Syracuse is at an inflection point as a program.
The Orange landed in the ACC with a splash four seasons ago, posting a 14-4 record and securing a No. 3 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Add to that the team's highly impressive run to the 2016 Final Four as a No. 10 seed and you're looking at what might be termed traditional Big East-era Syracuse might.
Then again, Jim Boeheim's team has now missed the tournament in two of the past three seasons and is a so-so 28-26 in ACC play in that span. Moreover, for a third consecutive season, the incoming freshman class at Syracuse this fall will, apparently, lack a national top-25 player. (Actually, for the first time, said class could lack a top-50 or possibly even a top-100 recruit.)
At least the coaching situation is sorted out: Boeheim has, at age 72, signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school beyond this coming season. (Former assistant Mike Hopkins, who was nominally the Orange head coach in waiting, had previously moved on to take the job at Washington.)
Besides, this 2017-18 roster is not yet set in stone. Syracuse is active on both the late signee and graduate transfer markets, and would-be freshmen and/or seniors might well like the idea of playing in the ACC for a legendary coach and alongside returning starters Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson.
Battle, in particular, had a strong finish last season. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 17 points in Syracuse's last seven games while taking excellent care of the ball. With Andrew White having come to the end of his eligibility, Battle will be a leading candidate to take over a featured-scorer role in 2017-18.
Thompson might be even more intriguing than his fellow sophomore-to-be. On offense, the 6-foot-10 New York City product was the most assertive freshman big man Syracuse has seen in years, if not decades. Per kenpom.com, Thompson personally accounted for 28 percent of the Orange's shot attempts during his minutes. That level of assertiveness not only ranked No. 1 on the team, it was also entirely appropriate coming from a player who connected on 57 percent of his two-point shots.
Getting the ball to Battle and Thompson figures to be Frank Howard's responsibility, a role that will feel both familiar and new. Howard started Syracuse's first 14 games as a sophomore last season, but if it's possible to be benched with an exclamation point, that's pretty much what happened. From Jan. 1 through the end of the ACC tournament, he averaged less than 10 minutes per game as Boeheim elected to go instead with John Gillon at point guard. With Gillon now gone, however, Howard could get another shot.
Rounding out the rotation will be Matthew Moyer and Paschal Chukwu. Coming out of high school, the 6-8 Moyer was ranked as more or less equal to Thompson, and he used his redshirt freshman season in 2016-17 to bulk up. The 7-2 Chukwu missed almost all of his sophomore season because of a torn retina.
All of the above could prove sufficient for a mid-tier ACC finish, but in the bigger picture, Syracuse needs a personnel plan going forward. In its ACC era, the program has had a succession of excellent, though not quite top-10, recruits -- Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson and now Lydon -- perform well enough as freshmen and/or sophomores to leave early. Meanwhile, Syracuse's leading player for minutes in each of the past two seasons has been a major-conference transfer in his senior season: Michael Gbinije in 2015-16 and White last season.
Is this the new template? Will the Orange have to replace early departures by Battle and/or Thompson? Will high school recruits see Boeheim's program in a different light (relative to 12 months ago) now that his situation has been clarified? These are among the questions awaiting answers at Syracuse in 2017-18.
It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: the Miami Hurricanes.
Look no further than the backcourt as a microcosm for what Miami will be like next season. The Hurricanes -- picked by most prognosticators as a preseason top-25 team -- are heavy in talent. Coach Jim Larranaga has already said he expects guards Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown each to declare for the 2018 NBA draft after next season.
What’s missing from the backcourt, and the Canes’ roster as a whole, is the experience.
Guard Ja’Quan Newton, who started 28 games last season, is their only senior on the roster. Larranaga is openly searching for a graduate transfer who can play immediately, but, even if that happens, the player would be like a rookie learning his system.
So let’s get back to the talent for a second. Nothing could punctuate the upgrade in Miami more than Walker and Brown. They are two players that, historically, were not the kind to end up playing in Coral Gables, Florida. Walker -- the highest-ranked recruit to sign with "The U" since the ESPN 100 began in 2007 -- highlights an incoming class that ranks sixth nationally by Recruiting Nation.
Many thought Walker, the 6-foot-4 guard from Reading, Pennsylvania, would end up being a Wildcat -- either the Arizona or Villanova variety. But he’ll give the Canes a talented scorer who should help ease the departure of Davon Reed.
