped to 11-22 for the Longhorns' worst record since the mid-1980s.
And some of those players he brought in could already be gone. Center Jarrett Allen and guard Andrew Jones, both 5-star prospects from the 2016 class, have declared for the NBA draft (with only Jones retaining the right to return). That's in addition to losing big man Shaquille Cleare and guard Kendal Yancy to graduation.
Another quartet of promising prospects are on their way to Austin, all ranked in the top 100 including point guard Matt Coleman, who committed in January. Coleman is trying to help Smart land another big fish in the spring signing period, using Twitter to reach out to uncommitted 5-star big man Mohamed Bamba.
The 6'11” Bamba, rated second-best in the country, is choosing between the Longhorns, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.