College Basketball Players Tasked with Replacing Last Year's Biggest Stars
Duke's Luke Kennard and North Carolina's Justin Jackson had a trio of great head-to-head battles last season, but what are the Tobacco Road rivals going to look like in 2017-18 after losing each of those stars?
And if Washington went 9-22 last year with Markelle Fultz on the roster, will the Huskies win any games this year?
College basketball teams are forced to replace stars every year, but certain teams will have far more difficulty doing so than others. Those brimming with top-tier prospects or a loaded recruiting class may not miss a beat, while some will dearly miss last year's leaders.
On March 4, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced the ballot of 15 finalists for the 2017 Wooden Award, 13 of whom are now finished playing college basketball. Let's take a look at how each team will go about replacing those stars.
12. Arizona Wildcats
The Outgoing Star: Lauri Markkanen
2016-17 Stats: 15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 42.3% 3PT, 0.235 WS/40
The Replacement: DeAndre Ayton
This isn't a slight against Lauri Markkanen—hell, I was practically driving the Markkanen bandwagon last year—but if there's one team that might be in better shape at the position where it lost its star, it's Arizona.
Markkanen is a 7'0" stretch 4 who averaged nearly two made three-pointers per game, which made him one of the more unguardable players in the country. When he started cooking, opposing teams could only hope he would cool off. The big man scored at least 20 points on nine separate occasions, even though he rarely attempted more than 12 shots in a game.
However, some stretch 4s are just tall wings who spend most of their time on the offensive perimeter, while others have a more conventional big-man game with the added ability to hit the occasional three.
Markkanen was the former; DeAndre Ayton is the latter.
Arizona's new 7'0" phenom with three-point range is a more committed rebounder and defender and an excellent ball-handler who should impact the game in a plethora of ways. Ayton is the rare combination of physical traits and athletic skills that can contest a shot on defense, grab the rebound, dribble up the floor and create a bucket for himself.
Combine that with Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and others, and it's no wonder why people are buying up all of the national championship stock in this team even though it lost its starting point guard (Kadeem Allen) and the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
11. Oregon Ducks
The Outgoing Star: Dillon Brooks
2016-17 Stats: 16.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 40.1% 3PT, 0.214 WS/40
The Replacement: Troy Brown Jr.
Oregon has almost no chance of being as good in 2017-18 as it has been for the last two years. The Ducks lost all five of their leading scorers as well as two crucial reserves. They reloaded in a huge way with quality recruits and transfers, but as far as returning impact players go, it's Payton Pritchard in a ghost town.
In terms of a one-for-one replacement, though, Oregon could have done a lot worse than trading Dillon Brooks for Troy Brown Jr.
As was the case with Markkanen in Arizona, that isn't disrespect toward Brooks. Oregon wasn't remotely the same team when he was injured or struggling. He scored more than 1,600 points across the last three seasons and was one of the most underappreciated stars in the sport.
Brown is one heck of a player, though.
Brooks could play any position 2-4, and this hybrid freshman can be slotted in anywhere from 1-3. Brown is a 6'7" package of explosiveness who can play above the rim or blow straight by a defender as a ball-handler. B/R's Jonathan Wasserman and Scott Phillips have both compared him to Evan Turner, because of his triple-double potential and ability to impact the game on both ends of the court.
The Ducks can only hope they're getting the sophomore- or junior-year version of Turner, because it could be a long season if Brown shows up and posts a 95.6 O-rating like Turner did as a freshman at Ohio State.
10. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Outgoing Star: Justin Jackson
2016-17 Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 37.0% 3PT, 0.190 WS/40
The Replacement: Kenny Williams (and more Luke Maye)
After shooting 29.7 percent from three-point range in his first two seasons, Justin Jackson suddenly became a stone-cold assassin from the perimeter. Despite making just seven of 31 triples (22.6 percent) in the final four rounds of the NCAA tournament, Jackson finished the season at 37.0 percent with 105 makes.
