While you were enjoying a Memorial Day Weekend sitting by the pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cold beverages, your favorite college basketball coach was worried sick…. while also probably sitting by the pool, eating hot dogs and drinking cold beverages. That’s because as many of you know, Wednesday is the deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft (assuming they haven’t hired an agent), meaning that a handful of college basketball’s biggest programs will be shaken up – for better or worse – by the end of this week. It also means that by Wednesday at midnight, we should have a pretty clear picture of what the 2018-2019 college basketball season should look like.
(FYI, because I love you, I will be posting my post NBA Draft Deadline, college basketball Top 25 here at KSR when the deadline passes on Wednesday).
For some programs the good news has already come, with players such as North Carolina’s Luke Maye and West Virginia’s Sogaba Konate announcing they would return to school next season. However there are still several programs who will wait until the final minutes to see whether they get back key players or not.
So who are the biggest “stay or go” draft decisions left, and how could that impact the 2018-2019 college basketball season? Let’s take a look.
Kentucky: P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel
It only seems appropriate to start here with the three Kentucky players who remain in the draft but could remove their names. P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel all have big decisions to make in the next 36 hours – and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that what they decide could completely shake up the 2018-2019 college basketball season.
Now to be clear, I personally believe Kentucky would be fine even if they lose two of the three or even all three. The Wildcats will still have a loaded backcourt with size, depth and versatility (especially if 2019 recruit Ashton Hagans is able to reclassify) and the frontcourt will still have Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery. Put simply, even if none of the three (or just one) returns the Wildcats will be fine. They’ll look a lot different than they did last season. But they will be just fine.
But if they got back both Washington and Vanderbilt? Woah buddy, now we’re talking about a team that you could legit make an argument for as the No. 1 team in the country going into the preseason. Washington – as we know – is a versatile big who I believe would be capable of winning SEC Player of the Year next year, and if healthy, Vanderbilt could certainly end up on the All-SEC First-Team. We got to see glimpses of what Vanderbilt is capable of last year and it’d be scary to think how much better he could be with a bit more experience and a little health luck on the side.
So, will that actually happen? It remains to be seen. Truth be told, I don’t have any more information on the three Wildcats’ prospects than anyone else does, and I do believe that it will come down to the wire for all three. But as I said up top, the Wildcats have about as much to gain as any other program in college basketball over the next couple days.
Villanova: Donte DiVencenzio and Omari Spellman
I’ve written quite a bit on the defending national champions in my draft reports throughout the spring here at KSR so I’ll try to keep things brief. But ultimately I do think that the Villanova Wildcats are a lot like those other Wildcats above: If they were to lose those two, Villanova will be OK. But if they returned, we’re legitimately looking at a Top 3 team in the country heading into 2019 and a legitimate contender to win a second straight national championship.
By now, chances are pretty good you know DiVencenzio’s story. After redshirting his freshman year, DiVencenzio quietly emerged as a force off the bench the last two seasons, averaging 13 points per game this past season. Forget the fact that his title was “sixth man.” This was a guy who was good enough to start at virtually any program in the country. Like DiVencenzio, Spellman – a big who led the team in rebounding but can also shoot three’s – also blew up in the NCAA Tournament and decided to declare for the draft.
And that’s what makes this all so weird. Had Villanova lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament neither would have declared, only now here we are, and the Wildcats could lose both. DiVencenzio tested through the roof at the NBA Draft Combine and seems likely to be a first round pick, while Spellman has repeatedly said he believes that he is ready to be a pro.
Like Kentucky, Villanova will be fine if they lose these two and still return several key pieces plus a loaded recruiting class. Still, it’s hard to see them being “national championship good” if these two go pro.
Nevada: Cody Martin and Caleb Martin
The Wolfpack actually got some good news over the weekend, when big man Jordan Caroline removed his name from the NBA Draft process and decided to return after averaging 18 and 9 last season. And should the Martin twins, Nevada – like the other two programs above – will actually be OK. Incredibly, they have six transfers who will be eligible next year who averaged double-figures at another school. Yes, you read that correctly… six!!!
At the same time, no one on Nevada’s roster is as good as the Martin twins, a pair of transfers who started their careers at NC State and went on to have monster seasons at Nevada last year. Caleb is the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year after averaging 18 points per game while Cody is one of the most versatile players in college basketball after averaging 14 points and nearly seven rebounds and five assists per game. At this point, it’s unclear what either will do – neither is projected as a draft pick, but both are 22-years-old and have already graduated from school. If their draft stock won’t improve is it really worth coming back?
