College Basketball Teams with the Most Returning Talent in 2017-18
Wichita State was already one of the best college basketball teams in the country last season, and the Shockers are a legitimate threat to win it all in 2017-18 because of how little they lost from that roster.
Earlier this offseason, we took a look at the most drastic offseason makeovers around the country, focusing on teams that lost at least 80 percent of their scoring from last year. Now it's time to identify the teams that won't be changing much of anything.
To even be considered, a team must be returning at least 85 percent of its scoring from last season. Given a national average of 73.4 points per game, 85 percent means the average team needs at least 62.4 returning points per game. In other words, it's almost impossible for a team to qualify if it lost a single double-digit scorer.
Surprisingly, there are 26 teams that meet the minimum threshold of returning talent. In actually ranking those teams for this list, we added together percentage of returning points and percentage of games won in 2016-17, in order to key in on the teams that should win 25 or more games this year.
That said, Oregon State at least deserves an honorable mention for getting back 96.2 percent of the points from a team that only won 15.6 percent of its games.
Earlier in the offseason, Denver would have been a lock for the list. The Pioneers only had one senior last year, and he scored four points. And as of early August, their only outgoing transfer scored 73 points. But then C.J. Bobbitt (308 points) decided to transfer to New Mexico State and it was bye bye Pioneers. They still have a strong returning group, though, and should finish well inside the top half of the Summit League standings.
Towson lost the highest-scoring player of any team considered for this list, but John Davis' 318 points are the only ones the Tigers need to replace. No one else who scored a single point graduated or transferred. They won't be the favorites to win the CAA—as we'll get to later on, it's clearly College of Charleston's conference to lose—but this 20-win team should be even better in 2017-18.
Samford brings back the six leading scorers from a team that won 20 games last season. The Bulldogs did have a couple of unforgivable losses, but they put up a solid fight in road games against Cincinnati and Florida State and could be a minor-conference team that causes some major problems. Don't be shocked if Demetrius Dyson and Co. win at least two out of their four nonconference road games against Arkansas, LSU, Memphis and Clemson.
Oregon State Beavers
OSU only won five games last season, but injuries and inexperience are the biggest reasons this team dropped literally 200 spots in the KenPom rankings from the previous year. But the Beavers get back everyone except for one transfer who averaged 1.5 points per game (Matt Dahlen). They might not make the NCAA tournament, but they'll certainly climb out of the basement of the Pac-12.
Saint Joseph's Hawks
Like Oregon State, Saint Joseph's had a lot of injury problems. Pierfrancesco Oliva missed the entire season, and both Shavar Newkirk and James Demery missed more than 10 games. Considering those guys were three of the only four returning Hawks who averaged better than 1.0 points per game in 2015-16, it's no surprise they crashed and burned their way to a 11-20 record. But they get back all six of their leading scorers (and add Oliva back into the starting mix) and should be a force in the A-10.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 70.6
Percent Points Returning: 87.2
Players Lost: Akeem Springs (303 points), Ahmad Gilbert (25 points)
Minnesota should be at No. 5 on this list. The Golden Gophers are one of just five schools in the country that lost fewer than 15 percent of the scoring from a team that won at least 70 percent of its games. While Akeem Springs is a pretty noteworthy departure—he shot 38.3 percent from three-point range and became a crucial veteran presence as a graduate transfer from Milwaukee—he's the only important player no longer on the roster.
But it was decided Minnesota should drop to No. 9 because of the season-ending knee injury suffered by Eric Curry earlier this offseason. Technically, the Golden Gophers didn't lose him, as he didn't graduate, transfer or declare for the draft. They won't be able to use him, though, and that's a huge blow to their frontcourt.
Curry wasn't a starter last year as a freshman, but he did average 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds off the bench. The 2016 top-100 recruit was a prototypical candidate for a breakout sophomore season.
They do still have Bakary Konate, who averaged 11.4 rebounds per 40 minutes in limited playing time. They also have 6'8" former Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald, but who knows what he'll look like after sitting out the past two seasons?
