- Players had until midnight on Wednesday to pull out of the NBA draft and return to school, and their decisions have a big impact on the 2019–20 outlook for several college programs.
The NBA draft withdrawal deadline for NCAA underclassmen has passed, finally offering us an almost-complete look at team rosters heading into the summer and 2019–20 season. It was a big year for late returns, with Jordan Nwora, Devon Dotson, Myles Powell, Mamadi Diakite and E.J. Montgomery all among the players who announced they would come back to school Wednesday night to join a long list of impact players who will return to campuses across the country.
Not every team got good news, of course, with plenty of players electing to stay in the draft and pursue a professional career. In terms of the college landscape, which teams’ stocks were bolstered with this year’s decisions, and which dropped? Our winners and losers are below—note that teams weren’t penalized for players who were fully expected to leave, and players who were always longshots to depart may not have moved the needle enough to warrant mention.
Despite failing to land a number of late recruiting targets, the Jayhawks had as good a spring as anyone thanks to who they brought back. Coming off a season-ending injury, Udoka Azubuike didn’t even enter the NBA draft, giving Kansas a star senior in the frontcourt before the waiting game even began. It later got good news on Silvio De Sousa’s appeal of his 2019–20 suspension, and De Sousa withdrew his name after being declared eligible for next season. But the biggest news of all came just a few hours before Wednesday night’s deadline, when point guard Devon Dotson announced he too will be back in Lawrence. News that Quentin Grimes entered the transfer portal after taking his own name out of the draft hurts, but doesn’t alter the fact that KU retains an excellent roster, especially with the pivotal piece of Dotson back to run the offense. This group will be no stranger to preseason hype, and after having their Big 12 streak snapped, expect the Jayhawks to be as hungry as ever come fall.
When Mamadi Diakite took his draft decision all the way down to the wire on Wednesday night, Virginia was staring at the same worst-case scenario that befell previous champ Villanova a year ago. To be clear, it’s a trade-off the Cavaliers—and any other team—would gladly accept knowing it was a consequence of winning a national title. But while Diakite eventually announced a triumphant return to Charlottesville, UVa’s placement on the losers list was ultimately fulfilled when Kyle Guy joined Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter as players heading out the door more than a month ago. That’s not to say that Diakite’s return isn’t immensely valuable for a team that’s losing a trio as superb as Jerome-Hunter-Guy, but there are legitimate questions about a thin Virginia backcourt, and a lot of pressure on incoming guards Casey Morsell and Tomas Woldetensae to produce early.
Jordan Nwora was one of the biggest remaining dominos entering Wednesday, and his evening announcement that he will return to Louisville cemented a Cardinals team with Final Four potential in 2019–20. Chris Mack is bringing in a strong recruiting class, as well as St. Joseph’s grad transfer Lamarr Kimble, but Nwora was the difference in making this a team that will enter next year with high expectations—and not just plenty of optimism. The Cardinals also got big man Steven Enoch back when he withdraw from the draft, and while V.J. King is moving on, Nwora is the jewel of a talented returning core that also includes Dwayne Sutton, Darius Perry, Ryan McMahon and Malik Williams.
The Vols were hoping to get at least one of first-team All-America Grant Williams or point guard Jordan Bone back for another year in Knoxville, but both elected to stay in the draft. That leaves Tennessee with just one returning starter—rising senior guard Lamonte Turner—and while it has some other intriguing returning pieces plus a top-25 recruiting class coming in, there’s no doubting that it has a ton of production to replace.
We’re used to Kentucky adding big pieces to its ever-changing roster each spring … but what about re-adding pieces it already had? The Wildcats made out extremely well this NBA draft cycle, losing only the players they overwhelmingly expected to (PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson) and bringing back point guard Ashton Hagans—who didn’t even test the waters—and big men E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards. Having a second-year point guard like Hagans is huge, but the late returns of Montgomery and Richards were especially pivotal after five-star forward and John Calipari target Jaden McDaniels picked Washington in May. The ’Cats were facing the prospect of a thin frontcourt even despite landing grad transfer Nate Sestina, and getting Montgomery and Richards back gives them not just much better depth, but the kind of experience that’s typically a rare luxury in Lexington.
The biggest news of the Blue Devils’ offseason came back in early April, when point guard Tre Jones announced he will return for a sophomore year. Jones was a sparkplug on defense and often seemed poised beyond his years as a freshman despite shooting struggles, and he’ll now have the benefit of a year in Mike Krzyzewski’s system as he leads another incoming crop of elite freshmen. The departure of center Marques Bolden, who served an important bench role as a junior, isn't ideal, but Javin DeLaurier's withdrawal from the draft brings a level of depth and experience back in the frontcourt. If the Blue Devils’ freshmen are ready to go, they should once again be ACC and national contenders.
