Southeast Region Final Thoughts: What's in Store for 2011-12?
Next up is the Southeast region, which contributed to the craziness of the NCAA Tournament beginning with Butler knocking off top-seed Pittsburgh in the third round. The question now is what's next for the entire region beginning with the Panthers, who welcome a solid recruiting class while also waiting to see what Ashton Gibbs' decision in regards to staying in the NBA Draft will be.
(1) Pittsburgh: lost to Butler in the third round
The Big East regular season champs had their season end in painful fashion, falling to eventual national runner-up Butler by a point in the third round. The Panthers will have some key figures to replace in Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee and Brad Wanamaker, but there's enough talent at Jamie Dixon's disposal to make another run at a Big East title even if Ashton Gibbs remains in the NBA Draft. Travon Woodall was due to take over at the point regardless, and incoming freshmen Durand Johnson and John Johnson (no relation) have the ability to earn spots in the rotation. Lamar Patterson, Nasir Robinson (one of the most improved players in the Big East), Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna all return, and the addition of two of the best centers in the 2011 class (Khem Birch and Malcolm Gilbert) means that Pitt should once again be a major player in the Big East.
(2) Florida: lost to Butler in the regional final
Billy Donovan's team lived up to the preseason expectations, winning the SEC regular season title before losing in the conference tournament title game to Tennessee. Then came the NCAA Tournament, where they were knocked off in overtime by Butler, marking the end for three important frontcourt players. Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus all graduate, meaning that Erik Murphy, Will Yeguete and Patric Young will all need to be ready to go (Walter Pitchford could figure into the rotation too). The backcourt will be loaded with Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Scottie Wilbekin back, not to mention Mike Rosario (Rutgers transfer) and McDonald's All-America Bradley Beal joining the rotation. The Gators will be smaller, but if all parties involved manage to share the ball look out.
(3) BYU: lost to Florida in the Sweet 16
One of the greatest careers in the history of BYU comes to an end as All-America (and winner of multiple national Player of the Year awards) Jimmer Fredette departs. But the Cougars also have to replace Jackson Emery, whose career has come to an end as well. There's also the move to the West Coast Conference, where top contenders include Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and Santa Clara (the Broncos have nearly everyone back on a team that won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament). That simply means that more will be expected of forwards Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock, especially with freshman Kyle Collinsworth going on his LDS mission. DeMarcus Harrison and UCLA transfer Matt Carlino will have a lot on their plates to start in the backcourt (can either play the point?) and Nate Austin leads three frontcourt players in their first season in Provo.
(4) Wisconsin: lost to Butler in the Sweet 16
The Badgers were a trendy pick by some to be a second round upset victim, which likely had more to do with who they were playing (Belmont) than anything else. But Bo Ryan's team took care of business, beating both the Bruins and Kansas State before falling to Butler in the Sweet 16. Going into next season there are two big frontcourt losses to address with Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil graduating, but Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser return in the backcourt in addition to Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans on the wing. Of their incoming recruits look for big men Jarrod Uthoff and Frank Kaminsky to be the most likely to crack the rotation, although guards Traevon Jackson and George Marshall aren't exactly chopped liver themselves (just may be tougher to crack the rotation on the perimeter). Every year people write off Coach Ryan's team when it comes to contending in the Big Ten, yet the find a way to do so regardless.
(5) Kansas State: lost to Wisconsin in the third round
2010-11 was a somewhat tumultuous year for Frank Martin's program, with the Wildcats dealing with a disappointing start, suspensions and defections by the time late January rolled around. But led by guard Jacob Pullen, K-State turned things around and won an NCAA Tournament game before falling to Wisconsin. Now they have to move on without Pullen, along with Curtis Kelly, and the biggest question is who steps up in a leadership role for next year's team. Jamar Samuels could be a logical choice in that area, and on the perimeter Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling will all need to step up as well. Jordan Henriquez-Roberts became an important part of the rotation as forwards left the team, and two solid frontcourt players arrive in Manhattan this summer as well (Thomas Gipson and Adrian Diaz). Point guard Angel Rodriguez should also compete for minutes, as will St. John's transfer Omari Lawrence.