Brown left so many texts and phone calls unreturned during his recruitment that Larranaga assumed he wasn’t interested in Miami. And now here is Brown returning for a sophomore season. The 6-5 Boston native bucked the trend of other highly touted freshmen clamoring to be one-and-done by not entering his name in the NBA draft to test the proverbial waters.
Larranaga is hoping his backcourt trio, along with reserve sophomore Dejan Vasiljevic, can make the Canes a more prolific 3-point-shooting team. Of the returnees, only Vasiljevic averaged more than one 3-pointer per game last season. Brown shot 34.7 percent from deep but had only 95 attempts. Newton had even fewer, making just 11 3s last season in just 40 attempts.
Larranaga is asking Newton to make a similar transition as he did Durand Scott as a senior in 2012-13. Scott made just 19 3-pointers as a junior because he passed on open shots in order to drive to the basket. Larranaga persuaded Scott to shoot instead and he nearly doubled his output from behind the arc.
Newton doesn’t have to become Steph Curry overnight, but if he makes around 40 3-pointers next season, chances are the Canes’ offense will be operating the way Larranaga envisions.
The frontcourt offers Miami a different kind of challenge. Sophomore forward Dewan Huell averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman, but Larranaga says he could be a double-double machine next season.
The 6-foot-11 Huell has been playing basketball for only five years, mainly getting by on his natural athletic gifts and work ethic. He’s just now starting to focus on developing his skill set, which Larranaga says could be substantial. Between Huell and junior Ebuka Izundu, the Canes need a low-post option. That was sorely missing when Michigan State eliminated Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Experience is also noticeably absent in the frontcourt. Larranaga is actively searching for a graduate transfer who specializes in rebounding to add to the roster. With Kamari Murphy now gone, Brown is their leading returning rebounder, and he averaged just 5.6 per game last season.
Here is again where the Canes hope offensive firepower will help mask their lack of experience. They’ll have a couple of stretch-4s who can loosen up opposing defenses. Junior forward Anthony Lawrence is better-suited as a small forward but played a lot at the 4 in the Canes’ lineup last season. Larranaga is even tweaking his offense so that the 3 and 4 have a more similar role.
Sam Waardenburg, a 6-9 forward from New Zealand, enrolled early and has practiced with the team since December. Waardenburg has already beefed up 20 pounds to 210, and while he physically will have to develop more, he brings a shooting touch from the perimeter that’s ACC-ready.
With their lack of experience, the Canes are optimistic that their overall talent is ready, too.
Chip, chip, chip.
That sound you hear, ACC hierarchy, is Virginia Tech taking a pickax to your foundation.
From below .500, to the NIT, to the NCAA tournament, that’s the upwardly mobile trajectory Buzz Williams has taken the Hokies on since arriving in Blacksburg.
There is no sign of a detour.
Moving up in a conference as top heavy as the ACC is no easy task, but Virginia Tech already has mastered step one in the process -- beat the teams you're supposed to beat and steal a few wins that are unexpected. Last season, that meant the Hokies had just one lousy loss -- a throttling at the hands of NC State -- and "stolen" wins that included a thorough thrashing of Duke and a double-overtime victory over Virginia.
The next step up the conference ladder arguably is the most difficult, moving out of the middle of the pack to the upper echelon. That section of the conference long has been dominated by North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame, with an occasional interloper -- such as Florida State a year ago -- sneaking in.
But the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are in flux, and the Cavaliers are readjusting after an exodus of transfers. The Seminoles, meantime, have stars to replace and could fall back to the mean.
Which leaves a potential opening for someone else.
Could that someone else be the Hokies? Why not?
The Hokies were a savvy offensive team last season, and even without those two, there's no reason to expect much to change. For starters, Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs and Ty Outlaw return to anchor the perimeter game. That gives the Hokies four guys who shoot better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.
And then there is Chris Clarke. The sophomore tore his ACL in that double-OT game against Virginia, denying Virginia Tech of one of its most explosive weapons. Clarke was averaging 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds at the time of his injury, and became the first player in Virginia Tech history to post a triple-double when he went for 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Citadel.
