Several teams have struck gold on the recruiting trail over the past few summers, which hopefully leads to breakthrough seasons in 2015-16. Other programs are dealing with injuries, coaching changes, or in some cases, complete roster overhauls. Some teams enter the 2015-16 season with hopes of tournament runs, while others face the harsh reality that this year is nothing more than the start of a rebuilding effort.
PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE
Florida: Mike White is 101-40 in four years as a head coach, but the former Louisiana Tech coach will have his work cut out for him replacing Kevin Durant’s new head coach Billy Donovan. Donovan won two national championships, went to two more Final Fours and will be a Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in four years.
The Gators are coming off their first losing season in 16 years. While they add a pair of four-star recruits, they also lost Michael Frazier II, Eli Carter and Jon Horford.
The first year will not necessarily be a struggle for White and the Gators, even with the recent additions of Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and Rick Barnes (Tennessee) to the conference make the SEC a much more competitive league. But it’s never, ever easy to be the guy that follows “the guy”, and White enters a situation where he’s following the man that was arguably the best coach in the sport.
VCU: Ram fans saw their worst fears come true this spring when Shaka Smart received the offer he couldn’t refuse from Texas. VCU was quick to hire former assistant Will Wade (2009-13), who turned a Chattanooga program into one of the Southern Conference favorites in two years.
While the cupboard is far from bare for VCU with Melvin Johnson, Jordan Burgess and Mo-Alie Cox all returning, it’s not unfair to say the Rams should slip in 2015-16. Treveon Graham and Briante Weber both graduated. Terry Larrier, the highest recruit to commit to VCU since 1990, transferred and Smart’s top-100 prospects, Tevin Mack and Kenny Williams, both elected to go elsewhere, with Mack following him to Texas and Williams going to North Carolina.
But roster turnover happens with every coaching change. The biggest question for Wade, who landed a commitment from four-star De’Riante Jenkins, Smart’s presence. The x’s-and-o’s aren’t going to be an issue for Wade — the man can coach Havoc, he proved it at Chattanooga — it’s whether he can maintain the aura that Smart created for VCU in Richmond, Virginia. Smart was more than just a basketball coach. He was a presence that could connect with his players on a level that many coaches can’t.
There’s little doubt that Wade will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode in his first season, but the most interesting matter will be just how high he can build the program back up. Only time will tell.
Harvard: The Crimon’s quest for a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament was in jeopardy even before Siyani Chambers tore his ACL. Yale and Columbia were primed to take down Harvard, which had seen three-time all-Ivy League selection Wesley Saunders graduate last spring. The Ivy has long been one of the most underrated conferences in college basketball, and it’s depth will shine through this season.
Arkansas: Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, the top scorers and rebounders who left early for the NBA Draft, are two of four starters Mike Anderson needs to replace. In an improved SEC, the Razorbacks are going have to rebuild the fastest 40 minutes.
Kansas State: It’s full rebuild mode in Manhattan.
The Wildcats began last season as a preseason top-25 team. Marcus Foster, the team’s top scorer and two freshmen were dismissed from the team. Two more transferred. And a pair of starters graduated. It could be a long season for K-State.
St. John’s: It’s also full rebuild mode in Queens.
Chris Mullin returns to St. John’s for his first season as a head coach at any level. The Red Storm graduated four players, including D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer. The two key holdovers, Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa, didn’t last long under the new regime. Mullin has seen some early success on the recruiting trail, but Year 1 will likely end up at the bottom of the Big East.
Two more teams on the decline
- St. Mary’s
PROGRAMS ON THE RISE
Cal: Success on the recruiting trail and Tyrone Wallace deciding to return for his senior season makes Cal a darkhose Final Four pick in Cuonzo Martin’s second season. Wallace, a candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year, is back along with Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird on the perimeter while Martin landed one of the premier freshmen classes in the country in five-star forward Ivan Rabb, followed by late commitment from top three prospect Jaylen Brown.
Don’t be surprised if Cal has a few bumps in the road, especially with early road games against San Diego State and Virginia. But the talent on the roster is enough for a run in March.
Florida State: Speaking of recruiting success, Leonard Hamilton was able to bolster his perimeter around Xavier Rathan-Mayes with the additions of Dwayne Bacon, Malik Beasley and Terance Mann.
The Seminoles could very well be the team in this group that’s “one year away,” but it’s not unrealistic to think they can’t finish in the top-5 in the ACC. Either way, Florida State will be fun to watch in 2015-16.
Marquette: The last time Steve Wojciechowski was part of a losing team was his freshman year at Duke … 20 years ago. That likely won’t be the case for the second-year coach. Wojo landed Henry Ellenson, a projected lottery pick, and Traci Carter to play alongside key returners Duane Wilson, Luke Fischer and Sandy Cohen. The Golden Eagles should rack up the wins in the non-conference, before heading into Big East play. Marquette has the potential to finish in the top half of the league, although it won’t be easy.
Oregon State: The Beavers were eying a 20-win season in Wayne Tinkle’s first season in Corvallis, but seven losses in the final eight games put a sour note on an otherwise surprisingly good season for Oregon State.
Gary Payton II, the son of the Hall of Fame point guard, proved to be a worthy of the name. Malcolm Duvivier saw his production increase in an expanded role as well. Tinkle adds some talent around those two returnees with a recruiting class that includes top-100 players Stephen Thompson and Tinkle’s son, Tres.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have a monster frontline that returns 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot A.J. Hammons and adds five-star big man Caleb Swanigan. Vince Edwards and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis also come back, but the focus will be on the point guard play and newcomer Johnny Hill.
Rhode Island: On paper, this looks to be the year the Rams wrestle away the Atlantic 10 title and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Four starters — E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett – return from 23-win team in 2014-15 and are joined by Kuran Iverson, a top-30 recruit in 2013.
Texas A&M: Despite 21 wins, Texas A&M missed out on the NCAA tournament due to a poor finish to the regular season and lack of quality wins. That could change this year with this group in College Station. Daneul House, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso are all back and are joined by four-star recruits Tyler Davis, D.J. Fogg, Elijah Thomas and Admon Gilder.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores ended the season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, bouncing back from a 1-7 start to conference play by going 11-4 in February and March. With Damian Jones, Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance all back, Kevin Stallings has a team that could head toward the top of the SEC standings in 2015-16.
Three more to look out for
- Boise State