Is anything about Jackson's stat line irreplaceable, though? Last season, 25 players shot at least 40 percent from three-point range while making at least 90 triples (Jackson's total prior to the NCAA tournament). James Blackmon Jr.'s numbers (17.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 42.3% 3PT, 0.183 WS/40) were comparable to Jackson's, yet the Hoosiers should be just fine at shooting guard between Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk and Devonte Green.
In other words, North Carolina should be OK on the perimeter with Kenny Williams becoming more of a go-to scorer.
Like Jackson, Williams hasn't been a great shooter thus far in his career. In fact, he made just 30.1 percent of his three-point attempts through his first two seasons. The skill is there, though. He made a trio of triples against both Oklahoma State and Notre Dame and was the MVP of an early win over Radford because he shot 5-of-6 from downtown. Williams is a streaky shooter who could be deadly when he gets into a rhythm.
The Tar Heels have other guys who will rise to the occasion, too. Joel Berry II is a career 38.0 percent three-point shooter who could have a Frank Mason III type of senior-year explosion. Luke Maye shot 40.0 percent last year, and his minutes (and attempts) should more than double as he moves into a starting role. And young guards Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson and Jalek Felton could all be factors on the perimeter.
Whether North Carolina will successfully replace Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in its frontcourt is another story, but its succession plan for Jackson appears to be solid.
Post-publish note: Five days before this piece, I wrote about the most important graduate transfers in the country, noting the impact Cam Johnson should have with North Carolina. Yet, while writing this slide, I somehow completely forgot about him. Mea culpa. Either way, it doesn't change the conclusion that this team is loaded on the perimeter and extremely suspect in the frontcourt.
9. Duke Blue Devils
The Outgoing Star: Luke Kennard
2016-17 Stats: 19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 43.8% 3PT, 0.218 WS/40
The Replacement: Gary Trent Jr.
Though Luke Kennard scored more career points in high school than LeBron James did, his breakout sophomore year was one of last season's biggest surprises. Kennard played well as a freshman, but he shot only 31.8 percent from three-point range and appeared destined for a reserve role as a sophomore.
If all of the Blue Devils had been healthy from the outset of last season, Kennard might have ranked seventh or eighth on the team in minutes played. Instead, he started red-hot and was one of the only bright spots in a Duke season marred by injuries, tripping controversies and back surgery.
Replacing that type of scoring and leadership isn't supposed to be easy, but it helps when you sign the No. 3 shooting guard in the 2017 class.
Gary Trent Jr. is in a similar situation as Kennard was in last fall. Grayson Allen is still the clear starter at shooting guard, which means Trent's playing time will hinge on the success of the young frontcourt and how much Mike Krzyzewski needs to run a three- or four-guard lineup.
When he's out there, though, don't be surprised if Trent does a lot of sizzling. He might be this year's version of Malik Monk: a streaky shooter with nearly limitless range who doesn't do much else to make a positive impact on the game when his shots aren't falling. But whereas Monk was almost always Kentucky's No. 1 scoring option, Trent will sometimes be No. 5 in Duke's pecking order for points, which should mean a lot of wide-open jumpers and a stout three-point percentage.
8. Villanova Wildcats
The Outgoing Star: Josh Hart
2016-17 Stats: 18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 40.4% 3PT, 0.257 WS/40
The Replacement: Mikal Bridges
Though Josh Hart did not win the Wooden Award either year, one can easily argue he was college basketball's most valuable player over the course of the last two seasons.
Per Sports Reference, only five players amassed 12 or more win shares from 2015-16 through 2016-17, and Hart led the way with 14.4. Hart was the only player in the top 10 (fifth) of the 2016 KenPom Player of the Year standings who came back for another season, and he won that title with room to spare in 2017. And during his final two seasons, Villanova won more games (67) than any other team in the country, including a national championship.
And yet, the Wildcats should be OK with handing the reins to his backup. Because as great as Hart was, Mikal Bridges actually posted a better box plus/minus in both seasons thanks to his relentless defense.