Without LeDay, Clarke's health becomes even more crucial to give the Hokies a post presence. ACL rehab is a long and arduous process, but if Clarke comes along well, he will be a huge injection back into the lineup.
The other injection comes in the form of a freshman class rated 20th in the country. Most recruiting sages believe that Williams has the backcourt of Virginia Tech's future in the form of Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. Alexander-Walker, a five-star recruit by way of Toronto, finished 20th in the ESPN 100 rankings, making him the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Williams in his short tenure. He led his FIBA under-18 team with 17.4 points per game last summer. Bede, a savvy point guard, saw his stock continue to rise in the summer and will push for playing time this season.
The late addition of Preston Horne, a 6-8 power forward from Georgia, will give Clarke some help in the frontcourt.
Virginia Tech made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 this past season, losing to Wisconsin in the first round.
With a deep, experienced and talented roster coming back, there's no reason to expect that appearance to be a one-hit wonder as Williams continues to lead the Hokies' resurgence.
Chip, chip, chip.
On March 23, with the hull in his team’s ship cracking, Virginia coach Tony Bennett released a statement about Darius Thompson, the third transfer from his team in a 48-hour stretch.
Thompson (6.2 PPG) had chosen to join on the transfer market both Marial Shayok (8.9 PPG) and Jarred Reuter (3.8 PPG), who announced their decisions on March 22. Bennett had already lost star London Perrantes to graduation.
A week prior, Bennett had entered the “Who will replace Tom Crean?” conversation after Indiana fired the coach on the first day of the NCAA tournament.
Then, his Cavaliers scored 39 points in a lopsided loss to Florida in the second round -- the lowest tally for a major-conference opponent in the NCAA tournament since 2000, per ESPN Stats & Information.
On March 23, Bennett suggested the team’s transfer issues were “part of coaching.” And then he attempted to inspire a fan base with few reasons to do anything but worry about the program’s immediate future.
"Two of our main priorities for Virginia basketball are to continue to build a winning culture and serve the young men in the program,” Bennett said in the statement. “I know Darius, Marial and Jarred have been served well and have also been part of a winning culture during their time at UVA. As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning, and I'm excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer."
Right now, Virginia is set to enter next season as a downgraded entity, stripped of the perennial preseason-ACC-contender status the program has enjoyed in recent years under Bennett.
The departure of Perrantes, the top scorer and playmaker for a program with offensive struggles all year, leaves Virginia without a catalyst. The Cavaliers finished 50th in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. They recorded top-30 finishes in the three previous seasons.
Shayok and Thompson would have helped the Cavaliers overcome the loss of Perrantes. But they’re gone now.
So what’s next for a depleted Virginia team?
Well, Kyle Guy (7.5 PPG, 49.5 percent from the 3-point line) must go from promising freshman to sophomore star. And he’s capable. He had clutch moments in 2016-17. He should rise with more touches next season. He’ll team with Devon Hall (8.4 PPG) to reboot the backcourt.
Nigel Johnson, a graduate transfer who averaged 11.3 PPG for Rutgers last season, is a veteran point guard who could make an immediate impact for Bennett’s squad next season, too.
In 2016-17, Virginia finished second in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. Bennett’s squad has finished within the top-10 in five of the past six seasons.
Virginia’s defensive gifts temper any doomsday projections about a team coached by Bennett.
But he just lost his best player. Again.
And a team with multiple second-half collapses and offensive struggles all year also lost a pair of players expected to stabilize the program next season. Plus, Virginia doesn’t have an elite prospect entering the mix.
Yes, Virginia always defends well. That won’t change in 2017-18. But it’s also imprudent to ignore the gaps on offense of a team that’s lost its best players from last season and multiple contributors to the transfer market.
For the first time in years, it seems safe to lower the expectations for Virginia as the program tries to regroup and prep for 2017-18.
Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. is the No. 1 recruit in America per ESPN.com.
He’s also a 6-foot-10 superstar and the projected top pick in the 2018 NBA draft who averaged 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks as a senior in high school. He could lead Cuonzo Martin's Tigers back to the NCAA tournament in 2017-18.
If he’s anything like his mother, he’ll shine at the next level.
Porter’s mother is arguably the most decorated baller in the Porter family.
Per a Sunday story in the Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), the former Lisa Becker (now Lisa Porter) averaged nearly 60 points per game for Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School in the 1982-1983 season.
