College Basketball Teams Most Likely to Have Bounce-Back Seasons in 2014-15
In the college basketball offseason, nothing is in greater supply than hope, especially for the teams that failed to crack the field of 68 in March. As fans and coaches turn their eyes to 2014-15, many of the postseason no-shows of last year are gearing up to become the surprise winners of next year.
One of the biggest disappointments in 2013-14 was a Notre Dame squad whose ACC debut turned into a debacle. Last year’s Fighting Irish didn’t have Jerian Grant to carry the offense in conference play, but once he gets his academics in order, the electrifying guard is set for a grand re-entrance next fall.
Herein, a closer look at the Irish and nine more teams absent from the 2014 NCAA tournament that are set to come back strong next season.
Rebounding specialist Roscoe Smith is off to the NBA, and Bryce Dejean-Jones is heading to Iowa State, but coach Dave Rice still has some weapons at his disposal for 2014-15.
Inside, shot-blocker Khem Birch will be a senior, as will three-point threat Deville Smith on the perimeter.
The biggest news, though, is a high-powered recruiting class with a pair of frontcourt stars, Goodluck Okonoboh (another rejection specialist) and Dwayne Morgan (the Rebels’ new top dunk artist).
Best of all, superstar shooting guard Rashad Vaughn—a McDonald’s All-American—will immediately become the best outside scoring threat Rice has coached.
Jim Larranaga already showed off his ability to make something out of nothing by turning last year’s depleted Miami roster into a 17-16 team.
Now, the Hurricanes coach gets some legitimate talent to supplement a roster that (once again) loses all its significant contributors.
Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez and former Texas scorer Sheldon McClellan provide a ready-made backcourt that’s already proven its mettle against high-level competition.
Add in the freshman duo of redshirt Deandre Burnett and new arrival Ja’Quan Newton, and Miami’s perimeter offense will be too good to suffer through another losing ACC campaign.
Seton Hall’s last win of 2013-14 was also its best, a Big East tourney upset of Villanova on Sterling Gibbs’ buzzer-beater. That’s a fitting prologue to next season, when the former Texas point guard will be the leader of a young but immensely talented roster.
Although the Pirates lose three high-impact starters, their gains in recruiting will be even more significant.
McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead, the program’s most anticipated freshman in years, will give Gibbs an elite backcourt partner. Meanwhile, both guards will benefit from the arrival of rebounding machine Angel Delgado up front.
Whatever else the Tigers have going for them in 2014-15, they’ll be able to play defense. LSU brings back both Jordan Mickey (ninth nationally in blocks last year) and Anthony Hickey (third in the country in steals in 2012-13).
That duo will also benefit from a full season of Jarell Martin’s scoring punch, as the combo forward improved rapidly at the end of his freshman season.
Losing Johnny O’Bryant III’s physicality down low will hurt, but the arrival of 6’11”, 270-pound recruit Elbert Robinson will do a lot to cushion that blow.
With everything that went wrong for Georgetown last season, it was easy to overlook one definitively positive development.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera grew into his enormous offensive potential, nearly doubling his freshman-year scoring average (to 17.6 points per game) and becoming a genuine three-point threat to boot.
Markel Starks may be gone, but Smith-Rivera won’t have to carry next year’s attack by himself.
On top of adding a wealth of promising freshmen—led by highly touted Isaac Copeland, a slick offensive option at 6’9” and 210 pounds—Georgetown brings back gargantuan center Joshua Smith from the academic purgatory that cost him the second semester in 2013-14.
Maryland might have more odds stacked against it than any power-conference team in the country next season.
The Terps lost three rotation players to transfer (including Shaq Cleare, the roster’s biggest body) and face the culture shock of moving to the bruising Big Ten after decades in the ACC.
Nevertheless, Mark Turgeon’s squad has the talent to turn things around, highlighted by the high-scoring duo of Dez Wells and Seth Allen (28.3 combined points per game).
They’ll be joined on the perimeter by McDonald’s All-American Romelo Trimble and fellow scorer Dion Wiley. Even better, Turgeon added a pair of seven-foot freshmen, Trayvon Reed and Michal Cekovsky, to restock the front line.
The implosion of Notre Dame’s 2013-14 season coincided with Jerian Grant’s departure under an academic cloud. All indications are that the do-it-all guard will be back next year, and with him, the Irish’s hopes of ACC relevance return as well.
Eric Atkins is gone, but rising sophomore Demetrius Jackson is set to grab his guard spot. Up front, shooter Pat Connaughton and physical Zach Auguste should be able to provide more than enough support to let the backcourt stars shine.
Rayvonte Rice was one of the Big Ten’s most effective transfers a year ago, and the ex-Drake scorer returns for his senior year in Champaign.
He’ll have plenty of perimeter threats around him, starting with promising rising sophomores Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn.
In addition to the youngsters, proven transfers Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) join the backcourt. Up front, high-powered freshman Leron Black will provide the offense with a complement to senior shot-blocker Nnanna Egwu.
Like most coaches making their debut in the top job, Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski won’t have an ideal roster to work with. However, the former Duke assistant did manage to hold on to a top in-state recruit in the person of playmaking swingman Sandy Cohen.
Cohen will join a roster that’s poised to get major contributions from last year’s stacked recruiting class, headed by former sixth man Deonte Burton.
The high-scoring Burton will get help from the veteran backcourt of Todd Mayo and Derrick Wilson, both of whom improved dramatically while taking their lumps on last year’s 17-15 squad.
Although SMU’s 27-win season was just shy of a school record, the Mustangs still have two solid decades of NCAA tournament absences to bounce back from.
The experience they gained in battling to the NIT title game (a narrow loss to Minnesota) will go a long way toward making sure that streak ends in 2014-15.
Among the biggest beneficiaries of that run will be rising junior big man Markus Kennedy (coming off his first year as a starter) and combo guard Nic Moore (coming off his first year as a Mustang after arriving from Illinois State).
The biggest factor in SMU’s turnaround, though, will be a player with no experience at all: ESPN 100’s consensus top-five recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, the scoring point guard who becomes Larry Brown’s second McDonald’s All-American freshman in as many years.