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Wisconsin basketball not alone in sustaining big offseason losses

Some of the most successful teams of the 2014-15 season, including Wisconsin, have a lot of production to replace next year. Most programs will attack the process in different ways.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

One bittersweet memory from Wisconsin's postseason run was the acceptance with each passing victory that the Sam Dekker era was quickly coming to an end. Not only was his Wisconsin career ending, but also those of an outstanding class of seniors -- Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan. In total, the Badgers said goodbye to five of the top seven players from their Big Ten championship squad.

After the Badgers' first trip to the Final Four, I felt like a kid who just rode his first roller coaster and couldn't wait to get back in line to take another ride. A year later, it's as if I've walked away from another fantastic ride, only now feeling a little queasy.

It's a nervous stomach fueled by uncertainty. Several weeks ago, we gazed in to our crystal ball to predict how different UW's starting lineup would look next season. While it's easy to lament the departures, Wisconsin is just one of several powerhouse programs staring at a reloading process.

Based on percentage of minutes played (%Min), seven teams in the final USA Today Coaches Poll's Top 10[1] are losing three of their top four producers. Two of those were dismissals that came midway through last season, giving those teams a head start on replacement strategies, but there was also a host of early entries across the board.

Approaches to regrouping differ by program. Most top teams have no problem reloading from year to year. Wisconsin has placed itself in that category. However, some national powers have evolved further. They no longer reload, they simply buy a brand new gun -- aka recruiting a full lineup of "one-and-done" freshmen. Duke's successful adaptation to the strategy (popularized by the amazing recruiting hauls at Kentucky) was already discussed ad nauseam this spring. It appears Mike Krzyzewski has out-Kentuckied John Calipari once again with his 2015 class.

Besides Duke, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, Arizona, Gonzaga, Louisville and Villanova find themselves in similar positions. (Click each team name to view a projected depth chart for next season.)

Arizona Wildcats

Rebuild approach: "Every which way but lose"

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 4 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 10
Losing (-4): Top 4 performers (PG, SF, SF, PF)
Includes 3 early entries
Freshman class (+4): ***** SG Allonzo Trier, ***** SF Ray Smith, **** PG Justin Simon, **** PF/C Chance Comanche
Eligible redshirts (+2): PF Ryan Anderson, SG Kadeem Allen
Grad transfers (+1): PF Mark Tollefsen

Sean Miller is losing players of every position and seniority from last year's Elite 8 squad so it's only right that he's plugging holes any way he can. That's not to say the new faces aren't talented either. Combine a fourth-ranked freshman class full of four- and five-star players with the returning core of veterans led by rising seniors Kaleb Tarzewski and Gabe York at center and guard, respectively and Miller has reason to be optimistic. But it doesn't stop there. You have to also add two previous transfers that are available to play after redshirt seasons. Bruising power forward Ryan Anderson is a California native (formerly of Boston College) who sat out after shoulder surgery and will play his senior season in the desert. JUCO combo guard Kadeem Allen is also expected to play a big role. Graduate transfer Mark Tollefsen from San Francisco is just the cherry on top as a dangerous stretch-4.

Duke Blue Devils

Rebuild approach: Buy a new gun

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 1 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 7
Losing (-5): Top 4 performers, 5 of top 7 overall (PG, G, SG, PF, C)
Includes 3 early entries
Rasheed Sulaimon dismissed in Jan. '15
Freshman class (+4): ***** PG Derryck Thorton, ***** G Luke Kennard, ***** SF Brandon Ingram, ***** PF Chase Jeter
*** PF Justin Robinson & *** PF Antonio Vrankovic are walk-ons
Eligible redshirts (+1): PF Sean Obi
Grad transfers: None

Duke is the new Kentucky. Again. The defending national champs reeled in four more five-star talents this cycle to remain on the top rung of the recruiting world. Plus, the Blue Devil walk-ons aren't average either (try the son of The Admiral, David Robinson, for one). Those elite recruits will likely lock up a number of starting spots ahead of returnees Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and yes, even Grayson Allen. Getting Derryck Thornton to reclassify up to the class of 2015 was huge for Coach K after losing Tyus Jones to the NBA. Sean Obi is a wide-body who nearly averaged a double-double at Rice as a freshman. He should be a great compliment to the slender Jefferson, Plumlee and Chase Jeter up front this winter.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Rebuild approach: Program development

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 6 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 21
Losing (-4): 3 of top 4 performers, 4 of top 9 overall (PG, G, SG, PF)
Includes 1 "early" graduate transfer
Freshman class (+1): **** PG Jesse Wade
Eligible redshirts (+3): PG Josh Perkins, G Bryan Alberts, C Ryan Edwards
Grad transfers: None (sophomore PG Nigel Williams-Goss will sit out a year after transferring from Washington)

Mark Few's Bulldogs had limited success in the spring transfer market, but luckily lose the least of any team on this list on paper. They return one of the most formidable frontcourts in the nation behind Kyle Wiljter, burly Przemek Karnowski and now sophomore Domantas Sabonis. But like Wisconsin, Gonzaga will miss several important seniors from the top of the rotation. The backcourt will be completely rebuilt from within by previous redshirts. Josh Perkins -- last year's prized point guard recruit -- broke his face, which prematurely ended his debut season. He's applied for a medical redshirt. Fresh face Jesse Wade joins him from the 2015 class, as does redshirt freshman combo guard Bryan Alberts. Silas Melson was all set to redshirt last year as well, until Perkins' injury forced him to play spot minutes. He and former transfer Eric McClellan will likely fight for the off-guard minutes alongside another former redshirt Kyle Dranginis. One last redshirt, sophomore Ryan Edwards, is eligible to provide backup minutes at center.

