Rob Dauster

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Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.

Luka Garza returns to Iowa to make a run at Player of the Year, Final Four

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Luka Garza made it official on Sunday: He will be pulling his name out of the NBA draft and returning to Iowa for his senior season.

This, as you might expect, is absolutely massive news for the Hawkeyes. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.

He’ll enter next season as the preseason National Player of the Year. Iowa is currently a top ten team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. Those two things are, as you might expect, correlated.

And this makes Garza unique.

It is not that often that we see players return to school after seasons where they received accolades like Player of the Year and first-team All-American. The reason this happened is that Garza, despite his voluminous production, doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. He’s a terrific low-post scorer that is an aggressive rebounder, plays with the motor of a honey badger and can step out and knock down a three. But he’s not a rim protector and he’s not a guy that can switch in pick-and-rolls. Players of his ilk have gone out of style in a league where centers are expected to play a certain way.

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That said, Garza did project as a really good pro in Europe, and combine that with the fact that he is of Bosnian descent, he could have made quite a bit of money had he opted to play in Europe. He had a very real decision to make: Return to school to be the most famous player in a sport and try to do something that has never happened for Iowa basketball, or go make six figures — with a crooked number in front — playing high-level European hoops.

He chose the former.

How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.

What makes this so interesting is that the Hawkeyes have talent alongside him. Joe Wieskamp is one of the best shooters in the country. Joe Toussaint has a chance to be a breakout player at the point as a sophomore. C.J. Frederick had a really promising freshman season. Jack Nunge should be healthy, and Jordan Bohannon is expected to be back as well. This is a borderline top 25 Iowa team without Luke Garza.

But with him back?

I think this Iowa capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title. And if I had to guess, Luka Garza will thrive in Iowa colors assuming that basketball is, in fact, played this winter.

Dosunmu, Cockburn returning makes Illinois a top ten team

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Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu announced on Friday night that he will be withdrawing from the 2020 NBA Draft to return to Champaign for his junior season.

“Since a kid, I’ve been working. My dream is to play in the NBA,” Dosunmu said in a video he posted to twitter. “But first, I need that national championship. Year three.”

On Saturday, star center Kofi Cockburn announced that he will be returning to school as well. He averaged 13.3 points and 8.6 boards as a freshman.

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Dosunmu was a second-team all-Big Ten performer as a sophomore, averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists while developing a reputation as one of the best big-shot makers in the sport. His decision to return to school is a bit of a surprise. While he was far from a lock to be drafted, he was expected to keep his name in the draft and make a run at the professional ranks.

Dosunmu will enter the season as an All-American and will be in the mix for Big Ten Player of the Year as well, meaning that Illinois is definitively and unquestionably the biggest winner of the early entry period, regardless of who else makes the decision to return to school. With these two in the fold, Illinois is ranked No. 10 in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. Given that Dosunmu was not expected to return to school, I did not even consider the Illini for the top 25 until his announcement. The rest of the players on the fence — Luka Garza, Xavier Tillman, Corey Kispert, etc. — will make top 25 teams better.

Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn made the Illinois program relevant.

And college basketball is better when Illinois is good.

The 15 NBA draft stay-or-go decisions that will shape college basketball’s 2020-21 season

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The end of the 2020 NBA Draft early entry decisions period is bearing down.

Underclassmen that opted to declare for the draft saw the deadline to remove their name and retain their collegiate eligibility bumped back to August 3rd due to the coronavirus pandemic. To be frank, the extra two months has not done much more than allow these players to try and get a better feel for what the basketball landscape will look like during the 2020-21 season.

But truth be told, so much is still up in the air. No one knows what college basketball is going to look like next season, not with college campuses likely to develop into mini-COVID outbreaks if students return to campus. No one can say for certain if the G League is going to happen next year, or if foreign leagues are going to allow Americans to enter their country based on the way that the United States has handled the pandemic.

Throw in the fact face-to-face meetings haven’t been made and NBA teams are currently more concerned about finding ways to keep their players that are in the bubble in the bubble, the kids making the most important decision of their lives are put in a terrible spot.

I don’t envy anyone having to make these choices right now.

But choices are going to have to be made.

And these are the 15 most influential stay-or-go decisions remaining.

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2020 NBA DRAFT DECISIONS

1. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

UPDATE: Garza’s back!

This one should be obvious. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.

But he’s also in a unique spot where he doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.

Depending on how the chips fall, I think that Iowa can still be in the mix as a top 25 team without Garza, and I don’t think that it would be crazy if Garza opted to take a deal overseas. He can make a lot of money in Europe.

But with him back?

I think this team is capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title. And if I had to guess, I would guess Garza is more likely to be wearing Iowa colors than not next season.

2. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State

UPDATE: Tillman is gone, off to the NBA.

Michigan State is going to take a hit next season because they are losing Cassius Winston, but the Spartans will still have a chance to win the Big Ten title if they bring back Xavier Tillman.

