Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.
Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.
Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.
The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year.
And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!
DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.
Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.
Here is the top 25:
1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike*
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. There is still going to be some turbulence with this roster. Do they hold onto Udoka Azubuike? Will they land Romeo Langford? Will anyone get run out of town? But the bottom line is that they are talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster.
2. VILLANOVA WILDCATS
Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater
Projected starting lineup: Collin Gillispie, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo*, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman*
This ranking really does depend on what happens with DiVincenzo and Spellman. DiVincenzo was the MOP of the Final Four. Spellman, as we noted here, is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. Both would be borderline first round picks at best if they declare for the draft. At this point, Spellman is probably 50-50 over whether he stays in the draft. I think DiVincenzo probably returns.
As always, there are so many moving parts with this Kentucky team’s roster and who will end up leaving school. Everyone from Kentucky is going to declare, and at this point, I’m going to set the over-under for the number of players that leave for the draft at four: Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo and … either Gabriel or Vanderbilt? Maybe both? Sacha Killeya-Jones already transferred out as well. We’ll see how that all plays out, but regardless of what happens, I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Marques Bolden*
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are another team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter will be following Allen out the door, but what about Bolden? I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore.
5. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
6. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
7. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
8. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee
Projected starting lineup: Lindsay Drew, Caleb Martin*, Cody Martin*, Jordan Caroline*, Josh Hall
This one is a bit tougher to project, as the Martin twins and Caroline are all going to be fifth-year seniors and it’s always difficult to predict what they are going to do. If they already have their degree, does it make sense to return to school for another season? Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season.
9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown*, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player is a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?
11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
Assuming that Purifoy and Wiley don’t enter the NBA Draft, Auburn would return everyone from a team that shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke, especially if Wiley keeps his name in the draft.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward*, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together.
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program.
15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters*, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon*, Aric Holman*, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
16. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch
Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams
How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.
17. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.
18. MARYLAND TERRAPINS
Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Sean Obi, Dion Wiley
Who do they add: Schnider Herard, Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala
Projected starting lineup: Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Kevin Huerter*, Jalen Smith, Bruno Fernando*
Losing Justin Jackson was a major blow, but there are some pieces for Mark Turgeon to work with here. Cowan and Huerter could be all-Big Ten players as juniors, Morsell and Fernando had promising freshman years and Turgeon does bring in four solid pieces. They’ve got a chance in a weak Big Ten.
19. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands*, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes*, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.
20. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
22. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
23. XAVIER MUSKETEERS
Who’s gone: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Chris Mack, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara
Who do they add: Keonte Kennedy, Dontarius James, Jake Walker, Kyle Castlin, Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage
Projected starting lineup: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Kaiser Gates, Tyrique Jones
So just how good is Travis Steele? We’ll find out right away. This roster has some dudes. They are also quite young with a first-year head coach.
24. LSU TIGERS
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the including trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
25. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell*, Marcquise Reed*, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
Obviously, the calculus here changes if Mitchell and Reed end up staying in the NBA Draft, but at this point, I think that they’ll come back. With those two in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?
The question that has hung over college basketball more than any other since the FBI first arrested 10 people in their investigation into corruption in the sport back on September 26th is this: When will Kansas get caught up in the mix?
Kansas, like Louisville, is one of the flagship programs sponsored by Adidas, so the reasoning stood that if Adidas was willing to pay players to play for Louisville, they would be doing the same for Kansas. On Tuesday evening, we got our answer, as the FBI added additional charges to Adidas executives Jim Gatto and Merl Code and a runner for an ex-NBA agent, Christian Dawkins, that looped the Jayhawks into this mess.
It started with a player that appears to be Billy Preston, a former McDonald’s All-American forward that never ended up playing for the Jayhawks this season. Preston’s mother, according to the documents released by the FBI on Tuesday evening, received roughly $90,000 from Adidas in exchange for her son’s commitment to Kansas.
But Preston never actually played for Kansas. The excuse that the Jayhawks used was a single-car accident that Preston was involved in prior to the start of the season, and an ensuing investigation into where the money came from to pay for the car that he was driving.
Preston is not what Kansas should be worried about.
Silvio De Sousa is.
