College basketball: 5 programs trying to bounce back this season
Bad breaks and unexpected events can cause a college basketball season to slip away from even the most established program.
Injury, illness, inexperience or any combination of the three leads to inconsistent play, and just like that, a team plummets to the bottom of the conference standings or otherwise unfamiliar territory.
These five programs endured an uncharacteristically poor season in 2015-16. For these teams, bouncing back this season will be top priority, beginning Nov. 11.
Ohio State (21-14)
Many programs celebrate similar seasons like the one the Buckeyes experienced a year ago. Not the case in Columbus where the victory total was Ohio State’s lowest since a 20-12 mark in 2004-05 and snapped a streak of seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Erratic offense plagued Ohio St. and youth was a factor. Brighter days should be ahead for coach Thad Matta’s crew though. They return their four leading scorers and 6-5 point guard JaQuan Lyle (11.2 ppg) will benefit from a season running the team at point guard. He must shoot better than 29 percent from beyond-the-arc and make better decisions with the ball. The Buckeyes were 10th in the Big Ten in turnover rate.
Apathetic defense ruined a sharp balanced offense for the Bruins last season, which was coach Steve Alford’s third in Westwood. UCLA allowed 76.7 points per game and vanished in the final month, winning twice after Jan. 30 and closing the year on a five-game skid to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
Leading scorers Isaac Hamilton (16.8 ppg) and Bryce Alford (16.1 ppg) form a veteran backcourt and freshman point guard Lonzo Ball is expected to improve the Bruins’ playmaking.
T.J. Leaf, a 6-10 freshman, should help solidify the frontcourt and improve the Bruins defensive rebounding.
N.C. State (16-17)
Mark Gottfried opened his tenure in Raleigh with four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, putting him on an exclusive list of ACC coaches who have enjoyed similar early season success.
Last season figured to be a rebuilding one from the outset, but the Wolfpack suffered a mighty blow on opening night when starting shooting guard Terry Henderson was lost for the season with a foot injury.
Henderson is healthy and should team with dynamic freshman point guard Dennis Smith to form a hard-to-guard backcourt.
Veteran post player Abdul Malik Abu (12.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) anchors the frontcourt, and Beejay Anya can provide shotblocking and rebounding.
Gottfried’s teams have never been known for elite defense. Still, the Pack must do better than allowing an unseemly 1.08 points per possession if it expects to crack the upper tier of the powerful ACC.
What coach Tommy Amaker has done for the Crimson basketball program is nothing short of amazing. Entering last season, Harvard had made four straight NCAAs, had six straight 20-win seasons and ripped off 59 Ivy League wins in five seasons.
Last September, however, point guard Siyani Chambers, a three-year All-Ivy selection, tore his ACL and his absence was felt throughout the season. Harvard committed turnovers on 21.5 percent of possessions (335th in the nation) and ranked 277th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Chambers returns this season. Zena Edmsomwan, a 6-9 senior, provides an inside presence (13.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and Harvard should contend for the Ivy crown once again.
Murray State (17-14)
Talk about tough shoes to fill.
Matt McMahon, one of the younger coaches in DI, followed Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M) and Steve Prohm (Iowa St.) who built the Racers into the premier program in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Murray St. averaged 26 wins in the six seasons prior to last season and had eclipsed the 29-win mark three times.
Injuries and other roster defections crippled the Racers a year ago, and they couldn’t stop opponents in the paint, allowing 51 percent on 2-point field goal tries.
Murray St. added a host of newcomers to this year’s roster and aims to make its mark in the OVC race.