On Friday, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com dedicated an entire column to the importance of a team keeping their stars out of the NBA and on a college campus for an extra season.
The evidence backs his argument up. Kentucky got 31 points out of Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb in the national title game. North Carolina was considered the biggest challenger to the Wildcats heading into the tournament because they returned Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Ohio State made the Final Four because Jared Sullinger returned and Kansas rode the broad shoulders of Thomas Robinson to the national title game. Baylor (Perry Jones), Vanderbilt (Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli), Florida (Patric Young), Xavier (Tu Holloway) and Georgetown (Hollis Thompson) all had better seasons thanks the decision of a select few stars to return to school.
Thomas played terrific basketball down the stretch of the season. Prior to an off-night in the Final Four against Kansas, Thomas had averaged 20.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg while shooting 54.1% from the floor and 41.8% (23-for-55, more than 4.5 attempts per game) from three over a 12 game stretch and 22.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg in the four previous NCAA tournament games.
It was impressive enough to get him into the discussion as a first round pick. But on Friday, Thomas announced his intentions to return to Ohio State. And while this decision won’t be official until April 29th, his presence in the Ohio State lineup takes them from a team that will finish near the top of the Big Ten to a team with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
Thad Matta is a terrific recruiter, and as such his roster is stocked with top 25 and top 50 recruits from the classes of 2010 and 2011. That’s all well and good, but with Sullinger heading to the NBA and William Buford graduating, losing Thomas would have meant that the Buckeyes would be without a proven go-to scorer.
With Thomas, the Buckeyes look like a team that may be able to contend with Indiana for the Big Ten title and that is capable of a deep run in March as they ride the coattails of their junior forward that will likely be a preseason all-american.