A native of Angola, De Sousa was initially a member of the Class of 2018, but he graduated at the end of the first semester and enrolled at Kansas for the second semester to help bolster the front court depth of a team that desperately needed it. And while he averaged just 4.0 points and 3.7 boards, De Sousa did play a big role in Kansas winning the Big 12 tournament — starting center Udoka Azubuike did not play because of a knee injury and De Sousa averaged 10.0 points and 9.7 boards in the three wins — and grabbed 10 boards and played some critical minutes as the Jayhawks upset Duke in the Elite Eight.
He didn’t, however, play any role in Kansas winning their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title, and in the end, he may end up being the player that costs Bill Self his streak.
Because, according to the FBI, Adidas paid at least $20,000 to De Sousa’s guardian to earn what was a surprise commitment in late-August of 2017, money that was earmarked to pay back another shoe company who had already invested in De Sousa to ensure a commitment to a program that they sponsored. De Sousa played for an Under Armour sponsored AAU team and high school team and was long considered a lock for Maryland, Under Armour’s flagship basketball program.
And that is where Kansas could end up being in trouble.
As we’ve seen before, if the NCAA can determine that a player was actually ineligible at the time that he played in games, they can go back and vacate those wins. That’s what they did to Memphis in 2008, when Derrick Rose was ruled retroactively ineligible because of an issue with an SAT score; that’s why Self and Kansas, in the NCAA’s eyes, did not actually beat anyone when they won the 2008 national title. It happened with Louisville just last year, when the 2013 national title banner came down because players were ruled retroactively ineligible for receiving “impermissible benefits” in the form of strippers and sex workers from an assistant coach.
To be clear, Kansas is not the only school and Self is not the only coach that may be in trouble after this latest document was released. The FBI also determined that a player that appears to be Dennis Smith Jr. received at least one payment of $40,000 from Adidas, funneled through a member of the N.C. State coaching staff, to ensure that he would remain committed to the Wolfpack. Mark Gottfried, who is currently the head coach at CSUN, was the head coach of N.C. State at the time.
That’s not a good look for CSUN. It’s also CSUN and an N.C. State era that Wolfpack fans would be happy to see erased from the history books.
Which is why Kansas is who everyone is talking about.
This may be the end of the Kansas Big 12 title streak.
But that’s not really the story here.
Because my biggest takeaway from reading even more legal documents pertaining to this FBI investigation is this: What in the world is the FBI doing enforcing the NCAA’s arcane, made-up and exploitative rulebook for them?
Read this passage, taken from what was released yesterday:
The scheme described herein served to defraud the relevant universities in several ways. First, because the illicit payments to the families of student-athletes described herein rendered those student-athletes ineligible to participate in Division I athletics, scheme participants conspired to conceal these payments from the universities, thereby causing them to provide or agree to provide athletic-based scholarships and financial aid under false and fraudulent pretenses.
In doing so, the scheme participants interfered with the universities’ ability to control their assets and created a risk of tangible economic harm to the universities, including … the possible disgorgement of certain profit-sharing by the NCAA.
Put another way, the victims of these “crimes” were the universities because these players hid the fact that they were ineligible, received scholarships that NCAA rules stipulate they should not have received and put the universities at risk of not receiving their share of the $1 billion brought in by the NCAA tournament this season.
Think about that for a second.
The FBI is out here spending all this time and all these taxpayer dollars investigating NCAA violations.
Each of the universities here, each of the “victims” in these investigations, banked eight or nine figures off of the work and the likeness of these unpaid amateurs.
And they are victims because those unpaid amateurs got themselves a payday that amounts to a week or two of NCAA president Mark Emmert’s $1.9 million salary.
If the FBI really wanted to investigate a criminal issue that matters, they should look into the potential illegalities in the NCAA restricting the ability of these athletes to profit off of their own name and their own likeness.
Until then, they should get the hell out of college basketball and let the NCAA continue to try — and continue to fail — to enforce their own shameful bylaws.
The deadline to declare for the NBA draft is coming up in the next two weeks — April 22nd — and the deadline for an underclassmen to pull their name out of the NBA draft after testing the waters will be on May 30th, a full five weeks after the deadline to declare.
So there is a long way to go with this process.
But as things stand today, here is a list of the most influential Should-I-Stay-Or-Should-I-Go decisions left to be made.
