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The college basketball programs with the most to gain (or lose) with players testing the NBA Draft process


For those of us who love college basketball (which is pretty much everyone reading this post) this past Sunday, April 22nd was one of the biggest days on the college hoops calendar. Why’s that? It was the final day for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft.

Therefore, at this point, we know who will enter the draft. In total, there are a staggering 180 players who entered the draft, including well over 100 who declared without an agent (that obviously includes three players from Kentucky). It also means that, as of right now, all 100 can return to college basketball next year, just as long as they don’t sign with an agent. All of them won’t, but will at least have the option between now and the deadline to withdraw on May 30th.

So with that deadline a month away, which college programs (including Kentucky) have the most to gain or lose nearly the NBA Draft deadline? Here they are:

9) Kansas

Graduating seniors: Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Malik Newman
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Udoka Azibuke, LaGerald Vick

This is a weird one, and let me explain why. Vick has declared without an agent but it seems like (based on the statement he made when he declared) that he’s as good as gone. And if Vick does leave, it would mean that Azibuke is the only projected starter to return to Lawrence next year. In theory, it’s probably not a good thing for a team that just made the Final Four to lose all five starters. That’s especially true when you remember that their best back-up big man this past season, Silvio de Souza, was recently named in the FBI probe. His future in Lawrence remains uncertain.

So that’s the bad, but let me explain why this is weird: I’m not sure that Azibuke’s return has all that much impact on the Jayhawks next year. Azibuke was good but not great this year, and the Jayhawks two best big guys might have actually been Dedric and KJ Lawson, two brothers who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis. Dedric Lawson is already being projected as the next star of the Jayhawks after averaging 19 points and nine rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis two years ago.

So again, this is all in theory, but the reality is that even if Azibuke comes back he might not have a huge impact next year. Still, we’ll put Kansas on the list, because no program anywhere in college basketball, wants to lose all five starters.

8) North Carolina

Graduating seniors: Joel Berry, Theo Pinson
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Luke Maye

This one is really pretty simple, so we won’t spend a lot of time on it. If Maye returns, than I believe North Carolina is a legit ACC title contender. Maye was sneaky good last year, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, and if you add him in with Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams and a loaded freshman class (headlined by Top 5 prospect Nassir Little) that feels like a team that can compete with anyone in the league.

But if you remove Maye? Then all of a sudden it gets dicey. Not only is there no leader at point guard (after Joel Berry graduated this past year) but also, your best low post threat is gone too. All of a sudden you’re trying to patch together a roster full of role players and freshmen and turn them into a legitimate team.

The good news for North Carolina is that if you read Maye’s announcement carefully, it feels like he is only testing the waters to get feedback, and plans to return to school. That’s a good thing for Carolina… just as long as Maye sticks with that plan.

7) Syracuse

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Darius Bazley (straight from high school to the G-League)
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Tyus Battle

Ultimately, this one is basically the same as North Carolina. The Orange could survive the loss of Bazley (the famed high school player who will bypass college to go to the G-League next year), but they can’t afford to lose Battle, who averaged nearly 20 points per game this past season.

With Battle, they’re likely a Top 15 team and dark horse ACC title contender. Without him, they have a gaping hole at point guard and will, for roughly the 28th year in a row, likely end up as a bubble team come Selection Sunday.

6) West Virginia

Graduating seniors: Jevon Carter
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate

The Mountaineers (who Kentucky could very well face in the Big 12-SEC Challenge) will already lose Jevon Carter, one of the most feared perimeter defenders in recent college basketball history. That’s bad enough. But if they lose Ahmad and Konate? They will be more or less starting over from scratch next season.

That’s because for all the toughness that Carter provided on the perimeter, Konate (and to a smaller degree Ahmad, who was suspended for half the season) provided the same physicality on the interior. Over the course of last season, Konate evolved into one of the most feared shot blockers in the sport, where he averaged over three blocks per game, to go along with 11 points and seven rebounds. If you need visual reminder of how good Konate was last year, just watch the video below.

With Konate and Ahmad back, West Virginia would be West Virginia again, that mean, tough, feared team, that plays hard, defends like hell and takes crap from no one. They’re also probably the second or third best team in the Big 12. But without them? They’re just a shell of themselves and probably not a Top 25 team entering the season.

5) UCLA

Graduating seniors: Thomas Welsh
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Aaron Holiday
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes

From the time he decided to return for his junior season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holiday would go pro after the 2017-2018 campaign. And considering he was the second best player in the Pac-12 this year (behind only DeAndre Ayton), it should be no surprise that Holiday not only entered the draft but will stay in. He will almost certainly be a first round pick and has a bright NBA future.

So yeah, the Holiday decision was expected. And you could have made the case before the season started that both Wilkes and Hands could go pro after this year – but after the seasons they actually had on the court, no one expected it. Neither were “bad” per se, but neither were difference-makers as well, and both would risk going undrafted if they don’t remove their names before the deadline. Wilkes, who averaged 13 points per game this past season, might go somewhere in the second round.

Therefore, these next two weeks really turn into a zero-sum game for Steve Alford. The Bruins will already be young, but will be young and talented with the return of Wilkes and Hands. But if they don’t return? UCLA will need a starting point guard and a new go-to scorer, and will rely almost exclusively on freshmen entering the season.

That’s bad news for Alford, as he enters a make-or-break season in Westwood.

4) Mississippi State

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Aric Holman, Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weathersppon

If we’re being total honest here, Mississippi State was probably one of the 68 best teams in college basketball last year even if they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. They went 9-9 within the SEC with some very solid wins, and had it not been for an at-large resume that fell somewhere between “pathetic” and “grotesque” they very well could have been a tourney team. The good news however is that as they entered the off-season, every key was projected to return.

