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The Most Influential NBA Draft Decisions

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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.

(Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

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.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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.

WATCH: No. 16 Louisville avoids late disaster, beats Clemson 56-55

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Christen Cunningham scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half to rally No. 16 Louisville, which hung on for a 56-55 victory over Clemson on Saturday.

The Cardinals (18-8, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 56-49 with 17 seconds left after a free throw by Steven Enoch but then nearly lost a third straight in disastrous fashion. Louisville saw a 23-point second-half lead evaporate against No. 2 Duke on Tuesday.

A turnover and a held ball in the Tigers end led to a pair of 3-pointers by Marcquise Reed, the latter making it a one-point game with 3 seconds left. Louisville’s Jordan Nwora tried to inbound the ball, but Reed got the steal. Nwora redeemed himself by blocking Reed’s shot, and Clemson could not get off another shot before time ran out.

Cunningham hit 5 of 7 shots in the second half to help Louisville come back from a seven-point deficit.

Louisville was held to a season-low 19 first-half points thanks to shooting a season-worst 29.6 percent in the half. While Clemson wasn’t much better at 37 percent, the Tigers took a four-point lead at the break thanks to a 3-pointer just before the buzzer by Clyde Trapp.

Elijah Thomas led the Tigers (15-10, 5-7) with 15 points. Reed had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The Tigers dictated play with their physicality inside and defense. Clemson held the Cardinals to season-low 35.2-percent shooting and held Louisville to just three offensive boards. They could keep it up for a full 40 minutes, but their defense gave them a chance for an upset.

Louisville: After losing three of their previous four, the Cardinals looked anything but great on Saturday. The Cardinals’ play in the closing seconds was reminiscent of how they wrapped up the Duke game on Tuesday and is something coach Chris Mack needs to address immediately.

Johnson, No. 8 North Carolina roll past Wake Forest 95-57

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Cameron Johnson scored 27 points, and eighth-ranked North Carolina scored the game’s first 18 points in Saturday’s 95-57 win over Wake Forest.

Freshman Coby White added 10 points, five rebounds and six assists for the Tar Heels (20-5, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who dominated from the tip following their first loss in a month.

The Tar Heels, who lost to fourth-ranked Virginia on Monday, ran out to leads of 18-0, 25-3 and 35-7. They shot 74 percent in the opening half and finished at 62 percent while making 16 of 25 3-pointers, with Johnson making his first eight shots and six from behind the arc.

Freshman Jaylen Hoard scored 17 points in an ugly afternoon for the Demon Deacons (9-15, 2-10), who suffered their most lopsided loss in three decades at Joel Coliseum.

Wake Forest shot 33 percent.

BIG PICTURE

UNC: The Tar Heels got anything they wanted to start a game that resembled more of a November tuneup than a February league date. Johnson led that effort by making 10 of 13 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers. Still, there was at least one apparent concern: the health of freshman reserve Nassir Little. He was a gametime decision after rolling his right ankle early against Virginia and felt good enough to play 11 first-half minutes, but he wasn’t on the bench after halftime.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons found reason for hope with a Jan. 15 win against then-No. 17 North Carolina State, but they had won just once since with five losses coming by at least 16 points. Things began badly Saturday when Hoard didn’t start after arriving late for a pregame shootaround. And they got no better, most notably with leading scorer Brandon Childress (15.1 points) going scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting with six turnovers.

No. 6 Michigan starts fast, beats No. 24 Maryland 65-52

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Charles Matthews scored 14 points and Iggy Brazdeikis added 13 to lift No. 6 Michigan to a 65-52 victory over No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

The Wolverines (23-3, 12-3 Big Ten) rebounded from their loss at Penn State earlier in the week. Michigan raced out to a 14-2 advantage and led by as much as 15 in the first half. It was a struggle for the Wolverines after that, but the fast start was too much for Maryland (19-7, 10-5) to overcome.

Bruno Fernando scored all 12 of his points in the second half for the Terrapins.

Michigan led 27-18 at halftime. Maryland turned the ball over 13 times in the first half. The Terps had only three turnovers in the second, but the damage was done.