(6) St. John's: lost to Gonzaga in the third round
Steve Lavin and his staff rejuvenated the city from a college basketball standpoint, giving ten seniors motivated to leave Queens with at least one notable accomplishment the direction needed to get back to the Big Dance. Their chances of winning in the NCAA Tournament went downhill when D.J. Kennedy tore his ACL in the first half of their Big East quarterfinal loss to Syracuse, and the absence of his versatility was painfully obvious in the loss to Gonzaga. Now he, Dwight Hardy and the rest of that class moves on, and replacing them is one of the nation's best recruiting classes. Nine players deep, this group is led by four very good small forwards (Amir Garrett, Maurice Harkless, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Jakarr Sampson) in addition to quality players at nearly every position on the floor. Add this group to Dwayne Polee Jr. and there will be growing pains, but at the very least the Red Storm are a significant conversation piece in the Big East again, and they'll be talented too.
(7) UCLA: lost to Florida in the third round
Despite questions at the point Ben Howland's team won 23 games and finished second in the Pac-10, and without a senior on this year's roster the future looks good for UCLA. However, Tyler Honeycutt will not be back as he'll hire an agent and remain in the NBA Draft, and Malcolm Lee also entered his name although he won't retain an agent. Once again the question for the Bruins will be at the point, where Lazeric Jones had moments where he looked more than capable of handling the job but struggled while dealing with injuries. Another year for he and Jerime Anderson should pay off, while up front Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith have the ability to be the best frontcourt tandem in the conference. There are other contributors returning, and incoming freshman Norman Powell can be one of the best freshmen in the Pac-10. And don't forget about the Wear twins, who are eligible after transferring in from North Carolina. Look for UCLA to be the preseason favorite in the Pac-10 (defending champ Arizona will also have a case).
(8) Butler: lost to Connecticut in the national title game
Once again Brad Stevens' Bulldogs went on a run few envisioned before the NCAA Tournament began, beating three of the top four seeds in their region before ultimately putting forth their worst offensive performance of the season (and the worst in NCAA title game history) at the worst possible time. Three key seniors graduate, most notably forward Matt Howard (Zach Hahn and Shwan Vanzant are the others), and junior guard Shelvin Mack could have a decision to make in regards to the NBA Draft. Butler returns solid contributors such as guard Ronald Nored and forwards Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith, and players such as Chrishawn Hopkins and Chase Stigall will also have opportunities to increase their contributions. And the incoming class is solid as well, led by Australian point guard Jackson Aldridge and wing Roosevelt Jones. Butler will once again be a favorite in the Horizon League.
(9) Old Dominion: lost to Butler in the second round
The CAA Tournament champions were led by a deep frontcourt and one of the best perimeter defenders few speak of in Kent Bazemore, but they fell at the buzzer to Butler in their first game. Luckily for Blaine Taylor, Bazemore will be back, but he's got to replace three of those key frontcourt players as Keyon Carter, Ben Finney and Frank Hassell all depart. Four of their top five scorers in total move on, meaning that Chris Cooper, Marquel De Lancey and Trian Iliadis all need to step up and help out Bazemore. Is a player such as Nick Wright capable of stepping up with more minutes? To say the least this will be a critical offseason for the returning forwards, who didn't see much time this season. Freshman Jason Pimentel from out of Montverde Academy stands to earn minutes next season, and the same likely goes for point guard Breon Key. Don't look for the Monarchs to be picked too high in the CAA but they'll likely be a factor in some form.
(10) Michigan State: lost to UCLA in the second round
It's safe to say that fans aren't too used to seeing a Tom Izzo-coached team finish its season with a 19-15 record, but that's exactly what happened in a disappointing campaign for the Spartans. Kalin Lucas played well late in the season but he moves on along with Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler, and sophomore center Garrick Sherman has decided to transfer. But there's still talent in East Lansing, led by do-it-all forward Draymond Green and guard Keith Appling. Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne and Delvon Roe are three of the bodies Izzo will look to inside next season, and things should be rejuvenated by a good recruiting class. Branden Dawson is the active player on the wing that seemed missing at times this season, and guards Dwaun Anderson and Brandan Kearney are two Michigan natives who can earn minutes as well. Don't expect this group to lose 15 games in 2011-12; they'll be pretty good.
(11) Gonzaga: lost to BYU in the third round
There were questions throughout the course of the season as to whether or not Mark Few's team would be good enough to earn an at-large bid, but the Bulldogs rendered that question moot as they won the WCC's automatic bid. And with just one senior departing, albeit an important senior (Steven Gray), there's a strong likelihood that Gonzaga is a better team next year. Sam Dower, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all return in the frontcourt and the backcourt won't be bad either with Marquise Carter, Demetri Goodson and David Stockton returning as well. Add in a recruiting class that's strong in the backcourt (Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos lead the way) and look for the Bulldogs to be the preseason favorite in the WCC despite the arrival of BYU. The Cougars lose enough that it's easy to see Santa Clara being Gonzaga's biggest competition, but the Zags could be the unanimous choice in October.
