College basketball: How are teams with departed All-Americans replacing their stars?

Check out which college basketball All-Americans left this offseason and what the impacted teams have as replacement options.

It’s far too early to know who will make the All-America list this year, but for college basketball teams that are dealing with replacing athletes from last year’s list, it’s never too early to start planning for the new reality.

Out of the 11 players who were unanimous All-Americans, only three are returning to college basketball in 2021-22: Drew Timme of Gonzaga, Kofi Cockburn of Illinois and Hunter Dickinson of Michigan. Those three will be looked at as potential All-Americans again, but that leaves plenty of spots open for new faces from new places.

More importantly, all those departures leave gaping holes in the rosters of some of the best college basketball teams in America. So, how is everyone coping with their loss?

PODCAST: Hope & Rauf — Transfer Recap
College basketball coaching changes for 2021-22
SUBSCRIBE to Heat Check CBB Premium for exclusive content!

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Departed All-Americans: Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs

The replacement plan: Among the six college basketball programs who need to replace All-American talent, the Zags have the tallest task in front of them, as the only school with two departed players from the AA list. Thankfully the Zags’ third All-American, second-teamer Drew Timme, is back in Spokane. Still, Mark Few’s replacement plan needs to account for losing Suggs as the lead guard and Kispert as a deadly shooter who logged serious minutes at the 4 for Gonzaga.

So, let’s look at each replacement plan separately. With Suggs gone, the floor general role shifts squarely onto the shoulders of Andrew Nembhard. The former Florida guard was as good as advertised in his first season in Spokane, but does he have the swagger and clutch ability that Suggs possessed?

As for new faces, Mark Few brought in former Penn State and Iowa State guard Rasir Bolton, who should see considerable minutes in the backcourt, while freshman Nolan Hickman will also try to make their respective marks on the program. Don’t expect him to have the same kind of freshman season that Suggs just had for Gonzaga, but do keep an eye on how he develops in his first season under Few.

Replacing Kispert will be a bit more of a patchwork job. There is not a clear 1:1 replacement on the roster — that is, there’s not another Corey Kispert just sitting around collecting dust in the Kennel. That said, top incoming freshman Chet Holmgren will be asked to fill those a lot of those frontcourt minutes, with Anton Watson also picking up some of that slack.

Neither player will easily replace the three-point shooting that Kispert provided, but their combined skills on both ends of the floor should keep the Zags from experiencing too much drop-off. While players like Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris will also see increased minutes, their contributions will be needed to fill the hole left behind by Joel Ayayi. That said, Strawther does provide good size on the wing, as Kispert did, while Harris should help supplement the team’s three-point shooting.

Baylor Bears

Departed All-American: Jared Butler

The replacement plan: While Davion Mitchell may have stolen some of the spotlight at the end of the season — and was named on some, but not all, college basketball All-America lists — Butler was the face of the Bears’ championship team, their leading scorer, and a unanimous All-American. Now, with MaCio Teague also gone, Scott Drew must replace every starting backcourt player in his three-guard lineup.

To do so, Drew can draw from his existing roster for some production. Junior guard Adam Flager is a near-lock to start after coming off the bench in all 28 appearances last season. Over the course of the title run, Flagler averaged 9.1 points, shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc on over 100 attempts, and played nearly 23 minutes per game. LJ Cryer only saw 10 minutes per game as a freshman, but he still managed to get his shots up and hit 36.4 percent from deep. Highly touted freshman Kendall Brown and rising senior Matthew Mayer will ostensibly also take on larger roles in the offense, too.

Of course, the topic at hand is replacing Jared Butler. The man who will try is new point guard James Akinjo, who comes to Baylor from Arizona via Georgetown and, after receiving a waiver earlier this summer, he will be eligible to play right away for Scott Drew. In the two full seasons he has played, Akinjo took home the 2019 Big East Rookie of the Year Award and then was named to the All-Pac 12 first team in 2021.

What really excites folks about Akinjo is his skill in running the offense. Last year with Arizona, he was one of just five players in college basketball to post a usage rate over 20 percent, an assist rate over 31 percent and a turnover rate under 16 percent. He was joined on that list by Texas’ Marcus Carr (who played at Minnesota last season), SMU’s Kendric Davis, TCU’s Shahada Wells and — somewhat surprisingly — seven-footer Neal Quinn from Lafayette.

