Evans Seven: Programs that are poised for a comeback next year
With less than three weeks until the reveal of the NCAA Tournament bracket a plethora of fan bases remain on pins and needles. For a number of others, thoughts are already turning to the 2018-2019 campaign. In this week’s Evans Seven, we take a look at seven programs going through relatively dismal seasons that are primed to bounce back and receive a bid next time around.
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1. IOWA STATE
Playing in one of the deepest conferences in recent memory, it has not been an easy run for Steve Prohm and his Iowa State gang this winter. The only Big 12 program to not have a realistic chance at a tournament bid, Cyclones’ fans need to be excited for a major bounce back next year.
They will lose Donovan Jackson, Jeff Beverly and Hans Brase to graduation, but what they have coming in is an infusion of talent, versatility and reason for optimism. Talen Horton-Tucker is the stud of the class, someone that should immediately contribute, thanks to his multidimensional skillset. George Conditt, Zion Griffin and Tyrese Haliburton should enhance the Cyclones' chances and so should a full year of seasoning with current breakout guard Lindell Wigginton.
Iowa State has seen the emergence of Cam Lard in the post while former Virginia standout Marial Shayok and ex-Nebraska big Michael Jacobson sit out this winter due to transfer restrictions. Toss in the improved playmaking abilities of Nick Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones are a major dark horse brimming with potential and a chance for a major run next year.
It took a few years for coach Archie Miller to establish the culture that he had at Dayton, and while things are not where he may want them to be at Indiana, this season has been one that has been about positive steps. Miller, who has built his team on strong defensive principles, has seen his IU ball club improve dramatically on that side of the ball during league play.
Miller will add four Rivals150 recruits along with the added talents of redshirt freshman Race Thompson, a tough and gritty power forward prospect, so tools should all be there for a Hoosier bounce back. Losing Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk, Freddi McSwain and Collin Hartman to graduation may be difficult, but Miller does have a star on his hands in junior forward Juwan Morgan, the type of big man Miller can run an offense through. A healthy De’Ron Davis and the potential to showcase five-star 2018 guard Romeo Langford - if he does decide to play for the Hoosiers - would go a long way toward giving Miller what he needs to get IU back into the NCAA Tournament and competing in a fairly wide open Big Ten next winter.
It has been tough sledding for Oregon this year. After losing the core of players who guided the Ducks to the Final Four, Oregon attempted to patch things together with a handful of high-end transfers and a few other highly lauded high school prospects. There was a spurt in January where the Ducks were making a late surge for a tournament bid, but with a recent setback all eyes are on the 2018-2019 season.
While the Ducks will lose Elijah Brown and MiKyle McIntosh to graduation, practically everyone else is expected back, with the possible exception of Troy Brown, a standout freshman who will likely test the NBA waters this spring.
But the future looks bright in Eugene, thanks to a tremendously talented, top 5 recruiting class, led by supremely talented big man Bol Bol, a frontcourt prospect who could cause major havoc alongside breakout freshman Kenny Wooten. Payton Pritchard, the Ducks’ top perimeter asset, should be aided by the all-around abilities of top 50 guard Will Richardson and the high-level scoring prowess of Louis King. Others, including Paul White and Victor Bailey, are expected to take another leap with their game and in a very wide-open Pac 12 Dana Altman’s team should be able to regain its footing and find its way back into the NCAA Tournament.
First-year head coach Will Wade has worked wonders in Baton Rouge during his inaugural campaign at the SEC program. And while the Tigers will come up a bit short of an NCAA Tournament bid, the future is as bright as ever at LSU. The emergence of Tremont Waters, a top freshman standout, and the improved play from Skylar Mays shows that the Tigers have a nice group of guards to build around.
The Tigers will be young next year, and battling some of the top teams in the SEC will be daunting. But thankfully for Wade and his crew, the talent headed to the program is elite. LSU has secured the commitments of four top 60 prospects in the 2018 class, led by top in-state prospect Javonte Smart and the second-ranked center prospect in America: Nazreon Reid. There will be some shoes to fill in the frontcourt with the graduations of its top three big men, though Reid, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days - along with transfer big Kavell Bigby-Williams - should provide stability along the frontline. LSU may be young, but Wade and his staff have accrued the kind of talent that should give the Tigers the ability to get back to bracket play for the first time since 2015.
Things have been difficult this winter for second-year head coach Bryce Drew.. Although they will miss the NCAA Tournament, there have been some good moments for the Commodores in recent weeks. By defeating Florida, Mississippi State and Alabama - along with a nail-biting defeat at the hands of Kentucky - the Commodores have shown just how close it is from being postseason contenders.
While they will lose four-year products Riley LaChance, Jeff Roberson and Matthew Fisher-Davis, a lack of talent will not be an excuse next year. The current freshman class of Saben Lee, Ejike Obinna and Maxwell Evans look like solid pieces to build with, as do sophomores Payton Willis, Clevon Brown and Djery Baptiste. Joseph Toye has evolved into a solid scoring perimeter piece and the in-transfer of Matt Ryan should be a perfect floor spacer, thanks to his shot-making skills.
However, things will begin and end with the Commodores' top recruiting class in school history, including five-stars Simisola Shittu and Darius Garland. Both should immediately infuse the SEC program with the type of talent that only Kentucky and a few others possess. Toss in the underrated abilities of 2018 wing Aaron Nesmith and another potential five-star pledge this spring in Romeo Langford and a revival should be in store in Nashville.
All good things come to an end. That's what Wisconsin basketball has discovered after finishing in the top four of the Big Ten every year since 2001. Next year should be more of the norm - as long as Ethan Happ returns for his senior year of play. One of the most productive and efficient posts that the college game has seen in the past 10 years, Happ has remained a major producer this winter despite the rather dismal outcomes on the final scoreboard.
Injuries and youth have been the major issues for Wisconsin’s decline, but with practically every productive player coming back the Badgers are primed to compete in the conference and beyond next year. Freshman guard Brad Davison is ready to be the next Badgers great in the backcourt, while Aleem Ford, D’Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson are all expected to see their play take another jump after an offseason of development. With its entire nucleus back and the quality coaching of Greg Gard, this year should be just a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things.
The Cardinal came into the season with high hopes of getting back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. Things didn’t go according to plan, thanks to a bevy of injuries and shaky guard play during the non-conference portion of the season.
Jerod Haase’s squad has come up with some nice wins over Arizona State, UCLA and USC, but this year has been more about developing its young core and teaching the Cardinal's talented underclassmen the culture that the second-year coaching staff is attempting to instill. If Reid Travis returns for his senior year and the super-talented freshman class of Daejon Davis, Oscar Da Silva and Kezie Okpala continue to make strides, next season’s outlook looks as bright as ever.
The Cardinal will also enroll four-star guards Bryce Wills and Cormac Ryan in the fall, two versatile prospects who should create for a dynamic backcourt alongside Davis. Together, the group of young but evolving underclassmen and Travis should give Stanford a legitimate chance at a postseason berth a year from now.