College Basketball Teams That Will Be Loaded with Experience in 2014-15
We've just finished the Year of the Freshman in college basketball, but ironically, so many of the top stars were seniors. Veterans like Doug McDermott, Russ Smith, Sean Kilpatrick, Xavier Thames and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier proved that experience could be just as valuable as youthful talent.
With those players leaving for professional careers of some sort, their teams mostly need to regroup. In the meantime, other schools expect to return either a majority of their production or simply veteran players who have carded starters minutes for several years already.
These 10 teams—presented alphabetically—have to replace players of varying value, but their rosters will still be full of guys who have made major contributions, many for multiple seasons.
The Georgia Bulldogs made a surprising run to third place in the SEC and the second round of the NIT. Both were major victories for a program that was expected to struggle to a mediocre finish.
Everybody must have had a good time, because coach Mark Fox is set to return 10 of his top 11 players in terms of minutes. Second-leading rebounder Donte' Williams (5.1 RPG) is the only departing senior.
For that matter, next year's team won't have a ton of seniors, either. Forward duo Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic and reserve center Tim Dixon will be the only Bulldogs graduating after the 2014-15 season.
Sophomores Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Brandon Morris and Cameron Forte (pictured) started a combined 93 games and scored 38.9 points per night. Mann and Morris were also part-time starters as freshmen.
If the extra year of experience buys Georgia a few extra nonconference wins against quality opponents—this season's losses included Nebraska, Colorado and George Washington—don't be surprised if the Bulldogs push for one of those NCAA berths that SEC teams are finding ever more elusive.
Illinois only returned three scholarship players from its 2012-13 squad, which made chemistry a concern heading into last season. The Illini didn't hit a consistent groove until mid-February as they struggled to integrate two transfers and five freshmen. While Illinois won four of its last five games, those four wins were the only ones all season against NCAA tournament teams.
If everyone proves to be a year older and wiser, the Illini may be the most experienced team in the Big Ten.
Rising seniors Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu have started a combined 135 games over the past two seasons. Rayvonte Rice went from a two-year starter at Drake to an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. Guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, two of those five freshmen, became starters in February, with Nunn being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
Transfers will once again be key to Illinois' efforts next year. Senior Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), junior Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) and sophomore Darius Paul (Western Michigan) bring a combined 163 career starts to Champaign. If one of the three can have anything approaching Rice's immediate impact, Illinois should be expected to return to the field of 68.
Unlike most of these teams, Iowa lost three seniors from the 2013-14 roster. But when a team had a rotation that put 11 players on the court for at least 9.4 minutes per game, eight returnees comprise a lot of production.
The Hawkeyes will miss All-Big Ten first-teamer Roy Devyn Marble, but two-time third-team selection Aaron White (pictured) will return to lead another run at the NCAA tournament.
White has started all 71 of the Hawkeyes' games over the past two seasons, averaging 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in that span. Out of Marble's shadow as a senior, White will need to adapt to being the first name on the opposition's scouting reports.
Three-point sniper Josh Oglesby (40.3 percent from deep in 2013-14) and center Gabriel Olaseni will be Iowa's only other seniors next season. Oglesby has averaged at least 16.2 minutes per game in all three of his seasons.
Rising junior Adam Woodbury has started every game since he arrived in Iowa City, while classmate Mike Gesell has only missed eight possible starts in his two seasons. Jarrod Uthoff averaged 18.2 minutes per game in his first season of college game action following an acrimonious transfer from Wisconsin.
Junior-to-be Anthony Clemmons started 13 games as a freshman before settling in as Gesell's caddie last season. Rising sophomore Peter Jok put up double-digit points against nonconference foes like UTEP and Drake, disappeared during Big Ten play and only resurfaced to knock in 10 points in 16 minutes during Iowa's First Four loss to Tennessee.
Next season's Hawkeyes attack will function a bit differently, but most of the names will be familiar.
For all the talk about the Big Ten powers who are suffering significant talent drain—Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are chief among them—plenty of potential contenders will return strong veteran presences next season. It may seem bizarre to use the phrases "Nebraska" and "Big Ten contender" in the same sentence, but here they are.
The Cornhuskers finished a surprising fourth in the conference in coach Tim Miles' second season, and nearly everyone will return for his third. Perimeter gunner Ray Gallegos is the only significant departure.