Only time will tell, but for Nevada to reach their full capability they need both. The Wolfpack are good enough to make the Final Four (and maybe even more) with the two. They’re not nearly the same without them.
Auburn: Jared Harper and Bryce Brown
The decisions are coming in fast and furious at Auburn, which had four players on the NBA fence as of this morning but have already had two make decisions. Big man Austin Wiley – the most likely of all the Tigers to go pro – has decided to return to school. Meanwhile in a bizarre twist, the team’s leading scorer last year Mustapha Heron will return to college basketball after initially declaring for the draft – it just won’t be at Auburn. Per Adam Zagoria, Heron will return to school, but transfer.
Weirdly, I actually don’t think this is the worst thing for Auburn – assuming Harper and Brown come back. That’s because as good as Heron was (he averaged around 16 a game last season) he was at times, a ball-dominant, iso-heavy player, and to be blunt, the offense sometimes ran better without him on the floor. It also means that assuming that Harper and Brown return, Auburn might just be the “best” version of themselves, a team with a bunch of great guards that create spacing with perimeter shooting, without Heron charging at the basket like a bull in China shop every couple of possessions.
Assuming both Harper and Brown return (and neither is projected as a draft pick) the SEC co-champs would return everyone of substance except Heron, and should start the year ranked No. 10 to 15 nationally.
UCLA: Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes
Fair or not, it seems like Steve Alford is entering a make-or-break year in Westwood. It’s no secret that the fans expect national championships at UCLA, meaning that even though Alford has made four NCAA Tournaments and three Sweet 16’s in five seasons, he could be coaching for his job in 2018-2019. That’s also what makes the decisions of Wilkes (the team’s second-leading scorer in 2018) and Hands (the starting point guard) so important.
Like so many other players in this draft, it’s been relatively quiet for both players the last few weeks. Wilkes was generally underwhelming at the NBA Draft Combine and has already said that he’s willing to come back if he doesn’t get the first round guarantee he’s looking for. Hands has sort of been the opposite; a player who generally underwhelmed during the season but has size, athleticism and skill that has impressed NBA scouts so far. Hands certainly won’t go in the first round but could sneak into the second if he stays in.
Add it up and it will be a trying few days in Westwood. The fate of the 2018-2019 season, and possibly much more, depends on it.
Maryland: Kevin Huerter
If you looked solely at the stat sheets you wouldn’t think Huerter would be one of the most important players with a draft decision in the coming days. He averaged a respectable 14.9 points per game last year, but wasn’t his team’s leading scorer and didn’t make any of the postseason All-Big Ten teams.
Still, at 6’7 with great athleticism, Huerter is one of those rare players whose skill-set might translate better to the NBA than college. After a strong showing at the NBA Draft Combine many see him as a fringe first round pick, leaving open the very real possibility that he could stay in the draft.
And like so many other players, Huerter’s decision could have a huge impact on his college program. Maryland got good news earlier this week when big man Bruno Fernando pulled out of the draft, and if Huerter joins him, the Terps should start the season ranked in the Top 25. If he doesn’t return they might not even be a tournament team.
Syracuse: Tyus Battle
Let’s be honest, no matter what Battle decides to do, we all know how this is going to end: With Syracuse going 19-13 next season, finishing 10th in the ACC and sitting square on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
Just kidding. But not really.
In all seriousness however, Battle is the key to everything Syracuse does, as a guy who runs their offense, creates havoc atop their 2-3 zone and just so happened to be their leading scorer at over 19 points per game last season.
If he comes back, Syracuse should be a Top 25 team to start the season. If he doesn’t, they probably aren’t an NCAA Tournament team.
Michigan: Charles Matthews
So I’m kind of at the point where, regardless of who Michigan loses, I just assume John Beilein will figure things out. All that guy does is win. At the same time, if Matthews does elect to stay in the draft, it would mean that the Wolverines would lose the top four scorers off last year’s national championship team. That probably isn’t as big a deal at Michigan as it might be at other places, but it certainly doesn’t help.
Right now Matthews isn’t projected by virtually anyone as an NBA Draft pick, making it more and more likely he returns to school for another season. If he does, Matthews will be a legit candidate to win Big Ten Player of the Year, and the Wolverines will again be a threat to make noise in the Big Ten and beyond.