For the first time in five months, there’s finality — finally! — on the NBA Draft landscape.
The NCAA’s early withdrawal deadline for underclassmen on Monday finally gives us a full scope of how the dust at the college level has settled. The 156 underclassmen who initially declared for the draft have been whittled down to 64.
Now it’s time to take stock of who came out ahead — and who came out, well, not ahead — in the wake of the first real (non-declaration) deadline of the NBA Draft season.
There were many winners and very few losers. Let’s break it all down.
Winner: Iowa gets Garza for another season
Since 2000, only four players who won Big Ten Player of the Year opted to return the following year, as Luka Garza announced Sunday he intends to do at Iowa. In three of those four instances, the team who welcomed back the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year won at least a share of the regular-season conference championship the following season — including last year, with Cassius Winston and Michigan State. The only instance it didn’t net a team at least a share of a conference title came when Illinois welcomed back Dee Brown, and the Illini finished second the following year.
That’s the ceiling for Iowa next season. Garza was not a one-hit- wonder. He’ll likely be the preseason National Player of the Year on an Iowa team that returns Joe Wieskamp and also gets back Jordan Bohannon, a former All-Big Ten performer who last season took a medical redshirt. That’s a trio worthy of inclusion as a conference favorite.
Fran McCaffery wasn’t even 20 years old the last time Iowa won a conference title, in 1979. But Garza returning opens up the very real scenario in which the Hawkeyes end their 41-year drought in style.
Winner: Baylor duo is back
Last season Baylor, during a stretch from early November to mid-February, won 23 consecutive games. Now the nucleus of that squad is back with Jared Butler and Macio Teague headlining the return of the team’s top three scorers from a season ago.
This is a team that may open the season as the No. 1 team in college basketball. Scott Drew’s club was freaky good defensively last season, and getting Butler back ensures his club will continue to be good offensively. He was the igniter switch for everything on that end of the floor, and he has first-round potential written all over him with his crafty handles and scoring ability.
There’s really not a team in Baylor’s tier that I consider to be a threat in the Big 12 next season. Kansas gets back Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji, which is a good start for the Jayhawks in their quest to repeat as conference champs. And West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech all have a strong returning core. But Baylor’s in their own world as the team with the loftiest, and most realistic, expectations. The Big 12 will run through Waco next season.
Loser: Stanford hurt by surprise defection
Jerod Haase’s best Stanford team disintegrated over the weekend with star freshman point guard Tyrell Terry — whose stock steadily rose throughout the season from off the radar to a potential first-rounder — opting for the draft.
It’s a huge bummer for Stanford because it is enrolling its highest-rated recruit ever, Ziaire Williams, who was going to join the core of an experienced 20-win squad with Terry leading the way. The Cardinal still have enough pieces to be an interesting watch, but not getting Terry back in a surprise one-and-done showing leaves a huge what-if for them in what may have been a top-15 caliber club.
Winner: Illinois duo returning
Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn — the catalysts for Illinois last season in its 21-win season that was on track to end in an NCAA Tournament berth — are putting the NBA on hold and coming back to school. That means Brad Underwood returns his top two scorers and four starters overall, and he’s enrolling a pair of top-50 recruits in Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo. I’m not saying this man snowmobiling the streets of Champaign, Illinois, in the heat of summer is related to this batch of bright news, but, I’m just saying this man snowmobiling the streets of Champaign in the heat of summer wasn’t spotted until the same weekend that Dosunmu and Cockburn announced their return. I’ll let you decide if the events are related.
Winner: College coaches who haven’t won a title
This might be the season when a college coach breaks through for the first time. Because three of the top-five teams in the CBS Sports Top 25 and 1 — Baylor, Gonzaga and Iowa — are led by coaches who have not yet won a national championship. And that group doesn’t even include Illinois, Creighton or Wisconsin, who are all returning top-10 caliber clubs.
With Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi returning for Gonzaga and Baylor’s core coming back, it might be the year where Scott Drew or Mark Few — finally and deservingly — accomplish the cherry on top to validate their brilliant careers.
Loser: Michigan State has holes to fill
While Iowa and Illinois celebrated returns from veteran players, Michigan State lost Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman — its top two players — to this year’s NBA Draft. And while Aaron Henry‘s return is huge, Sparty, with a core of Henry and Rocket Watts, looks to be an afterthought in the Big Ten race given what the Hawkeyes and Illini return.
