Evans Seven: Programs likely to thrive despite pandemic hurdles
It seems more likely by the day that this offseason won't allow for on-the-floor development at programs nationwide due to the ongoing pandemic. That could become a major obstacle for those teams that will be adding several newcomers in the fall. For other teams, not so much. In this week’s The Evans Seven, we take a look at the latter and identify seven schools that are in position to succeed even with the uncertain summer.
2022 Rankings: Top 75
Texas returns its entire roster from last season, plus, adds five-star Greg Brown to its program. Sure, an offseason of designating roles would have been a major plus, but the familiarity that Shaka Smart already has with his roster should not be swept under the rug.
Could Texas have too many cooks in the kitchen? Maybe. The Longhorns played their best basketball last season when Smart was forced to cut down his rotation and play whoever was healthy. Next season, at least from the start, Smart will have to select which of his 13 scholarship players won’t see the floor. Regardless, the limited offseason doesn’t do much to detract from the chemistry his unit has already developed and the players' relationship with Brown is already intact, thanks to his numerous visits to the Big 12 campus over the years.
Memphis fans were hoping to celebrate the commitments of Greg Brown or Jalen Green this spring. Those didn't come to fruition, but hope remains at the AAC program. Precious Achiuwa is gone and the loss of Tyler Harris will sting a little, but practically everyone else is back for next season. Memphis remains in need of another center but will also inherit junior college big man Ahmad Rand, who will be relied upon for rim-running and shot blocking, two facets that come much easier than running a high-ball screen or facilitating the half-court offense.
Penny Hardaway has a group of players that know each other and are accustomed to each other’s habits. Boogie Ellis, Damion Baugh, Alex Lomax, DJ Jeffries, Lester Quinones and Lance Thomas create a strong nucleus, and while some playing time together this summer would have helped, Hardaway is one of the few that already knows what he has and what he can rely on in the fall.
Creighton will lose its leading scorer, Ty-Shon Alexander, to the NBA, but the return of Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney, Mitch Ballock, Christian Bishop and likely Damien Jefferson (who has placed his name into the draft), should be enough for Greg McDermott’s bunch to overcome any uncertainty that the summer may bring. Throw in Antwann Jones, who was practicing all winter but sat out due to transfer restrictions, and the major players for Creighton next year will have had at least one full season of sharing the floor together.
That doesn’t include Jacob Epperson, who sat out last winter due to injury. With the Aussie big man healthy and the addition of four-star center Ryan Kalkbrenner down low, the Jays should be more than fine next season, with or without a full summer of development.
Iowa is set to enroll a five-man class that checks practically all of the boxes. But in some ways, Fran McCaffery has positioned the Hawkeyes to need very little from its soon-to-be freshmen. After all, Luka Garza, a potential national player of the year, returns after averaging close to 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, though he won’t have to do it all by himself. He will be flanked by NBA Draft sleeper Joey Weiskamp, Connor McCaffery, CJ Fredrick, Joe Toussaint and a healthy Jordan Bohannon. Experience, maturity and toughness will not be lacking in Iowa City next season. And while an off-season of stabilizing the defensive scheme would have helped, the Hawkeyes have the chance to compete for a Big Ten title, thanks to their dominant offensive ways and a group of savvy veterans.
Rutgers looked like it may be the only power conference program that would not lose anyone to the transfer portal - until Peter Kiss decided to change schools earlier this month. Regardless, the Scarlet Knights should enjoy plenty of continuity from last season to next. Six of the team's seven scorers from last season will return, including leading scorer Ron Harper Jr., Geo Baker, Jacob Young, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis and Caleb McConnell.
The loss of Akwasi Yeboah will hurt, but the team will add top 50 center Cliff Omoruyi, Steve Pikiell’s greatest recruiting win to date. He enrolls with great familiarity with the program and roster, thanks to his close proximity to the Big Ten program. His role should be easier to establish, compared to other incoming freshman. While growing pains are likely to be felt throughout the program, Rutgers is in prime position to overcome any hurdles that may come its way.
Saddiq Bey is expected to keep his name in the NBA Draft, and filling the primary scoring role will not be easy. However, practically all the other parts will return for Jay Wright in the fall, and it is always nice to have someone like Collin Gillespie, a player who has been there, done that - and more. Gillespie has appeared in close to 100 games and pairing him with more experienced players in Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Cole Swider and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will not hurt.
Wright would have loved to have seen the progressions that Bryan Antoine and Brandon Slater might have made this summer, but the concerns at Villanova are fewer than at many other programs. Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels will be available now, too, after practicing last winter.
As good as Iowa may be next year, Wisconsin is the reigning Big Ten champ and it returns practically its entire roster. Brevin Pritzl’s perimeter shooting touch will be missed, but having the abilities of Micah Potter from the tip should do wonders for the Badgers. The transfer of Kobe King was expected to deter Wisconsin from having any type of success through league play. Instead, the Badgers won their final nine games and their last home loss was suffered on Jan. 9.
Potter, Nate Reuvers, Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford each have at least a season spent together, while a top 25 recruiting class will also enroll. Greg Gard will bring back a group that knows who they are and have a firm understanding of their respective roles.