Fans hate to see them go and so do coaches. The top players and seniors of every college basketball team must eventually depart for the next step in their careers. However, in some circumstances the incoming recruiting classes and transfers adequately make up for the lost talent. Which programs can remain hopeful about their chances in 2020-21, despite significant losses to their production and roster?
- Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels – The top 3 classes in the 2020 recruiting cycle belong to perennial superpowers and frequent users of the one-and-done rule. The Wildcats (#1), Blue Devils (#2) and Tar Heels (#3) are each projected to have a large amount of turnover at the top of their rosters, but the signing of 3 5-star prospects and several 4-stars apiece brings a lot of promise and potential to these teams. Each of these teams has a plethora of talent to utilize and each of these top-tier coaches has a dilemma to resolve their lineups. How quickly these groups can adjust to the college game will dictate their success next March.
Coach Calipari has repeatedly shown there is a learning curve to classes chalked full of one-and-done players. However, his knowledge and success in this system has been crucial to sparking mid-season runs towards the NCAA Tournament. This year’s class is led by the highest-rated pair of shooting guards (Terrence Clarke – 0.9983 and BJ Boston – 0.9971), Calipari’s had, since signing Aaron Harrison (0.9979) in 2013. Even if Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey all depart for the NBA this offseason, incoming point guard Devin Askew has more than enough physical and mental maturity to lead this program. Holdovers Johnny Juzang, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen and EJ Montgomery round out the 10-5 and 4-star players on next year’s roster. It’s never a question of talent in Lexington, rather which players succeed in stepping up.
Roy William’s venture into the transfer market last offseason seems to have ended and has a renewed focus on bringing in top high school talent. This season was far from anything anyone could’ve expected, but the questionable depth for 2020 has suddenly faded away. In the backcourt, the Tar Heels now have four options at point guard (R.J. Davis, Caleb Love, Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris) and three on the wings (Puff Johnson, Andrew Platek and Leaky Black). However, there is a considerable logjam in the frontcourt with seven bigs: Sterling Manley, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, Walker Miller, Walker Kessler and Day’ron Sharpe. Carolina is assuredly set to avoid a meltdown due to injuries with the considerable amount of depth on this year’s roster.
Their ever-affiliated rival Duke was unable to capture the regular-season ACC title for the 10th year in a row, despite the collective troubles of UNC, Virginia and Louisville. The Blue Devils had a very balanced roster this season, led by sophomore Tre Jones. The sophomore point guard’s return to Durham was very beneficial to his growth and pro prospects, as he displayed markedly better production on the offensive end. This path seems likely for current freshman Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore Jr, who failed to meet preseason expectations during the year. They’ll be accompanied by one of Coach K’s deepest classes of the decade. Led by point forward Jalen Johnson and volume-scoring threat DJ Steward, the class adds depth at every position on the floor.
- Illinois Fighting Illini: Brad Underwood has only been with the program for a handful of seasons, but he’s already made tons of progress elevating it into a competitive product. Landing top-50 prospects in each of the last three classes, Underwood has built this team from the ground up. Prior to the cancellation of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, the Illini looked to be on track to go dancing this March. Despite the transfer of Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones this offseason, Trent Frazier has already voiced his decision to return for his senior season and star Ayo Dosunmu is not a lock to enter the NBA Draft. Incoming freshman guards Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller not only boost the backcourt threat of this program’s offense, but may even give Dosunmu more freedom off-ball to rack up points. Curbelo has some of the best court vision in this class and will boost everyone’s stats, especially returning bigs Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kofi Cockburn. The sudden exodus of players from the program will not cause a step back in results, but rather the incoming crop will continue the rise in the Illini’s prominence.
- USC Trojans: After two unsuccessful seasons with the team to begin his tenure, Andy Enfield hasn’t had any issues recruiting top talent to Southern California. The 2019 class finished in the top-10 and is by far Enfield’s most-talented group to arrive on campus. The formidable frontcourt trio of Niko Rakocevic, Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley managed to elevate the program to a 6-win increase. The latter struggled to produce on offense last season, but he should be more comfortable in 2020 next to his brother Evan, the #2 player in the class. The Mobley brothers should command a majority of the offense in 2020, but their former AAU teammate Max Agbonkpolo should have a bigger leash this season to contribute solid numbers on both ends of the floor. San Jose State transfer Noah Baumann is also eligible and was a top 3-point shooter in the Mountain West Conference at 45.5%. He adds a valuable dimension to Enfield’s offense and cushion defenses from completely collapsing on Evan Mobley down low. The Trojans have the personnel to comfortably reach another 20+ win season.