Don't let the defensive praise fool you into believing Bridges hasn't been an outstanding weapon on offense. He ranked within the top 10 nationwide in two-point percentage during each of the last two seasons, and he has averaged better than 1.5 points per field-goal attempt in his career. Last year, he also shot 39.3 percent from three-point range and 91.1 percent from the free-throw line, which is ridiculous for a player renowned for his ability to force turnovers and block shots.
We'll see how well that efficiency holds up through a significant uptick in volume—Bridges has only averaged 8.4 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes in his career, and Villanova needs to replace 28.7 per 40 between the losses of Hart and Kris Jenkins—but there's a non-zero chance that Bridges is going to become a star.
7. Kentucky Wildcats
The Outgoing Star: Malik Monk
2016-17 Stats: 19.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 39.7% 3PT, 0.189 WS/40
The Replacement: Probably Hamidou Diallo, but there are several options
Will John Calipari do it again?
Kentucky lost James Young after the 2013-14 season and we were left to wonder who its best three-point shooter would be. Then Devin Booker came along. After that, it was Jamal Murray. And Malik Monk. It's been lottery pick after lottery pick making it rain from downtown in Lexington.
Next in that line of elite shooting guards appears to be Hamidou Diallo.
As was the case for Monk coming out of high school last summer, Diallo might be the most athletic and explosive player in this year's class. Heck, without even seeing him play a collegiate game, CBS Sports' Matt Norlander wrote, "He was arguably the most athletic prospect in this year's group of players declaring for the draft."
But there are concerns about the consistency of his jumper. Monk was able to silence the doubters by making 104 three-pointers at a 39.7 percent clip. Can Diallo follow suit? Will he lose his starting job if he doesn't?
Kevin Knox is equally capable of becoming Kentucky's go-to perimeter shooter, and there are so many talented big men on this year's roster—Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards are each 6'8" or taller—that the wing-forward could be the primary 2 to make room for more frontcourt minutes.
Kentucky also landed a pair of 4-star, top-100 guards (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemarl Baker) who could shoot their way into a ton of minutes.
The Wildcats might not have the same singular scoring machine that they had in Monk last year, but they could be in even better shape because of their sheer number of offensive options.
6. Kansas Jayhawks
The Outgoing Stars: Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson
The Replacement: Malik Newman and Billy Preston
The only team that lost two members of the 2017 Wooden Award Final 15, Kansas falls right on the border between the teams that should be fine and the ones that might be in some trouble.
If we weren't talking about Bill Self and Kansas, there would be serious concerns about how this team plans to replace Frank Mason III (the Wooden Award winner) and Josh Jackson (the No. 4 pick in this year's draft).
Even though he was regarded as the best college basketball player in the nation last year, Mason will likely be the one Kansas has an easier time replacing based on its roster construction. The Jayhawks still have Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick as backcourt weapons, each of whom averaged at least 24 minutes per game in 2016. To that trio, they add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman and freshman combo guard Marcus Garrett. It's an understatement, but Self has some guys who can run an offense and hit a perimeter jumper.
Replacing Jackson at the 4 could be more of an adventure. Kansas will bring in 5-star power forward Billy Preston, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the problems this team has had with top-rated power forwards in recent years. Between Carlton Bragg Jr., Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, Self's last three "can't-miss" power forwards had more combined recruiting stars (14) than career starts (12) and had a combined total of 585 points and 438 rebounds in four seasons.
Aside from position and the jersey he's about to wear, Preston has nothing in common with those three. It'd be unfair to preemptively lump him in with guys who never came close to living up to the hype. But if he isn't a dominant frontcourt force, what the heck is Kansas going to do? Udoka Azubuike showed a lot of potential in just 142 minutes of action last season, but he can't be the only big man.
Self always has something up his sleeve, though. Maybe Mitch Lightfoot is going to unexpectedly star at the 4 after he scored just 24 points as a freshman, or maybe they'll permanently play small ball with four wings. After 13 straight Big 12 titles, we're required to give this team more than the benefit of the doubt.