For my money, Tillman had an All-American junior season. He’s the anchor of Michigan State’s defense, a leader in the program on and off the floor and an underrated weapon offensively because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s the piece that brings everything else together for this roster.

And there are going to be some weapons there. Rocket Watts will be a year older, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham. Joey Hauser will be eligible to play, and there’s a chance that Josh Langford will be back for his final season. Aaron Henry declared for the draft, but it seems fairly likely he’ll be back for his junior season.

But without Tillman, that is all just window dressing.

I would draft Tillman in the late first round if I was an NBA team. I think he’s the best two-way big man available in this year’s draft and a player that can impact an NBA game today. He’s already married. He had his second child in February. He’s mature and carries himself as a professional as it is. The smart financial decision here would probably be to enter the draft.

That said, he may be a guy that can improve his draft spot by being the focal point offensively. He’s also said that he will not be leaving campus without a guaranteed contract, and for some reasons, there are questions about whether or not he can get one. The way that Michigan State has set him and his family up on campus is wonderful, and he has a really good thing going while sitting a year away from a college degree.

At this point, I think Tillman is a legitimate 50-50 decision.

WHAT ABOUT AARON HENRY AND JOSH LANGFORD?

UPDATE: Henry will be returning to school.

Henry is clearly a valuable piece to the puzzle for the Spartans, as is Josh Langford, who may or may not be returning after a foot injury cost him the 2019-20 season. Losing Henry would be a blow, but the sense I get is that he will be back in school. Langford is a bigger question mark, and there’s an argument to be made that his absence last season was the biggest reason that the Spartans struggled early.

3. COREY KISPERT, Gonzaga

For my money, of the three Gonzaga players who still have their names in the 2020 NBA Draft, Corey Kispert is the most influential. He’s a good defender and a great shooter as a 6-foot-6 wing, a role that gives him value as an NBA prospect. There’s a real chance that he can get picked in the late 30s or early 40s this year. That might be enough to get him to leave school.

Kispert’s skill-set also slots him in a position where the Zags really don’t have any depth to speak of. Mark Few’s teams pound the ball into the paint, and next season is not going to be any different given the amount of talented big men on the roster. But without Kispert’s floor-spacing, the lane can get clogged up awful quick. For a team that projects in the preseason top five, that matters.

WHAT ABOUT JOEL AYAYI?

UPDATE: Joel Ayayi announced that he will be returning to school.

Losing Ayayi would certainly hurt, because his value as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker that can also space the floor is immense. The best teams in college basketball this decade all played with two point guards. Ayayi would qualify as point guard No. 2 on a team with Jalen Suggs. I think, however, he needs another season of seasoning in college.

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4. TYRELL TERRY, Stanford

UPDATE: Terry announced on Friday that he will be staying in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

Tyrell Terry was one of the more underrated freshmen in college basketball last season. He averaged 14.6 points, 4.5 boards and 3.2 assists while shooting just under 41 percent from three. He’s listed at just 160 pounds, but he’s certainly on the radar of NBA teams and might even be able to sneak his way into the end of the first round.

So he has a very real decision to make.

Because, as a potential breakout star as a sophomore, Terry will be playing on a team with the potential to win the Pac-12. The Cardinal bring back everyone off of last year’s team while adding Ziaire Williams, a five-star, one-and-done freshman that will slide right in at the four. With Terry, arguably the best point guard on the west coast if he returns, Stanford could have two lottery picks on their roster and we could legitimately be looking at a team that can get to the Final Four.

Without him, do they even have a point guard on the roster?

5. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

UPDATE: Butler is returning to Baylor.

I currently have the Bears sitting as the No. 3 team in my preseason top 25, and that’s assuming that Butler is coming back to school. That, however, is not a guarantee. Butler showed enough as a creator in isolation and ball-screens this past season that he could end up getting picked early in the second round of the draft, and that has been enough to make worse players opt to leave school.

The big issue with Baylor this past season is that they went through stretches where they just couldn’t score. Butler is, by far, their best scorer, the one guy that can go create a bucket out of nothing. Without him, how long will those scoring droughts last?

6. CHRIS SMITH, UCLA

Smith is a really interesting prospect in this year’s draft class. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing that averaged 13.1 points and shot 34 percent from three and 84 percent from the line for the Bruins, who turned into one of the 25 best teams in college basketball by the end of the season.

UCLA brings back the majority of last year’s roster, but they already suffered one major blow this offseason when five-star point guard Daishen Nix opted to accept a contract from the G League instead of heading to Westwood. Losing Smith would be another significant blow to a program that was once considered a borderline top ten team heading into the 2020-21 season.

One thing that is worth noting here: Smith, a junior, is three months younger than Precious Achiuwa and Cassius Stanley, both one-and-done freshmen that are expected to be drafted this year.

