College Basketball Teams That Will Be Overreliant on One Player
One player can occasionally lead a team to victory in college basketball, but it's almost impossible to consistently win games when you only have one reliable source of offense.
Each of the 10 teams on this list has an individual who might be a star in 2017-18, but it probably will not be enough for the team to reach the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Last year, there were 39 players who played at least 10 games and averaged better than 20 points per contest. Only four of those players—Frank Mason III, Sindarius Thornwell, Mike Daum and Keon Johnson—played for teams that made the NCAA tournament. So next time you hear someone say a player might score 20 per game this season, feel free to interpret that as a suggestion that his team probably isn't going dancing.
While we could point out that Green Bay is hopelessly dependent upon Khalil Small or that Bethune-Cookman's Brandon Tabb might need to average 25 points per game for that team to avoid suffering 25 losses, we're only interested in teams from the nine most noteworthy conferences: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, American, Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.
After the honorable mentions, slides are presented in alphabetical order by team.
Rob Gray Jr., Houston
Houston was already the Rob Gray Jr. show last season, averaging 20.6 points per game for a team that spent much of the season right on the NCAA tournament bubble. Now that his primary running mate Damyean Dotson (17.4 PPG) has graduated, it's going to be even more of a solo performance. Don't be shocked if Gray ranks top-five in the nation in scoring this year.
Yuta Watanabe, George Washington
Last year, Tyler Cavanaugh featured prominently in this article as GW's go-to guy, and he did score more than 18 points per game for a team that missed the NCAA tournament. But now that Cavanaugh, Jaren Sina, Jordan Roland and Collin Smith are all gone, it is "Watanabe or bust" for the Colonials. The wing-forward averaged 12.2 points as a junior and should come close to 20 as a senior.
KeVaughn Allen, Florida
Florida lost four of its top six scorers from last season, and a fifth (John Egbunu) is recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in the season. This would appear to leave KeVaughn Allen as the clear-cut leader. But the Gators still have a lot of quality options, including Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson. That said, it's hard to imagine this team accomplishing much of anything if Allen isn't in the running for MVP of the SEC.
David Collette, Utah
The Utah State transfer averaged 13.6 points per game last year with the Utes, and he figures to be their primary offensive weapon with Kyle Kuzma, Lorenzo Bonam and Devon Daniels out of the picture. But we're unwilling to put Collette in our top 10 because Larry Krystkowiak always has a trick or two up his sleeve, pulling borderline All-Pac-12 caliber players out of nowhere on a nearly annual basis.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
While the rest of the guys on this list are likely to be the top scorers for their respective teams, Azubuike might not even rank in the top five in points for Kansas this season.
But the Jayhawks need to rely upon this sophomore in the same way that Duke needed Marshall Plumlee or Syracuse needed Rakeem Christmas to suddenly become 30-minute-per-game centers in their final seasons. Frontcourt options are extremely limited for Bill Self, so if Azubuike can't be effective for 25-30 minutes per game, KU's heralded Big 12 championship-winning streak will be in serious jeopardy.
Moritz Wagner, Michigan
Similar to Azubuike, Wagner is Michigan's only established post presence. He's also one of just two returning Wolverines who averaged better than two points per game last season, so the Wolverines could be in a boatload of trouble if he struggles as a junior. As with Florida's Allen, incoming transfers will help lighten the load, as Jaaron Simmons (Ohio) and Charles Matthews (Kentucky) should be huge additions.
Boise State Broncos: Chandler Hutchison
2016-17 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 37.7% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Paris Austin (12.3 PPG), James Reid (10.0 PPG), Nick Duncan (9.4 PPG)
After two years of waiting for it to happen, Chandler Hutchison became a star.
Hutchison started 18 games as a freshman after becoming one of the highest-rated recruits the Broncos ever signed. But he only averaged 3.1 points per game and never got into much of a rhythm. He was a bit better as a sophomore; however, lack of seniority and Anthony Drmic's return from injury left Hutchison in a sixth-man role.
Finally given the chance to shine in 2016-17, Hutchison did exactly that. He ranked fourth in the Mountain West in points per game and sixth in rebounds. He scored at least 30 points multiple times, including a career-high 34 points against Utah in the NIT.
And if you think the Broncos called his number a lot last year, just wait. Their second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers all left, making Hutchison the top returning scorer by a margin of 10 full points per game.
They did sign a couple of graduate transfers to help plug the holes. Christian Sengfelder averaged at least 10 points per game in each of the last three seasons at Fordham, and former Valparaiso guard Lexus Williams will probably start at the point for Boise State.
But let's just say Leon Rice isn't afraid to let his best player cook. Derrick Marks ranked third in the nation in percentage of shots taken in 2014-15—and there is plenty of room between Hutchison's 2016-17 rate of 29.2 and the 36.2 that Marks posted that year.