In 1983, Lisa Becker scored 58.7 points a game for Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School.
"Fifty-eight points a game my senior year, my kids can’t get that," the-now Lisa Porter said with a laugh from her Seattle home recently. The 6-on-6 game that year's Iowa "Miss Basketball" played is something from her era, not theirs.
That’s not a typo.
After high school, Lisa scored more than 1,300 points in her career at the University of Iowa, where she led the Hawkeyes to their first Big Ten title and an NCAA tournament appearance. She also connected on a school-record 58.4 percent of her shots as a collegiate freshman in 1983-84.
Her son, Michael Porter Jr., joined Missouri -- along with her husband and new Tigers assistant Michael Porter Sr. -- after recently seeking and gaining his release from Washington following coach Lorenzo Romar's firing.
He clearly hails from a talented family, one where his mother has some serious bragging rights.
It's never too early to look at what's to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and others expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Duke Blue Devils.
If we had access to the DeLorean or the TARDIS or any other fictional time-machine vehicle of choice and used it to travel back to October, boy, could we blow some people's minds. If we limited our prophesies to college basketball alone, few things would sound more ridiculous than the story of the 2016-17 Blue Devils.
What if you told someone last October that:
(A) Senior forward Amile Jefferson would be healthy pretty much all year, (B) freshman star Jayson Tatum would end the season as one of the most imposing outside-in frontcourt matchups in college hoops, and (C) sophomore guard Luke Kennard would lead his team in minutes and points, would take a quarter of his team's available field goals and would post All-American-level 52.5/43.8/85.6 shooting splits.
You'd have assumed Duke would win the national title.
Such was the fanfare that greeted the Blue Devils in October, and rightfully so. Rosters with this much highly ranked incoming talent and this many experienced, quality veteran players don't come along often. When they do, they're almost always national title contenders. No roster returning 40 percent of its possession-minutes from the previous season and adding a freshman class that rates out at 25 recruiting points or better based on Drew Cannon's curve has ever failed to advance to the Elite Eight. Before the year, historical precedent told us that Duke's baseline was to be one game away from the Final Four. Therein lie the blown minds. Throw in all of the above -- particularly Kennard's remarkable offensive season -- alongside preseason player of the year Grayson Allen, legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, and No. 1 freshman Harry Giles, and come on: At the very least, this team had to get to Phoenix.
You know what happened next. Allen was banged up and suspended for tripping his third opponent in a calendar year. Giles' two high school ACL tears prevented him from getting truly comfortable on the floor. Krzyzewski himself was sidelined by back surgery. The Blue Devils spent four months veering between (relative) disaster and "hey, they're figuring it out!" all the way up to March, when they won four games in four days in an ACC tournament title run, then ended their season in a second-round loss to No. 7-seed South Carolina.
It was an unwieldy, disappointing and, above all, unpredictable season for Duke -- the kind that reminds you there are no givens in college basketball, even when every piece of evidence suggests otherwise.
Safe to say, we "know" far less about the next edition of Duke's basketball team.
Chief among the uncertainties is Allen's future. The guard's much-criticized tripping incident against Elon tended to overshadow a regression from his brilliant sophomore form, largely due to lingering injuries that bothered him all season. Still, Allen showed enough flashes that he might yet end up selected in the NBA draft's first round. Save for a comical choice of headwear, Allen's offseason has been quiet.
Regardless of that decision, Duke already has an immense amount of turnover for which to factor. Tatum, Giles and Kennard are early draft entrants, while Jefferson and stalwart senior guard Matt Jones (the ultimate glue guy, and a key unsung piece in Duke's 2014-15 national title) have graduated. Sophomore center Chase Jeter, the No. 11 prospect in the Ben Simmons/Brandon Ingram 2015 class, will transfer after two seasons spent mostly on the bench.
Even with Giles and Tatum gone, Duke's lauded 2016 recruiting class could still pay long-term dividends. Marques Bolden (who played sparingly after an early-season injury) and Frank Jackson (who showed real promise off the bench, despite criticism for not being a "true" point guard, which is always kind of strange) could have big sophomore campaigns in much larger roles. Former four-star prospect Javin DeLaurier now has a chance to consistently get on the floor. Meanwhile, associate head coach Jeff Capel and his staff continue to recruit like crazy: The 2017 newcomers already consist of forward Wendell Carter and guard Gary Trent Jr., the Nos. 3 and 8 overall prospects in the class, with No. 7, wing Kevin Knox, still very much in the picture.
