The college hoops landscape is one that is constantly shifting. Each year, a new crop of freshmen come in and make an immediate impact. Conversely, with players declaring for the draft early and graduating, many top-tier teams have new holes on their rosters that need to be filled. Here are five freshmen who could end up replacing much of the void left by departures at major programs.
Avery Bradley replacing A.J. Abrams at Texas
The Longhorns are chock full of talent and although they lose their primary scorer A.J. Abrams, incoming recruit Avery Bradley brings more to the table. Whether J'Covan Brown becomes eligible for the Horns remains to be seen, but again, Bradley is the most complete player entering college basketball next season.
Abrams is a more consistent shooter with range, but Bradley has a very tight midrange game and is much better going to the basket. In addition, he is an explosive leaper who can finish above the rim in traffic.
On the other hand, defensively Bradley has few peers. He was arguably the best perimeter defender in high school basketball during his senior campaign. He literally swallows up opponents with his length and exceptional lateral quickness.
Thus, although Abrams has a more prolific touch beyond the stripe, Bradley is entering college basketball with a much more complete game and a tenacity to match.
Alex Oriakhi replacing Hasheem Thabeet at UConn
Jim Calhoun and UConn will retrurn plenty of key contributors from a team that went to the Final Four. The biggest loss that the Huskies will have to deal with is the departure of center Hasheem Thabeet.
Thabeet's No. 1 asset was his ability to make opponents think twice about attacking the lane. He blocked shots on a regular basis and his individual defense was spectacular because of his size and athleticism. Thabeet's shotblocking and athleticism made it very difficult to score inside and helped UConn become one of the nation's top defensive teams.
Alex Oriakhi will provide UConn with some of the same positives. He plays like a center, but in a power forward's body. He will rebound and block shots like Thabeet -- but is six inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter. Oriakhi's strength, toughness, energy and passion on the floor are also factors while this freshman will fair well replacing the Big East Co-Player of the year.
At this point, Oriakhi's defense is ahead of his offense, which is a good problem to have when you are attempting to earn time as a freshman. Offensively, Oriakhi may be slightly ahead of Thabeet skill wise because he does already possess a jump hook with either hand and comfortable shooting range to about 15 feet with time and space. UConn fans shouldn't expect the athleticism of Thabeet, but Oriakhi's production might be very similar to what Thabeet did early in his career.
Dexter Strickland replacing Wayne Ellington at North Carolina
This is an interesting comparison. Their skills sets are very different. Wayne Ellington was a shooter/scorer for the Tar Heels last year. He was their primary shooter and they often put he and Tyler Hansbrough on the same side to try and prevent easy double teaming down low. Strickland is a much better athlete and more of a slasher than Ellington. He will also be much better in transition.
Although Ellington's shooting ability will be missed by the Tar Heels, Strickland is more versatile than the player he's replacing. He also has the ability to possibly move over and play some point guard. Regardless, he is athletic and long enough to be a very good defender in time.
Stickland's biggest weakness is consistency on his jumper. That is a skill we believe he can and will definitely improve upon in college.
North Carolina has more talent back than most people think. Marcus Ginyard could also play a key role on next year's squad. We do not anticipate Strickland being able to replace Ellington's offensively as a freshman, but his explosiveness and athletic ability may make him a better long-term prospect.
Keith Gallon replacing Blake Griffin at Oklahoma
The Sooners will have a tough time replacing the low-post scoring and rebounding of Blake Griffin, the top interior player in college basketball last season as well as the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Oklahoma will look to Keith "Tiny" Gallon to help fill the considerable void left by Griffin's early departure for the NBA.
Griffin and Gallon are very different players. Griffin, for instance, used his impressive combination of explosive athleticism and Herculean strength to dominate the paint. Gallon will depend on his skills and size to make an impact for the Sooners on the court. While Griffin uses his leaping ability to score above the rim in traffic, Gallon has range on his jumper that extends out to the 3-point line, though he may not launch from there on a regular basis for Oklahoma.
Gallon will also depend on his surprisingly high basketball IQ that supplies him with deft passing skills and good basketball awareness. Since he does not possess the explosive athleticism that Griffin has, Gallon will have to continue to improve his conditioning as well as refine his counter moves in the paint to negate his lack of Griffin-like explosion. Luckily for Gallon, the Sooners have other talented inside players such as Andrew Fitzgerald and Kyle Hardrick joining him in Norman next season in addition to electric combo-guard Willie Warren, who decided to return to Oklahoma for another season instead of opting for the NBA draft.
Junior Cadougan replacing Dominic James at Marquette
Marquette loses its entire three-guard backcourt in graduating seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wes Mathews. In order to have a smooth transition, one of the key pieces to the puzzle will be Junior Cadougan trying to pick-up where Dominic James left off.
The Golden Eagles will be trading in a sub-compact in the diminutive 5-10, 165-pound James for a Hummer in 6-2, 220-pound Cadougan. The point guard has been a featured position within Buzz Williams' offense.
James' leadership has been an integral part of the team's success resulting in 94 wins over the past four seasons, but Cadougan does not have James' quickness. However, he has a good basketball IQ and his physical attributes should give Marquette more flexibility to play successfully in a grind-it-out half court battle.
It will be a work in progress for Cadougan to fill James' shoes, but once he learns the nuances of the position at this level, his size and physical presence should provide Marquette with the power point guard they feel they need to compete for championships in the Big East.
Joel Francisco, Antonio Williams, Reggie Rankin, John Stovall and Mike LaPlante contributed to this report.