(12) Utah State: lost to Kansas State in the second round
Just like Gonzaga the Aggies made sure to take care of business in their conference tournament, but a 30-win campaign ended in their first NCAA Tournament game. The key now for Stew Morrill is to replace six seniors who accomplished quite a bit in Logan, led by forward Tai Wesley and guard Pooh Williams. But the Aggies will still have some talented players to turn to next season, led by guard Brockeith Pane and forwards Morgan Grim and Brady Jardine. Utah State also addressed the frontcourt losses on the recruiting trail, adding centers Igor Premasunac and Jordan Stone in addition to power forward Kyisean Reed. Premasunac and Reed are both junior college transfers, and like Pane coming into this season they'll be expected to contribute early and often. Look for the Aggies to remain one of the favorites in the WAC.
(13) Belmont: lost to Wisconsin in the second round
Rick Byrd's Bruins were a trendy pick by many to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament, but much to their detriment Belmont drew the wrong matchup for them in the second round. The good news for the Bruins is that they return nearly everyone and were thought to be "one year away" at the start of 2010-11 anyway. Jordan Campbell and Jon House are the two seniors moving on but with so many players getting playing time this season (11 played at least 10 minutes/game) the Bruins should be able to account for those losses. Forwards Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders form a very good tandem inside and guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are two of the key cogs on the perimeter. With a better matchup in the NCAA tournament Belmont could very well win a game if not more next season.
(14) Wofford: lost to BYU in the second round
Despite the scoring of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock throughout the season it was Wofford who grabbed the Southern Conference's automatic bid, earning their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Noah Dahlmann led the way but he was one of five seniors that head coach Mike Young relied on, meaning that there's some rebuilding to be done as the Terriers approach 2011-12. Five of Wofford's top seven scorers were seniors, including Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs. Kevin Giltner and Brad Loesing will be the leading returning scorers, and there will be plenty of minutes up for grabs come October. Much will be expected of forward Drew Crowell, in addition to an incoming class that has two guards in Lucas Brown and Karl Cochran. A lot of work will need to be done if the Terriers are to return to the Big Dance.
(15) UC Santa Barbara: lost to Florida in the second round
Bob Williams' team had its issues in the regular season but the Gauchos got hot at just the right time, knocking off Big West regular season champion Long Beach State in the conference tournament final to earn an NCAA bid. Orlando Johnson (declared for NBA Draft but did not hire an agent) and James Nunnally led the way offensively as one of the most productive backcourt tandems in the nation, and both are due to return as seniors next season. Also expected back is the team's third-leading scorer in forward Jaime Serna, and the three seniors being lost combined for just over 13 points per game. The frontcourt will likely be bolstered by the addition of forwards Taran Brown and John Green, and point guard T.J. Taylor may be the best member of the incoming class. UCSB will once again be a favorite in the Big West.
(16) Arkansas-Little Rock: lost to UNC Asheville in the First Four
The Trojans found a way to survive the wild Sun Belt Tournament, with guard Solomon Bozeman knocking down the game-winning three pointer in the final seconds of the title game against North Texas. But now comes the hard part for Steve Shields and his staff, as he has to go about replacing the top three scorers from this team. Bozeman, Alex Garcia-Mendoza and Matt Mouzy all graduate, meaning that guards Daylon Guy and D'Andre Williams need to be ready to shoulder the offensive load. Courtney Jackson and Eric Kibi will be the leading returning rebounders for UALR, but it needs to be remembered that the Trojans were 7-9 in league play. A return trip could be a tall task for this team in 2011-12, and they're going to need contributions from incoming freshmen Michael Javes and James White.
(16) UNC Asheville: lost to Pittsburgh in the second round
Eddie Biedenbach's club was able to pick up a win in the First Four, coming back to force overtime before beating UALR in double overtime. The perimeter tandem of Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm led the way in that contest along with their run through the Big South Tournament, and those two will likely make the Bulldogs a favorite in the conference next year. John Williams, one of college basketball's best dunkers, is the lone major loss for UNC Asheville and the roster sets up to the point where the Bulldogs could go on a run over the next couple of seasons. Add in a recruiting class led by guards Keith Hornsby and Corey Littlejohn in addition to center Jaleel Roberts and the freshmen have the ability to make a difference as well. Not only can UNC Asheville get back to the tournament but they can also avoid the First Four.