Killian Tillie and Zach Norvell Jr. were the only real toss-ups when it came to Gonzaga’s draft decisions, and while they wound up bringing back one of two, it’s hard not to feel like Norvell’s exit outweighs Tillie’s return. Tillie is no doubt a major piece to retain, but there are questions about his health after being plagued by injury in the last year, and the fact of the matter is that the Zags’ roster is light at guard. With Josh Perkins having graduated and Norvell off to the NBA, Gonzaga loses its starting backcourt and leaves wing Corey Kispert as the lone returning starter period. A strong recruiting class is on the way in, but it’s heavily weighted toward the wing and frontcourt. Expect Mark Few to still bring in a grad transfer guard or two.
Winner: Michigan State
When Cassius Winston announced in mid-April that he will return to East Lansing for his senior season, he sealed Michigan State as the popular pick to open 2019–20 as the nation’s No. 1 team. That’s how good the All-American was as a junior, when he put the Spartans on his back and led them through an injury-plagued year to win Big Ten regular season and tournament crowns and go all the way to the Final Four. And while big man Nick Ward did depart, the Spartans are in a good position to absorb his exit thanks to the emergence of rising junior center Xavier Tillman. Add in a top-25 recruiting class led by four-star guard Rocket Watts, and it’s easy to see why there’s so much hype around the Spartans.
Winner: Seton Hall
Markus Howard will almost certainly be named the preseason Big East Player of the Year, but Myles Powell could be the conference’s most important returnee given what he’s coming back to in South Orange. After a monster junior year in which he averaged 23.1 points, Powell will anchor a Pirates team that loses just one starter and has the firepower to challenge Villanova and stay prominent nationally all season.
Even before John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seemed clear the NBA draft decisions were not going to go in the Wolverines’ favor. Charles Matthews was the first to announce he’d keep his name in, and while he technically had a year of eligibility remaining, it wasn’t remotely a surprise. The ensuing exits of sophomore Jordan Poole and freshman Ignas Brazdeikis (the latter of whom became the first—and last—one-and-done player of the Beilein era) also weren’t hard to see coming, but the prevailing feeling entering April had been that if Michigan brought even one of the trio back, it would be a major win. Their departures don’t leave a bare cupboard in Ann Arbor for Juwan Howard, as some new coaches could only dream of inheriting a roster that includes Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske, Isaiah Livers and multiple ex-top-100 recruits, but replacing Matthews, Poole and Brazdeikis’s offensive production could prove a difficult task.
Bruno Fernando’s departure after two seasons was expected, but Terps fans were dealt an early reprieve of sweating out the decision of a different big man when All-Freshman Big Ten honoree Jalen Smith announced in early April that he wouldn’t even test the draft waters. Smith, who was coming off an pair of excellent NCAA tournament games, is a crucial piece for a Maryland team that could enter 2019–20 in the top 10, and the rising sophomore will likely be tabbed as a popular breakout candidate. Meanwhile, while Anthony Cowan’s return after declaring never really felt in jeopardy, he vitally gives Mark Turgeon something he’s never had in his previous eight years in College Park: a senior point guard.
The Ducks did get one huge piece back: point guard Payton Pritchard, who has started nearly every game of his Oregon career and spearheaded its Sweet 16 run in March. Bol Bol and Louis King were likely always leaving, but it was Kenny Wooten’s decision to stay in the draft that swung Dana Altman’s team over to this side of the pendulum. A return of the uber-athletic and defensive stalwart Wooten, coupled with a top-15 incoming recruiting class, would have likely made Oregon the favorite to win the Pac-12, but as things stand, the Ducks have a lot of offensive and defensive production to replace from a team that had only just finally started to jell.
The Golden Eagles’ offseason has been full of twists and turns, but the high point was undoubtedly when star guard Markus Howard announced he would return for his senior year without going through the draft process. Howard has been torching college defenses and dazzling viewers for the last three seasons, including averaging 25 points as a junior while shooting 40.3% from three. Unfortunately for Marquette, the 2019–20 hype train lasted all of one weekend before brothers Sam and Joey Hauser stunned the college hoops world in announcing they would transfer. While that was undoubtedly a significant blow for the Eagles, they’re a winner from a draft perspective for bringing back a player who will undoubtedly be a top preseason candidate for National Player of the Year.
For all of the turbulence the Tigers have gone through since Will Wade was first suspended back in early March, it wound up being a pretty good spring in Baton Rouge. Wade is back and reeled in five-star forward Trendon Watford, and an NBA draft cycle that looked like it could be disastrous for LSU when a whopping six different players declared ultimately proved to be largely fruitful. Naz Reid and Tremont Waters’s exits weren’t surprises, but the Tigers got back guards Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays, wing Marlon Taylor and big man Emmitt Williams from the draft. The exits of Waters and Reid are no small potatoes, but LSU is in good position to continue the momentum of last season's program revival.