JALEN BRUNSON, OMARI SPELLMAN and DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova
This one is probably self-explanatory. At this point, Mikal Bridges is headed to the NBA. He’s a fourth-year senior, meaning that he should be able to finish his degree before having to make this decision, and he’s a potential top ten pick coming off of his second national title in three seasons. It’s a no-brainer for him to make the leap, and it’s a decision that Villanova has prepared for.
The other three?
Not so much.
Villanova may be best prepared to withstand the departure of DiVincenzo should he opt to capitalize on his 31-point outburst in the national title game, but I’m not sold on that just yet. He plays on a team that has multiple other pros on it. NBA scouts were well aware of what he is capable of doing before he won MOP of the Final Four, and they were also well aware of how much of a streak scorer he’s been during his Villanova tenure. Another year on campus probably makes sense for him for no other reason than the simple fact that he may end up being the star of this Villanova program next season.
That’s because the return of Brunson and Spellman is very much a question mark. Brunson is a junior and is on track to graduate in three years. If he has his degree, two national titles and a National Player of the Year award under his belt, what else is left for him to do in college? He’s not a guy whose stock is going to change all that much in a year — he is what he is as a prospect given his physical limitations — and he is projected as a borderline first round pick now.
And Spellman might want to capitalize on what was a promising NCAA tournament run. He played his best basketball of the season down the stretch, blocking shots and banging home threes and thriving as Villanova’s small-ball five in one of the best teams that we’ve seen in the collegiate ranks, and there is a legitimate question as to whether or not he will look as good playing on a team that doesn’t include Brunson at the point.
If Spellman and DiVincenzo both return, Villanova should once again be a top five team — we are projecting that currently, and we have them No. 2. But if they lose one or both of those two, Villanova would probably drop from being a favorite to win the whole thing to being a top 12-ish team picked to win the Big East. Still very good, but not a legitimate threat to repeat as champs.
CALEB MARTIN, CODY MARTIN and JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
Eric Musselman has that thing rolling out in Reno, and there’s a chance that his next team season will be better than this year’s team, which won the Mountain West and made the Sweet 16.
But that all depends on what happens with his three best players, the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline. All three are rising seniors, but all three are also redshirt seniors, meaning that this will be their fifth-year on campus. If they already have a degree in hand, and since all three turn 23 years old in the next year, what is the incentive to return to school if they can get a good contract?
The latter is the bigger question mark. Both of the Martin twins project as second round picks at best, while Caroline is likely to go undrafted if he remains in the draft. With these three back in the fold, Nevada will enter the season as a top ten team in NBC Sports’ preseason top 25. Without them, Nevada may not even be the favorite to win the Mountain West title.
ZHAIRE SMITH, Texas Tech
It is looking more and more likely that Zhaire Smith will be heading to the NBA this offseason, as he is now projected as a mid-first round pick in many mocks. A dynamic athlete with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and the ability to make shots from the perimeter, it might make sense for Smith to cash in on his potential now before scouts have a chance to pick his game apart. Remember, he was a three-star prospect coming out of high school; NBA front offices don’t know as much about him as they do, say, Marvin Bagley III or Deandre Ayton.
But given when Texas Tech is losing this offseason, there’s something to be said for the idea that Smith could return to school — as of now, Smith is only testing the waters — become the go-to scorer for the Red Raiders and play his way higher in the draft’s pecking order.
The Red Raider staff believed they were going to be able to get a second season with Smith in the fold, and if he does make the decision to return to school, there’s an argument to be made for Texas Tech as the third-best team in the Big 12, behind the Kansas schools. Without him, Chris Beard is going to have his work cut out for him trying to replicate this year’s Elite Eight season.
DEANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
Hunter is in a difficult situation here, mainly because of the injury that he suffered prior to the start of the NCAA tournament. He’s currently dealing with a broken wrist, and that’s an injury that could end up keeping him off the court until after NBA teams are done with their workouts during this draft process.
Given what Hunter showed us in the latter part of his redshirt freshman season, it’s pretty easy to project him as a good NBA role player. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he’s switchable defensively and he can make threes, attack a close-out and create for himself. NBA teams traverse the globe looking for players like that.
But … the injury. Even if healthy, I’m not sure that Hunter would be a surefire first round pick this year. If he comes back to Virginia, he would have the chance to prove himself the best player on a top ten team, a potential all-american and play his way into a position to be drafted where the likes of Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges and Kevin Knox are being projected this season.
