The Most Intriguing Teams to Monitor in the 2014 College Basketball Offseason
The 2014 offseason has been busier than most. Or at least it feels that way. More than 500 transfers have either signed with new teams or are seeking one, two of the country’s top coaches (Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson) are back in the college game after an NCAA-mandated hiatus and some of the nation’s most powerful programs keep finding ways to get stronger.
Granted, the past few months have been busier for some than others. While programs such as Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida have stayed quiet and content with what they have returning, others such as Kansas and Gonzaga have added pieces that could make them top-10 staples throughout the 2014-15 season.
Here’s a list of teams who have been particularly busy since the beginning of April and will be fun to monitor over the next few months, as the offseason will be crucial to their success.
The hiring of former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has injected life into the Tigers’ struggling program. Other than Kentucky’s John Calipari, there may not be a bigger personality in college basketball than Pearl, whose staff has already added three impact transfers. (Note: Pearl is nearing the end of a three-year show clause penalty and isn’t allowed to recruit until Aug. 24).
Guard TJ Lang was released from his national letter of intent with Virginia Tech and will be eligible to play for Auburn immediately. The Tigers also added power forward Cinmeon Bowers, the nation’s No. 1-ranked junior college recruit and New Mexico State transfer K.C. Ross-Miller, who will be able to play in 2014-15 as long as he completes his undergraduate course work at New Mexico State this summer.
With second-leading scorer K.T. Harrell (18.3 points) returning, the Tigers should make significant strides in Pearl’s first season. I’m not saying this is an NCAA tournament team, but Auburn clearly appears to have momentum for the first time in ages.
The Blue Devils may look like a completely different team next season. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Tyler Thornton and Andre Dawkins are gone. In their place steps members of the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones are expected to start right away, and small forward Justise Winslow likely will, too
It will be interesting to see how returning standouts such as Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon adjust to the influx of talent. It certainly wasn’t an issue last season with the additions of Parker and Hood.
They may not contend for a No. 1 seed like they did two years ago, but the Zags could be in for a banner season. The crux of last year’s NCAA tournament team—Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Przemek Karnowski—returns. And Mark Few’s squad adds a pair of highly touted transfers in Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) and Byron Wesley, who led USC in scoring (17.1 points) last season.
Also in the mix will be freshman post player Domantas Sabonis. The son of former Portland Trailblazers star Arvydas Sabonis is expected to make an immediate impact.
Gonzaga will be one of the country’s better teams right off the bat if it makes the most of its offseason.
The Jayhawks won’t have to replace all five starters, as they did a year ago. But this offseason will still be huge for a program that could have as many as four freshmen among its top six players.
Power forward Cliff Alexander, who is expected to step into a starting role, should be a force immediately because of his size and strength. Look for Kelly Oubre to replace Andrew Wiggins on the wing. Alexander and Oubre were both McDonald’s All-Americans.
Late signee Devonte Graham will battle rising sophomore Frank Mason for starting point guard duties. At the very least, he’ll be the backup. The wildcard is Ukrainian phenom Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who signed with the Jayhawks this week. The 6’8” Mykhailiuk, who has been regarded as the top overseas prospect since Ricky Rubio, can play point guard, shooting guard or small forward. Even though he’s expected to be a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Mykhailiuk’s age (he turns 17 in June) could be a factor when it comes to early playing time.
Either way, this offseason will be huge for Kansas when it comes to developing chemistry and cohesion.
Andrew and Aaron Harrison are back. So is Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. Mix that cast of all-stars with the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, and one has to wonder how John Calipari will keep so many talented players happy. The Wildcats will literally be 12 deep.
Granted, Calipari has dealt with similar situations before and handled them masterfully. So he’s earned the benefit of the doubt in this scenario. It’s certainly a good problem to have.
The key for Calipari will be getting his new players on campus this summer and blending them in with the returning stars. If that happens Kentucky won’t appear nearly as disjointed as it did during the early portions of last season, and there won’t be nearly as many speed bumps on the path to the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines are in a state of flux after losing three underclassmen (Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary) to the NBA draft as well as reserve forward Jon Horford, who transferred to Florida.
John Beilein’s squad returns third-leading scorer Caris Levert along with guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, who should make significant strides as sophomores. The Wolverines also signed a top-50 talent in small forward Kameron Chatman.
With so many former complementary players stepping into key roles, offseason development will be huge if Michigan has hopes of winning a second straight Big Ten title.
A month ago most preseason top 25 polls included Oregon in the 20-25 range. Now the Ducks will be lucky to finish in the top half of the Pac-12.
Starting guard Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis were both dismissed from the team this month along with forward Brandon Austin following a rape investigation in which they were never charged.
In all, 10 players from last year’s team are no longer with the program. Johnathan Loyd, Mike Moser, Jason Calliste, Richard Amardi and Waverly Austin are out of eligibility and Ben Carter and A.J. Lapray transferred.
Only two players (Joseph Young and Elgin Cook) return. Highly touted signee JaQuan Lyle, a guard, will need to make an immediate impact. It will also be interesting to see what pieces, if any, the Ducks add during the summer. Oregon has become one of the country’s most popular destinations for transfers, but the school may be more selective considering the off-the-court mess that has tarnished the image of the program.