- Florida State Seminoles: Since 2008, Leonard Hamilton has tallied at least 20 wins in all but two seasons. Managing to sign only four 5* recruits during that span, his success has come by utilizing a large rotation of talent. The signing of Hamilton’s fifth 5* recruit, Scottie Barnes, will largely minimize the early departures of Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell. Barnes is a point-forward with strong playmaking ability and a true alpha-dog mentality. He has the talent and leadership to uplift the entire Seminole roster, much like former top-10 recruit Jonathan Isaac was able to do in 2016. This team is still plenty deep and will enable bigger roles for the collective backcourt of Anthony Polite, MJ Walker and Raiquan Gray. Trust in Hamilton’s success to develop players and teams to exceed expectations. The Seminoles will contend for the top spots in the ACC, as they come off a regular-season conference title.
- UCLA Bruins: The opening to Mick Cronin’s tenure at UCLA was not great and fan support likely echoed many assumptions over the summer that the program made the wrong hire. Winning 8 games in their first 17 outings, the Bruins looked uncomfortable trying to adjust and efficiently run Cronin’s defensive schemes. However, the team seemingly flipped a switch closing the year on an 11-3 run and sneaking into the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed. The late-season momentum is likely to carry over to 2020, as the roster will suffer minimal losses. UCLA signed elite guard Daishen Nix to thrust into the starting lineup next to Tyger Campbell and Jaylen Clark as added backcourt depth. The chances for this team to succeed and surpass this year’s record are pretty strong, given roster continuinty and improvement in addition to another offseason refining Cronin’s defensive principles.
- Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Gonzaga program has been very strong under Mark Few and this year’s squad was no different. A 31-2 record was the direct result of a very balanced and deep roster, with nearly seven players averaging 10 PPG. The Zags depth is unlikely to be threatened next year, as only Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge are set to leave. Oumar Ballo will immediately help to fill Tillie’s spot and big offensive threats Jalen Suggs, Dominik Harris and Julian Strawther improve the backcourt depth. Few has simply reloaded the roster, improved it even, and the Bulldogs have a solid chance at opening the preseason AP poll at #1. The team has to be disappointed not getting a shot to play the NCAA Tournament this March, but you better believe they’ll be firmly in contention for the title in 2020.
- Michigan State Spartans: Izzo’s team was peaking at the perfect time heading into the conference and NCAA Tournaments. Winning six of their last seven games, the Spartans showed the nation what analysts and fans thought they’d be going into the season. Xavier Tillman proved to be a strong and reliable weapon, while the magic of Cassius Winston was readily evident. The emergence of freshman point guard Rocket Watts, under the tutelage of Winston, is a great sign for continuity at the position next year. Michigan State will also return a majority of their wing depth next season, while adding guard A.J. Hoggard and physical big Mady Sissoko. Hoggard plays very much like Winston, with exceptional use of his change-of-pace dribbling and ability to play through contact. Under Izzo, player development has been at the forefront of his successes and consistency performing at the highest levels of the sport. Let alone Marquette transfer Joey Hauser will be eligible and we will hopefully see the long-awaited return of guard Joshua Langford. Take assurance that the loss of Winston and XT will not affect this team’s potential to reach the NCAA Tournament or compete at the their true potential.
- Honorable Mention:
– Creighton Bluejays: This team had an exceptional season, led by a stellar group of guards. Marcus Zegarowski and Tyshon Alexander were a very productive duo and this group will likely stay in tact for next season. The only weak spot on this team was at the Center position. Jacob Epperson, the team’s best big, was injured prior to the season starting and will be back to improve upon this year’s 24-7 record. Additionally, guard Davion Mintz missed the season to injury as well. The backcourt is only going to be deeper and better, while the frontcourt depth will improve with the signing of talented Center Ryan Kalkbrenner. Watch out for this team…Seriously
– Alabama Crimson Tide: Nate Oats uptempo style was brought in from Buffalo in his first year with the program. It perfectly fit the talents of guards Kira Lewis and John Petty, as the pair combined for nearly 34 PPG. The season was doomed before it started though, with transfer James Rojas and freshman forward Juwan Gary both suffering knee injuries. Jahvon Quinerly was also denied a waiver for immediate eligibility. All three players will be back to provide much needed depth, in all phases, to the Tide program. Year 2 of Oats tenure should expect to have a smoother ride.