Many teams, including some destined for the NCAA Tournament, were missing key pieces this season that would’ve otherwise resulted in a much more successful campaign. Adding in recruits from the 2020 class that would correct these issues, which teams from this season could we be talking about in a much different light entering March?
Arkansas Razorbacks – Eric Musselman’s first year in Fayetteville fairly smoothly and would’ve ended with a trip to the Big Dance. A 13-1 non-conference start set up the Razorbacks nicely for conference play, but a slide down the stretch resulted in just a 20-12 campaign. Musselman’s uptempo offensive system unleashed the collective backcourt of Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, Desi Sills and Jimmy Whitt and in the non-conference schedule were one of the best perimeter defending teams in the nation. Teams began to pound the ball inside and Arkansas allowed 70+ points in all of their conference games except two.
Enter in 6’10” Center Jaylin Williams and offensive juggernauts Moses Moody and KK Robinson. The Razorbacks were hampered on the glass for the majority of the year and Williams was a productive big on the EYBL circuit against some of the top Center and Forward prospects in the nation. His ability to shoot and score reliably will take pressure off of the aforementioned backcourt quartet, as well as newcomers Moody and Robinson. Musselman’s new perimeter weapons are proficient scoring at all three levels of the court, but also extremely productive and disruptive on the defensive end.
Collectively, these shiny new toys will buffer Arkansas’ already proficient offensive traits while patching their defensive ineptitude. The Razorbacks lost four conference games by one bucket without any defensive strengths, thus we could be talking about this team as a contender for the Elite 8 or Final Four given these improvements.
Oklahoma State Cowboys – Oklahoma State’s season had a great start and ending, but a terrible run of games in the middle of the year drastically lowered expectations. Losing 9 games in a stretch of 11, the Cowboys couldn’t put the pieces together to stop the bleeding. This team was strong defensively and it kept them in numerous games, but offensively they were inefficient at all levels. To make matters worse, only 4 players on the roster tallied more than an assist per game.
The Cowboys incoming class is loaded with talent and THE crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting cycle: Cade Cunningham. He is a jack-of-all-trades kind of weapon and averaged 23.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.2 BPG on the EYBL Circuit. Guaranteed he will make everyone on this roster, present or incoming, better and more dangerous. His Texas Titans teammates Rondel Walker and Montreal Pena also join the Oklahoma State program, increasing the lethality and chemistry amongst players on this team. Walker is a shifty combo guard that will make defenses honest from the perimeter. Matthew Alexander-Moncrief from Orangeville Prep has shown tons of improvement since breaking out on the EYBL Circuit two years ago and adds wing depth for coach Michael Boynton.
The Cowboys didn’t have a lot of options offensively, outside of the starting five, but managed to still win 18 games. Losing three games by 15 points or less while scoring under 50 points should provide a lot of faith in what a Cade Cunningham-led team could accomplish next season. A backcourt of Cunningham, Likekele and Walker would be very potent and demand a lot of attention. A season with wins in the low-20s before the conference and NCAA tournaments is not out of the question, as well as couple NCAA Tournament wins.
Kansas State Wildcats – A year after Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes led the Wildcats to a 4th-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas State struggled mightily finishing 10th in the Big 12. While their defensive strengths remained, Kansas State only had two players score in double-figures. That’s not surprising given the team failed to excel in rebounding, assists, shot blocking, ball control, limiting fouls and all scoring categories including free throw shooting.
The incoming 2020 class is very balanced and adds quality depth to every position. It contains two offensive savants, PG Nijel Pack and CG Selton Miguel, who can collectively solve the Wildcats aversion to scoring. Pack averaged 18.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 5.8 APG on the EYBL circuit, while converting 90.7% from the FT line. The freshman point guard would bring a 2.64 assist to turnover ratio to a squad that had 10 players with at least 1.0 turnover per game.
There are lots of kinks to work out here, but quality reinforcements can make loads of difference on a team with only five players averaging more than 6.2 PPG. It’s too much to ask for this version of the Wildcats to rival 2018’s 25-9 record, but the 2019 team lost 12 games by 8 points or less despite struggling in every statistical category. Give them these reinforcements and we could be looking at a tournament team capable of winning a game or two.
