Rion Brown is Miami's lone returning rotation player (Getty Images)
Our 2013-14 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at the programs who are on the decline entering the season. Check back every morning for the next six weeks for more college hoops preview content.
Alabama (23-13, 12-6 last season): Alabama at one point appeared capable of contending in the SEC and making the NCAA tournament this season thanks to the anticipated return of its top seven scorers from this past year's 23-win team. Then came an unexpectedly disastrous offseason that has muted some of the optimism. First sophomore guard Trevor Lacey, Alabama's second-leading scorer, announced in April he was transferring to NC State. Then in June, former top 30 recruit Devonta Pollard was charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, leading to his dismissal from the program. The result is a roster with only nine scholarship players and insufficient scoring punch surrounding returning star Trevor Releford. Anthony Grant's teams have traditionally been excellent defensively, and this year's squad probably will be no exception. Still, if scorers don't emerge to support Releford, the Crimson Tide's ceiling is probably a .500 finish in the SEC and another NIT bid.
Butler (27-9, 11-5 last season): The summer of 2013 was a time of transition at Butler. Brad Stevens left to coach the Boston Celtics, standout seniors Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith graduated and the player most likely to emerge as Butler's next star, wing Roosevelt Jones, suffered a left wrist injury that will sideline him for the entire season. All of that raises the question of just how ready Butler is for perhaps its biggest transition: a move to the Big East. Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods and Erik Fromm form an experienced frontcourt, but perimeter questions abound. Can freshman Rene Castro or returners Alex Barlow or Jackson Aldridge shore up the point guard position? Will Kellen Dunham shoot from the perimeter with more consistency while drawing greater defensive attention? Can promising freshman Elijah Brown replace some of the wing scoring Jones would likely have provided? If the answer to those questions is yes, we'll probably get another lesson in the dangers of underestimating Butler. If the answer to those questions is no, the Bulldogs are probably headed for a finish in the lower half of the standings in the new Big East.
Colorado State (26-9, 11-5 last season): Having inherited a roster loaded with established seniors, new Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy led the Rams to a second-place finish in a loaded Mountain West and a Round of 64 NCAA tournament victory. Unfortunately for Eustachy, the entire starting five moved on last spring, leaving him with almost a complete rebuild entering the 2013-14 season. The most proven returning player is Daniel Bejarano, a former top 100 recruit who is an excellent rebounder for a guard and is capable of improving his 31 percent 3-point shooting. Sixth-year senior Jesse Carr could have solidified the point guard position but a second torn ACL will end his college career and thrust Jon Octeus into the starting lineup. Question marks abound in the frontcourt, where Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung's rebounding propelled the Rams a year ago. One spot may be filled by senior Gerson Santo, who played sparingly a year ago. The other could go to transfer J.J. Avila, who led Navy in almost every statistical category two years ago but sat out last season in junior college while getting his academics in order. Finishing in the upper half of the Mountain West isn't out of the question if Avila emerges as a focal point and some of last season's bench players embrace bigger roles, but it's hard to see Colorado State contending the way it did a year ago.
Kansas State (27-8, 14-4 last season): The talented, experienced roster Bruce Weber inherited helped the former Illinois coach lead Kansas State to a share of the Big 12 title and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Approaching that level of success will not be so easy for Weber in year two, however, since some of the stars of that team are no longer in Manhattan. Rodney McGruder has graduated, leaving Kansas State without a proven go-to scorer. Angel Rodriguez has transferred to Miami, forcing Weber to either start a freshman at point guard or play an upperclassman out of position. And the departure of graduated 6-foot-11 Jordan Henriquez and 6-10 Adrian Diaz gives Kansas State nobody taller than 6-foot-8 on its roster. The combination of defensive-minded D.J. and low-post scoring threat Thomas Gipson provides Kansas State a frontcourt duo that complements one-another quite well. Of more concern is the backcourt, where for Kansas State to contend for an NCAA bid, someone must emerge at point guard and one of the wings must have a McGruder-like transformation from role player to scoring star.
