Friday October 10th, 2014

Everyone knew coming into last season that Creighton would lean heavily on Doug McDermott. He was clearly the Blue Jays’ top player and delivered on that status by averaging a nation-high 26.7 points and leading them to a 27-8 regular season record. Which teams enter this season needing to rely on one player? Here are 10:

Oklahoma State – Le’Bryan Nash

Replacing Marcus Smart – a first-round pick to the Boston Celtics in this year’s NBA draft – would be an immense task in itself. But the Cowboys must also try to replace second-round draft pick Markel Brown and transfers Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams and Gary Gaskins. (The Cowboys also released four-star guard Jared Terrell from his letter of intent). The turnover won’t help Oklahoma State compete in the Big 12, but it does present an opportunity for Nash to live up to his billing as a top-10 recruit in 2011. The Cowboys will need consistent scoring from the 6-foot-7 wing to prevent a total bottoming out in a rebuilding season.

Nebraska – Terran Petteway

Petteway averaged 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds while recording one of the top-25 usage rates (31.7) in the country to power the Huskers to their first NCAA tournament birth since 1998. Nebraska didn’t lose many players from last season’s roster – it returns all but one player (Ray Gallegos) who logged at least 40 percent of available minutes  – which sets up Petteway to shoulder another large workload. The good news for the Huskers is Petteway has already proven he can handle that responsibility, if at a less efficient rate (102.4 offensive rating) than is ideal for a lead scorer. The difference this season is that he won’t catch anybody off guard.

Stanford – Chasson Randle

College Basketball
Summer School: Stanford, Dawkins hope to build on Sweet 16 run

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins entered last season amid speculation that he was coaching for his job. The focus this season is whether Stanford can reach the NCAAs again and play itself into the conversation for “best non-Arizona Pac-12 team.” The arrival of heralded freshman Reid Travis will help, but Stanford’s biggest source of optimism is rooted in Randle, who returns this season after averaging a team-high 18.8 points per game and helping the Cardinal upset No. 2 seed Kansas in the round of 32. The loss of forwards Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis shouldn’t be overlooked, but Randle’s scoring should help prevent significant regression.

Kansas State – Marcus Foster

You can be forgiven for failing to take full account for Foster’s emergence last season. The Wildcats’ brand of basketball wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as, say, Iowa State’s or Kansas’s. But following a season in which Foster hoisted 31.3 percent of Kansas State’s shots during his floor time, don’t be surprised if Bruce Weber hands him the reins on offense again. Whether Foster can become more efficient (105.6 offensive rating) with the larger share of scoring opportunities likely coming his way remains to be seen. Kansas State will need Foster to carry an offense that ranked eighth in the Big 12 in points scored per possession during conference play.

Louisville – Montrezl Harrell

When Harrell decided to return to Louisville for his junior season instead of becoming a first-round draft pick, he said he made “so many pro and con lists it’s not funny,” according to The Courier-Journal in Louisville. It stands to reason that one of the pros was the opportunity to submit another all-conference season, only this time in the ACC. The Cardinals have lots of talent to complement Harrell, but he figures to serve both as an offensive focal point – even with Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, among others, contributing – and an anchor on the offensive and defensive glass.

Ryan Boatright looks to become the next great UConn senior guard.
Ronald Martinez/Getty

UConn – Ryan Boatright

Boatright may not be asked to score as much in his senior season as previous UConn point guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier did in their final college campaigns if N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis and incoming freshman Daniel Hamilton can produce at a high level. Still, the Huskies will bank on Boatright’s playmaking and disruptive perimeter defense to power their title repeat run. The loss of DeAndre Daniels to the NBA only places more responsibility on Boatright, but his performance last season suggests he may be able to make another leap this year, without Napier. If Boatright pushes UConn into the national title discussion, be prepared for an overload of comparative UConn point guard analyses.

Oregon – Joseph Young

The Ducks will enter 2014-15 having endured a turbulent offseason that included the dismissal of three players following sexual assault allegations, the reported arrest of two players for shoplifting and two recruits not enrolling at the school. Given the state of its roster, the strategy for Oregon this season should be to put the ball in Young’s hands as frequently as possible. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 18.9 points and posted a 128.6 offensive rating (a top-25 rate nationally) while finishing 24.1 percent of his team’s possessions last season. Young also came close to pushing (29 points on 10-of-19 shooting) the Ducks past Final Four participant Wisconsin in the round of 32.

Iowa State – Georges Niang

College Basketball
Iowa State's Georges Niang shaves weight to make gains on court

Consider the consequences of Niang breaking his foot in the Cyclones’ tourney-opening win over North Carolina Central. Without the 6-foot-8 forward, Iowa State fell five points short of knocking off eventual National Champion UConn in the Sweet 16. Had Niang been healthy, would the Cyclones have won? It’s a fun hypothetical to contemplate. Looking to this season, Niang is back, and he looks poised to build on a solid sophomore campaign in which his scoring and distribution helped propel the Cyclones to their best record since 1999-2000. With DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim gone, the Cyclones will need more from Niang, which shouldn’t be an issue after he transformed his body in the offseason.

Notre Dame – Jerian Grant

Another hypothetical to ponder: How would the Irish have fared with Grant available in 2014? The senior guard played only 12 games before being lost for the season due to an academic issue. In that small sample, though, Grant put up star-caliber numbers, including 19 points per game, a 6.29 Pure Point Rating and a 132.3 offensive rating on 25.3 percent usage. Remove the hypothetical tag from the above question, and it seems even more relevant when applied to this season after Notre Dame lost two of its top four scorers and its assist leader. “I feel like I have unfinished business here,” Grant said recently.

HAMILTON: Grant returns to make Notre Dame relevant again

West Virginia – Juwan Staten

Staten was named the Big 12’s Preseason Player of the Year by coaches after an impressive sophomore season that went largely unnoticed because West Virginia won only 17 games and failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers could earn a bid this season if Staten improves upon last season. That’s won’t be easy, of course, but Staten proved his worth in 2013-14 by averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and assisting on 32.4 percent of the Mountaineers’ field goals while he was on the floor, one of the top-50 marks in the country.

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