By Kevin Sweeney
Yesterday, I profiled 5 mid-major teams I thought were winners of the offseason. However, not all programs have had a successful offseason. Many have seen key cogs depart and coaches move on to better opportunities, leaving once-optimistic fans already in “wait until next year” mode when this year hasn’t even begun. These programs have been left scrambling for talent at the end of the signing period, and the classes that they form through freshmen and transfers will determine whether this tough offseason will become the start of a long rebuild or a momentary hiccup on the way back to the top of their respective conference.
Everything was going perfectly for the Rice program. Former VCU assistant Mike Rhoades had taken the Owls to a 23-win campaign, and a strong core of talent was expected to return. The tides quickly turned when LSU hired VCU’s Will Wade as its head coach. Rhoades was quickly named the next VCU head coach, and with that departure came with a mass exodus of talent. Egor Koulechov graduated and transferred to Florida, Marcus Evans followed Rhoades to VCU, Marcus Jackson headed to UCSB, and Marquez Letcher-Ellis departed for Nevada. All of the sudden, new head coach Scott Pera was left with a roster lacking talent, and a team that was expected to be right in the thick of things in Conference USA this season is now facing a rebuilding campaign.
Dayton’s inclusion is about timing as much as anything. The departure of Archie Miller to a high-major program seemed imminent for awhile, but having it happen in the offseason in which UD will already be replacing perhaps the greatest senior class in the school’s history is what makes this one hurt. Miller had an excellent freshman class lined up to enter the program, but 2 of these incoming recruits decided explore options. Those 2 players, PG McKinley Wright and scoring wing Nahziah Carter, were expected to play big roles this coming season. Now, the Flyers have huge questions to answer at the point guard position. They’ll hope that freshman Jalen Crutcher, a former Chattanooga commit who was brought in by new head coach Anthony Grant, and returning PG John Crosby can hold down the fort at point guard for the upcoming season. Otherwise, the Flyers won’t achieve the level of success they’ve come to expect over the past few seasons.
Even with an outstanding senior class graduating after the 2016-17 season, Illinois State looked like the favorite in a Wichita State-less MVC when the offseason began. However, with the departures of MiKyle McIntosh and DJ Clayton, the Redbirds are going to have to replace 5 of their top 6 scorers this season. The one saving grace for Dan Muller’s team is that many MVC squads will be “down” this year, so if ISU can get some contributions from the many newcomers on the roster, they should remain in the upper echelon of the Missouri Valley. Still, Redbird fans will rue what could have been if Clayton and McIntosh had remained in Normal.
Mount St. Mary’s
While the entire NEC has been walloped by the transfer epidemic affecting mid-major basketball, “The Mount” was hit hardest of any program. Coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance and having all 5 starters expected to return, optimism was very high. However, star guard Elijah Long left for greener pastures at Texas, freshman talent Miles Wilson is headed to a high-major (considering Auburn and Miami), and center Mawdo Sallah transferred to UNCW.
When Kevin Keatts was hired as the head coach at UNCW, he turned around a program that had struggled mightily over its previous 6 seasons immediately, bringing the Seahawks to a pair of NCAA Tournaments in his 3-year tenure. Now, with Keatts moving on to NC State, the program faces a critical moment. With Keatts departed an outstanding senior class led by Chris Flemmings, as well as CAA Player of the Year candidate CJ Bryce, who is transferring. All incoming players were allowed to explore their options elsewhere as well. While UNCW made a strong hire in longtime North Carolina assistant C.B. McGrath, the Seahawks may be in for a down year.