Miami (29-7, 15-3 last season): Miami may contend in the ACC again someday under Jim Larranaga, but this is not that season. One year after winning an outright ACC regular-season championship and following that up with a conference tournament title and a trip to the Sweet 16, the Hurricanes are poised for as steep a fall as any team in the nation. Key players Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, Trey McKinney Jones and Julian Gamble all graduated and sophomore point guard Shane Larkin entered the NBA draft. The only rotation player returning is senior guard Rion Brown, who averaged a modest 6.4 points per game last season. Brown is capable of a breakout season since he'll be given every opportunity to become Miami's chief perimeter threat, but the potential for NCAA sanctions kept Larranaga from recruiting much help for him. In the backcourt, Garrius Adams will provide some wing scoring and 5-foot-9 freshman Manu LeComte will hold down the point guard position while the Hurricanes wait for Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez to get eligible the following year. In the frontcourt, Tonye Jekiri gobbled up offensive boards in limited minutes last season and DePaul transfer Donnavan Kirk can impact a game defensively with his ability to alter shots in the lane and offensively with his range from the perimeter.
Murray State (21-10, 10-6 last season): Murray State's decline from 30-win small-conference powerhouse to good-but-not-memorable team began last season when the Racers were eclipsed by Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference. That fall is likely to steepen this season with standouts Isaiah Canaan, Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson gone and lots of unproven players left to fill the void. The most talented player on Murray State's 2013-14 team would have been Zay Jackson, who showed star potential as a freshman before missing all of last season after being arrested for hitting a man with his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Jackson tore his ACL and MCL earlier this month coming down from a dunk and will miss the entire season. Freshman guard Cameron Payne, Tennessee's Mr. Basketball last year, will now likely inherit the point guard job from day one. He'll be joined in the backcourt by senior Dexter Fields and eventually by Clemson transfer T.J. Sapp, who will be eligible in mid-December. The frontcourt will be bolstered by a pair of junior college transfers, Jonathan Fairell and Jarvis Williams. Murray State has historically managed to stay near the top of the OVC pecking order no matter how much roster turnover it endures. Achieving that again this season may be difficult, however, unless the new faces all manage to step up.
Temple (24-10, 11-5 last season): Temple's streak of six consecutive 20-win seasons is in serious jeopardy. The Owls lack both the experience and scoring punch that nearly carried them to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament last season. Quirky but high-scoring Khalif Wyatt has graduated, as have fellow scoring threats Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, leaving Temple without a returning double-digit scorer. One returning starter, guard Will Cummings, is dangerous in the open floor but a liability shooting from the perimeter. The other, junior forward Anthony Lee, is an excellent rebounder but lacks either a polished post-up game or a consistent mid-range jump shot. Perhaps guards Quenton DeCosey and Daniel Dingle can make strides as sophomores, but it seems clear Temple won't have a scorer of Wyatt's caliber this season. That means the Owls will either have to improve an uncharacteristically mediocre defense or risk finishing a poor finish in their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference.
Texas (16-18, 7-11): Since Rick Barnes led Texas to two co-Big 12 titles and a pair of Elite Eights from 2006-2008, his program has slid into mediocrity. The Longhorns haven't advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and have only finished higher than a tie for fourth in the Big 12 once, a slump that worsened last year when they lost 11 league games and missed March Madness for the first time in Barnes' 15-year tenure. Last year probably wasn't rock bottom either considering the roster attrition Texas endured this offseason. Five underclassmen left the Texas program early between March and August including standout point guard Myck Kabongo (NBA draft) and transfers Ioannis Papapetrou, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. Worse yet, Barnes hasn't replenished the roster with top in-state recruits the way he once was doing a few years ago. The result is another freshman- and sophomore-heavy rotation that will likely struggle to score efficiently as much as last year's team did. Point guard Javan Felix is the only player who has demonstrated the ability to play more than a minor role in the offense. Forward Cameron Ridley must improve upon a disappointing freshman season and guards Kendal Yancy and Demarcus Holland must provide some perimeter scoring punch if Texas is going to finish higher than expected in the Big 12.
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