College Basketball Handicapping: Returning Starters
by Trevor Whenham - 11/17/2009
One of the reliable long-term indicators of betting success early in the college basketball season is the number of returning starters a team has. A team returning all of their starters is going to have an advantage over a team returning two or fewer starters most of the time in the opening weeks of the season before the new starters can get comfortable and settle in. There are obviously exceptions to that rule, but for the most part it is effective. There are about 25 teams in the country that have five starters from last year coming back. Here's a look at 10 of the more interesting teams in that enviable situation:
Kansas- Kansas is different than a lot of teams here because they have five returning starters, but they also have a freshman, Xavier Henry, who may be better than those starters. Kansas has almost as much talent as they had in 2008 when they won it all, and they are a way deeper team this time around. Experience is going to pay off in a big way here.
Ohio State - The Buckeyes are without a top sixth man now that B.J. Mullens has gone pro, but everyone else is back, and they have one of the league's top players in Evan Turner. The weak spot is at point guard - they'd rather not have to rely on a returning starter there. Still, with Purdue losing their point guard for the long term, Ohio State has the deepest and most experienced roster in the league.
Butler - This team won 26 games last year and they return all of their starters, so the Horizon League title is definitely Butler's to lose. Even better, four of those five starters were freshmen or sophomores last year, so we can expect a step forward from them. Butler has been an elite mid-major team for a long time, and that's not going to change now.
Arkansas - After going 12-2 in non-conference play last year, Arkansas won just two of 16 SEC games. The players that are returning will benefit from the experience of that crash to earth, but it remains to be seen if they are good enough to make any meaningful gains. Unlike some teams on this list success will depend more upon the new players than the returners.
Bethune-Cookman - This team is coming off their first winning season in Division I. They were third in the MEAC, and with a young roster that is now more experienced and ready for the grind of the season they could take a step forward from there. This isn't a team that scores a lot, but improved offense and continued defensive strength could see this team playing for a MEAC title.
Western Carolina - This team not only returns all of their starters, but they are an old team - they have five returning seniors and four juniors. They tied for the lead of their weak division in the Southern Conference last year, and expectations are high for them to take a big step forward from that this year. Their depth, experience, and backcourt are enough to make this a real contender now that Davidson doesn't have Stephen Curry.
Tennessee - Last year Bruce Pearl lost all sorts of players and had a team that was too small and lacked shooters, yet they won 21 games, won their division, and lost the conference championship game. The team that earned that unlikely success is entirely back this year. Last year what they did was a surprise. This year an impressive season will be no surprise.
New Mexico State - Times have been tough since Reggie Theus left New Mexico State, but this could be the year that they turn an important corner. The biggest thing this team has going for it is the backcourt, and guards can certainly benefit from extra experience. They were third in the WAC last year with just one returning starter. That conference is wide open this year, so the Aggies could be significantly better this year.
Portland - Gonzaga has finally shown some chinks in their armor, so there has to be some hope for other teams in the WCC. The Pilots return all five starters, and the most upperclassmen in the conference. This team shot like crazy last year - especially from three-point range. Experience won't hurt that. Experience is going to let this team be a real contender - even if Gonzaga turns out to still be Gonzaga.
Oregon - The Ducks were coming off consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, so their 8-23 showing last year was an unmitigated disaster. Now Ernie Kent is fighting for his job, and he needs a big season. I don't like his chances. The core is back, but that's not a big thing when that core clearly wasn't ready for primetime. The Ducks will be better, but it's hard to imagine them being significantly better.
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