Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
It’s been a long offseason for some programs. The NBA Draft, graduation, off-the-court issues and transfers have altered some tournament team’s rosters. While those teams look to regroup in the 2013-2014 season, others are looking to take a major step forward, returning to postseason play or attempt to make an NCAA tournament run.
FIVE PROGRAMS ON THE RISE
Kansas State: The Wildcats won 20 games and made an NCAA tournament appearance last season. This year, Bruce Weber is hoping sophomores Marcus Foster — a potential first-team All-American — and Wesley Iwundu, who played major roles in their first year, can take K-State a step further. The program adds four-star forward Malek Harris, as well transfers Justin Edwards, Brandon Bolden and Stephen Hurt. Contending for the Big 12 title isn’t out of the question pending Foster’s ability to develop as a playmaker.
LSU: This time last year, I had the Tigers as a program on the rise. LSU couldn’t improve on a 19-win (9-9 SEC) record from 2012-2013 and settled for the NIT. With Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey — joined by Elbert Robertson — the Tigers will have no shortage of size on the frontline. The back court will be new with JuCo point guard Josh Gray and 6-foot-4 transfer Keith Hornsby. LSU is one of several SEC teams looking to join Kentucky and Florida in the Big Dance.
Miami: After a rebuilding campaign this past season, Jim Larranaga has a pair of impact transfers in the back court: Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. The depth in that back court is added with four-star guard Deandre Burnett (redshirted 2013-2014) and JaQuan Newton. Though, an injury to Davon Reed and first-year forward Ivan Cruz Uceda ruled ineligible for 16 games has been a setback this fall. The Hurricanes aren’t ACC contenders, but they are trending back toward postseason play.
Nebraska: For the first time since 1998, the Cornhuskers danced last season. They’ll look to continue the basketball program’s resurgence in 2014-2015. In a conference where several tournament teams lost key contributors, Tim Miles brings back all-Big Ten first team members Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Early reports are positive for freshman floor general Tarin Smith, and Tai Webster spent his summer playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup with New Zealand.
Utah: In three seasons as Pac-12 members, the Utes have failed to finish in the top half of the conference. Coming off a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 this past season, Utah is poised for a jump toward the top of the standings. Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge are back for the NCAA tournament hopefuls. Are the Utes ready for the heightened expectations? They’ll have a chance to answer that question early with non-conference contests against San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas and UNLV.
Two to keep an eye on:
- Oklahoma: The Sooners finished second in the Big 12 and return four starters. But Oklahoma could see a huge boost in its lineup if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas receives a waiver to play this season.
- Arkansas: The Razorbacks are another SEC team looking to break through this season. With six of their top seven scorers back, including forward Bobby Portis, the Razorbacks could be a tournament team for the first time since 2008.
FIVE PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE
Cincinnati: The Bearcats will be young. Mick Cronin brings in five newcomers and adds two redshirt freshman to the lineup. Cincy, coming off a 27-win season and a first-place finish in the American, will lose their top three scorers — All-American guard Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles — as well as former five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence. Luckily for Cronin, he got an early start with his program, taking a week trip to the Bahamas in August.
Creighton: It was a great debut for Creighton as a member of the Big East, winner of 14 conference games. A sophomore slump will likely be in store for Greg McDermott’s club after graduating four starters, most notably national player of the year Doug McDermott and his 3,150 career points. Austin Chatman leads the cast of returners, five of whom logged 10 or more minutes per game in the 2013-2014 season.
Tennessee: A march to the Sweet 16 was immediately followed by three players exhausting their eligibility and another one, Jarnell Stokes, declaring early for the NBA Draft. Third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin cut ties with the Vols before their inevitable divorce got even uglier. It’s full rebuilding mode for Donnie Tyndall, who inherits an inexperienced team led by Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs III. He adds newcomers Detrick Mostella and IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles to the perimeter.
Oklahoma State: Travis Ford had a rough stretch. Markel Brown had graduated, Marcus Smart went No. 6 overall in the NBA Draft, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy transferred and Jared Terrell decommitted. Despite having Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte, Anthony Hickey and Michael Cobbins, the Cowboys are projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12, a season after being predicted as Kansas’ biggest threat.
Oregon: A tumultuous offseason is an understatement for Dana Altman. Oregon dismissed Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin in May after sexual assault allegations tainted Altman’s reputation. Neither Ray Kasongo and Ja’Quan Lyle, two freshmen commits, ended up enrolling. Most recently, Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Elgin Cook, two of the three returning scholarship players, were cited with a misdemeanor. Joseph Young will be asked to do some heavy lifting.