How good are these freshmen? How quickly will they blend? How much better will Bolden and Jackson be? Will Allen return? Will he be healthy? Will he dominate in the way we expected a year ago -- in the way Kennard did so often as he carried the Blue Devils' offense all season?
Even the knowns come with uncertainty, and there is far more of the former than the latter. Last October, we looked at a verifiably loaded, historically ordained roster, and foretold Duke's future with an embarrassing degree of certainty. It was a naive time.
If nothing else, the 2016-17 Blue Devils hammered home a valuable lesson, one that should serve well in 2017-18: Who knows?
These are the best of times for Notre Dame basketball. After missing the 2014 NCAA tournament entirely, the Fighting Irish have been seeded in between No. 3 and No. 6 in each of the past three brackets.
True, last season ended abruptly with a loss to West Virginia in the round of 32. Still, this three-year run has included two trips to the Elite Eight. Not bad for a program once routinely dismissed as lacking what it takes in the postseason.
Now, with Bonzie Colson's announcement that he'll return to South Bend for his senior season, Mike Brey would seem to have all the pieces in place for another shot at the ACC title and a deep run in the tournament. In fact, this might all feel quite familiar to Brey.
One year ago, the Notre Dame head coach was looking at having to replace two mainstays. Zach Auguste had graduated, Demetrius Jackson had left to pursue opportunities in the professional ranks and the Irish plugged in Matt Farrell and bettered their previous ACC result by one win.
That should be good preparation for what ND is confronting now. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem have graduated, and together the seniors accounted for almost 2,500 minutes of playing time in 2016-17. Replacing that mountain of production will be no small task, but at this point Brey has surely earned our trust where grooming the next generation is concerned.
Over the past three seasons, eight players have averaged at least 28 minutes per game in a season at Notre Dame. Per kenpom.com, those eight players posted an average offensive rating of 116.3. Moreover, with all due respect to the likes of Jackson and Jerian Grant, the Irish have achieved those high-efficiency results consistently with players who did not necessarily go on to dominate subsequent draft lotteries. There is a system in place in South Bend.
That's good news for Colson, Farrell, Rex Pflueger and Martinas Geben, all of whom will be back to benefit from and enhance said system in 2017-18. At 6-foot-5, Colson has the long wingspan, proven rebounding chops and ability to hit 3s that give his coach the flexibility to put any number of looks on the floor.
Which lineup option Notre Dame pursues will depend in part on the readiness of fifth-year senior Austin Torres, the development of sophomores-to-be like T.J. Gibbs, Nikola Djogo and John Mooney and the ability of incoming freshman D.J. Harvey Jr. Whichever combination of all of the above proves to be optimal, it's likely Brey has sufficient talent and experience on hand for a fourth consecutive middle to high NCAA tournament seed.
Just how high that seed is will likely be determined by the supporting cast around Colson. Last season, for instance, the Irish were unusually deficient in the shot-making department, particularly inside the arc. Can non-Colson contributors like Farrell and Gibbs finish at the rim in 2017-18? Can Geben and/or Torres grab some offensive boards? Will the team be able to repeat last season's surprisingly good showing on defense?
It's a safe bet Notre Dame will once again excel at taking care of the ball next season. If Brey can find some production from Farrell and the rest of the roster beyond Colson, the Irish will have an excellent chance to meet or even exceed the expectations set by ND's last three teams. When and if that does come to pass, give equal shares of the credit to what Brey has built in South Bend and to Colson's decision to return for one more season. The coach and his star are both, in their own ways, indispensable.
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It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville could be special. As in, good enough to win the ACC for the first time in its four seasons as a league member. And to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2013. And to cut down the nets for the program’s fourth title.
But that's if Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson all return to school. Each has entered the NBA draft without signing with an agent, so each could withdraw from the draft and return to school. And collectively each would play a major role for Louisville next season.
ESPN Insider Chad Ford's Big Board has Mitchell ranked 34th, projecting him highest among the three. And he could be the key to the Cardinals soaring in 2017-18. Mitchell’s game skyrocketed as a sophomore last season after he was asked to play point guard when Quentin Snider missed a six-game stretch during conference play with an injured hip. Mitchell showed more to his game than just athleticism and highlight reel dunks. He can run a team.