California Golden Bears: Marcus Lee
2016-17 Stats: None (incoming transfer)
Key Teammates Lost: Jabari Bird (14.3 PPG), Ivan Rabb (14.0 PPG), Charlie Moore (12.2 PPG), Grant Mullins (10.3 PPG), Kameron Rooks (4.9 PPG), Sam Singer (4.5 PPG)
If you don't feel badly for Marcus Lee, you might not be human.
A top-25, 5-star recruit in the class of 2013, Lee probably thought he was going to be the next one-and-done star at Kentucky. When he committed to the Wildcats in October 2012, he was the only frontcourt player in Kentucky's class, joining guards James Young and the Harrison twins.
But then John Calipari signed Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson, making Lee the third-best frontcourt player in the class. And when Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein opted to stay for multiple seasons, poor Lee barely had any chance of seeing the floor. By the time a spot in the rotation finally opened up in his junior season, he bounced in and out of the starting lineup and back and forth between the 4 and 5 as Calipari tried to figure out how to cope with Skal Labissiere failing to live up to the hype.
After all that, Lee transferred to California and had to sit out a season because he was unable to graduate in three years. (Not terribly surprising, considering no 5-star recruit plans on needing to use the graduate-transfer option.) And now that he's eligible, he becomes virtually the only noteworthy player on a team that lost eight of its 10 leading scorers and its head coach.
Big man Kingsley Okoroh and Don Coleman—a 6'3" guard who shot 20.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 1.9 assists per 40 minutes—are the only returning Golden Bears who logged at least 50 minutes.
On the bright side, for the first time in his college career, Lee won't have to worry about carving out minutes on the floor. It's just too bad he could average 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game and California would probably still finish below .500.
Colorado Buffaloes: George King
2016-17 Stats: 11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 37.6% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Derrick White (18.1 PPG), Xavier Johnson (14.8 PPG), Wesley Gordon (6.8 PPG), Josh Fortune (6.0 PPG), Bryce Peters (4.7 PPG)
Senior leadership in college basketball is a double-edged sword. Without it, winning with regularity is a challenge. With too much of it, winning games the following season is quite difficult.
Colorado is one of several teams in the latter camp. Four of the five leading scorers for the Buffaloes were seniors, leaving George King as the only particularly noteworthy returning player.
Oftentimes, we'll see teams in these situations go out and grab a graduate transfer or two. Not Colorado, though. No graduate transfers or JUCO transfers here. The only addition with any experience is Namon Wright, who transferred from Missouri and sat out this past season.
The Buffaloes did sign a few potential impact freshmen, most notably small forward D'Shawn Schwartz. But these aren't nearly the can't-miss freshmen that the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Arizona bring in on an annual basis. They should be effective, but it wouldn't be smart to expect them to come in and effortlessly replace guys like Derrick White and Xavier Johnson.
Thus, King has to be, well, the king of this team.
Two years ago, he demonstrated he can be that guy. With Johnson injured and White still playing Division II ball, King shot 45.6 percent from three-point range and was Colorado's second-leading scorer behind (perennially underappreciated) Josh Scott. His numbers dropped a bit last year as he became one of the three wing-forwards in the starting lineup, but he should be one of the highest scoring players in the Pac-12 as a senior.
Creighton Bluejays: Marcus Foster
2016-17 Stats: 18.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 34.3% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Justin Patton (12.9 PPG), Maurice Watson Jr. (12.9 PPG), Cole Huff (9.2 PPG), Zach Hanson (5.4 PPG), Isaiah Zierden (4.9 PPG)
Had Justin Patton opted to return for another season, Creighton would be in great shape. But because the big man left for the NBA after his redshirt freshman season, the Bluejays are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
They do still have Marcus Foster, though, which is one heck of an anchor to build around. No one was quite sure what to expect from Foster after the way he left Kansas State following the 2014-15 season, but he was a scoring machine for Creighton—albeit not a particularly efficient one, averaging more than 15 field-goal attempts per game.
More so than the volume of points, Foster's real value came in the 16 games after the Bluejays lost Maurice Watson Jr. to a knee injury. Sure, they only went 7-9 in those games, but Foster kept them competitive and single-handedly carried them to some of those wins. This team easily could have crashed and burned after losing arguably the most indispensable player in the country, but Foster's play and leadership allowed them to tread water.
Can he do the same now that five of last year's eight leading scorers are gone?
Creighton still has Khyri Thomas (12.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG), so Foster isn't completely flying solo. Greg McDermott also has Kaleb Joseph joining the fray this season, and he was a highly touted recruit prior to two brutally inefficient seasons with Syracuse. If the change of scenery enables him to rediscover that potential, Creighton could have one heck of a three-man backcourt.
