Programs on the rise, decline in 2015-16

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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.


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.

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AP Photo

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.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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

  • Nebraska
  • St. Mary’s
Cuonzo Martin (AP Photo)
Cuonzo Martin (AP Photo)


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
  • Creighton
  • LSU

UConn adds former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from transfer portal

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STORRS, Conn. — National champion UConn added some shooting depth to its roster Friday, announcing the signing of former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from the transfer portal.

Spencer, who graduated last month with a year of eligibility remaining, averaged 13.2 points in his only season in New Jersey. The 6-foot-4 guard, who played his first three seasons at Loyola of Maryland, shot 44.4% from the floor, including 43.4% from 3-point range.

“Cam is the perfect addition to our basketball program,” UConn Coach Dan Hurley said. “He brings a unique combination of high-level skill and feel for the game, with a fierce competitiveness that has allowed him to enjoy a terrific college basketball career thus far.”

The Huskies lost their top 3-point scoring threat, sophomore Jordan Hawkins, to the NBA draft, along with wing Andre Jackson Jr. and post Adama Sanogo.

Guard Tristen Newtown gave the Huskies a boost last month when he withdrew his name from the draft pool and returned to Storrs.

The Huskies began summer workouts this week, welcoming a top recruiting class led by 6-6 point guard Stephon Castle, a McDonald’s All-American from Georgia. The class also includes 6-7 wing Jayden Ross and 6-4 guard Solomon Ball from Virginia, 6-7 wing Jaylin Stewart from Seattle, Washington, and 7-foot center Youssouf Singare from New York.

“I think that some of my strengths will stand out in UConn’s style of play,” Spencer said. “They have a lot of great movement and they play so well together, with great chemistry. I think that I can come in and hopefully contribute to that.”

NCAA tweaks rules on block/charge calls in men’s basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is tweaking how block/charge calls are made in men’s basketball.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes on Thursday that require a defender to be in position to draw a charge at the time the offensive player plants a foot to go airborne for a shot. If the defender arrives after the player has planted a foot, officials have been instructed to call a block when there’s contact.

Defenders had to be in position to draw a charge before the offensive player went airborne under previous rules.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee members made the proposal after NCAA members complained that too many charges were being called on those types of plays.

The panel also approved reviews of basket interference calls during the next media timeout – if the official called it on the floor – a shot clock reset to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound that hits the rim, and players being allowed to wear any number between 0 and 99.

A timeout also will be granted to an airborne player with possession of the ball, and non-student bench personnel will be allowed to serve as peacekeepers on the floor if an altercation occurs.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.