CBB Players Returning from Injury Who Will Have Biggest Impact in 2014-15
Key players returning from injury are every bit as crucial to the 2014-15 college basketball season as the incoming freshmen and transfers we love to discuss so much.
Injuries are an unfortunate, unavoidable part of college basketball. One loose ball or misplaced patch of condensation can derail a team's season or a player's career.
Inevitably, a handful of preseason Top 25 teams will be devastated by injuries to members of their starting fives.
But instead of focusing on injuries of the recent past, we're interested in what kind of impact players will be able to have in returning from injuries that ruined their 2013-14 season.
Rather than the Civil War, let's talk about the Reconstruction Era.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein missed Kentucky's final three games last season thanks to an ankle injury that eventually required surgery. He isn't playing in Kentucky's current Bahamas Tour, but he hopes to be back for the start of the season.
Though he might be the most talented player on this entire list, the Wildcats have so much depth in the frontcourt that they'll be ranked No. 1 in the preseason with or without him.
DaJuan Coleman, Syracuse
If Coleman plays, it's a huge plus for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. However, he only gets an honorable mention because it's the biggest "If" on the list.
In January, Coleman had surgery on his left knee for the second time in as many seasons. We'll give the benefit of the doubt after one surgery, but two is when we start to wonder if the player will ever be physically or mentally at 100 percent again.
Anthony Collins, South Florida
Collins had an inflamed bursa sac surgically removed from his left knee last summer.
He missed the first two games of the 2013-14 season but played in the next eight before tendinitis in the same knee eventually caused him to sit out the rest of the year.
Opposite of Kentucky's situation with Cauley-Stein, South Florida isn't going anywhere this season with or without Collins.
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
Collinsworth had surgery for a torn ACL in mid-March. His goal is to be ready for the start of the season, but eight months to recover from a serious knee injury doesn't seem like quite enough.
If he does play, his 14.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.6 APG and 1.7 SPG from last season will be very much welcomed into a rotation that lost a number of key players due to transfer or LDS missions.
Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn was one of the top incoming point guards in the entire country before the 2012-13 season, but multiple injuries to his right shoulder have kept him from ever truly getting the chance to shine.
He managed to appear in just four games last season.
Dunn should be back as the starting point guard for a team looking to remain competitive after losing two key seniors in Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts.
Kethan Savage, George Washington
Savage was one of George Washington's most important players before a foot fracture derailed his season. And with Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Creek graduating this summer, there's no question he'll be expected to be the team's leader for the 2014-15 campaign.
Kenyatta Smith, Harvard
Smith missed the first 17 games of last season with a foot injury. He played for two minutes against Dartmouth before breaking a bone in the same foot and missing the rest of the season.
As a result, Harvard didn't really have a true center last season, but the Crimson got along just fine without him, winning 27 games.
Isaiah Zierden, Creighton
Before dislocating his right kneecap and missing the final seven games of the season, Zierden was just a minor role player for the Bluejays.
He averaged 10.9 minutes per game and didn't exactly do a ton with those minutes.
But with four starters graduating this summer, Zierden should play a much bigger role in his sophomore season, provided that an underwater treadmill gets him healthy enough to play.
10. Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State
Injury: Torn Achilles
Games played in 2013-14: 13
Before losing Michael Cobbins for the season, things were going quite swimmingly for the Cowboys. They were 12-1 and ranked No. 6 in the country.
After his injury, things fell apart in a hurry. They lost the very next game to Kansas State. Stevie Clark was dismissed from the team. Marcus Smart's frustration publicly boiled over several times.
In a span of two months, Oklahoma State went from "Contender for national championship" to "Might miss the tournament."
Oklahoma State's prospects for the 2014-15 season are much closer to the latter than the former, but might the return of Cobbins be enough to get the Cowboys back to the Big Dance for a third straight year?
With Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy both electing to transfer this summer, they need Cobbins more than ever.
Cobbins only averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season, but his defensive presence in the paint will be crucial to Oklahoma State's success.
9. Daniel Dingle, Temple
Injury: Torn meniscus
Games played in 2013-14: 10
Temple had a dreadful 2013-14 season, finishing with a 9-22 record.
Before losing Dingle, though, the Owls were at least moderately respectable. They were 5-5 with wins over Georgia and Saint Joseph's. Four of the losses were decided by six or fewer points, including a one-point loss in overtime to Texas.
In the first 13 games after Dingle's injury, they went 1-12 with six losses to teams who missed the NCAA tournament.
Dingle averaged 6.7 PPG as the team's sixth man, but he will almost certainly be Temple's starting small forward in 2014-15 if his knee is up to the challenge.
With him in the lineup, the Owls will at least have a chance at getting back to the tournament.
8. Durand Johnson, Pittsburgh
Injury: Torn ACL and meniscus
Games played in 2013-14: 16
Like Daniel Dingle for Temple, Durand Johnson served as the sixth man for Pittsburgh before his season-ending injury.
And like Michael Cobbins at Oklahoma State, his team was looking pretty darn good at the time of the injury.
Johnson was averaging 19.8 minutes and 8.8 points per game for the 15-1 Panthers.
But one game after scoring a career-high 17 points in a 20-point win over Maryland, his 2013-14 season was finished, and his ability to play in 2014-15 was in question.
If he's healthy enough to play, Johnson figures to start at small forward and may well be the team's leading scorer.
7. Melvin Johnson, VCU
Injury: Sprained knee
Games played in 2013-14: 33
The look on his face doesn't exactly scream "minor injury," but that's what Melvin Johnson's sprained knee ended up being.
