May 23, 2009

On the ropes: Who's had the worst offseason?

When we put together preliminary preseason rankings for the 2009-10 season shortly after the Final Four, Syracuse and USC both showed up in the top 10.

Now, both teams look as if they will struggle to finish in the top half of their respective conferences.

Syracuse and USC aren't the only teams to endure plenty of disappointment since the end of the season. Coaching changes, transfers and early entries into the NBA draft have forced a number of teams to make uncomfortable offseason transitions.

Here's a look at five programs that have experienced particularly troublesome offseasons.

1. USC: The Trojans might have opened the season in the top five if all of their underclassmen had chosen to come back to school. The Trojans instead suffered major losses when DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett decided to enter the draft. Gibson hasn't hired an agent yet, but he is expected to remain in the draft. USC's problems go much deeper than roster turnover. USC could be in hot water with the NCAA after a Yahoo! Sports report that USC coach Tim Floyd made a direct cash payment to Rodney Guillory, who is accused of giving former USC guard O.J. Mayo improper benefits.

2. Memphis: First, the Tigers lost their coach. Then, they lost a recruiting class that would have ranked as the best in the nation. Former Memphis recruits who chose to go elsewhere after John Calipari's decision included Kentucky signee DeMarcus Cousins, Kansas signee Xavier Henry and future Baylor freshman Nolan Dennis. John Wall was leaning toward signing with Memphis until Calipari headed to Kentucky. Darnell Dodson, a four-star forward from Miami-Dade Community College, joined Cousins in switching from Memphis to Kentucky after Calipari's departure. Memphis also must replace star point guard Tyreke Evans, who decided to turn pro after one season with the Tigers. A team that could have been a favorite to capture the national title now might not even open the season as the pick to win Conference USA.

3. Syracuse: Perhaps no team was hurt more by early entries into the NBA draft. Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris decided to turn pro. Devendorf's departure leaves the Orange without one of the Big East's top outside shooters. The Orange also need to find someone to pull down the rebounds and handle the defensive assignments Harris filled the last few seasons. But the loss of Flynn leaves the biggest void. If he had stayed in school, Flynn would have ranked alongside Kansas' Sherron Collins and incoming Kentucky freshman John Wall as the nation's top point guards.

4. Louisville: Earl Clark's decision to enter the NBA draft was anticipated, but it's still going to hurt. Louisville advanced to a regional final mainly because Terrence Williams and Clark gave the Cardinals perhaps the nation's top forward tandem. Now the Cardinals have to replace both. Louisville also suffered a potential long-term blow when 2010 commitment Jeremy Tyler announced he was skipping his senior year of high school and abandoning any idea of a college basketball career to play professionally in Europe. Karen Sypher's indictment on extortion charges against Louisville coach Rick Pitino has created unwanted headlines. That archrival Kentucky hired Calipari and attracted the nation's top recruiting class has made this an even more restless offseason for Louisville.

5. Xavier: The Musketeers already had plenty of experience with heartbreaking coaching changes. Five years ago, Thad Matta left Xavier for Ohio State just a week after declaring he had no interest in the position. Xavier was jilted again this March when Sean Miller left for Arizona only a day after he reportedly turned down a Wildcats offer. The Musketeers replaced Miller by promoting former assistant Chris Mack, a Xavier alum who seems more likely to remain at the school for an extended period. Xavier also might lose one of its top players. Although junior forward Derrick Brown hasn't hired an agent and still could return to school, some mock drafts have him getting taken in the first round.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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