Now that the NBA has released a full list of the players that have declared for the NBA Draft, here are the 14 programs that have the most on the line with players that are testing the waters:
Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, Oregon: The Ducks were one of the biggest surprises last season, and part of what made that performance so exciting for Oregon fans was that basically everyone on the roster was schedule to return next season. Chris Boucher opted not to declare for the draft, but freshman Tyler Dorsey and sophomore Dillon Brooks did. I don’t think Dorsey is an NBA player, at least not yet, but Brooks is a guy whose size and skill set as a small forward makes him intriguing. He’s not a great athlete, however, which may be the best news for Dana Altman. Because if Dorsey and Brooks, who is a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year, both return, the Ducks will enter the season as national title contenders.
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, Villanova: Prior to this season, I would’ve said that there was no way that these two would be declaring for the draft. While Jenkins seems to be a situation where he’s just trying to get an answer on what he needs to do to get drafted in 2017, Hart may actually have a chance to be a first round pick this season. He’s a tweener, but tweeners that can do a lot of different things and defend multiple positions — Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, etc. — are all the rage these days. Like both of those guys coming out of college, Hart is tough, he’s versatile, he defends, he rebounds and he cannot shoot. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone gave him a promise late in the first round or early in the second round, and that may be enough to pull him out of school, and that would be a massive blow for a Villanova team that’s currently projected in our top five.
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Melo Trimble, Maryland: The Terps are already losing four of their five starters from last season, but given the way that that group fit — well, didn’t fit — together last season, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. That’s assuming that Trimble opts to return to school. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s asked to carry a team by himself — he did it as a freshman — and the Terps will remain relevant as long as he’s on the roster. If he’s gone? NIT baby.
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Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: All the talk about the North Carolina program during the season was how this group was going to fall off after last year’s run to the title game, but that may not necessarily be the case. There is still talent there, even if Jackson and Meeks opt to stay in the draft. But if they return, we’re looking at a team that is once again loaded with veteran depth. Will that be enough to beat out Duke for the ACC title? Maybe not, but it could be enough to make them the biggest challenger to the Blue Devils.
Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: The Hoosiers, like the Tar Heels, actually have a better chance to be good than most people probably realize. But Blackmon is the best shooter and scorer that the Hoosiers will return, which is something that they are going to need now that Yogi Ferrell is an alum, and Williams’ presence alongside O.G. Anunoby will make Indiana one of the most athletic and versatile teams in the Big Ten. They’re a top 15 team with those two back in the mix.
Mo Watson, Creighton: I’m not sure people realize just how good Watson was last season. There’s an argument to be made that he was the best point guard in the Big East not named Kris Dunn. And if he returns, he’ll be paired in a back court with Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster, who was one of the best off-guards in the Big 12 before his falling out with Bruce Weber. That duo would have a strong argument as the best back court in college basketball, and it’s the reason that we have the Bluejays sitting in the first spot outside the top 25 right now.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: Hayes actually had a somewhat disappointing season in 2015-16 and the Badgers still managed to find a way to make the tournament as a No. 7 seed — despite their 9-9 start — and get to the Sweet 16. The Badgers should be pretty good even if he doesn’t return, but if he comes back, a Big Three of Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ looks pretty good on paper.
Malachi Richardson, Syracuse: The Orange caught a break when Tyler Lydon opted not to enter his name in the NBA Draft, but as good as Lydon was — as good as he can be — he’s still something of a complimentary piece. The same can be said for Richardson, but the thing that makes him so dangerous is his ability to go for 25 points on any given night. He’s streaky, but he can win games by himself (ask Virginia). With Michael Gbinije graduating and without a clear replacement at the point guard spot, the Orange need guys that can create points for themselves.
Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville: The Cardinals have a number of talented wings returning next season. They also have a slew of big bodies that they’ll be able to bring back, but unlike Onuaku, none of those other big men are physical presences in the paint. Onuaku is a rebounder that can battle with the physical big men he’s going to run into in the ACC. If he’s gone, that’s something Louisville is going to miss.
Julian Jacobs, USC: Jacobs was one of the most surprising players in the Pac-12 last season, showing off his athleticism and ability to make plays in the open floor. He fits so well with what Andy Enfield wants to do with the Trojans, and pairing him with Jordan McLaughlin in the back court makes USC a nightmare to try and slow down in transition.
Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, N.C. State: Anya was one of the biggest surprises that showed up on the Early Entry list, but he’s not the name that State fans need to worry about. Abu is, because Abu has the potential to be an All-ACC player next season. With Dennis Smith entering the fray, Maverick Rowan returning and Torin Dorn getting eligible, they need a big body in the paint.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: Whitehead played such a huge role in Seton Hall’s return to the NCAA tournament last season, and the good news is that he’s nowhere near a lock to get picked in the first round. That also may not be enough to keep him from signing with an agent. The Pirates have a shot at returning to the dance if he’s back. If he’s not, they’re not.
Dedric Lawson, Memphis: As a freshman, Dedric Lawson averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 boards for the Tigers, and while that was a bad Memphis team that lost a number of pieces — including head coach Josh Pastner — his father is back with the program meaning that Dedric, if he opts to return to school, will play with the Tigers. Memphis probably isn’t a tournament team with or without him, but give Tubby Smith a potential all-american in the American and anything can happen.
Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil was one of the best players in all of college basketball last season, but his Friars really struggled down the stretch of the season. With Kris Dunn off to the NBA, it’s hard to see Providence reaching the NCAA tournament either way, but if Bentil does return, he may pop up on a few preseason all-american teams.