The Major Stay-or-Go NBA Draft Decisions That Will Shape the College Season

Not every player who has declared for the 2020 NBA draft will keep his name in the pool. Which college teams have the most on the line?
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It’s that time again: Spring is in the air, and even in a year when the world is facing a pandemic crisis and sports are shutdown, NBA draft decisions must go on. While it’s not clear whether the 2020 draft will occur as currently scheduled on June 25, college underclassmen had until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night to declare their intentions to go through the process, with many choosing to retain their college eligibility should they elect to withdraw before the June 3 deadline.

While a number of players are foregone conclusions to stay in the draft, others aren’t, leaving their schools to enter the annual waiting game before finding out final decisions. For the most part here, we’re assuming players projected in the first round of SI.com’s Jeremy Woo's most recent NBA mock draft will be staying in, and players that have confirmed (or strongly indicated) they’re all-in on the NBA are likewise not much of a factor here (nor are players who seem all but a formality to return). While this is by no means an exhaustive list (after all, nearly 150 Division I underclassmen have declared for the draft this year), we’re highlighting the biggest cases (arranged by school) that will help define the college basketball offseason. 

NBA draft decisions 2020 schools players

Iowa (Luka Garza)

Garza's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Iowa's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 8

If Garza comes back to Iowa, it seems a safe bet he will be the preseason favorite for National Player of the Year. The senior is in a bit of a similar situation to Cassius Winston last year, with not the highest NBA draft stock (Garza doesn’t appear on SI’s latest 80-prospect Big Board) and a chance to have a special senior season upon return. The Hawkeyes would likely be a preseason top-10 team and perhaps the Big Ten favorite if Garza opts to stay in Iowa City, especially considering they’ll get a healthy Jordan Bohannon back and are otherwise set to return their entire starting lineup.

Baylor (Jared Butler, MaCio Teague)

Butler's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: No. 46
Teague's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Baylor's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 3

The Bears’ dream season was cut short without a postseason, and their ceiling for next year will ultimately depend on the pending decisions of Butler and Teague. Butler is the big fish after a breakout sophomore season during which he led a defensive-minded team in scoring and shot 38.1% from the perimeter, and a return to Waco would solidify Scott Drew’s team having high expectations for 2020–21.

The Bears are set to get back key role players Mark Vital and Davion Mitchell, and bring in a pair of centers to help make up for the graduation of Freddie Gillespie. Teague, meanwhile, had a solid season on the wing after transferring in from UNC Asheville, and was the team’s second-leading scorer after Butler. If both return, Baylor has a strong case for being a preseason top-five bunch. If both depart—or even just Butler—it’s going to have to replace a significant scoring punch.

Villanova (Saddiq Bey)

Bey's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: No. 16
Villanova's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 1

Bey looks like a lock to be a first-round NBA pick, so the chances he returns to Villanova seem slim. Still, coach Jay Wright told The New York Times that if Bey “doesn’t get something that’s really definite, I think there’s a chance he could come back,” and in a draft year filled with uncertainty, that’s enough to keep him on this list. The Wildcats are playing with house money at this point concerning Bey, who made a huge leap in his sophomore season to put himself in this position. They’ll be plenty fine if he does stay in the draft—perhaps even the preseason national favorite—but getting him back would make them downright scary.

Gonzaga (Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusev, Joel Ayayi)

Kispert's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: No. 47
Petrusev's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Ayayi's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: No. 41
Gonzaga's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 2

One year after having significant NBA draft departures, the Zags will once again wait for the fate of a trio of key players. Mark Few managed to impressively reload after his team’s 2019 Elite Eight run, and next season’s group has a chance to be even better. If all three of Kispert (a versatile, sharpshooting wing), Petrusev (an All-American center) and Ayayi (a talented wing who has already said his “No. 1 option is still to return to Gonzaga”) come back, the sky’s the limit for a roster that also has five-star guard Jalen Suggs signed to a letter of intent. If Petrusev leaves, the Zags do have 6’ 10” sophomore Drew Timme waiting in the wings for his starting spot.

Michigan State (Xavier Tillman, Aaron Henry)

Tillman's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: 29
Henry's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: 64
MSU's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 11

The Spartans were sometimes a two-man team on offense last season, with Cassius Winston and Tillman carrying the load. Winston is graduating and Tillman could be on the way out too after declaring, especially considering the 21-year-old is married with two children. A now-eligible Joey Hauser and incoming four-star center Mady Sissoko will help replenish Michigan State's frontcourt regardless, but replacing an experienced go-to guy like Tillman is not easy. The other key piece here is the 6' 6" Henry, who hasn't quite put it all together yet in East Lansing but remains an intriguing talent. Henry seems the more likely of the two to return, but losing both would be a definite setback.