Enough about what Minnesota is lacking, though, because this team is still in great shape. Yes, depth at power forward could be a problem, but a starting five of Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch is easily the best this team has had in at least two decades. Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big Ten, and Minnesota is pretty clearly No. 2 in the conference's preseason pecking order.
8. Georgia Southern Eagles
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 54.5
Percent Points Returning: 93.8
Players Lost: Devonte Boykins (125 points), Aubrey McRae (17 points), Dominique Bullock (six points), James Holder (six points)
Georgia Southern's three-year rebuilding process appears to finally be complete.
The Eagles went 22-9 in 2014-15 and would have been a strong candidate for an NCAA tournament upset, had they not fallen two points shy of beating Georgia State in the Sun Belt championship. (That was the year Georgia State's R.J. and Ron Hunter gave us one of the most memorable tournament moments of all time in a first-round upset of Baylor.)
For Georgia Southern, it was a disappointing finish to an all-in season. Mark Byington lost all five of the leading scorers from that team and sputtered to a 14-17 record the following year, led almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. The Eagles were a bit more competitive last year, going 18-15 after nearly upsetting North Carolina State in the season opener. And now that those freshmen and sophomores have evolved into juniors and seniors, they're ready to make another push.
The stars of the show are the backcourt duo. Sophomores Ike Smith and Tookie Brown combined for 36.7 points per game last year. They had 46 in the opener against N.C. State and combined for 19 KenPom.com game MVP designations in 33 games—five of which came in losses. There might not be a higher-scoring pair in the country.
Can they score enough to overcome this team's terrible rebounding numbers? With no one on the roster taller than 6'8" and the five leading scorers all standing 6'6" or shorter, Georgia Southern was crushed on the glass on a regular basis. In two games against Georgia State, the Eagles had a combined rebounding margin of negative-44—and the Panthers were a perfectly average team on the boards. That's probably the only thing holding Georgia Southern back from becoming one of the top mid-major teams in the country.
7. Northwestern Wildcats
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 66.7
Percent Points Returning: 85.5
Players Lost: Sanjay Lumpkin (216 points), Nathan Taphorn (156 points)
After reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, there's a good chance Northwestern goes dancing for a second consecutive year. The Wildcats get back all five of their leading scorers, led by backcourt duo Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey.
Sanjay Lumpkin is a key loss, though. He started 126 games over the last four seasons and logged nearly 3,500 career minutes played. Though he wasn't much of a scorer, he was an indispensable piece of the rotation, similar to a Matt Jones at Duke or an Ish Wainright at Baylor. On rare occasions that he did attempt to score, he was Northwestern's most efficient weapon, shooting 70.5 percent from inside the arc and posting the best O-rating on the roster.
No. 2 in O-rating was Nathan Taphorn, who didn't play a ton, but who shot 47.0 percent from three-point range. Taphorn would have been the obvious top candidate to replace Lumpkin in the starting lineup if he wasn't also out of years of eligibility.
Instead, look for Gavin Skelly and Barret Benson to take on bigger roles this season. That transition should help Northwestern's rebounding numbers and could make the Wildcats one of the best shot-blocking teams in the nation, but we'll see what kind of impact it has on their overall offensive efficiency.
The bigger thing to watch will be Isiah Brown's development. He had a brutally inefficient freshman season, shooting 33.2 percent from the field. But he led the team in field-goal attempts per 40 minutes, averaging 6.3 points while playing just 14.8 minutes. Given the lack of other backcourt options, his minutes could more than double this season. That could be a major problem if he doesn't also improve as a shooter.
6. Seton Hall Pirates
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 63.6
Percent Points Returning: 91.2
Players Lost: Madison Jones (193 points), Veer Singh (12 points), Jevon Thomas (seven points), Rashed Anthony (seven points), Dalton Soffer (six points), Myles Carter (four points)
Seton Hall takes the cake for most players lost among the candidates for this list, but it's possible that none of the departures makes much of an impact. The five guys who scored between 4-12 points all transferred—likely because their chances for playing in 2017-18 weren't going to improve with virtually everyone returning—and Madison Jones graduated after four years of inefficient point guard play.
