The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft and maintain college eligibility came and went last night, so now it’s time to go through the draft deadline winners and losers.
1) Louisville – Jordan Nwora’s return makes the Cardinals legitimate Final Four contenders. Chris Mack brings in a terrific freshman class, and Nwora gives them an experienced shooter. Louisville also got talented big man Steven Enoch back. The key is likely at the point guard spot, where Temple transfer Fresh Kimble will slot in. A year after Mack took the job and there was no shortage of uncertainty around the program, there’s now no shortage of optimism.
2) Will Wade, LSU – Let’s begin with the fact that everyone considered him Dead Man Walking a few months back, but now he’s slated to be on the sidelines again for the season-opener. While he won’t have Naz Reid or Tremont Waters, he will bring back Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Javonte Smart and Marlon Taylor. All four put their names in, then withdrew. Oh yeah, Wade also landed a top-25 freshman: Trendon Watford. If Wade can get quality point guard play this year, there’s no reason to believe LSU can’t be a top-25 team.
3) Craig Smith, Utah State – Has anyone had a better year than Craig Smith? He gets the Utah State gig, is expected to finish towards the bottom of the Mountain West and then takes the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament after a regular-season and tourney title. Neemias Queta declared for the draft, but struggled at the NBA combine and opted to return for his sophomore campaign. Now the duo of Sam Merrill and Queta will make Utah State a clear-cut preseason top-25 team.
4) SVP and his Terps – My man Scott Van Pelt is smiling today because Anthony Cowan returned, and Jalen Smith — who would have been a first-rounder — never even bothered to test the NBA draft process. Sure, Bruno Fernando is gone, but Mark Turgeon has a team capable of making a deep run come March. Maryland has talent, enough experience and won’t have to see Tremont Waters again in the tourney.
5) Big East – Sure, Shamorie Ponds left St. John’s — but overall, the league fared extremely well. Xavier returned all four guys that tested the waters: Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin. Seton Hall brought back its star, Myles Powell. Providence gets Alpha Diallo back and Creighton split, bringing back Davion Mintz and losing Martin Krampelj.
6) Kansas – Bill Self may have lost Quentin Grimes, but he got the key guy back in point guard Devon Dotson. Udoka Azubuike is also back after it was expected that he would leave, and the Jayhawks also got the news that the NCAA has cleared Silvio De Sousa. This was about as good as it could have been for KU.
7) Mark Pope, BYU – The Cougars’ new coach got the surprising news that Yoeli Childs — who said he was gone — would be returning to Provo. He’s the best player on the team and could be the best player in the WCC. This could help get BYU back to the NCAA tourney after a four-year hiatus.
8) Big Blue Nation – EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards aren’t exactly world-beaters, but John Calipari needed something besides Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina up front. There was a thought that Montgomery was going to keep his name in the draft, but he and Richards will both return to Lexington. The trio will be more than serviceable — and this was the correct decision, especially for Montgomery.
9) Charles Bassey, Rick Stansbury and Western Kentucky – The talented big man was dead-set on staying in the NBA Draft, but was persuaded at the last minute to return to the Hilltoppers. It’s the right decision for Bassey, who wasn’t going in the first round and may not have gotten a guaranteed deal in the second round. Bassey can improve his stock and Western Kentucky should be the favorites in C-USA.
10) The Tinkles and Thompsons – Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle and assistant Stevie Thompson will both get to coach their sons for another year. That’s positive for both families. It’s even better when Tres is your best player — and could have left with his degree — and Ethan comes off a season where he averaged 13.7 points and led the team in assists. The Beavers should have a shot to make the NCAA tourney next year.
1) Michigan – New coach Juwan Howard didn’t have a shot to keep Iggy Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole or Charles Matthews. All three guys — who happened to be the Wolverines three leading scorers — are leaving early, and there’s a good chance none get taken in the first round. Howard inherits some talent with Jon Teske, Zavier Simpson and Isaiah Livers, but this should be a rebuilding year with John Beilein and that trio gone.
2) Auburn – Bruce Pearl could have dreamed of back-to-back Final Fours if both Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke came back to school. Harper just figured it was time to leave, while Okeke — despite a torn ACL in the NCAA tourney — decided it was also the right time. Now, the Tigers go into the season with far more questions than answers.
3) Tennessee – Just imagine if Grant Williams and Jordan Bone came back to school. Williams got his degree in three years and decided his stock was about as high as it could possibly be, while this is a weak point guard draft and Bone also has a chance to go in the first round. With these two, the Vols would be the Preseason No. 1 in the country. Without? They could be an NIT team.
4) Kelvin Sampson – The Houston head coach was fully prepared to get Armoni Brooks back, but the 6-foot-3 junior guard — who averaged 13.4 points and 6.3 boards for a Sweet 16 team — pulled a shocker when he decided to remain in the NBA Draft. One source even told me that the Cougars didn’t move on any grad transfers because they were convinced Brooks would be coming back. Now there’s a void, and Houston goes from a top-25 preseason team to one that doesn’t look nearly as intimidating on paper.
5) Iowa State – Steve Prohm was prepared for the loss of leading scorer Marial Shayok and he was mostly prepared for Talen Horton-Tucker leaving early. But the early departure of Lindell Wigginton is a significant blow, and the loss of talented big man Cam Lard also hurts.
6) Jim Boeheim – He could wind up losing two guys early who don’t get drafted in the first round. Tyus Battle was history no matter what, but Oshae Brissett had a disappointing season and still decided to keep his name in the draft. It didn’t make a ton of sense, especially due to the fact that Brissett would have an expanded role without Battle. Is everyone ready for the Buddy Boeheim Show this season in Syracuse?
7) Danny Manning – I feel for the Wake Forest head coach. He lost freshman forward Jaylen Hoard this year, and watched his two most productive players — Bryant Crawford and Doral Moore — leave a year ago. Hoard is unlikely to be selected in the first round, and Crawford and Moore weren’t drafted last year. Moore played in the G-League and Crawford went to Israel.
8) Oregon – This wasn’t the best stretch for Dana Altman. He fully intended to lose Bol Bol, but he wasn’t necessarily expecting to watch both Louis King and Kenny Wooten leave early for the NBA Draft. Victor Bailey and Miles Norris both transferred, so that leaves Payton Pritchard and Will Richardson in terms of quality holdovers.
9) Memphis – Tigers fans celebrated the commitment of Little Rock grad transfer Rayjon Tucker, but the high-scoring guard will never play a game in a Tigers uniform. Tucker will turn pro, and this leaves Penny Hardaway without much experience on his roster. Tucker wasn’t going to put up huge numbers, but he is 21 years old on a team that will be laden with freshmen.
10) Georgia – Tom Crean dreamed of the 1-2 punch of talented freshman guard Anthony Edwards and skilled big man Nicolas Claxton. Unfortunately for Crean and Bulldogs fans, it’s not going to happen; Claxton decided to keep his name in the draft. The long and talented forward has watched his stock rise in recent weeks and could be a first-rounder, but this sets back Crean’s rebuild.