5. UCLA Bruins
The Outgoing Star: Lonzo Ball
2016-17 Stats: 14.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.6 APG, 41.2% 3PT, 0.214 WS/40
The Replacement: Jaylen Hands
In any other season on any other team, the hype for Jaylen Hands would be out of control. A 6'3" point guard with incredible handles, athleticism, aggressiveness and court awareness, Hands has the potential to become a college basketball sensation who leaps to the NBA after one season.
At UCLA, though, his challenge is replacing a once-in-a-decade talent who has been in the news on a nearly daily basis for the past 10 months. Trying to be the next UCLA point guard after Lonzo Ball is like trying to be the next Minnesota Vikings wide receiver after Randy Moss or the next San Francisco Giants left fielder after Barry Bonds. Someone has to do it, but there's a good chance that within the next few years, we'll completely forget who it was.
Historical implications aside, is Hands capable of leading a team that lost four starters and five of its seven leaders in both points and rebounds?
Whether Ball was destined for greatness or not, he was entering a ready-made situation, surrounded by excellent three-point shooters who just needed someone to consistently get them the rock. Ball did exactly that with poise and flair beyond his years, racking up ridiculous numbers alongside Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and TJ Leaf.
Now? UCLA has one player on the roster (Aaron Holiday) with more than 12 career made three-pointers, which will make spreading out the defense and finding driving lanes exponentially more difficult. That is, until Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes and/or LiAngelo Ball prove they need to be taken seriously as perimeter weapons.
Hands is gifted enough (and the Pac-12 is weak enough) to get the Bruins back to the NCAA tournament. However, this team isn't likely to enter said tournament as one of the top candidates to cut down the nets.
4. Baylor Bears
The Outgoing Star: Johnathan Motley
2016-17 Stats: 17.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.208 WS/40
The Replacement: Terry Maston
With both Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince out of the picture, Johnathan Motley finally got his chance to take the college basketball world by storm. The 6'9" power forward put up strong numbers in limited minutes for his first two seasons, and he became the featured piece of a Baylor offense that climbed to No. 1 in the AP poll after not receiving a single preseason vote.
But if Motley was the next man up after Gathers, who takes Motley's spot in this frontcourt in 2017-18?
The most likely solution is Terry Maston finally becoming a starter. The senior has averaged 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes in his career, and he was occasionally great late last season. He scored a career-high 22 points in a February game against Texas Tech and went for 19 points and nine rebounds in back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament.
In the five games in between beating up on Texas Tech and New Mexico State, though, Maston played a total of 28 minutes with two points, six rebounds and four turnovers. If that inconsistency follows him into the starting lineup, other possibilities for the job would include Nuni Omot, JUCO transfer Freddie Gillespie and freshman Tristan Clark.
Of equal concern for Baylor is replacing starting guards Al Freeman and Ish Wainright. The former was one of this team's best shooters, and the latter was a hard-nosed veteran leader whose overall impact could not be summed up in conventional stats. (Wainright's win shares and PER were nothing special, but he led the Bears in box plus/minus.)
It'd be one thing if the Bears were just transitioning from Motley to Maston, but guys like Jake Lindsey and King McClure will need to make a much larger impact than they have in their first two seasons.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Outgoing Star: Nigel Williams-Goss
2016-17 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.260 WS/40
The Replacement: Jesse Wade and/or Joel Ayayi
These final three teams have no clear answer for how to move forward without their leader.
Nigel Williams-Goss was Mr. Everything for Gonzaga. The transfer from Washington scored 165 more points than any other Bulldog, led the team in both assists and steals by a wide margin and was less than one rebound per game away from the team lead in that category. He was also lights-out at the free-throw line (86.7 percent). Only South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell was named the KenPom MVP of more games last season.
When NWG opted to forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft, it put Gonzaga in a bit of a bind.