Losing Patton, Cole Huff and Zach Hanson means major question marks in the frontcourt, though, which is why the Bluejays will be so reliant upon Foster—their primary three-point weapon.
Georgia Bulldogs: Yante Maten
2016-17 Stats: 18.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.5 APG, 48.8% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: J.J. Frazier (18.8 PPG)
In case you hadn't already figured it out from the previous slides, just about everyone on this list lost a bunch of teammates that scored a ton of points. Heck, six of these teams lost at least four players who started 15 or more games last season.
That makes Yante Maten the exception to the rule, as Georgia only lost one of its 10 leading scorers.
That one departure was a huge one, though. J.J. Frazier was much more than just a high scorer. He also led the team in assists and steals and was one of its top rebounders. Despite being generously listed at 5'10", Frazier and Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss were the only players in the country to amass at least 625 points, 125 assists, 125 rebounds and 50 steals last season.
Moreover, Frazier was half of one of the top dynamic duos in 2016-17. Another "one of just two in the nation" stat, Frazier and Maten joined Davidson's Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge as the only guard-forward duos in which each averaged at least 18 points per game.
With Frazier out of the picture, Maten becomes more important than ever.
Look for Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump to take on bigger roles in Frazier's absence. Perhaps Juwan Parker rises up and becomes the go-to backcourt scorer as a fifth-year senior. But if Maten doesn't stay healthy and put up huge numbers, the Bulldogs are going nowhere fast.
Illinois Fighting Illini: Mark Alstork
2016-17 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 38.7% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Malcolm Hill (17.2 PPG), Maverick Morgan (9.9 PPG), Tracy Abrams (8.6 PPG), Jalen Coleman-Lands (6.0 PPG), Mike Thorne (5.0 PPG)
Whereas Marcus Lee transferred to California and had to sit out a year before watching the roster crumble around him, Mark Alstork is a graduate transfer who willingly entered into this situation at Illinois.
Illinois lost its head coach and five of its seven leading scorers, but Alstork was not deterred. And why should he be? He did more with less at Wright State, scoring more than 1,000 points over the last two seasons with the Raiders. Alstork led the team in points and blocks (and turnovers) and ranked top three in rebounds, assists and steals in 2016-17.
In other words, he does more than a little bit of everything.
His favorite thing to do, though, was draw contact. Alstork ranked 12th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, resulting in more than 200 free-throw attempts. He was a perfect example of the five D's of being a lead guard: drive, dish, defend, draw fouls...and dodge.
With point guard Te'Jon Lucas one of the only returning Illini with legitimate game experience, Alstork will likely serve as the primary 2 for Illinois. He'll still get plenty of opportunities to rack up assists and free-throw attempts, though, and should be given the opportunity to maintain most of his numbers from last year.
The top returning scorer in the Big Ten is Michigan State's Miles Bridges at 16.9 points per game. Though Alstork may not come to be regarded as the most valuable player in the conference, there's a reasonable chance Alstork leads the Big Ten in scoring.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: Jeffrey Carroll
2016-17 Stats: 17.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 44.4% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Jawun Evans (19.2 PPG), Phil Forte (13.3 PPG), Leyton Hammonds (8.1 PPG)
There are much worse leaders to have than Jeffrey Carroll.
After a couple of inefficient seasons to begin his career, Carroll absolutely exploded as a junior. He posted an O-rating of 130.4, which was the highest among all players used on at least 20 percent of possessions—narrowly edging out Lauri Markkanen and Lonzo Ball—and 12th-highest among all players who were on the floor at least 40 percent of the time.
In the past two decades, here's the full list of players who shot at least 44 percent on 100 or more three-point attempts and at least 58 percent on 225 or more two-point attempts: Doug McDermott, Justin Harper and Jeffrey Carroll.
But how will he fare without Jawun Evans and Phil Forte around to stretch and carve up the defense?
The good news is Oklahoma State has all sorts of candidates to try to replace those leaders. CS Northridge transfer Kendall Smith should immediately become the starting lead guard, and highly touted shooting guard Lindy Waters III is one of seven returning Cowboys who averaged between 3.3 and 5.7 points per game last season. Any member of that group is liable to improve and play second fiddle to Carroll.
This is his show, though. Carroll is a lock for preseason first-team All-Big-12, and the Cowboys are probably going to lose 20 games if he doesn't also show up on that end-of-season list.
Pittsburgh Panthers: Ryan Luther
2016-17 Stats: 5.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 40.9% 3PT
Key Teammates Lost: Michael Young (19.6 PPG), Jamel Artis (18.2 PPG), Cameron Johnson (11.9 PPG), Sheldon Jeter (8.1 PPG), Chris Jones (7.2 PPG)
With all due respect to Ryan Luther, he is, by far, the least qualified person for this list. Every other player averaged at least 11 points per game in 2016-17, which is more than you would get if you added together Luther's scoring averages from the past two seasons (10.7).