In addition to Gallegos, Miles' usual starting lineup consisted of three sophomores and a freshman. Forward Terran Petteway (pictured) returns for his junior season after leading the Big Ten in scoring at 18.1 PPG. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford played 23.2 minutes per game, shooting 41 percent from long range in his first significant college action.
The lineup's third sophomore, 6'7" swingman Shavon Shields, finished second on the team in scoring (12.8 PPG) and led in rebounding (5.8 RPG). He played 32.5 minutes per game, up from 28.7 as a freshman.
Rookie point guard Tai Webster started all but two games, but his minutes fluctuated wildly. By season's end, he was ceding significant playing time to sophomore Benny Parker. Webster scored only 13 points over the Huskers' final 11 games, and eight of those came on free throws in the Feb. 20 win over Penn State.
Rising senior David Rivers has played 22.9 minutes per game over his past two seasons, starting 31 games in that span. Burly forward Leslee Smith returns for his senior year after averaging 16.8 minutes per game last season. He also played 15 minutes per night as a part-time starter at SMU in 2011-12.
If it's true that a team can "learn how to win," Nebraska certainly did it in 2013-14. Another NCAA tournament bid should surprise nobody next year.
The lone mid-major entry on the list—unless you consider the Atlantic 10 to be a mid, which I don't—Northern Iowa loses only one significant contributor: part-time starting forward Chip Rank. Coach Ben Jacobson returns seven other players who averaged at least 12 minutes per game in 2013-14.
Rising senior forward Seth Tuttle (pictured) earned his first All-Missouri Valley selection last season, joining Indiana State's Jake Odum and Evansville's D.J. Balentine as first-team picks who didn't play for Wichita State. Yes, the MVC has other teams. Tuttle has started all 101 games he's played in Cedar Falls, currently ranking as the Valley's active career rebounding leader with 677.
Tuttle's classmates, guard Deon Mitchell and forward Nate Buss, blossomed into double-figure scorers last season. The 6'9" Buss knocked down 50.6 percent of his three-pointers, while Mitchell finished second on the team with 3.4 assists per game. He has played at least 20 minutes per game in all three of his seasons, starting 80 of his 100 appearances.
Redshirt sophomores Wes Washpun and Matt Bohannon each put in more than 29 minutes per night, with Washpun hitting the ground running after his transfer from Tennessee. All he did in his debut was card six points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks against Ohio. Bohannon became a full-time starter after tipping off six games as a freshman.
Senior-to-be Marvin Singleton and sophomore-to-be Jeremy Morgan put up solid work off the bench, as did third-year walk-on Max Martino. Next season, the Panthers will suit up Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson, who started 33 of 35 games for the Cavaliers in 2012-13.
While St. John's seems an odd pick for this list considering the flux it is experiencing—sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson is going pro and center Chris Obekpa may or may not be transferring—coach Steve Lavin is in the rare position of returning three seniors who've been at least part-time starters all three years.
Guards D'Angelo Harrison (pictured, 87 of 92 possible starts), Phil Greene IV (88 of 97) and Sir'Dominic Pointer (44 of 97) have all put in significant time in Red Storm uniforms. None has ever averaged fewer than Pointer's 21.2 MPG last season, while Harrison's playing time actually decreased to 32.9 MPG as a junior after two straight years of 35-plus.
Backup point guard Jamal Branch has started 20 games during his year-and-a-half in Queens. Starter Rysheed Jordan hit the ground running with 26.2 MPG as a freshman, performing well enough to make the Big East's All-Rookie team.
Depth looms as a weakness for the Johnnies, but few teams in the nation have a backcourt that has logged as many minutes.
The 2013-14 Texas Longhorns may have boasted fewer upperclassmen than any other team in the nation: one.
Junior Jonathan Holmes (pictured) was the only member of the roster with multiple college seasons under his belt entering last season, which meant the rest of coach Rick Barnes' team had to learn on the job. They did well enough to win 24 games and reach the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, so the future looks bright.
Four freshmen and five sophomores all played at least 9.5 MPG last season, with rookie point guard Isaiah Taylor leading the way with 30.1. He played well enough to be named an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, along with sophomores Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley. Holmes made the all-conference second team.