Of course then NBA Draft decisions rolled in and three of their four leading scorers – Weatherspoon, Holman and Peters – declared for the draft. It also creates a very contentious few weeks for Ben Howland in Starkville.

The simple truth is that with these three, Mississippi State is not only an NCAA Tournament team, but also realistically, a sneaky SEC title contender. Without them however, it would be a fourth-straight year where the Bulldogs missed the NCAA Tourney – and it might be time to start asking if Howland is the right man for the job.

3) Nevada

Graduating seniors: Kendall Stephens
Declared with an agent, won’t return: N/A
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline

You all remember Nevada, right? That fun, bubbly team, who mounted those wild comebacks against Texas and Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament (take that, Mick Cronin!) and then saw its coach rip his shirt off after their games? Well yeah, here’s the crazy thing: In theory, they could bring back most of their roster off a 29-win team that made the Sweet 16. And if they do, the Wolf Pack will almost certainly start the year in the Top 10 with true Final Four aspirations.

Now the question is this: Will they actually return all their key players? It’s not as simple as it seems. That’s because while none of their three best players (Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Cody Martin) are expected to be drafted, they also might not have a ton of reason to come back to college next year either. All three were fourth-year seniors this past year, and all will be 23 by the end of next season. Will any of them really improve their draft position by this time next year?

It’s a fair question and one that all three of these guys need to ask themselves. If all three do leave and decide to just start their professional futures no one could blame them. But it would knock Nevada down quite a few pegs next year as well.

2) Kentucky

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Wenyen Gabriel, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt

Ultimately I believe Villanova and Kentucky are basically the same: Two teams that, if all their pieces return can be No. 1 in the country to enter the season. They could also be in big trouble if they don’t get everyone back. But let’s start with Kentucky (and I’ll explain later why I have Nova at No. 1).

As I mentioned, with the Wildcats, I really do believe that if they get everyone back they will have all the pieces to be a title contender. With Quade Green’s return they will have a steadying hand at point guard, with the addition of Keldon Johnson they have wing scoring, and Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker they’ll have much needed shooting as well. And if everyone returns, or even two out of three players who’ve declared, Kentucky is again stacked in the front court as well.

The problem becomes if the players don’t return. We’re hearing increased rumblings that P.J. Washington may simply bolt for the pros regardless of where he’ll be drafted, and at 21-years-old, it’d be hard to blame Wenyen Gabriel decided to start his professional career, wherever it may be. Jarred Vanderbilt has no real draft prospects, but what if he decides that he is too injury-prone to risk coming back to campus?

If that were to happen, then all of a sudden, Kentucky has some gaping holes in the front court. Now they can off-set it some by a wealth of talent in the back-court (Green, Immanuel Quickley, maybe Ashton Hagans) but the front-court would be E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards and… well, that’s basically it.

Therefore, these next couple weeks in Lexington will be massive. It could be the difference between a true national championship contender and just another good, but not great team.

1) Villanova

Graduating seniors: N/A
Declared with an agent, won’t return: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges
Testing the Waters (Could Return): Donte DiVencenzio, Omari Spellman

Villanova almost certainly knew they were going to lose both Bridges and Brunson following the season. Bridges is projected as a lottery pick and Brunson is a National Player of the Year, won two national championships and earned his degree. There was really nothing left for him to come back for in college basketball.

However, if there was a downside to winning a national championship this year (something I’m not totally sure exists) it’s that now DiVencenzio and Spellman are on everyone’s radar, including the folks in the NBA. We all know that DiVencenzio went for 31 points in the title game. But don’t forget about Spellman, who at 6’10 was not only Villanova’s leading rebounder but a great three-point shooter. His ability to space the floor and give Nova five legitimate shooters on the court at all times is what made them so dangerous.

Looking ahead, the good news for the Wildcats is that while both of these guys were relatively unknowns to non-Villanova fans, the truth is that NBA people have known about each for a while now. One good game (no matter how big the stage) isn’t likely going to sway NBA folks, who have been scouting and evaluating these guys for years.

But if both guys leave…. that’s bad news for Nova. First off, it upsets the entire structure that their program has been built on, where one star leaves and the next one steps up in his place. If both leave, it also means that the Wildcats will likely be forced to have freshmen play key roles next year, especially at the point guard position. That’s simply not how Nova’s program is supposed to run.

And that’s the ultimate reason why I have Villanova No. 1 on this list. While I believe Kentucky could still have some semblance of a Top 10 team even if all three of their guys go pro, I think Villanova drops from “national championship contender” all the way to “fringe Top 25” if DiVencenzio and Spellman leave. Basically, their ceiling is just as high as Kentucky, but their basement is much lower.

That’s also why the Wildcats will be worth watching these next few weeks.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

3 responses to “The college basketball programs with the most to gain (or lose) with players testing the NBA Draft process”

  1. BBNDan7

    PJ would be very dumb to go, and im almost always in favor of the players decisions

  2. SanDiegoCats

    I didn’t know that pj was a heavy lean to NBA. He’d be a huge return which he very well should. Would be a huge disappointment if he left. I know the coaching staff isn’t encouraging his departure at all so it’s all on him and his family/inner circle. Would be a huge mistake for a player with so much upside to leave and get drafted, st best, in late 2nd round.

  3. Daddyof3Ballers

    This is why I couldn’t believe Sacha left. He could have been starting next year pulling 20-30 minutes. Now he’s going to go sit out a year to try and get 20-30 minutes somewhere else….is there still time to change his mind?