The Bulldogs do still have Josh Perkins, who has averaged 3.6 assists per game in his career. They also have Silas Melson, who shot 39.1 percent from three-point range primarily off the bench last year. But that is the full list of returning guards with any meaningful college experience, and those two guys were already averaging a combined 53 minutes played per game. They should both get a moderate uptick in playing time, but the Zags are also going to need to rely on several new guys in the backcourt.
While waiting to find out if Williams-Goss would declare for the draft and hire an agent, Mark Few went all-in on recruiting French point guard Joel Ayayi. He committed to Gonzaga a little over a week after Williams-Goss officially made his decision. The Zags are also getting Jesse Wade, a 4-star recruit in 2015 who committed to Few prior to going on a two-year LDS mission.
How quickly that pair of freshmen is able to make an impact could determine whether Gonzaga plays in a 20th consecutive NCAA tournament.
2. Purdue Boilermakers
The Outgoing Star: Caleb Swanigan
2016-17 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 44.7% 3PT, 0.224 WS/40
The Replacement: There isn't one
Historically speaking, when a team loses a double-double machine like Caleb Swanigan, it gets worse—sometimes drastically so.
Since 1998, Swanigan is only the seventh player to average at least 18.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in a season. Here's what happened to the teams the year after the other six left:
- 2003-04 Ohio lost four more games; dropped 19 spots on KenPom without Brandon Hunter
- 2006-07 Hartford lost three more games; improved three spots on KenPom without Kenny Adeleke
- 2006-07 Louisiana Tech lost seven more games; dropped 99 spots on KenPom without Paul Millsap
- 2009-10 Oklahoma lost 12 more games; dropped 98 spots on KenPom without Blake Griffin
- 2010-11 Radford lost 12 more games; dropped 113 spots on KenPom without Artsiom Parakhouski
- 2011-12 Siena lost one fewer game; dropped 28 spots on KenPom without Ryan Rossiter
Replacing a guy who puts up numbers like those is next to impossible. Try as Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas might to fill the void, the odds are against the Boilermakers.
That said, they get back six of last year's seven leading scorers and are still loaded with guys who can stroke it from three-point range. Purdue won't be able to count on winning the rebounding battle on a nightly basis anymore, but with a 7'2" center (Haas) and five guys who averaged at least 1.9 made threes and 3.0 assists per 40 minutes last year, it's hard to imagine this team is just going to crash and burn.
One potential X-factor in all this is another 7'2" center, freshman Matt Haarms. He enrolled in January and got a few months of practicing against Swanigan and Haas to hopefully improve his ability to make an immediate impact, but no one seems to know what to expect from the European giant. If he can play 10-12 minutes at the 5 per night while Haas handles the other 28-30, Purdue could have one heck of an eight-man rotation without Swanigan.
1. Washington Huskies
The Outgoing Star: Markelle Fultz
2016-17 Stats: 23.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 41.3% 3PT, 0.172 WS/40
The Replacement: Um...
There's no sense in sugarcoating this. Washington was terrible in 2016-17, and losing Markelle Fultz is the furthest possible thing from addition by subtraction.
To make matters worse, the Huskies also lost Malik Dime and Matthew Atewe, two of the only players who bothered to put forth some effort on defense last season. And despite originally signing Michael Porter Jr. to a letter of intent, they lost arguably the biggest star of this year's high school class when they fired head coach Lorenzo Romar.
With any luck, the coaching change to longtime Jim Boeheim assistant Mike Hopkins will put a spark in this program that has been missing for nearly a decade. Washington does still bring back six key players from last season, including David Crisp, who figures to become the primary lead guard now that Fultz is gone. The Huskies also signed three 4-star recruits, two of whom rank in Scout's top 90.
However, if you think anyone on this team will come close to matching what Fultz did last season, or if you're expecting the Huskies to compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
This season is all about preparing for a return to relevance in 2018-19. There will only be two seniors on this year's roster, and neither Greg Bowman nor Dan Kingma figures to make any sort of real impact after combining for 28 points last year. Winning a few more games would be great, but some strides toward competency on defense should be the main goal.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.