With Maryland down five, Anthony Cowan Jr. had a chance to cut further into the lead, but he missed an easy layup, and Brazdeikis made a 3-pointer at the other end to make it 50-42.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins are 6-3 when trailing at halftime this season, including 5-2 in Big Ten games. But that’s a tough trend to rely on against good teams on the road. Fernando was impressive early in the second half, but that wasn’t enough, and Maryland missed a bunch of 3-pointers toward the end.

Michigan: This was a crucial win for the Wolverines in their chase for the Big Ten title. Michigan still has two games left against Michigan State and a rematch at Maryland. When the Wolverines defend like this, they can win in spite of poor outside shooting, but their 7-for-26 showing from 3-point range Saturday leaves plenty of room for improvement.

WATCH LIVE: Triple-header of A-10 action highlighted by VCU-Dayton

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There is a triple-header of Atlantic 10 games on NBCSN on Saturday afternoon, capped by one of the best games of the day.

It starts with George Washington paying a visit to Duquesne at noon and is following by Fordham taking on Rhode Island at 2:00 p.m., but the highlight of the day is VCU’s trip to Dayton at 4:00 p.m., a game that has very real Atlantic 10 title and bubble implications.

VCU is currently sitting just a half-game out of first place in the conference, one win off of Davidson’s pace, and they are playing for a shot at getting an at-large bid as well. A win at Dayton would be a very, very nice win for the Rams resume, and it would also keep them on pace to win the league title. Dayton is just a game out of first place themselves, and they happen to have one of the very best home court environments in the country.

Here is the full schedule:

GEORGE WASHINGTON at DUQUESNE, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (NBCSN)
FORDHAM at RHODE ISLAND, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (NBCSN)
VCU at DAYTON, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (NBCSN)

Bubble Banter: All of the weekend’s bubble action in one spot

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There is not just under a month left in conference play, so it is time for us to go all-in on the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Mississippi State, Washington, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas, Baylor and Syracuse.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 12): The Sooners finally snapped a five-game losing streak by going into Fort Worth and picking off TCU, 71-62. I still think that the Sooners are in a tough spot as it stands, but they now how four Q1 wins and just one loss to a team outside the top 35 in the NET — at West Virginia (115), a Q2 loss. A 4-8 mark against Q1 is not great, and neither is their 16-10 record or 4-9 mark in the Big 12, but OU does have three more shots at Q1 wins, and that doesn’t count Texas at home. Their bid is in their hands.

LOSERS

CLEMSON (NET: 42, SOS: 33): The Tigers had a shot to land their second Q1 win of the season, but after erasing and eight point lead in the final minute and forcing a turnover with 3.5 seconds left, the Tigers had a layup blocked with that would have won the game. The result doesn’t really hurt their profile other than the opportunity cost — this is the kind of win that, on this year’s bubble, can jump Clemson up four or five spots in the seed list. That’s a tough miss.

GAMES LEFT TO PLAY

Oklahoma State at TEXAS (NET: 34, SOS: 6), Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
BAYLOR (NET: 32, SOS: 53) at No. 15 Texas Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)
INDIANA (NET: 49, SOS: 36) at MINNESOTA (NET: 58, SOS: 62), Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
FLORIDA (NET: 42, SOS: 43) at ALABAMA (NET: 44, SOS: 19), Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
VCU (NET: 43, SOS: 41) at Dayton, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (NBCSN)
UTAH STATE (NET: 38, SOS: 126) at Air Force, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
LIPSCOMB (NET: 30, SOS: 188) at Kennesaw State, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
N.C. STATE (NET: 37, SOS: 239) at No. 2 Duke, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Memphis at UCF (NET: 45, SOS: 83), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 58) at South Florida, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 46, SOS: 191) at WOFFORD (NET: 28, SOS: 167), Sat. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN+)
DePaul at BUTLER (NET: 53, SOS: 25), Sat. 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
Northwestern at NEBRASKA (NET: 40, SOS: 70), Sat. 8:30 p.m. (BTN)
BELMONT (NET: 60, SOS: 166) at Tennessee Tech, Sat. 8:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Mississippi State at ARKANSAS (NET: 63, SOS: 45), Sat. 8:30 p.m. (SECNET)
ARIZONA STATE (NET: 72, SOS: 67) at Utah, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (FS1)
SETON HALL (NET: 69, SOS: 39) at CREIGHTON (NET: 57, SOS: 16), Sun. 3:00 p.m. (FS1)