With Akinjo, Flagler, Brown, Mayer, Cryer, and more helping out, the Bears should have plenty of options to help fill the cavernous void left behind by Teague, Mitchell, and most of all, Jared Butler.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Departed All-American: Luka Garza

The replacement plan: While Gonzaga and Baylor are both trying to replace multiple All-American vote-getters, the Hawkeyes only had one leave — but that one player just so happens to be last season’s National Player of the Year. Luka Garza put together an incredible run at Iowa, but now Fran McCaffery will need a new answer in the post.

At first, it seemed reasonable that Jack Nunge would slide into the space left behind by Garza. While he played just 16 minutes per game last season in 22 appearances, Nunge also had his most productive campaign in Iowa City. After missing most of the previous two seasons due to injury, the 6-11 big man finished with averages of 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. That said, after four years at the University of Iowa, Nunge will head to Xavier as a graduate transfer.

So, where does that leave Iowa?

A few weeks after losing Garza and Nunge, the Hawkeyes landed their new big man when former North Dakota star Filip Rebrača announced he was transferring in. The son of NBA journeyman Željko Rebrača, Filip improved in each of his three seasons playing in Grand Forks. He was named to the All-Summit second team last year, thanks to averages of 16.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per game. He may not be the best defender (107.7 DRtg last year), but that didn’t stop Garza from excelling at Iowa.

Rebrača won’t be completely alone in replacing Garza’s production, either. Promising forward Keegan Murray is poised for a breakout this year, according to our Jamie Shaw. Still, the Hawkeyes are going to feel the pangs of separation when they take the floor without Garza to start the 2021-22 college basketball season.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Departed All-American: Ayo Dosunmu

The replacement plan: The Illini narrowly avoided having to replace two All-Americans when star big man Kofi Cockburn announced that he would be returning to campus for another year. Still, the task of replacing a player like Ayo Dosunmu is a tall one. Dosunmu, who will not be far away after being drafted by the Chicago Bulls last month, was one of the best players that Illinois has had this century.

Thankfully for head coach Brad Underwood, his replacement is already in the building. Rising sophomore Andre Curbelo has the potential to be a star in his own right, and the Illini faithful are confident that he’ll have no problem running the show in Dosunmu’s stead. Playing 21.5 minutes per game in 31 appearances off the bench, Curbelo put up 9.1 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. His three-point shooting was atrocious (16.1 percent on 31 attempts) but he shot 55.3 percent from inside the arc, thanks to a deft finishing touch that our Lukas Harkins recently explored. His skills don’t stop there, either.



“Dre’s an elite ball-screen player,” Underwood said of Curbelo on Jon Rothstein’s College Hoops Today podcast. “There’s no right way to defend him.”

If the Puerto Rican point guard can fill Ayo’s sneakers from the opening tip this year, then Illinois should be a mainstay in the Top 25 all year long. The one-tow punch of Cockburn and Curbelo has the potential to make for plenty of highlight-reel plays. Assuming everything goes to plan, the Illini will likely be in the mix for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, though another No. 1 seed feels like a bit of a reach.

Oklahoma State

Departed All-American: Cade Cunningham

The replacement plan: The No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham played just one season in Stillwater but made himself a college basketball legend at Gallagher-Iba. His freshman campaign was cut short when the No. 5-seeded Cowboys became casualties of Oregon State’s incredible run to the Elite Eight back in March. Despite the loss of Cunningham, the Cowboys are poised to be just as good — if not better — in the 2021-22 season.

The addition of Memphis transfer Moussa Cisse gives Oklahoma State a defensive monster in the paint, but the pairing of returners Avery Anderson III and Isaac Likekele will fill much of the void left behind by Cade Cunningham.

Anderson appeared in 27 games total last year, working his way into Mike Boynton’s starting five after just four games. He scored 12.2 points per game on a decent shooting split of .475/.328/.839. The three-point shooting still has a way to go, but keep in mind that Anderson hit just two of his 26 attempts (7.7 percent) as a freshman. He also greatly reduced his turnover percentage, going from a ghastly 27 percent in 2020-21 to a more palatable 19.5 last year. That development is extremely encouraging and positions him well for the bigger role he will have this season.

