Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. That’s because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Let’s take a look at some of those players:
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Last year Josh Gasser was projected to be the starting point guard for the Badgers. But what the Badgers will really welcome back is Gasser’s perimeter shooting. Gasser made 45 percent of his threes as a sophomore, and while he may have trouble duplicating that rate, his career free throw percentage suggests he is a natural shooter. Once he gets in the gym and gets his legs under him, he and Ben Brust should provide Wisconsin with two extremely dangerous perimeter shooters.
It also isn’t clear that the Badgers will use Gasser at the point guard slot this season. Gasser’s career assist rate is not all that high, and while Traevon Jackson struggled with turnovers and his outside shot last year, he still gained quite a bit of experience in the PG role. Jackson’s ability to penetrate the lane and break down the defense often saved the day in close games last year. In the end Wisconsin may prefer to play Jackson, Brust, and Gasser together in crunch time this season.
Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, Harvard
An academic scandal knocked Casey and Curry out of action last year. Miraculously, Harvard didn’t miss a beat upsetting New Mexico in the NCAA tournament. But to say that Harvard didn’t miss these two would be deceiving. Without Casey’s shot-blocking and defensive rebounding, Harvard’s defense fell off substantially (from 37th nationally to 144th).
Casey and returning forward Steve Moundou-Missi should provide a dynamic interior combination this year. And although they may be a little under-sized against a few teams, Harvard also welcomes 6’9” Top 100 recruit Zena Edosomwan. Ivy league schools can very rarely attract Top 100 talent, and Edosmwan is a huge advantage as a third forward option. Expect Harvard’s defense to bounce back.
As for Curry, it seemed likely that Harvard would struggle without their lead PG last season. But when given the ball, Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers ran with it. Both players emerged as elite passers. Given Saunders size, it will not be unusual to see Curry, Chambers, and Saunders on the court together next season, giving Harvard one of the best passing backcourts in America.
Meiko Lyles, Columbia
Sticking in the Ivy League, while everyone is talking about Harvard’s returning players, not enough people have mentioned the return of Columbia’s Meiko Lyles. Last year I expected Columbia to be competitive for the Ivy League title, but what I didn’t know when I ran my projections is that the team’s best outside shooter Meiko Lyles was going to miss the entire season due to personal reasons. And even though Columbia had the fourth best margin-of-victory in the Ivy league last year, they collapsed to a last place finish.
Unfortunately, Columbia loses two of its best players, Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco. So the team would have been a lot better off with Lyles on the roster last year. But Lyles is back on the active roster, and that’s one of the reasons I expect Columbia to finish in the middle of the Ivy League and not the cellar.
Tim Frazier, Penn St.
Frazier’s return is a boon for a Penn St. program that has been struggling. He had the second best assist rate in all of D1 hoops in 2012, and he was also a high volume scorer. But Jermaine Marshall’s decision to transfer this off-season essentially ended any serious hope Penn St. had of a NCAA tournament bid. In college basketball, Penn St. just cannot catch a break.
And while I should be writing about what Frazier brings to the Penn St. offense, the subterfuge in Marshall’s departure is the more fascinating story. One of the key components of the five-year graduate school transfer rule is that you have to graduate from your previous school before you can transfer. But for some students, they need summer classes to make that happen. Purdue’s Sandi Marcius found out the hard way that if you want your current basketball program to pay for those summer classes, you probably can’t tell them you are transferring before you enroll in those summer classes. But Marshall was much smarter than that. He told Penn St. that he planned to graduate over the summer and then go play in Europe. Only when his summer classes were completed and his degree was ensured did Marshall announce that he was transferring to Arizona St.
Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern
If Penn St. is mixing good news with bad news, Georgia Southern is too. Jelani Hewitt was one of Georgia Southern’s best perimeter shooters in 2011-2012, making 40% of his long range shots and starting all but one game. Then he was suspended for an off-court issue in 2012-2013.
Hewitt’s return was supposed to be a boost to the program. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that Georgia Southern’s leading scorer Eric Ferguson has been unable to fully recover from a knee injury he sustained this spring. Ferguson plans to redshirt this season, and even Hewitt’s return is probably not enough to offset the loss of the team’s leading scorer.
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
With Maymon out with a knee injury, Tennessee often went with a smaller lineup last season. The Volunteers would frequently have 6’6” Josh Richardson as the second tallest player on the floor and the defense suffered because of it. The 6’8” Maymon wasn’t a traditional shot-blocker, but he was an outstanding defensive rebounder, and his interior presence was probably at least a contributing factor in Tennessee’s horrid defense last season.
But the bigger impact of Maymon’s return may be on offense. That’s because Maymon was not only an outstanding finisher around the rim, but he was also one of the best players in the country at getting to the free throw line.
Whether Maymon’s return boosts the offense to an elite level will depend a lot on what happens at the PG position. After Trae Golden was dismissed for academic reasons, Tennessee brought in Memphis transfer Antonio Barton. Barton didn’t get a chance to be the PG at Memphis, but he does have ball-handling skills. And how well he plays at the PG position may determine the ceiling for this team.
God’s Gift Achiuwa, St. John’s
A year after playing major minutes for the Red Storm, Steve Lavin elected to use a redshirt on God’s Gift Achiuwa last season. Part of the reason was that Jakarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa looked good in practice, and Lavin wanted to make sure they had time to develop. But Achiuwa’s return is still very valuable even if he isn’t a starter on this year’s team. Achiuwa is one of the only St. John’s players who has posted an ORtg over 100 in his career. Two years ago he finished 55% of his shots, didn’t turn the ball over excessively, and did a passable job at the free throw line.
Of course, Achiuwa’s return is not the only reason to be excited about St. John’s front court. Orlando Sanchez has also finally been cleared to play by the NCAA. With Sampson, Obekpa, Achiuwa, and Sanchez, St. John’s actually has depth in the frontcourt for the first time in at least three years.
Andrey Semenov, James Madison
James Madison finished only 11-7 in CAA last year, but with a 3-0 run through the CAA tournament, and a win in the First Four in Dayton, James Madison found themselves playing the Indiana Hoosiers in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament. With an unlikely run like that and only 43% of the team’s minutes returning, a repeat is unlikely. But one thing working in James Madison’s favor should be the return of 6th year senior Andrey Semenov. Semenov missed almost all of last year due to injury.
Semenov is a dynamic outside shooter for a big man, making 62 three pointers (at a 44% clip), and that made him the most efficient players on James Madison two year ago. And on a very young team, he will provide some crucial leadership.
Jarmar Gulley, Missouri St.
Gulley’s height always strikes me as a misprint. How can a 6’5” guard rebound at such a high level. But that’s what you sometimes get with a former JUCO Top 100 athlete. Gulley’s rebounding has been an asset in high school and in the junior college ranks, and there was no reason for him not to fight for every rebound in the MVC too.
Gulley’s return may not be that high profile, but for a team that was 7-11 last year, getting back a player who can fight for rebounds, is great at getting steals, and who has an ORtg over 100 should clearly be a boost.
Part 2 Next Week