Summer is the season of optimism in college basketball. And as the weather gets chillier and official practices begin, everyone tends to feel great about their team when they haven’t lost a game yet. But realistically, not everyone can have a better season than last year. Which teams will struggle to replicate their recent success? Whether due to a coaching change or losing top talent, these five teams shouldn’t expect a repeat of 2021–22 when the new season tips off in November.
Don’t expect a massive dropoff from the Tigers. After all, they still have one of the best coaches in college basketball in Bruce Pearl roaming the sidelines—and lots of talent. But replacing what was likely the most talented frontcourt in the country last year in Jabari Smith Jr. and Walker Kessler should present some bumps in the road for Auburn.
Smith and Kessler were both incredibly polished and low-maintenance players: Kessler blocked shots at an elite level; Smith was one of the sport’s best shotmakers. As a whole, the duo covered for erratic play from the Tigers’ backcourt and helped Auburn to an SEC title and No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. While top recruit Yohan Traore and highly touted transfer Johni Broome (Morehead State) should help fill the void, there’s still considerable pressure on the likes of K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. to be more consistent this season. That’s why while I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team still in the top-25 mix, you shouldn’t expect the Tigers to repeat in the SEC.
The Badgers were one of the bigger surprises in the country last season, riding the emergence of Johnny Davis to a share of the Big Ten title and a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. There should be some regression to come, though, now that Davis departs for the pros.
Simply put, Wisconsin’s roster doesn’t have another guy close to Davis in terms of the ability to create offense. We can expect a jump from sophomore point guard Chucky Hepburn, whose toughness and smarts stood out as a freshman, but a Davis-like jump from freshman to sophomore year isn’t realistic. Meanwhile, transfers Max Klesmit (Wofford) and Kamari McGee (Green Bay) profile more as role players than high-level starters in the Big Ten.
The Badgers are experienced up front, disciplined and well coached. That should be enough to keep them in the NCAA tournament picture. But even in a wide-open Big Ten, it’s hard to see Wisconsin contending for a conference title again.
Steve Forbes did an unbelievable job in his second year at Wake, using the transfer portal masterly to build a roster that was in NCAA tournament contention until Selection Sunday. But replicating that success without ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams and first-round NBA pick Jake LaRavia won’t be easy.
No one would have expected Forbes and the Demon Deacons to get the amount of mileage he got from Williams and LaRavia last year, and perhaps he has found some gems in the portal once again. Marist transfer Jao Ituka was one of the highest-scoring freshmen in the country last season, and Delaware transfer Andrew Carr was a key piece on an NCAA tournament team. But neither profiles as an all-conference-level piece on the high-major stage, and replacing the production of Williams and LaRavia is a massive task.
It’s easy to believe in Forbes getting things going at Wake Forest, especially after last season’s surprising success. But a step back appears to be in order for 2022–23.
It might be a while before someone is able to replicate what Todd Golden and the Dons accomplished in 2021–22, earning an at-large bid for the program’s first trip to the Big Dance since 1998. There’s a reason Golden was able to parlay that success into the head job at Florida: Earning an at-large at any WCC school not named Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s or BYU has been essentially impossible over the last two decades.
While Chris Gerlufsen has so far kept the program on the right track and landed talented guards Marcus Williams (Texas A&M) and Tyrell Roberts (Washington State) from the transfer portal this spring, getting back to the Dance will be very difficult. Finishing in the top 25 of KenPom at a place with San Francisco’s resources was simply unbelievable, and with Golden and star point guard Jamaree Bouyea moving on, replicating that success won’t be easy.
Considering how things could have gone after the mass exodus from Baton Rouge this offseason, the LSU program actually appears to be in excellent shape. Still, expect regression this year in the first season of the Matt McMahon era as the program rebuilds following Will Wade’s dismissal. Wade, legally or not, was a master recruiter and brought incredible amounts of talent to the program in his time as coach. Look no further than the programs where the Tigers’ top players transferred to as evidence of that. Getting the roster back to that level of talent will take some time for McMahon, who won big at Murray State.
The Tigers brought in pieces through virtually every avenue this offseason to build a roster that, if it jells, could contend for a postseason berth. But between potential chemistry questions and the open question of whether the Tigers could face a postseason ban, this has the feel of a transition year in Baton Rouge.
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