Sophomore Demarcus Holland earned an All-Defensive team nod after starting every game and finishing second on the team at 29.6 MPG. Classmate Connor Lammert averaged 20-plus minutes for the second straight season. The team's fifth sophomore, 6'10", 250-pound center Prince Ibeh, managed to block 1.7 shots per game in only 13.6 minutes.
That's five blocks per 40, folks.
Texas still has two scholarships to offer, and one is earmarked for the class of 2014's top remaining prospect, center Myles Turner. Even if something odd happens, and he doesn't don burnt orange next season, the Longhorns are still loaded with young talent that's been through the fire of one of the nation's toughest conferences.
VCU will still play disruptive defense in 2014-15. As long as Shaka Smart is prowling the sidelines, don't expect that to change. While cynics might use the early NCAA tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin as evidence that the Rams remain overrated, Smart's team will return plenty of talented players who are motivated to prove otherwise.
The Rams return only two full-time starters: point guard Briante Weber and wing Treveon Graham. Graham is the Atlantic 10's only returning all-conference first-team selection, while Weber has been among the nation's most dangerous defensive threats for three years. He's finished in the national top 25 in steals per game three years running, according to StatSheet.com.
Weber and Graham will be next season's only seniors, with shooting guard Melvin Johnson the lone junior. Johnson led the team with 66 three-pointers on 39.5 percent shooting.
The Rams got double-figure minutes out of three freshmen: guard JeQuan Lewis and forwards Jordan Burgess and Mo Alie-Cox. Burgess struggled with his shooting all season long, but he did make four of seven triples against Stephen F. Austin. Alie-Cox played only 14.4 MPG but led the team with 1.4 blocks per game.
Lewis posted the team's best true shooting percentage (56.3), according to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), but he'll enter next season anxious to live down his foul that gave SFA's Desmond Haymon a four-point play to force overtime.
VCU has a top-25 recruiting class coming in, according to 247 Sports—its first under Smart. The bigger story may not be the guys returning, but it should be.
Villanova raced out to 29 wins and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. While the latter was squandered in a loss to ancient Big East rival UConn in the round of 32, the Wildcats accomplished the feat with only two seniors on the roster.
All-Big East first-teamer and Big 5 Player of the Year James Bell will be missed, but the rest of Nova's starting lineup returns. Three of those starters—rising seniors Darrun Hilliard (pictured) and JayVaughn Pinkston and junior-to-be Ryan Arcidiacono—were all-conference selections in their own right.
The backcourt tandem of Hilliard and Arcidiacono has missed only one start over the past two seasons. Pinkston finally became a full-time starter after playing 26 minutes per game as a freshman and sophomore.
Sophomore Daniel Ochefu (6'11", 245 lbs) joined the starting five and willingly handled much of the team's dirty work, ranking in the Big East's top 10 in rebounds (6.1 per game) and blocks (1.5 per game).
Underclassmen Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins return after contributing double-digit minutes off the bench. Hart ranked 35th nationally in offensive rating, according to KenPom.
All of this season's other Big East contenders suffered much heavier losses than Villanova has, so a second straight conference title should be within reach next year.
Wisconsin should be penciled in as next season's Big Ten favorite until proven otherwise. The national semifinalists return everyone except sharpshooting guard Ben Brust. Not to minimize his loss, but there is enough talent coming back to make a return Final Four trip not only possible but likely.
Guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson enter their fourth and third seasons as starters, respectively. Gasser has played 32 MPG over his career, while Jackson has carded 29.4 over the past two years. They'll be backed up by rising sophomore Bronson Koenig, who introduced himself to a national audience by scoring 11 points in the semifinal against Kentucky.
Up front, the Badgers may be able to field a traditional forward line with the athletic Sam Dekker, burly sophomore-to-be Nigel Hayes and breakout star center Frank Kaminsky (pictured). Kaminsky more than tripled his points, rebounds and blocks as a junior, demonstrating a versatile enough game to play himself onto the NBA radar.
Dekker should enter the season as an All-Big Ten favorite, especially if he combines his ability to attack the rim with a rediscovered three-point stroke. Hayes scored in double figures in seven of his first 12 Big Ten games without starting a single one. Full-time minutes should agree with him nicely.
Others like rising senior Duje Dukan and sophomores-to-be Vitto Brown and Jordan Hill will need to rise up to fill out the bench, but as long as the injury bug doesn't bite, Wisconsin will once again be a nasty opponent.