Adel increased his scoring average from 4.3 as a freshman to 12.1 as a sophomore last season. But he has more room for improvement, mainly in becoming a more consistent player. Adel showed flashes of greatness -- did you see him take it coast to coast for a dunk against North Carolina? -- but disappeared a little too much. If he becomes more dependable offensively next season, the 6-foot-7 forward could shoot up draft boards.
Rising sophomore V.J. King, a 6-foot-6 wing, could make a jump similar to that of Mitchell and Adel from their freshman to sophomore years. King averaged only 13.5 minutes per game last season and 5.5 points, but both of those should increase.
Snider’s return brings stability and leadership to the lineup. He was the only Louisville player to start in every game he played in last season. Snider, who had his breakout game with a career-high 22 points against Kentucky, led the team with 4.1 assists per game.
Johnson, who just completed his junior year, leads a frontcourt of veterans, including 7-footer Anas Mahmoud and 6-10 Ray Spalding. While the Cardinals won’t expect to get much scoring from the post, their value comes in defense and rebounding. The group helped Louisville rank seventh nationally in blocked shot percentage and 13th in offensive rebounding percentage last season, according to Ken Pomeroy.
The Cardinals should return seven of their top eight scorers from last season, with center Mangok Mathiang, who led the team with 6.0 rebounds, the only player of significance they stand to lose.
Watching Louisville play the past two seasons, it seems that coach Rick Pitino made his mark on the defensive end because of his team's offensive struggles. In losses -- and sometimes even in wins -- the Cardinals have been defined by long scoring droughts.
Next season should be a reminder that Pitino was one of the first coaches to embrace 3-point shooting, long before other coaches did, and his teams at Providence and Kentucky (as well as the New York Knicks) used to put pressure on opponents via a strong offense.
Pitino’s incoming recruiting class, ranked eighth by ESPN's RecruitingNation, should help address last season’s biggest inconsistency. The Cardinals shot just 35.5 percent from 3-point range -- which ranked 149th nationally -- and had an effective field goal percentage of 51.1 -- which ranked 136th, according to Ken Pomeroy. But next season the Cardinals will have more shooters on the floor with the addition of 6-8 forward Jordan Nwora and 6-11 forward Malik Williams.
Nwora’s biggest hurdle may be his conditioning. Offensively, Williams actually operates better on the perimeter than in the post and could be a matchup problem for opponents as a stretch-4.
Louisville will be deep and athletic, which should help extend a streak of seven consecutive seasons ranked in the top 10 of defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. But next season the Cardinals will have an offense that can carry them to greater heights.
So now what?
It seems like a more than fair question for Florida State basketball. For years, we’ve heard the Seminoles are coming, ready to disrupt the order of the ACC, ready to firmly assert their basketball presence at the football school. But prior to the 2016-17 season, that threat equated to three NIT berths in four years.
Which is why this past season was supposed to be the season. Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes equated to real promise. Bacon’s decision to return to school was the real boost this program needed. And for four months, it all seemed to work as planned, the Seminoles rolling to a 25-win season, pulling in for a tie for second in the vaunted ACC and earning a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Seminoles survived an end-game scare to bounce Dunk City/Florida Gulf Coast in the first round, and then came the flameout.
All that talent, all those wins, and Florida State was eviscerated by a Xavier team that essentially had one star player left on its entire roster. Chris Mack went zone and the Seminoles went cold, eventually losing to the Musketeers 91-66 in the second round. Did we mention the game was in Florida? Yeah, it was.
It’s fair to point out that, in plenty of regards, this was still a successful year -- Florida State hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2012 and the Seminoles did win a game.
But Bacon, Isaac and Rathan-Mayes, who accounted for 47 percent of the Seminoles’ offense, have declared for the NBA draft.
Which brings us back to the original question: So now what? How quickly can Leonard Hamilton recreate the magic?
The short answer is not immediately -- or at least expecting immediately would be wildly unfair.
Guard/small forward Terance Mann and 3-point sharpshooter PJ Savoy are the only known quantities for Hamilton’s team next season, and neither was asked to do terribly much this past season. Mann averaged eight points and 25 minutes, while Savoy was more a situational player, asked to give the Seminoles some outside presence.