Kentucky Wildcats

Rebuild approach: Reload

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 3 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 5
Losing (-7): 7 of top 8 performers (PG, SG, SF, PF, PF, C, C)
All are early entries
Freshman class (+3): ***** C Skal Labissiere, ***** PG Isaiah Briscoe, **** SG Charles Matthews
Eligible redshirts: None
JUCO transfers (+1): *** SG Mychal Mulder

The Wildcats will rely heavily on its freshmen yet again, especially at pivot where Skal Labissiere becomes the fifth No. 1-ranked recruit in five years to join forces with Calipari. However, with the exception Labissiere, the new blood will have to wait its turn. Isaiah Briscoe won't unseat Tyler Ulis at point guard, but will see the floor early and often. The best player on UK's roster might actually be a senior, too. Alex Poythress is an explosive 6'8 forward who missed all but eight games last season to a torn ACL injury. Together with JUCO transfer Mychal Mulder at shooting guard and an incumbent floor leader, Kentucky's new look won't appear as young as it usually does. Calipari already renounced the platoon system, but really, he didn't have a choice.

Louisville Cardinals

Rebuild approach: Grad transfers

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 10 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 20
Losing (-6): Top 4 performers, 5 of top 8 overall (PG, G, SG, SF, SF, PF)
Includes 2 early entries
Total of 2 transfers (1 from last year's rotation)
Chris Jones dismissed Feb. '15
Freshman class (+4): **** SG Donovan Mitchell; **** PF Raymond Spalding, **** SF Deng Adel, *** PG Ryan McMahon
Eligible redshirts: None
Grad transfers (+2): SG Damion Lee, PG Trey Lewis

Louisville suffered through some tough times after dismissing Chris Jones last year, but the Cardinals rallied for a good showing in the NCAA tournament -- a Rick Pitino trademark. But after Terry Rozier and Montrrezl Harrell declared for the NBA early and two other players transferred out, Louisville was on the war path looking for help, particularly at guard. Pitino cash in on the grad transfer market, pulling former Penn State commit and Cleveland State point guard Trey Lewis in addition to perhaps the most desired transfer in the country in Drexel guard Damion Lee. Both players figure to start immediately. The Cards also bring in a typically talented four-man recruiting class that features major talent on the wing. Once again, Pitino appears to have it all, since his team was already well-stocked with centers, but the question will be how he can get all the pieces to gel together.

Villanova Wildcats

Rebuild approach: Program development

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 9 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 8
Losing (-3): 3 of top 4 performers (PG, SF, PF)
Includes 1 "early" graduate transfer
Freshman class (+3): ***** PG Jalen Brunson; **** SG Donte DiVincenzo, *** PF Tim Delaney
Eligible redshirts (+1): SF Mikal Bridges
Grad transfers: None (freshman SF Eric Paschall from Fordham will sit out the season)

Jay Wright hasn't had any player bolt early for the NBA in three years, allowing him to slowly build the 33-3 juggernaut he coached last season. But Villanova graduated two key forwards and lost guard Dylan Ennis as a graduate transfer. With a solid batch of guards returning, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, the big question in Philly will be whether dynamic frosh Jalen Brunson can step right in at point guard. What's one more guard for Jay Wright anyway? Success will likely be determined by how well the Wildcats can rebound up front with a rotation of big men (Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds) that are now all upperclassmen.

Wisconsin Badgers

Rebuild approach: Program development

Final 2014-15 rank: No. 2 Early 2015-16 rank: No. 19
Losing (-5): 3 of top 4 performers, 5 of top 7 overall (PG, SG, SF, PF, C)
Includes 1 early entry
Freshman class (+5): **** SG Brevin Pritzl, *** PF Alex Illikainen, *** SF Khalil Iverson, *** PF Charlie Thomas, NR C Andy van Vliet
Eligible redshirts (+2): PF Ethan Happ, G Jordan Hill
Grad transfers: None

Wisconsin is expecting big things from redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who should have a starting position next to Nigel Hayes wrapped up if he continues to improve over the summer. If one of the freshman bigs impresses early, there is a chance to compete with Vitto Brown for minutes right away. However, Bo Ryan will expect his next in line guys to simply step up as usual. That means Brown, Zak Showalter, Riley Dearring and Jordan Hill, who took a sophomore redshirt last season. The shooting guard spot is wide open as of now since Hill is a total unknown and highest-rated newcomer Brevin Pritzl is a freshman with a great stroke.

It's a a sign of respect that Wisconsin is universally included on early Top 25 lists despite losing two lottery picks and as much overall production as a Duke or Kentucky. As long as Bo Ryan is at the helm, none of us are as nervous as we could be about the Badgers' fortunes. Of course, such early preseason ranks are hardly worth the storage space those bytes occupy. Too much weight is placed on incoming freshmen usually.

Whether expectations are higher, lower or about the same as in the past, watching new players on all of these teams make a name for themselves is what's best about college basketball. I know my nervous stomach in the spring will slowly turn into excitement throughout the summer and fall. It is the uncertainty that makes the journey great.


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