Monday, April 29, 2013

College Basketball's NBA Draft Early Entry Winners and Losers

Now that all the relevant NBA draft deadlines have passed, college basketball coaches can finally have some semblance of roster continuity, barring the occasional homesick/minute-starved transfer.

The players who bailed are off to get (officially) paid for play, so they leave our sphere of discussion. Our examination centers on what they left behind. Is Phil Pressey's alma mater still fielding a solid team next season, or is Frank Haith stitching a lineup together with chicken wire and Duck tape?

Several other coaches are enjoying some surprisingly good news, while still others are headed back to the drawing board. Who's who?

Read on.

Winner: Oklahoma State
--Duh. Marcus Smart's return gives us a flashpoint for all the preseason Player of the Year discussions. Consider, though, the curious case of Le'Bryan Nash. He's the new Elias Harris, a guy who thought one-and-done at the beginning, but struggled to the point that he's now coming back for his junior year. Smart's helped make him a better player, and if both are up to their potential next season, it's not folly to consider OSU as a Final Four dark horse. Markel Brown and Phil Forte weren't touted NBA prospects, but their returns weren't carved in stone until Smart's announcement.

Loser: NC State
--The closest thing the Wolfpack had to a leader, Lorenzo Brown, and the team's most dominant scoring threat, CJ Leslie, are headed to the pros for money that may or may not be guaranteed. (Translation: late-first, early-second round picks both.) Top 100 recruits are coming in as potential replacements at both positions, but between these two defections, graduations (Richard Howell and Scott Wood, the crowd outside Raleigh hardly knew ye) and transfers (Rodney Purvis), those freshmen will be forced to hit the ground running if State's going back to the tournament from the newly reinforced ACC.

Winner: Michigan
--The comments write themselves. "Wait, WTF? Michigan lost the national Player of the Year and his All-Big Ten backcourt mate. How the hell did they win?"

Look at it this way: it could have been much worse. Glenn Robinson III could have been a borderline lottery pick, yet he's coming back. Mitch McGary finally got his cardio right enough to be a force in the NCAA tournament, getting a lot of pro attention in the process, but he's returning, too. Freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin will have every chance to fill Burke and Hardaway's shoes, and veteran bigs Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford return as well. The Wolverines will still be very competitive in the post-Burke era. Trust me.

Loser: Miami
--The Hurricanes may have taken the single biggest hit of any program in the country when Shane Larkin declared over the weekend. The top six scorers are all gone now; the other side of the double-edged sword of veteran talent will threaten to cut Jim Larranaga deeply next season. If there's a coach out there resourceful enough to forge a competitive season from these kinds of scraps, it's Larranaga, but a tournament return would be another national Coach of the Year-caliber performance.

Winner: Michigan State
--The Spartans' prospects for next season hinged almost totally on Adreian Payne. His return gives Sparty some hope of a competitive frontcourt, since the Big Ten isn't quaking over Alex Gauna, Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski.

The returns of Keith Appling and Gary Harris aren't quite as surprising, but are still highly welcome. Harris could play himself into a lottery lock if he stays fully healthy next season, and Appling still isn't guaranteed even a last-pick look next season. No, this was all on Payne. Without him, Sparty could have spent next year getting pushed around inside. With him, preseason top five.

Loser: Arkansas
--Neither Marshawn Powell or B.J. Young are guaranteed to be drafted, and in Powell's case, it'd be miraculous if he was. Didn't stop them from bolting Fayetteville and leaving coach Mike Anderson wondering, "Now what?" Ky Madden is the last man left from Anderson's inaugural recruiting class after big man Hunter Mickelson's transfer to Kansas. Madden, Coty Clarke and Mardracus Wade need to step up and be leaders, with freshmen Moses Kingsley and Bobby Portis hitting the ground running. Otherwise, the Hogs will simply be sausage in an improved (how could it not be?) SEC.

Winner: Creighton
Doesn't even need to ask Dad for the keys to the offense.

--Doug McDermott's back. That's all we need to know. The Big East would have loved to pile on a McBuckets-less team.

Loser: Marquette
--The loss of Vander Blue is another case of the player deciding he was no longer interested in college, since it's likely he won't get drafted. Buzz Williams will make hay as he always does, but the Golden Eagles could have been the straight-up favorites in the Big East with Blue.

Winner: UConn
--Shabazz Napier's return may mean that the Huskies bounce back with a vengeance from last season's forced postseason embargo. Every player of consequence is back, and one more season of the fast-maturing Napier's hand on the helm could see UConn become a legit top 10 team. Memphis and Louisville will have a fight on their hands in the AAC.

Loser: Georgia
--Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is gone, and there's not much else keeping Georgia from the SEC basement. Mark Fox could probably get a discounted rate if he reserves moving equipment a year in advance, because it's likely he'll be cleaning out his office by May 2014.

Winner: Baylor
--While point guard will be a question mark in the wake of Pierre Jackson's departure, the frontcourt is still as stout as ever. The returns of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson provide Scott Drew with one of, if not the, best interior duos in the Big 12.

Loser: Arizona
--Back to Confused Commenter Guy again: "Eh? Arizona lost some freshman scrub who won't get drafted and everyone else is back. Dude, you're on crack."

No, not so much. Only thing I'm addicted to is McMuffins, but that's a whole other story. While it's true that Grant Jerrett is barely a bug on the NBA's windshield, the returning Wildcats lack an important skill that he brought: perimeter shooting. With the graduations of Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons, 'Zona loses three of its four most prolific three-point shooters. Jerrett, at 40.5 percent, was the most consistent. Studly recruits Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Elliott Pitts are great athletes, but none are to be feared from long range just yet. If the 'Cats can't find a gunner (Gabe York? T.J. McConnell?), defenses can pack it in and cut off all those driving lanes.

Pushers: Louisville, Missouri, Maryland, North Carolina
--Yeah, yeah, Russ Smith is back. Chane Behanan's more important, and the loss of Gorgui Dieng could loom larger than anyone thinks for Louisville. Akoy Agau will need to be ready to protect the rim from day one.

Missouri could struggle to move the ball without a true point, but conversely, Jordan Clarkson could take over and offer more size (and hopefully better decision-making).

Can Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare be satisfactory replacements for Alex Len? Might be.

Finally, North Carolina still has James Michael McAdoo kicking around, along with every other player not named Dexter Strickland or Reggie Bullock. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on whether McAdoo, Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston can step up and play a full season at a star-quality level.

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