That leaves the task of reconstructing Florida State basketball to a five-man freshman class. Hamilton continues to shine on the recruiting trail, bringing in a group that is ranked 16th in the nation collectively, but individually there is no takeover superstar among the group.
Ikey Obiagu, a 7-foot Nigerian by way of Georgia, is the big draw. He fared well at the Nike Hoops Summit recently, showing off some strong shot-blocking skills and defensive prowess, but he’s raw offensively and is going to need some fine-tuning to adjust to the college game.
Power forwards Raiquan Gray, a traditional power forward, and Wyatt Wilkes, more of a stretch four who is deft at the mid-range game, will be good complements to Obiagu. Anthony Polite, a shooting guard who averaged 19 points in high school, will be a good injection of instant offense.
But none of these guys are as college-game-ready as Bacon and Isaac were when they first arrived in Tallahassee. This is going to take some time.
So the answer to the first question -- now what? -- is pretty simple.
Patience, Seminoles fans.
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Editor's note: It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up, North Carolina.
Last year, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost Brice Johnson, an all-ACC first-teamer, and Marcus Paige, a star point guard, off a team that lost in the 2016 national championship game to the Villanova Wildcats on a buzzer-beater.
Then the Tar Heels won the national title the following season.
That’s North Carolina basketball: Coach Roy Williams often avoids setbacks or rebuilding campaigns after fruitful years.
A “rearrangement” is a more proper tag for a Tar Heels program with the potential pieces to again compete for an ACC title and a national championship. Yet it’s difficult to assess every element of a squad still evolving as its stars make decisions about their futures in the coming weeks.
Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, two pivotal pieces in UNC’s run to Williams’ third national title, both are seniors who will leave the program. Nate Britt, another departing senior, is the kind of veteran Williams could send into a critical game without much concern that his team would experience a noticeable drop-off.
And Justin Jackson made too much money in the NCAA tournament to return for his senior season: The 6-foot-8 wing cooked the field and displayed the range and aggressiveness NBA scouts wanted him to show in his third season. Grab the cash while you can, young man.
Talented freshman Tony Bradley also entered the NBA draft without hiring an agent. He could come back for his sophomore season, elevate his draft stock and lead North Carolina back to the Final Four. But he told reporters he “might” hire an agent soon, which means the projected first-round pick could follow Jackson to the next level and a nearby luxury car dealership in the coming months.
Still, Joel Berry II -- who won Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four on two bad ankles -- probably will return for another season. If he does, he’ll enter the campaign as a preseason All-American and favorite to be ACC Player of the Year.
The cream of North Carolina’s incoming crop is Jalek Felton, a five-star wing ranked 24th in the 2017 class, per ESPN.com, and the nephew of former UNC star Raymond Felton. Plus, North Carolina is still in the running for elite small forward Kevin Knox.
Felton and Berry should enter 2017-18 as one of the nation’s most talented duos. Add Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods -- former top-100 recruits -- and sophomore Kenny Williams and the Tar Heels should boast one of the country’s best backcourts. Again.
Even if the Tar Heels lose Bradley, they’ll turn to Luke Maye and Theo Pinson to anchor their frontcourt. Pinson (6.1 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists) could evolve into the league’s most improved player if he works on his midrange game this summer. Maye, the team’s hero in its Elite Eight victory over Kentucky and Sweet 16 triumph over Butler, could emerge as more than a flash next year. Incoming prep centers Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will give UNC more depth in the paint.
But the second-chance-point-accruing, offensive-rebounding monsters who won the NCAA title last season will need returnees to step up and freshmen to produce if they intend to maintain those tendencies in 2017-18.
That’s why Bradley matters.
Bradley could come back and move into the “best big man in America” conversation as he expands his game and gives Williams another Brice Johnson-like talent in the post.
If Bradley leaves, North Carolina remains a good team with a potent backcourt and good frontcourt.
So here’s the summary: North Carolina will lose multiple standouts but will bring back a gutsy, elite, athletic backcourt and a fleet of good bigs, all capable of helping the Tar Heels maintain a top-20 defense.
Yeah, you’ve heard that before.
That’s why it makes sense to expect more success for Williams and the Tar Heels next season.