VCU's sophomore shooting guard only missed two games, but it's no coincidence that those were the two games that knocked the Rams out of the A-10 and NCAA tournaments.
They simply weren't the same team without him on the court.
Johnson was Shaka Smart's best three-point shooter, as he hit 39.5 percent of his 167 attempts on the year.
He was also a key contributor on the defensive end, averaging 1.6 steals per 40 minutes.
With Rob Brandenberg graduating this summer, Johnson will very likely transition from sixth man to starting shooting guard for VCU.
Those added minutes should be good news, as he averaged 18.5 points per 40 minutes last year.
6. Robert Hubbs III, Tennessee
Injury: Shoulder surgery
Games played in 2013-14: 12
247Sports.com ranked Robert Hubbs III as the third-best shooting guard in the 2013 class, but a lingering shoulder injury kept him from reaching his full potential.
Hubbs first suffered the injury during his senior season at Dyer County High School, but he tried unsuccessfully to play through the pain.
Even though it was his non-shooting shoulder, he shot just 28.1 percent from three-point range and scored 5.0 PPG before electing to have season-ending surgery.
Ben Frederickson of the Knoxville News Sentinel reported back in early June that Hubbs' surgically repaired shoulder was nearly at 100 percent—meaning it certainly should be good to go by November.
No longer living in constant fear of further injury, Hubbs should play a huge role for a team losing just about everything from last season.
The Volunteers desperately need him to become the All-American shooting guard they recruited him to be.
5. Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Injury: Torn ligaments in wrist
Games played in 2013-14: 0
Almost exactly one year ago, Butler's outlook for the 2013-14 campaign took a nosedive when it was announced that Roosevelt Jones would be out for the season after suffering an injury in Australia that would require surgery.
This news came about six weeks after the surprise announcement that Brad Stevens had accepted the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics.
Further evidence that no college basketball news during the summer months is good news, the Bulldogs lost their head coach and one of their most important players before season previews were even being written.
Two years ago as a sophomore, Jones averaged 10.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 3.5 APG as Butler earned a No. 6 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Many were expecting Jones to explode as a junior, tag-teaming with Kellen Dunham to become one of the best shooting guard-small forward duos in the country.
It comes a year later than expected, but perhaps they'll still be able to pull it off.
4. Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas
Injury: Knee pain
Games played in 2013-14: 35
Wayne Selden Jr. didn't miss any games last season for Kansas, but let's just say it made a lot of sense when it was revealed that he had offseason arthroscopic surgery on the left knee that had been ailing him for years.
Selden was supposed to be one of the best incoming players in the entire country.
Back in October and November, if anyone was talking about someone from Kansas joining Andrew Wiggins in the top five of the 2014 NBA draft, it wasn't Joel Embiid they had in mind—it was Selden.
But rather than taking the world by storm, Selden was just kind of there in the background, averaging 29.2 minutes and 9.7 points per game while shooting just 32.8 percent from three-point range.
He scored just two points in each of Kansas' NCAA tournament games.
Now that he's healthy, though, he should be able to put up the numbers as a sophomore that we were hoping to see from him as a freshman.
3. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming
Injury: Torn ACL
Games played in 2013-14: 26
Unlike most of the players on this list who were role players or secondary scorers for their respective teams, Larry Nance Jr. was everything to the Wyoming Cowboys.
He led the team in four of the five most frequently cited statistics, averaging 15.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG and 1.4 SPG.
After the game in which Nance tore his ACL, Wyoming was 17-9 and almost, sort of in the bubble discussion.
The Cowboys proceeded to lose six of their final seven games without Nance on the court.
According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, head coach Larry Shyatt expects Nance to be available for the start of practice this fall. This is obviously wonderful news for a team that couldn't figure out how to play without him.
2. Brandon Ashley, Arizona
Injury: Broken foot
Games played in 2013-14: 22
There's not a single injury in the country that altered the course of the 2013-14 season as much as Brandon Ashley's broken foot.
Arizona entered that game with a 21-0 record but left the building with a loss and a depleted frontcourt.
Without any real difficulty, Aaron Gordon switched positions to become the team's primary power forward, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson received added minutes at small forward.
However, the Wildcats no longer had the same amount of depth to combat foul trouble or fatigue. They were undefeated with a healthy Ashley but suffered five losses without him.
He wasn't their leading scorer (11.5 PPG) or rebounder (5.8 RPG), but they clearly didn't have the same potency after his injury.
As long as he's healthy enough to play from day one, Arizona just might be better than it ever was last season.
1. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Injury: Broken foot
Games played in 2013-14: 34
For as much as Brandon Ashley's broken foot changed the trajectory of the regular season, it was Georges Niang's broken foot that most impacted the 2014 NCAA tournament.
The Iowa State Cyclones were catching fire at exactly the right time. They won the Big 12 tournament and destroyed North Carolina Central in the first game of the NCAA tournament.
Over the course of his final five games, Niang averaged 20.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.6 APG—despite playing part of that last game with the broken foot.
Even without Niang, they managed to beat North Carolina before losing by five points to the eventual national champions. Dustin Hogue had the game of his life in that loss to Connecticut, but Niang was clearly missed.
Niang has gotten into the best shape of his life while recovering from the broken foot.
It's hard to imagine he could be even better than he was last season, but it's even harder to imagine many teams beating Iowa State in 2014-15 if that's the case.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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