The 2014 season was filled with star power. From the Kentucky recruiting class to the final touch of Doug McDermott's career, college basketball fans were spoiled with great players displaying the skills that would allow them to move on to the NBA.
Because these players' tremendous abilities allowed them to move on to the highest level, teams throughout the NCAA have quite a bit of work to do to replace their top players and reload for the upcoming season. Let's take a look at how some of the top programs from last season are planning on reloading going into 2014-15.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: 26.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 32.8 PER, 36.2 USG%
McDermott's stats last year are mind-boggling in every sense of the word. Beyond just his counting numbers -- he led the NCAA in scoring last season, of course -- McDermott finished his season with a 64.4 percent true shooting percentage despite taking the second most field-goal attempts in the country, and he finished with a paltry 9.8 turnover percentage even though he had a usage rate of 36 percent. Replacing the nearly-unanimous Wooden Award winner is always going to be difficult for any team, but McDermott represented so much of Creighton's attack that it's impossible for just one player to simply take the place of him. Plus, beyond just McDermott the Bluejays also lose three other starters, which in total encompassed nearly two-thirds of their scoring.
Creighton will rely on more on their guard play next season, with Devin Brooks and Austin Chatman taking over a lot of the usage that McDermott will vacate. However, both of these guys were somewhat low-efficiency players when they had McDermott to distract the defense. Positionally, McDermott will most likely be replaced in the starting lineup by rising senior Avery Dingman, who played in 35 percent of Creighton's possible minutes last season. Also, four-star freshman Ronnie Harrell should get minutes. He's a shooter that has limitless range, but is still rather skinny and might not be completely ready for college ball.
You should expect a massive step back to the pack from Creighton next season. McDermott is a once-in-a-decade talent on the college level, and Creighton just hasn't reloaded enough since his departure to make up for it.
Jabari Parker, Duke: 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 28.4 PER, 32.7 USG%
Parker was the third-most used player in the country among the eight major collegiate conferences (including the Mountain West and Atlantic-10), meaning that Duke relied on him to create basically all of their offense through either his own shot or through his being a decoy for the defense. Parker ended up being the second overall pick in the NBA draft due to his diverse offensive talents and skill-laden game.
While Creighton may struggle to replace McDermott, Duke is reloading through the best recruiting class in the country. The top recruit in college basketball, Jahlil Okafor, will replace the point production that Parker gave the Blue Devils in the post and provide a level of rim protection that the team sorely lacked last year. The Blue Devils also brought in top-10 recruit Justise Winslow, who will provide a level of defensive intensity that Parker doesn't have. Finally, bringing in point guard Tyus Jones should allow Duke to initiate offense at the top of the key with either the pick-and-roll or via the drive-and-kick, which should lead to a more balanced offense than the one they had with Quinn Cook at the helm. Jones isn't prone to making poor decisions and consistently puts the ball directly in the shooting pocket for open players, which also should lead to open looks for shooters such as Matt Jones and Grayson Allen, who replace 42 percent-plus three-point shooters Tyler Thornton and Andre Dawkins.
This should be a better, more well-rounded Duke team that should be one of the three favorites to win the NCAA title next year along with Kentucky and Arizona.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 25.5 PER, 27.5 USG%
Napier was probably the second-most important player in the country to his team last season outside of McDermott. He was responsible for creating shots for both himself and others, evidenced by his 30.8 assist rate. His defensive rebounding rate of 15 percent was also good for a guard, finishing 17th overall in the AAC. To put it mildly, Connecticut needs someone that can shoot the ball, drive into the paint and create plays for others.
Luckily, the team has a built-in senior replacement who started last year in Ryan Boatright. Boatright was a highly sought-after recruit that won Illinois' Mr. Basketball in 2011, and has played over 30 minutes per game his first three seasons in Storrs. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Boatright seemed to regress in his junior season with his true-shooting percentage falling by 2.5 percent, his assist rate dropping by 5.8 percent, and his field-goal percentage at the rim regressing down to 46 percent. Those will need to improve. Connecticut also brings in Rodney Purvis, a transfer from NC State known for his ability to slash to the rim. He'll step into Boatright's role on the wing this season, where he'll act as a secondary scorer.
Connecticut would almost certainly have experienced regression from a national championship campaign, even if Napier had been able to play another season. However, without Napier the regression could be catastrophic, depending on how Boatright and Purvis adjust to their new roles.
Russ Smith, Louisville: 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 26.2 PER, 30.7 USG%
He not only was the key to the Cardinals on offense, but the two-time Ken Pom player of the year was also responsible for setting the tone for Louisville's high-pressure defense. It always surprised me how under-appreciated Smith was around the country, as it seems fans never really gave him credit for the well-rounded, diverse game that Smith provided the Cardinals in his last two seasons. Very few players are capable of a 58 percent true-shooting percentage to go along with a 31.6 assist rate and a four percent steal rate, and Smith will be profoundly missed.
Expected to step up in his place will be Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Jones will be a senior and can continue to cause havoc on the perimeter with his high-pressure defense. However, it's Rozier that should make the leap. Rozier was a top-30 composite recruit who, like Smith, needed a year to develop his point-guard skills. Jones will most likely handle the ball more often, as Rozier's shooting skill translates better off-ball, but Rozier should get to see his own fair share of the point role. His key to improvement will be finishing better at the rim, where he only converted 50.7 percent of his attempts. That should open up the rest of his game, as defenders will need to sink back off of him a bit more than they did this year.
The team also has Quentin Snider coming in from local Ballard High School. He projects as a true point guard, but probably won't be ready for heavy minutes this year. Louisville projects to have an excellent team again with Montrezl Harrell surprisingly returning to the fold. However, the most important piece of that puzzle will be whether or not the guards can work together to replace Smith.