It is worth noting, though, that Jones started 31 of 33 games, playing more minutes than everyone other than Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington. In terms of player efficiency rating, he was just about the least valuable player in the Big East, ranking 54th out of 56 players who logged at least 650 minutes—roughly 20 per game. But he just kept playing because the Pirates didn't have any other good options.
How Seton Hall handles that bit of attrition might be the most intriguing thing to monitor in the Big East this year.
If either Myles Powell or Eron Gordon can become an effective point guard as a sophomore, Seton Hall would be in the running for the Big East title. This team doesn't have much depth at all, but its top seven guys can certainly hang with any team in the conference—if not the country.
But if point guard is a season-long issue for the Pirates, it might not matter that they have four returning players who averaged at least 10 points per game last year. They could struggle to even reach the NCAA tournament.
5. Providence Friars
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 60.6
Percent Points Returning: 95.9
Players Lost: Ryan Fazekas (90 points), Ricky Council II (three points), Casey Woodring (three points)
Providence has been to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, and this might be the best roster Ed Cooley has ever had. The Friars don't have the star power they used to have with Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil, Bryce Cotton or LaDontae Henton, but this is a deeper and more well-rounded team that is better positioned to win a lot of games.
Ryan Fazekas is Cooley's most noteworthy loss, and it isn't much of one. After starting each of the first seven games of the season, he became a reserve that the Friars rarely used. He played a total of 27 minutes and scored five points in Providence's final seven games, so it won't take any sort of adjustment to move on without him.
This group is loaded with veteran experience. Cooley took a gamble on Rodney Bullock and Emmitt Holt as transfers with a checkered past, but those two forwards led the Friars in scoring in 2016-17. They'll be back for another year, as will Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey, giving Providence four seniors who each averaged at least 10 points per game last season.
There's also a trio of younger guys (Alpha Diallo, Isaiah Jackson and Kalif Young) who got a lot of run last season, each starting at least five games and appearing in all 33. Factor in freshmen Makai Ashton-Langford and Nate Watson—each rated by Scout as top-10 players at their respective positions in this year's class—and this should be one heck of a nine- or 10-man rotation.
If you're into futures betting, OddsShark has Providence listed at 140-1 to win the 2018 national championship—which is somehow only marginally better than the odds for California, Clemson and Colorado. If you know of a better way to potentially turn $71.43 into $10,000 in six months, feel free to share the wealth.
4. College of Charleston Cougars
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 71.4
Percent Points Returning: 95.1
Players Lost: Chevez Goodwin (79 points), Payton Hulsey (23 points), Terrance O'Donohue (17 points)
It didn't get much attention from anyone, but College of Charleston was kind of on the NCAA tournament bubble last year. The Cougars entered Selection Sunday with a 25-9 record, a top-60 RPI and five wins over the RPI Top 100. It was almost easier to make a case for them deserving a bid than it was for bubbly major-conference teams like Syracuse, Clemson, Illinois and Ole Miss.
All the key players from that team are returning. All five starters will be back, as is top reserve Marquise Pointer. Those six guys combined for about 85 percent of CoC's minutes played last season, as well as 90.6 percent of all points the Cougars scored.
In addition to those returnees, they're adding Austin Howard as a graduate transfer. He averaged 7.6 points and shot 37.6 percent from three-point range last season with Maine, and he could be a key rotational piece for a team that struggled from beyond the arc.
Though he didn't even play 10 minutes per game last year, the one concern with losing Chevez Goodwin is the impact it could have on Charleston's frontcourt depth. On a per-40 basis, Goodwin was their top rebounder. The 6'9" forward's departure leaves the Cougars with just two regulars taller than 6'4"—though it's a safe assumption that 6'6" Evan Bailey and 6'7" Jaylen McManus will take on bigger roles as frontcourt reserves.