As for Likekele, the man called “Ice” took a bit of a backseat last year once Cunningham and his immense following descended upon OSU campus. After scoring 10.9 points per game, posting a usage rate of 21.2 percent and hoisting 8.5 shots per game in 2019-20, last season those numbers dropped to 9.1, 15.6, and 7.0, respectively. In his final season, expect Likekele to make his way back into the limelight. While he may not have been as prolific as he once was, Likekele had the highest field-goal percentage of his career (.482) in 2020-21. His free throw numbers are concerning, as he hit just 57 percent from the stripe last year, but there is good reason to believe that Likekele and Anderson are both extremely capable of filling the void here.

Other players such as Rondel Walker, Bryce Williams and Bryce Thompson will also factor into the Cowboy backcourt. So will 6-7 Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, according to Jon Rothstein, who reported that Boynton told him that Moncrieffe would play some point guard this season.

USC Trojans

Departed All-American: Evan Mobley

The replacement plan: People forget that before Evan got to USC, Isaiah Mobley was already manning the paint well for the Trojans. Still, when a player has the kind of season that Evan Mobley had last year — which earned him the No. 3 overall selection in the NBA Draft — it tends to steal the spotlight away from players. Apparently, even when it’s your own brother. USC made it to the Elite Eight with both Mobleys in tow, but can they get back with just one?

For his part, Isaiah Mobley showed good development last year, starting in every game for the Trojans and improving in most of his statistical categories. While his sub-.500 shooting on the interior is not ideal, he became more of a deep-ball threat in 2020-21, knocking down 17 of 39 attempts (43.6 percent). The elder Mobley also finished with the seventh-most blocks in the Pac-12.

Former four-star recruit Max Agbonkpolo could also blossom now that guys like Evan Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu aren’t blocking his path to regular playing time. Agbonkpolo played 16 minutes per game last year, primarily off the bench, but has failed to make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Chevez Goodwin will also be back and should see a bigger role in the USC frontcourt. Goodwin started all 35 games for Wofford in the season prior to joining the Trojans and came off the bench for the 2018 Terriers NCAA Tournament team that beat Seton Hall and gave Kentucky a real scare.

Also pitching in will be three-star freshman Harrison Hornery. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward is a product of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. Hornery appears to finish well around the rim and has some touch from outside, though it remains to be seen just how much runway Andy Enfield will give him as a freshman.

Houston Cougars

Departed All-American: Quentin Grimes

The replacement plan: Grimes rounds out our list of departures as a unanimous third-team All-American last year, having made the list after helping the Cougars to the Final Four. Kelvin Sampson is also tasked with replacing production from point guard DeJon Jarreau and forwards Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham. Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards will probably be asked to fill Jarreau’s role, while Reggie Chaney and UConn transfer Josh Carlton step into the frontcourt.

The most obvious candidate to take over Grimes’ lead scoring role on the team is junior guard Marcus Sasser. One of the streakiest shooters in the country, Sasser shot just 33.5 percent from beyond the arc last year in a massive volume operation (233 attempts). When he was on, though, there are few players as electrifying as Sasser. Consider this: In the NCAA Tournament last year, Sasser shot a combined 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) from deep through the first three rounds and then followed it up by going 10-for-22 (44.5 percent) in the Elite Eight and Final Four. Houston will hope he can find more consistency in 2021-22.

Sasser was already in the starting lineup, though, so expect 6-5 sophomore Tramon Mark to take Grimes’ spot on the wings. Mark made just four starts as a freshman, but he averaged over 20 minutes per game and was also one of only two Cougars to appear in all 32 games. Mark is not a deep threat (26 percent on 73 attempts in 2020-21) but his 76.5 clip from the free throw line bodes well for potential improvement in that area.

Sampson also brings in Taze Moore from Cal State Bakersfield. Moore scored 12.2 points per game, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists last season on his way to an All-Big West first-team nod. The year prior, before the Roadrunners switched leagues, Moore was a member of All-WAC Defense team. He has finished in the top ten of his conference’s leaderboard for steals in each of the past three seasons.

Kelvin Sampson’s replacement plan seems to be well planned out, which is why Heat Check has the Cougars as a clear preseason Top 25 team. This team may not have the same Final Four potential as last year’s squad — and AAC foe Memphis is looking as strong as ever with the additions of Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, as our Brian Rauf discussed — but Houston will still be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming college basketball season.



Categories: Words

Tags: , , , ,