And with Hunter back, Virginia suddenly has their star back in the fold, the guy that create a shot for himself and the one player on their roster that lets them matchup against smaller teams (ahem, UMBC). Virginia is always going to be fine so long as Tony Bennett is their head coach, but Hunter’s presence on the roster is going to be the difference between the Wahoos being good enough to contend for another ACC title and simply being good enough to finish near the top of that conference.
THE KENTUCKY GUYS, Kentucky
There are so many to work through here.
As of Tuesday morning, this is what we’re working with: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox have declared for the draft and will sign with agents. Hamidou Diallo is considered likely to follow in his footsteps, while Sacha Killeya-Jones has opted to transfer out of the program after Kentucky landed a commitment from another five-star recruit, E.J. Montgomery.
That leaves these five in limbo: P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, Wenyen Gabriel and Nick Richards. Kentucky has talent coming in, and they almost assuredly will have talent returning. We’re just not exactly sure who it is going to be, and that will determine whether Kentucky will enter next season as a team in the top 15 or a team in the top five.
MO WAGNER, Michigan
Wagner is a success story when it comes to the process of testing the waters for the NBA draft. He declared last year, was told that he has to be a better defender and a better rebounder, then he turned around and became a good enough defender and rebounder that he could anchor what eventually turned into one of the best defenses in all of college basketball and, statistically, one of college basketball’s best defensive rebounders.
Given that, and his ability to player on the perimeter as a stretch five, and it would seem like a given that Wagner should head to the NBA. I expect that’s what he’ll end up doing, but he’s not exactly a sure-fire first round pick at this point. There are some questions as to whether or not his rebounding was a result of his improvement, Michigan’s defensive scheme changing or a combination of all of the above, and being a passable perimeter defender in the collegiate ranks doesn’t mean that he’ll thrive at the NBA level.
Frankly, I think he’s proved what he needed to and would advise him to head to the NBA, but his return would make Michigan a top 10-15 team in college basketball next season.
ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
The Badgers had a nightmare season in 2017-18, as the combination of youth and injuries meant that they didn’t truly hit their groove until there was about a month left in the year and the Badgers were already locked into a losing season.
But next season, however, Wisconsin will not only be healthy again, but all that youth will be experienced, and if the way that the Badgers played in the last month of the season is any indication, that would be a very good thing. The key, however, is going to be Happ. He’s going to be a fifth-year senior next season with a degree in hand, so no one would blame him if he opted to remain in the draft, but his return to anchor this roster could make the Badgers a top four team in the Big Ten and a back-end top 25 team.
KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton
Thomas has a chance to have a nice NBA career. He only stands 6-foot-3, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan combined with the fact that he makes better than 40 percent of his threes makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect. I do think there’s a chance that he’ll be a first round pick this year should he opt to declare for the draft, and that should make his return to Creighton all that much more important. The Bluejays already lost Marcus Foster, and losing Thomas — who is the one elite defender on a roster that is built for space, pace and scoring — would be another major blow. With him in the fold and the return of a young core of Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock and Jacob Epperson, the Bluejays suddenly look like the second-best team in the Big East.
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
Edwards averaged 18.5 points on a team that was in the top ten for much of the year and started four seniors. Those four seniors are now gone, and Edwards will more or less be running the show by himself should he opt to return.
In a vacuum, I would say it would be smart for him to leave. He’s an undersized, shoot-first lead guard that benefitted from playing on a team that had myriad other scoring options. His efficiency is bound to take a hit if he does return. That said, he’ll be a top ten player in the sport next season, he’ll have a chance to prove he’s a better distributor than he was last season and he’ll be skipping out on a draft that is absolutely loaded with lead guards in the 20-45 range. If he’s back, Purdue is a tournament team. If he’s gone, there is going to be some serious rebuilding going on in West Lafayette.
THREE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
THE MISSISSIPPI STATE GUYS: The Bulldogs, as it stands, are in the top 15 of the NBC Sports preseason top 25. But that’s assuming that Lamar Peters and both of the Weatherspoon brothers are back for another season. All three have declared for the draft without signing with an agent.
DEWAN HUELL, Miami: Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker are off to the NBA, but if Huell opts to return, he’ll make for an intriguing combination alongside Chris Lykes.
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse: Syracuse desperately needs the only offensive weapon they had last season to return to school. If he’s back, the Orange should be in the mix for another trip to the NCAA tournament.