7. YVES PONS, Tennessee

Pons is definitely not a guy that is going to make any preseason All-American lists if he opts to return to school, but he may just be the best defensive player in all of college basketball. At 6-foot-6 and the best athlete in the sport, Pons can quite literally guard anyone from a point guard to a center, and he can make a step-in three. His presence will allow the Vols to play all kinds of small-ball lineups, which is exactly what they need to do with the number of talented guards on next year’s roster.

He is a borderline first round pick in my mind, although I would expect him to go in the second round if he decides to keep his name in the draft. With Pons back, Tennessee is my pick to win the SEC next season.

8. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois

UPDATE: Dosunmu announced on Friday night that he’ll be returning to school. That’s enough to bump the Illini into the top ten of the preseason top 25. Cockburn announced on Saturday that he will be returning as well. 

Dosunmu had a really, really good sophomore season for the Illini, averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists. The problem, however, is that while he hit a number of big shots over the course of the season, he didn’t really do much to prove to NBA teams that he can actually be a consistent perimeter shooter. He’s not expected to be a first round pick and there’s a chance he could drop out of the top 45. Sometimes guys that are great college players don’t project well to the NBA. Dosunmu is that guy.

That said, the safe bet seems to be that Dosunmu will keep his name in the draft, and with some backcourt talent coming into the program, Brad Underwood should be able to survive the hit. But if he does come back, Illinois will have an outside shot at winning the Big Ten title.

WHAT ABOUT KOFI COCKBURN?

Despite a terrific freshman season, Cockburn is not expected to be drafted if he keeps his name in the draft. He’s a slow-footed, 280-pound center that is more likely to tear a rim off the backboard than he is to make a three. If this was 1990 and not 2020, he’d be a top ten pick. But as it stands, he has one of the easier 2020 NBA Draft stay-or-go decisions.

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9. REMY MARTIN, Arizona State

UPDATE: Martin announced that he will be returning to school.

In addition to having the best name in college basketball, Remy Martin is coming off of a season where he averaged 19.1 points and 4.1 assists for a team that would have made the NCAA tournament had it been held. He’s a potential preseason All-American on a team that will add five-star freshman Josh Christopher and likely will return Alonzo Verge. With Martin in the fold, Arizona State will be in the same conversation as UCLA, Stanford and Oregon when it comes to predicting the Pac-12 champion. They may even be the favorite.

10. JAY HUFF, Virginia

UPDATE: Huff will be heading back to Virginia for his senior season.

I think that Jay Huff has quite a bit of potential as an NBA player. He’s 7-foot-1 with three-point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and he’s also a rim protector that has spent four years playing for Tony Bennett. To me, he makes perfect sense as an off-the-bench big in the league.

That said, his production has not quite lived up to his potential. Even playing in a system that stifles scoring numbers, Huff’s 8.5 points and 6.2 boards as a junior was a disappointment. So I think he should come back to school, where he would anchor a lineup that should be much improved for the Wahoos.

11. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU

The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation and Emmitt Williams to the professional ranks. But with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid roster. Watford, who averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 boards last season, is a bucket-getting combo-forward that should be their best player if he opts to return to school.

WHAT ABOUT JAVONTE SMART?

Smart is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists as a sophomore, and with Mays gone, the Tigers are going to need someone to anchor their backcourt. Neither Watford nor Smart are projected as first round picks, and if they follow Williams out the door, the Tigers would be one of the biggest losers of the early entry period.

12. ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas

UPDATE: Joe is returning to school for his sophomore season.

Arkansas already lost Mason Jones, who was last year’s leading scorer, to the draft. Joe entered the season with some NBA Draft hype due to the fact that he is a 6-foot-7 wing that shot a lot of threes as a freshman and made quite a few of them. His sophomore season was not quite as efficient, and also featured a knee injury in the middle of the year that slowed things down.

The Hogs have some talented transfers in the fold and four four-star prospects enrolling this summer. They remade their roster is typical Eric Musselman fashion. Keeping a veteran scorer around could be the difference between fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament and seeing themselves ranked in the top 25.

13. MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado

UPDATE: Wright is returning to school.

Colorado is already losing Tyler Bey, so the Buffaloes are taking a hit with early entries in this year’s draft. Wright matters, however, because he could be a preseason All-American. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 boards and 5.0 assists. He’s the kind of player that can put together a senior season where he throws a team on his back and carries them to a postseason run. Colorado is relevant with Wright in the fold. They are not without him.

14. SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI, Seton Hall

UPDATE: Mamu is heading back to school, he announced on Saturday.

Mamu is coming off of a season where he averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 boards as one of the more underrated big men in college basketball. Someone on the Pirate roster is going to have to fill the void left by Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill, and Mamu would be that guys if he opts to return to school.

15. MARCUS CARR, Minnesota

UPDATE: Carr announce that he will be returning to school.

The Golden Gophers have quite a bit left up in the air at the moment — their two most impactful transfers are both awaiting word on whether or not they will be sitting out for the upcoming season — but Carr may be their most important decision. I’m not sure that he has an NBA future, but he may have an all-Big Ten future if he returns to school. Carr averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.3 boards last season.