It's only October, but let this serve as your warning for March: Watch out for College of Charleston. With UNC-Wilmington losing its head coach and most of its key players, the Cougars are the clear favorite to win the CAA and a strong candidate to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
3. Bucknell Bison
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 74.3
Percent Points Returning: 92.9
Players Lost: D.J. MacLeay (97 points), John Azzinaro (93 points)
Here's your heads up that Bucknell might be the best minor-conference team in the country.
The Bison were a No. 13 seed in last year's NCAA tournament, and they took West Virginia to the wire before falling by a six-point margin. After a bit of a slow start, they steam-rolled through the final two-thirds of the season for an overall record of 26-9. As far as KenPom is concerned, it was their third-best season dating back to 2002.
And Bucknell was just getting warmed up.
Eight players scored at least 100 points last season for the Bison, and all eight return. Frontcourt duo Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland will lead the charge, along with point guard Stephen Brown. All three averaged at least 11 points per game last season and will be seniors in 2017-18.
The big question still lingering for Bucknell is who its fifth-best player is. The above trio and sophomore Kimbal MacKenzie each started at least 33 games last year, but Nathan Davis gave just about everyone else on the roster a shot at the fifth job. Seven players averaged between 2.9-4.8 points per game, and not one of them showed up in a meaningful way in Bucknell's tournament game against West Virginia.
Whether it's with Avi Toomer, Nate Jones, Nate Sestina, Bruce Moore or Matt O'Reilly, this could be a 30-win program.
2. USC Trojans
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 72.2
Percent Points Returning: 97.9
Players Lost: Charles Buggs (56 points), Samer Dhillon (three points)
If you haven't already been convinced that USC is a threat to win the national championship, prepare to be converted.
Eight Trojans averaged at least 5.2 points per game last season. All eight of those players will return for another year. Joining them are Duke transfer and former 5-star recruit Derryck Thornton, as well as 2017 4-star recruits Charles O'Bannon Jr. and Jordan Usher.
You are not going to find a deeper group of talented players in the country.
That isn't to say this team is necessarily going to win 38 games like Kentucky did with its platoons approach in 2014-15. But you can legitimately make the case that Jonah Mathews—USC's top 2016 recruit who averaged 7.0 points per game last season—is the 10th-best player on this team.
That's no disrespect to Mathews. He's a quality player, and there are probably only about 15 teams in the country that wouldn't have him as a starting guard if given the opportunity. And yet, he'll be lucky to see the 2017-18 floor with the Trojans in anything other than garbage time.
Because it has never won more than 26 games in a season and because Pac-12 rival Arizona is one of the top candidates to win the title in 2018, USC hasn't been given quite the offseason respect it deserves. But any AP voter who doesn't have the Trojans in the top 15 of his or her preseason ballot should not be allowed to vote anymore.
1. Wichita State Shockers
Percent Games Won in 2016-17: 86.1
Percent Points Returning: 91.6
Players Lost: Daishon Smith (171 points), Eric Hamilton (34 points), John Robert Simon (24 points), Zach Bush (eight points)
Heading into the offseason, Wichita State was a borderline top-three team in the country. The Shockers won 31 games last year—albeit against a dreadful strength of schedule—and were set to bring back all 13 of their leading scorers.
Eventually, Daishon Smith and Eric Hamilton decided to transfer, but neither ranked in the top eight in scoring in 2016-17. This dropped their percentage of points returning from 98.9 to 91.6, which is still a ridiculously strong percentage for a 31-win team.
However, offseason injuries have become a major concern for this team.
Starting point guard, second-leading scorer and NCAA tournament darling Landry Shamet suffered a stress fracture in his foot in July and is currently questionable to play at the beginning of the season. Then in late September, leading scorer Markis McDuffie was also diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, and he could be out until at least mid-December.
In theory, they'll be fully healthy by the time the games really start to matter in March, so we're not going to penalize the Shockers like we did Minnesota for losing a player for the season.
By moving from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference, Wichita State will get much better competition in January and February, preparing it for the NCAA tournament like never before. The Shockers aren't the sexy team with 5-star future NBA phenoms, but all this returning veteran leadership should make them the top candidate to finish near the top of the pack.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.