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5 CBB teams that should be vastly improved in 2017-18

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger instructs his team in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/AP photo

Which teams struggled last year in college basketball but should be mightily improved during the 2017-18 season? Check out our list below. In no particular order …

Oklahoma: An 11-20 season after an appearance in the Final Four was a major disappointment for Lon Kruger and the Sooners, but things in Norman shouldn’t stay down for long.

Oklahoma lost seven Big 12 games last season by eight points or less and returns seven of its top eight scorers while adding 5-star point guard Trae Young, who passed on offers from Kentucky and Kansas to stay close to home.

With Young and Kameron McGusty, Kruger should have a backcourt that’s more than capable of combining for 35-40 points each time it takes the floor.

Add quality role players like Christian James, Rashard Odomes, Jamuni McNeace and Jordan Shepherd — who all got valuable experience last season — and this team has a legitimate chance to return to the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners got some bad news when they had to suspend starting power forward Kristian Doolittle for the fall semester for academic reasons, but don’t be shocked if freshman Brady Manek steps in seamlessly.

Eloquent, mature and confident beyond his years, the skilled Manek is just the type of low maintenance player that an old-school coach like Kruger will love to have under his wing for four years.

Oregon State: Murphy’s Law hit Corvallis hard last season as the Beavers were decimated by injuries en route to a 5-27 campaign that everybody — especially coach Wayne Tinkle — would like to forget.

All-Pac-12 forward Tres Tinkle returns from a wrist injury after playing only six games last season. Joining a returning nucleus of Stephen Thompson and Drew Eubanks, the three players were a part of this program’s run to the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Freshman Ethan Thompson — the brother of Stephen Thompson — was a top-50 recruit out of high school and should be an immediate starter while Jaquori McLaughlin and Kendal Manuel are back after getting major minutes last season as freshmen.

Add UMass grad transfer Seth Berger and Wayne Tinkle should finally have a roster again that looks like it belongs in the Pac-12.

This writer isn’t ready to say that Oregon State is going to be called on Selection Sunday, but Tres Tinkle’s return and Ethan Thompson’s arrival combined with one of college basketball’s most underrated coaching staffs ensures that the Beavers won’t again be in the basement of their conference during the upcoming season.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels only won 11 games last season in Marvin Menzies’ first year as head coach of UNLV, but plenty of reinforcements are on the way.

Brandon McCoy, a 5-star big man, headlines a crop of several newcomers that also includes Shakur Juiston — the top junior-college prospect in the country — as well as Milwaukee transfer Jordan Johnson.

The 5-foot-11 Johnson should have an excellent chance to lead the Mountain West in assists next season after averaging 8.1 dimes two years ago at Milwaukee while Juiston gives Menzies another quality scoring option opposite Jovan Mooring (12.6 points).

If McCoy can be a presence at the rim on both sides of the floor that many expect, then the Runnin’ Rebels have a legitimate chance to be one of the top teams in the Mountain West next season.

Saint Joseph’s: Phil Martelli had four players — Shavar Newkirk (ACL), Lamarr Kimble (foot), Pierfrancesco Oliva (knee) and Lorenzo Edwards (shoulder) — suffer season-ending injuries last season, which was the primary reason this program finished with an 11-20 record.

What’s in store for the Hawks if all these guys are back healthy? A legitimate chance to go to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

Newkirk and Kimble will instantly be one of the Atlantic 10’s best backcourts if they’re fully healthy, and Nick Robinson and Chris Clover proved last season that they can be capable backups.

James Demery, a 6-6 wing, is a proven commodity as a defender, and many people inside Saint Joseph’s program believe that sophomore Charlie Brown is destined to be the next great star on Hawk Hill.

The versatile Brown averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds last season as a freshman but never was blessed will a full supporting cast that would have alleviated some of the pressure he faced.

Brown’s numbers are nearly identical to what DeAndre Bembry produced when he was a freshman during the 2013-14 season. The difference is Bembry played with Langston Galloway, Ron Roberts and Halil Kanacevic — three guys who dragged this team to an Atlantic 10 Tournament title.

If Brown gets a capable supporting cast (keep an eye on freshmen Anthony Longpre and Taylor Funk) and this team can stay healthy, Martelli may have the second-best team in his league behind Rhode Island.

Manhattan: The Jaspers’ 10-22 record a year ago came with a major asterisk as All-MAAC wing Rich Williams missed the entire season due to injury.

The 6-5 Williams averaged 14.8 points and 6.0 rebounds two years ago and now gives coach Steve Masiello another all-conference caliber player to go with two other players — Zavier Turner and Zane Waterman — who averaged in double-figures last season.

Manhattan also returned five other players who averaged 10.0 minutes or more a year ago and adds a deep freshman class that should allow Masiello to play the type of breakneck style that allowed this program to win back-to-back MAAC titles in 2014 and 2015.

With the conference in transition after mass departures at both Monmouth and Siena, don’t be shocked if the Jaspers emerge as the No. 1 contender to Iona during the 2017-18 season.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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