Following their exhilarating run to the Final Four, the Tigers have some retooling to do. The sweet-shooting backcourt duo of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper is no more, the former having graduated and the latter having remained in the draft. Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL in the Sweet 16, also opted to keep his name in, bringing the total number of departing Auburn players to five (Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer also graduate). Auburn won’t be short on experience next year, however, thanks to the presence of rising seniors J'Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. A lot is riding on the shoulders of McCormick in particular, who is set to take the point guard reins from Harper and lead an offense that was one of the nation’s most entertaining in 2018–19. A recruiting class that includes three four-stars, including top-40 wing Isaac Okoro, will also be counted on.
It may seem like a misnomer to say the Fighting Illini showed reason for optimism in 2018–19 after the program posted its lowest win total since the ’70s, but when you dig inside the season—like the fact that they turned around a brutal first half and ultimately improved on their 2017–18 Big Ten win total by three despite the conference being significantly tougher—you can see the foundation being built by Brad Underwood. Ayo Dosunmu is a big part of that, and after coming in as the No. 32 recruit and having a strong freshman season, he elected not to even test the NBA draft waters. That’s a big win for the Illini.
Loser: Iowa State
After an overachieving year that crash-landed down the stretch (save for a three-game run through the Big 12 tournament), the Cyclones bid farewell to five of their top seven scorers, three of whom left for the draft (one of the three, Cameron Lard, originally intended to transfer before turning pro). Neither Lindell Wigginton nor Talen Horton-Tucker’s decisions were surprising, but they do leave Iowa State facing plenty of roster turnover. Now-eligible guard Prentiss Nixon and four three-star recruits will look to help plug the holes, and it’s reportedly expected that new Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton will apply for immediate eligibility.
Andrew Nembhard’s decision to return for his sophomore year should give the Gators an elite young backcourt in 2019–20, with the former five-star joining with incoming five-star Tre Mann and returning guard Noah Locke. The Gators also have five-star wing Scottie Lewis and top-50 center Omar Payne on the way in, which will help replace three graduating seniors, even as frontcourt depth questions remain.
Winner: Utah State
The Aggies were one of the surprises of college basketball in Craig Smith’s first season as head coach, and they look poised to build on that after Neemias Queta pulled out of the draft to return for his sophomore season. With three other starters returning, including senior Sam Merrill, who averaged 20.9 points as a junior, Utah State already looks like the class of the Mountain West.
Optimism is high in Athens, where Tom Crean has a top-10 recruiting class on the way in (headlined by overall No. 2 prospect Anthony Edwards), but the Bulldogs’ hopeful climb out of the SEC's bottom tier and into relevance would have been even easier had big man Nic Claxton stayed. With four seniors also gone and six freshmen on the way in, it will be a youth movement for Georgia next season.
It’s not too often you see an Ivy League school on lists like these, but the Crimson got a big boost with the return of Bryce Aiken. Aiken was the centerpiece of Harvard’s top-25 recruiting class back in 2016, and after being limited by injury for parts of each of the last two seasons, he’ll look to bring the Crimson back to the NCAA tournament alongside Chris Lewis and Seth Towns, the latter of whom was the 2017–18 Ivy League Player of the Year before missing last season with a knee injury.
Tyus Battle wasted little time announcing he would enter, and stay in, the NBA draft following his junior season, but the case of big man Oshae Brissett was more cloudy for the Orange. His eventual decision to go pro leaves Syracuse with just one returning starter, senior Elijah Hughes, and plenty of question marks heading into 2019–20. A five-man recruiting class and returnees Marek Dolezaj, Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey and Bourama Sidibe will see plenty of opportunities next season.
A coaching change after longtime coach Mick Cronin took the UCLA job did not deter Bearcats star Jarron Cumberland from returning for his senior year, marking a significant win for Cincy. The reigning AAC Player of the Year, Cumberland gives new coach John Brannen a major offensive weapon and keeps Cincinnati in “win-now” mode. While Memphis will draw most of the AAC offseason hype thanks to Penny Hardaway’s stellar recruiting class, don’t sleep on the Bearcats.
Darius Garland was a no-doubt departure, but the case of fellow former five-star Simi Shittu was far less clear. As Vanderbilt’s season spiraled following Garland’s December meniscus tear that ended his college career—eventually culminating in the firing of Bryce Drew—Shittu seemed to stagnate, scoring 15 points just once after Jan. 5. Despite having a rough combine showing by most accounts, the big man elected not to return to school under new Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse, who faces a rebuilding effort in Nashville.