It's never too early to look at what's to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. First up: Gonzaga Bulldogs.
By the time they arrived at the Final Four a little over a week ago, the Gonzaga Bulldogs already were being discussed in the past tense. It was inescapable. This was Gonzaga's first Final Four and so the focus -- even for a team with a 36-1 record in its first 37 games, as much talent as any in the country and the statistical profile of a national title favorite -- was about demons exorcised and ceilings broken and all the other things Gonzaga already had done, rather than what it still planned to do.
It fell one rebound and one turnover shy of those plans. As coach Mark Few (and pretty much everyone with any relationship to Gonzaga basketball) said after last Monday's national title game, the thisclose loss to North Carolina will hurt for a good long while.
At some point, though, Few hoped his players' perspective would broaden. He hoped that they, too, would begin to think about the past tense and would take stock of everything they had accomplished before that fateful second loss of the season. Then, finally, the Zags could begin to look forward. With the past out of the way, they could start plotting their next step -- the next chapter of modern college basketball's most remarkable 20-year story.
The question is: How many of them will be around to do so?
The idea of looking ahead at Gonzaga's 2017-18 prospectus is difficult not only because of the proximity, and the pain, of 2016-17's end. It's also hard in the way early-offseason predictions are always hard, particularly for teams with this much talent.
In other words, the Zags might enter next season as a potential national title favorite or as a very good team with some big shoes to fill. Few teams in college hoops have a wider range of outcomes riding on what happens between now and the NCAA's May 24 NBA draft withdrawal deadline.
Of the significant contributors from Few's 37-2 Bulldogs, just two were seniors. They are momentous departures in and of themselves. Jordan Mathews gave Gonzaga its most reliable source of perimeter shooting (he went 39.2 percent from 3 on a team-leading 217 attempts) last season. Center Przemek Karnowski, a fifth-year senior whose medical redshirt drastically changed the Zags' season, ended his career having edged out Duke icon Shane Battier as the winningest men's college basketball player of all time. Karnowski was also, in his senior season, a post passer and rim protector par excellence, and thus the engine through which a great deal of Gonzaga's inside-out scoring attack churned.
If the seniors were the only guys heading out, Gonzaga would be the easy choice for 2017-18 preseason No. 1. The losses seem unlikely to be that forgiving. Zach Collins seems much more likely than not to wave farewell. The 7-foot freshman center was the program's first McDonald's All-American signee and was recruited to be a starter right away, when Karnowski's ailing back made it hard for the senior big man to do something as simple as get out of bed. His surprise return pushed Collins to a 17-minutes-per-game role off the bench ... where he nonetheless enjoyed first-round mock-draft-prospect status for pretty much the entire season. By the time the season was over, it was hard to imagine Collins turning down the NBA's open affections. (If he does, well, look out.)
Things are not quite so simple for Gonzaga's other stars. Nigel Williams-Goss was Gonzaga's best player (and probably its most important, possibly save Karnowski), and his first post-transfer season after two blah years at Washington was an All-America revelation. It was the kind of season that gets you to the NBA -- or at least should, you know?
Association scouts don't seem quite so convinced. And if Williams-Goss gets the kind of draft feedback that, say, Doug McDermott got a few years ago -- when McDermott was told more or less that his stock wouldn't change much if he played another year in college -- Williams-Goss could decide he might as well come take another crack at Gonzaga's national title.
Forward Johnathan Williams, also a transfer (from Mizzou), could stand to benefit most from the cleared-out frontcourt. A starting lineup of Williams-Goss, Silas Melson, Josh Perkins, Williams and center Killian Tillie -- who played a fair number of minutes as a 6-foot-10 freshman, and played really well despite being overshadowed by Collins and Karnowski -- looks like the base of another Final Four-level team.
The fulcrum is Williams-Goss. After Gonzaga's loss last Monday -- at the risk of overvaluing the words of a kid who'd just had his heart broken -- Williams-Goss spoke of the Bulldogs at least partially in the past tense.
"It just kind of just left the door open for the next group of Zags to come in and do something that we were not able to do," Williams-Goss said.
The biggest question for the 2017-18 Zags is whether they will be capable of that much that quickly. The answer will be found in how many of 2016-17's Zags are, come May 24, talking less about what they've already done than what they still plan to do.