Winner: Big Ten is wide open
On Sunday as Luka Garza announced his return to Iowa, Fran McCaffery spoke about what it means for his team and for Garza and for him, as a coach. The topic quickly veered towards what it means for the Big Ten, which now looks on paper to be a mortal lock to finish as a top-two college basketball conference in 2020.
“One of the exciting things is how incredibly difficult the Big Ten is going to be,” McCaffery said, likely realizing the cruel reality that his best-ever team comes at a time when the Big Ten might be at its strongest. “You look at the teams top to bottom, everybody’s good. We’ll have at least 10 teams [in the NCAA Tournament], maybe more, this year.”
Winner: Arizona State on the rise
Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge are returning to Arizona State meaning the Sun Devils are getting back their top two scorers — including the potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in Martin. We go live now to Bobby Hurley for his official comments.
Losing Romello White to transfer is a stinger but enrolling five-star Joshua Christopher and infusing him with an already-great nucleus is enough to elevate ASU into a contender in the Pac-12.
Winner: Pepperdine making waves
The best returning player in the WCC might not be from Gonzaga. No, that honor may actually be most deservedly used to describe the distinguished Pepperdine tactician Colbey Ross.
Ross tested the waters but withdrew from the draft in the final hour, and he’s the leading returning scorer in the WCC on a Pepperdine team that also returns Kessler Edwards — both of whom are considered legitimate NBA prospects.
The Waves may have the goods to go from 16-16 and middle-of-the-pack in the conference to contending for one of their best seasons in two decades.
Loser: Tough deal for Delaware
After losing leading rebounder Justyn Mutts earlier this summer, the Blue Hens took a real blow Sunday when Nate Darling, the third-leading scorer in the CAA last season, bypassed his remaining eligibility for the draft.
Darling averaged 21 points and shot 39.9% from 3-point range last season and with him, Delaware was potentially in position to field one of its best rosters in years. Now it looks like Martin Inglesby is taking on a rebuilding project in his fifth season.
Winner: Saint Louis looks loaded
Travis Ford’s best team since his arrival at Saint Louis brings back all five of its starters — including Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French, who tested the NBA Draft process. Their return, coupled with what figures to be a fairly wide-open A-10 next season, should raise the Billikens into the top tier of contenders next season after closing the season with a five-game winning streak.
Winner: It’s looking up for upperclassmen
The Dukes and the Kentuckys of the world next season, I predict, will still be the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world. Their one-and-done talent will continue to be good (because it is generally always good).
But next season may be a throwback to old-school college hoops circa Adam Morrison-era, with older players carrying older teams at the highest level. Corey Kispert for Gonzaga is a returning senior; Jared Butler and MaCio Teague for Baylor are a returning junior and senior, respectively; Collin Gillespie for Villanova is a returning senior. Everyone is old!
There will be plenty of freshmen talent to watch next season — including Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley — but the deadline helped determine that next season may be run by the older guard.
Wait and see: Mixed bag for Minnesota
The Golden Gophers lost Daniel Oturu to the draft but scored a huge win when Marcus Carr, one of the most underrated guards in the Big Ten, announced his return next season. Minnesota has an interesting returning team led by Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, but Oturu leaves a huge hole down low that won’t be easy to replace. Maybe the backcourt will be so good it won’t matter, but after a 15-16 campaign last season, it’s still hard to get overly positive or overly negative until we see this play out.
Winner: LSU looks strong
Former five-star recruit Trendon Watford was one of the big names who was truly on the fence leading into Monday’s deadline, but the freshman announced Monday that he will join Darius Days and JaVonte Smart in returning to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, next season, setting up what Will Wade may call a “strong-a**” squad in 2020. The Tigers are losing Skylar Mays and Emmitt Williams but return enough firepower to remain relevant in the SEC race and beyond.
Loser: Washington State must rebuild again
In what was an eventful deadline for Pac-12 programs, there’s perhaps no program more gutted than Washington State. The Cougars lost CJ Elleby — who led the Cougars in scoring last season — to the draft after making his decision in the final hour. Elleby could have been one of the league’s most productive players had he returned. Now Kyle Smith and Co. are replacing two of their top three scorers from last season in a league set for a bounce-back in 2020.
Wait and see: Dayton faces challenges
Of course Dayton lost Player of the Year Obi Toppin. But Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher, if there’s a consolation, did return to school and withdrew from the draft. But just how hard will it be for the Flyers, who won 29 games last season, to replace Toppin? (The answer is: really hard.) I think Dayton will definitely be in line for a regression of some sort. But Watson and Crutcher’s return makes it more likely that they remain a factor in the A-10 race.