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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.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.