Indiana Hoosiers – Archie Miller coached the Hoosiers to a near identical result from 2018, despite having an arguably less talented roster. However, a 20-win season before the Big-10 or NCAA Tournaments is nothing to scoff at. Miller’s team is well balanced, gets tons of looks offensively and guards the perimeter exceptionally well. The knock on this year’s squad though is the lack of ability hitting shots from the outside. In fact, no player on the roster attempting at least 1 3-pointer per game shot better than 38.3%.
Indiana’s incoming class is a cure-all to that specific problem, especially from the point and combo guard spots. Current 2020 signees of Anthony Leal, Trey Holloway and Jordan Geronimo all play with very high motors. Geronimo is a monster on the glass and is a dangerous weapon in the open court Leal and Holloway are joined by fellow AAU Indiana Elite teammate and likely 5* re-class candidate Khristian Lander (2021), as strong perimeter players with the talent to pour in 3-pointers at a high rate.
The Hoosiers lost four games by 4 points or less and shot below 30% from the perimeter in half of their contests. A little more consistency from deep on the year would greatly raise both the ceiling and floor of this team’s capabilities. Indiana was already going to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but would firmly secure a spot in the tournament with stronger backcourt play and could contend for a top-3 spot in the conference.
Auburn Tigers – Bruce Pearl has undoubtedly made this team more dynamic and relevant since he took over the program. After last year’s run in the NCAA Tournament, losing a good portion of their playmaking created early expectations that this team wouldn’t reach the same success in 2019. A 25-6 season did a lot to change those perceptions for the Tigers, butmoments of inconsistency in conference play makes you think what could have been.
In the absence of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, reserve guard J’Von McCormick picked up the reigns to the team this season. He increased his point total from 4.1 to 11.6 per game, while leading the team with 4.5 assists a night. Quite the improvement for the senior, but this team was not very effective in sharing the ball – 12.8 assists per game. If the Tigers added in the services of 2020 5* Sharife Cooper, the point guard position and the offense as a whole would be elevated to the next level.
Cooper averaged 25.3 PPG and 8.6 APG for the AOT Running Rebels on the EYBL Circuit this last Summer. His ability to command the defense’s attention, as well as orchestrating efficient possessions for his team, would help to overcome stagnant 2019 losses like Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Nearing last year’s win-total without playing the SEC or NCAA Tournaments, this team could have approached the Final Four and a 35-win season.
LSU Tigers – LSU’s offense has been very strong over the last five seasons, but Will Wade has elevated it to the next level since taking over from Johnny Jones tenure. The Tigers have averaged 79.5 PPG over the last three seasons, despite using a shortened rotation. They don’t create a lot of steals or force a lot of turnovers, and their shooting defense is far from intimidating. It’s a large reason why they surrendered more than 80 points in a third of their games.
Cam Thomas and Eric Gaines, two of the Tigers five newest signings, fit Wade’s offensive system perfectly: elite scoring talents with downhill aggression and lights out free throw shooters. The pair will also improve the defensive traits of this team, with both averaging between 2-3 steals per game on the EYBL circuit. Their benefits working on both ends of the floor should be more than enough to improve LSU’s 21-10 regular season record.
Already a tournament team this year, the Tigers would likely be one of the most potent offensive squads in the country. This team would achieve their second 30-win season in as many years and also guarantee Vanderbilt wouldn’t score 100 points on them.
Purdue Boilermakers – The transition away from Carsen Edwards could have been much smoother for Matt Painter, but there were glimpses of hope and potential with tis new roster. Wins over Virginia and Michigan State by 29 apiece and Iowa by 36 left fans wondering if these blowouts represented the true potential of this team. Yet, the entire structure and rotation of the roster was upended. Nojel Eastern, Evan Boudreaux and Matt Haarms were expected to take over the team, but instead faltered to minor offensive roles on the team. In their place, the sophomore trio of Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. rose to the top of the team’s depth chart.
As a result of players not developing as expected, depth was a major offensive concern for the Boilermakers. Incoming freshman Jaden Ivey and Ethan Morton are playmakers on and off the ball capable of igniting or carrying Purdue offensively. Both players are aggressive in attacking the rim, which is an area Matt Painter desperately needs improvement from his squad.
As an inefficient shooting team last season, Purdue needs points any way they can get them and from players ready to contribute now. This team lost seven games by 8 points or less, which could firmly place the Boilermakers in the top third of the conference standings and in a position to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. It still wouldn’t be the season many likely expected with the talent on this roster, but it would be a firm step in the right direction to finding a new star.