But even if this season is destined for disaster, someone has to be the leader, right?
Pittsburgh lost all five of its leading scorers and had four other noteworthy reserves transfer out of the program. As a result, Luther and Jonathan Milligan (2.2 PPG) are the only returning players who saw meaningful minutes in 2016-17.
Heck, the Panthers don't even have a third returning player who scored a point last season. Zach Smith played 15 scoreless minutes, which makes him the third-best veteran on the roster. And Kevin Stallings didn't even grab any graduate transfers to help matters. JUCO transfer Jared Wilson-Frame is their best addition, and he wasn't exactly setting the nets on fire for Northwest Florida State.
So, yeah, Luther didn't do much last season, but the Panthers don't appear to have any choice other than to ride the senior as hard as possible.
At least he has always been an efficient scorer? Luther is a career 43.1 percent three-point shooter and 59.4 percent two-point shooter, but he has averaged less than three field-goal attempts per game in his career. We'll see how those numbers hold up as he's required to take more like 13 shots every night.
VCU Rams: Justin Tillman
2016-17 Stats: 12.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG
Key Teammates Lost: JeQuan Lewis (15.2 PPG), Mo Alie-Cox (9.5 PPG), Samir Doughty (9.0 PPG), Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed (5.9 PPG), Doug Brooks (5.6 PPG), Jordan Burgess (4.9 PPG)
VCU's staying power has been incredible.
Here's a fun fact: There are only eight teams in the country with an active streak of at least five consecutive 24-win seasons. Those teams are Arizona, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Wichita State and VCU. And the only ones riding a streak of more than 10 such seasons are Kansas (12 years) and VCU (11 years).
The Rams peaked under Shaka Smart's watch, but they were strong before his arrival and they have remained strong without him.
VCU lost head coach Will Wade to LSU and lost six of its eight leading scorers as either graduates (four) or transfers (two). As a result, this team is looking like Justin Tillman, Jonathan Williams and not a whole lot else.
Granted, the Rams do have two potential breakout players in De'Riante Jenkins and Malik Crowfield, each of which saw a fair amount of action as freshmen. They're also adding a pair of transfers in Khris Lane (Longwood) and Issac Vann (Maine), either of whom could immediately become a starter. But this is a far cry from what this team usually has to work with.
At 6'7", Tillman is the tallest non-freshman on the roster. He averaged more rebounds per 40 minutes (13.7) than Williams, Jenkins and Crowfield combined (12.0). Lane and Vann are both 6'6" guys who did a fair amount of rebounding at their previous schools, but Tillman is clearly going to be the primary interior presence on this roster.
Unless he turns into Caleb Swanigan in that role, this is going to be VCU's toughest season in more than a decade.
Wisconsin Badgers: Ethan Happ
2016-17 Stats: 14.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Key Teammates Lost: Bronson Koenig (14.5 PPG), Nigel Hayes (14.0 PPG), Zak Showalter (8.3 PPG), Vitto Brown (6.8 PPG)
At this point, it's just about heresy to suggest that Wisconsin might not make the NCAA tournament. The Badgers have been to 19 in a row, surviving at least until the second weekend in more than half of them. Star Badgers graduate, but that just seems to make room for more to be born.
However, there's no denying that Wisconsin was a markedly worse team in 2015-16 after losing five of its seven leading scorers, including Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Those Badgers plummeted from 36-4 and a national championship appearance to 22-13 and a long time spent on the bubble.
This year, they lost four of their five leading scorers—arguably worse than losing five of seven—and don't have anywhere near as much cushion to play with, as last season's No. 8 seed was their worst since 2009.
Ethan Happ is a sensational player. He and Michigan State's Miles Bridges are the only two no-brainer preseason first-team All-Big Ten players. But while Bridges is surrounded by returning teammates and expected to compete for a Final Four, Happ lost every teammate who started more than two games in 2016-17. In fact, out of 360 possible games started over the past two seasons, Happ and the above four teammates combined for 357.
There's some experience on this team. D'Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson were key reserves who each logged more than 500 minutes last year. Brevin Pritzl was once a highly rated recruit who could blossom nicely if he's finally healthy. And in limited minutes (48), Andy Van Vliet had great rebounding numbers and could be a revelation at center.
But if your primary rationale for penciling Wisconsin into a 20th consecutive NCAA tournament is that it has finished top four in the Big Ten in 16 straight seasons—read any Big Ten preview and you'll find the Badgers projected for a fourth-place finish for that exact reason—keep in mind that all good things eventually come to an end.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.