Swiss Cheese Squads: Teams With Holes to Fill

    
July 15th, 2008

With the dust from the draft now settled, it's time to look at how some teams will be filling in the considerable holes left by draftees. Here's a look at some teams who need both returning players and incoming freshmen to step up in a big way.

UCLA
Early entries: Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Seniors: Lorenzo Mata-Real

For the Bruins to make a fourth consecutive Final Four appearance, they'll need some inspired play from returning veterans Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya. To fill Westbrook's shoes, they'll likely look first to incoming freshmen Jrue Holiday, who has a well-rounded game and can play a variety of positions depending on matchups. Fellow freshmen Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson will provide quality depth, as the Bruins could go with a more guard-oriented attack this year. Up front, the unenviable task of replacing Love will fall to Aboya and freshmen Drew Gordon and J'Mison Morgan. Love not only put up great numbers, he brought an edge and toughness that won't be easy to replace. But getting Morgan, a late de-commit from LSU, is a huge find for Ben Howland.

Overall, the talent is still in place for the Bruins to make some noise this year - it all depends on how quickly the freshmen adjust. Getting Collison and Shipp back after both flirted with the draft is a huge help, as they will provide plenty of leadership. When it's all said and done, look for the Bruins to be one of the top teams in the country again.

Memphis
Early entries: Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts
Seniors: Joey Dorsey

While Coach John Calipari said he was thrilled to see three of his players drafted this year, he also knows he lost his team's motor (Rose), it's heart (Dorsey) and soul (CDR). Replacing them won't be easy, but Calipari will start with super-recruit Tyreke Evans, who can fill it up with the best of them. Returning seniors Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier could shine in their expanded roles this year, and they'll provide enough leadership to get the Tigers through C-USA. A short rotation last year limited the Tigers' depth, but Willie Kemp and Shawn Taggert are both quality players who can put up numbers, and sophomore guard Jeff Robinson could surprise some people. Freshman swingman Wesley Witherspoon, although rail-thin, could also be an impact player. He's a terrific athlete and the kind of long, rangy player that fits perfectly in Calipari's system.

They'll still cruise through C-USA, but it's hard to envision another run to the title game. Down the stretch, CDR and Rose carried the Tigers last year, and when his head was in the game, Dorsey was a beast down low. Look for another 26-28 win season, but I don't see Memphis advancing beyond the Sweet 16.

Kansas
Early entries: Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur
Seniors: Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson

Bill Self, welcome to the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. The defending national champs will look completely different this year, returning only two rotation players in Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Luckily, those two are at the most important positions in point guard and center, so Self can slide some of the highly-touted freshmen in around them. On the perimeter, freshmen Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor and Tyrone Appleton should see plenty of minutes, as will forwards Marcus and Markeiff Morris and Qunitrell Thomas.
Returning players Matt Kleinmann and Tyrel Reed will also be counted on to help bring the freshmen along.

While another national championship isn't a realistic possibility, the Jayhawks still have the potential to be very, very good. Collins and Aldrich are all Big-12 talents who should thrive this year. It's impossible not to taker a step back after all of the talent they lost, but if the incoming freshmen are as good as advertised, they'll still be in the hunt for the Big 12 title.

Texas
Early entry: DJ Augustin

Once again, the Longhorns only have to replace one player, but once again, it's a big one. However, they did just fine without Kevin Durant, so maybe the same will hold true for Augustin. The Horns do return plenty of talent, starting with AJ Abrams and Justin Mason in the backcourt, and Damion James, Gary Johnson and Conner Atchley up front. Abrams should be able to slide in at the point, with Dogus Balbay and freshman J'Covan Brown providing some depth. The trouble will be replacing Augustin's floor presence. A natural leader, he always was poised and in control, especially in crucial moments. Abrams will have to show that he can not only be a playmaker for others, but that he can provide the same leadership Augustin did.

The Horns are loaded with talent, and they should be the favorites in the Big 12. Even without Augustin, they have enough talent to win 24-25 games. The only thing that remains to be seen is who steps into the leadership role.

USC
Early entry: OJ Mayo, Davon Jefferson

The Trojans knew they were only renting Mayo for one year, so they expected this. But they may not have planned on losing Jefferson, who went undrafted. On the bright side, they do return Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Dwight Lewis, who should provide plenty of experience. Replacing Mayo will fall on the shoulders of stud freshman Demar DeRozan, who is a highlight waiting to happen. If Derozan can provide some firepower from the wings, the Trojans may not miss Mayo quite as much as they think. And although Jefferson was a fantastic athlete, he could play a little out of control and didn't seem to grasp the concept of team ball. With Hackett, Lewis, DeRozan and Angelo Johnson in the backcourt, they may not miss him much,

The Trojans won with defense last year, and this year will be no different. Hackett is an underrated guard who can do a little of everything, and another year of experience should help Johnson and Lewis in the backcourt. Gibson is a force down low when he chooses to be, and he should get more touches this year with Mayo out. If DeRozan can live up to his hype, another trip to the tournament is likely.

Stanford:
Early entries: Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez
Seniors: Fred Washington, Taj Finger

It goes without saying the Cardinal will have a different look next year, with the Lopez twins off to the NBA. New coach Johnny Dawkins will likely have to transition to a guard-oriented attack, led by veterans Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods, as well as back-up Kenny Brown. Up front, the Cardinal will lean heavily on Lawrence Hill, who was inconsistent last year but has all Pac-10 potential. Landry Fields will also have to step up, as Stanford will be severely undersized next year.

They have a talented backcourt, but the Cardinal will probably struggle up front. There's still enough here to make a bid for the NCAA Tourney, but they'll need a superhuman effort from Lawrence Hill to do any more than that.

Kansas State
Early entries: Michael Beasley, Bill Walker
Seniors: Clent Stewart, Blake Young, David Hoskins

Unfortunately, life should return to normal in Manhattan this year, as the Wildcats look poised to take a big step back after winning their first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years last season. With Beasley and Walker off to the NBA as expected, the Wildcats will struggle to replace their 42 points and 18 rebounds per game. The burden will likely fall to Jacob Pullen, Andre Gilbert and Dominique Sutton to pick up the scoring load. Ron Anderson, Darren Kent and incoming freshman Abdul Herrera will try to replace Beasley up front, but even combined, it’s doubtful they can match his firepower.

With a solid 2009 recruiting class locked up, it may be too soon to dismiss the Wildcats as one-year wonders. However, it’s hard to see them repeating last year’s successes without Beasley and Walker, who brought a swagger to Manhattan that had been missing. This year’s version probably just doesn’t have enough firepower to challenge the upper-echelon teams in the Big 12. Look for a 16-18 win team.