In one of the biggest twists of draft decision day, Yoeli Childs reversed course from his plans to stay in the draft and announced in a video on Twitter that he will return to BYU for his senior year. That’s an excellent development for new Cougars coach Mark Pope, as Childs had a monster junior season, averaging 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 50.7% from the field. He returns to a veteran BYU roster that also includes rising seniors TJ Haws, Nick Emery and Zac Seljaas.
Loser: NC State
The Wolfpack did get Markell Johnson back, but a departure by Johnson would’ve been fairly shocking. Instead, NC State was the only team on this list to lose a signed commit to the draft, with four-star guard Jalen Lecque opting to go straight to the pros thanks to being eligible as a 19-year-old, fifth-year senior at Brewster (N.H.) Academy. Lecque’s decision ultimately wasn’t surprising, but he would’ve been a nice addition for a Wolfpack team that just missed out on the Big Dance last season.
Winner: Penn State
Penn State had one of the most surprising midseason turnarounds, going from an 0–10 start in the loaded Big Ten to winning seven of their last 10, but the Nittany Lions would only be in position to build on that if they brought back leading scorer and rebounder Lamar Stevens. With Stevens officially back in tow, PSU has a legitimate All-Big Ten caliber player to anchor a solid returning core that also includes Mike Watkins, Myles Dread and Jamari Wheeler.
Junior wing Armoni Brooks took his decision down to the final day and it didn’t go in the Cougars’ favor, with Houston officially losing three starters and its top two scorers from its 33–4 team that made the Sweet 16. While Dejon Jarreau could be in line for a breakout as a junior and Nate Hinton has a lot of potential, Kelvin Sampson’s group will need to fight to stay at the top of an AAC that features a young-and-talented Memphis squad and a veteran Cincinnati team.
The Musketeers had four players declare for the draft—Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin—and while none of the quartet appeared likely to stay in, we’ve seen plenty of teams over recent years only bring back part of a group that large. Returning all four points to brighter things on the horizon for a team that got better as last season progressed.
That the Bruins lost the trio of Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown to the draft wasn’t at all surprising. But when you consider two of the three don’t even appear on SI.com’s top 100 Big Board of prospects and the third, Wilkes, checks in at No. 89, it’s hard not to feel like this was the final chapter of a lost season in Westwood.
Winner: Western Kentucky
After convincing five-star recruit Charles Bassey to come to Bowling Green a year ago, Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury had lightning strike twice on Wednesday when Bassey pulled out of the draft to return for a second season. Bassey was more off-the-radar than most of his five-star peers last season due to the nature of being at a mid-major, but the big man averaged a double double with 14.6 points and 10 rebounds for the Hilltoppers. With three other starters returning, including Taveion Hollingsworth, WKU looks poised to make noise in 2019–20.
Loser: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska
We’re lumping these three Big Ten teams together because they all lost exactly one player to the draft: Tyler Cook for Iowa, Amir Coffey for Minnesota and Isaiah Roby for Nebraska. All three are notable losses for their squads, though the Hawkeyes did retain rising sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp, as expected. Iowa and the Golden Gophers could still make some noise in the Big Ten next season (though the former’s prospects likely depend on whether Jordan Bohannon is healthy), but the Cornhuskers will be almost entirely reliant on new pieces as Fred Hoiberg undergoes a full roster overhaul in his first season.
Winner: Davidson, Dayton
A down year for the Atlantic 10 seems poised to be a thing of the past next year. VCU will be the favorite to defend its regular-season crown after bringing back almost everyone, but this week Davidson and Dayton both got the pieces back that they need to challenge at the top. A-10 Player of the Year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and his backcourt mate Kellan Grady both announced their return to the Wildcats, while A-10 Rookie of the Year Obi Toppin headed back to the Flyers after averaging 14.4 points on 66.6% shooting.
Loser: West Virginia
Sagaba Konate staying in the draft is a loss not just for the Mountaineers but for all of college basketball, whose fans will surely miss his show-stopping blocks (opposing players, however, probably not so much). Konate appeared in just eight games in his junior year due to injury, and WVU will miss his game-altering presence in the paint.
Winner: ...Whoever Lands Kerry Blackshear Jr.
When Kerry Blackshear Jr. announced he will return to college for a senior season late Wednesday night, he instantly became a top returning player nationally. There’s one massive remaining question though: Where will he suit up? When the Virginia Tech forward declared for the NBA draft back in April, he entered the transfer portal as well. In withdrawing from the draft, Blackshear reiterated that he is still “evaluating my options for my last year of eligibility,” strongly suggesting a grad transfer is on the table. Will he return to Virginia Tech? Will he join former Hokies coach Buzz Williams at Texas A&M? Or will he go somewhere else? With the Blackshear saga still very much alive, one lucky team is going to make a very big final splash this offseason.