Florida (Andrew Nembhard, Tre Mann)

Nembhard's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Mann's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Florida's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 18

The Gators’ 2019–20 season never came together the way they wanted it to after starting the year in the AP top 10, but they have a chance to bring back four starters despite the departure of Kerry Blackshear Jr. Leading scorer Keyontae Johnson and former five-star Scottie Lewis have already announced they’ll be back in Gainesville, and Noah Locke, Ques Glover and Omar Payne will join them.

That leaves Nembhard, a former five-star himself who already passed on the draft after going through the process one year ago, and Mann, a five-star combo guard from the 2019 class. Nembhard averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists as a sophomore, and while he shot only 30.8% from three, he ranked second in SEC play in assist rate. Mann didn’t have an immense impact as a freshman, averaging 5.3 points in 17.8 minutes per game, but his return becomes critical for Florida if Nembhard, its starting point guard, stays in the draft. The Gators' best-case scenario involves getting their lead facilitator back for another year, but the return of Mann would soften that blow (they could also turn to transfer Tyree Appleby for some minutes at the point).

Stanford (Tyrell Terry)

Terry's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: 23
Stanford's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: Next five out

Terry was quietly among the nation’s more impressive freshmen last season, and with five-star freshman wing Ziaire Williams on the way in and at least four other starters expected to return (including Oscar da Silva and Daejon Davis), the Cardinal are in position to further build on a surprising 20-win season. The return of Terry would put Stanford among the legitimate Pac-12 contenders, though with his stock trending toward being a first-round pick, it might be an unlikely outcome.

Arkansas (Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones)

Joe's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: 35
Jones's ranking on SI's draft Big Board: N/A

Arkansas took a step forward last year in Eric Musselman’s first season before injuries and the SEC schedule caught up with it. The Razorbacks lost five conference games in a row with Joe sidelined, closing the year by winning four of six after his return. Joe was expected to be the breakout star for Arkansas in 2019–20, and while he put together a fine season, that honor went to Jones, who exploded while averaging 22.0 points and being named co-SEC Player of the Year by the AP. Musselman has a lot coming in for 2020–21—including the nation’s No. 6 recruiting class (per the 247Sports Composite) and intriguing grad transfers Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky) and Vance Jackson (New Mexico)—but it will be a clear team to watch if at least one of Joe or Jones returns to Fayetteville.

Illinois (Kofi Cockburn)

Cockburn's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A

Ayo Dosunmu is almost certainly out the door from Illinois, but Cockburn is a pivotal stay-or-go case. He arrived in Champaign as a four-star, top-50 recruit and made an instant impact on the Illini, eventually winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The 7-foot, 290-pound bruiser more than held his own in a conference stacked with great big men and was a double-double threat every night, but his place in the modern NBA game is less defined. Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili were the only Illinois rotation players taller than 6’ 6”, and frontcourt depth will no doubt be a concern if the former stays in the draft.

Dayton (Jalen Crutcher)

Crutcher's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A

The Flyers’ best player not named Obi Toppin, Crutcher had a heck of a season in his own right during the team’s special year. With at least three starters—including Wooden Award-winning Toppin—gone, taking a step back is inevitable for Dayton, but getting Crutcher back would keep them right in the mix in the A-10. The senior guard could slide into Toppin’s spot as the team’s leading scorer and would have a strong case at being the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.

Alabama (John Petty, Herbert Jones)

Petty's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Jones's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A

Leading scorer Kira Lewis has already made his departure from Tuscaloosa official, but Petty and Jones are both candidates to return. Second-year coach Nate Oats has been doing work on the recruiting trail for the Tide, landing Yale grad transfer Jordan Bruner and bringing in a top-20 freshman class next season (in addition, point guard Jahvon Quinerly is now eligible after sitting out). Jones, who played through recovery from a wrist fracture, proved to be an ideal fit for Oats’s system as a junior glue guy, while Petty averaged 14.5 points and shot 44% from three. Oats has Alabama's rebuild on a fast track, and it’d be further expedited by the return of the rising senior pair.

Houston (Nate Hinton, DeJon Jarreau)

Hinton's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Jarreau's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Houston's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 13

With the news that Quentin Grimes will return for 2020–21, the Cougars are on the verge of making real noise next season. Houston has been consistently good in recent years under Kelvin Sampson, but would be the runaway favorite in the AAC with the return of both players to join Grimes and rising sophomore talent Caleb Mills. Hinton is an efficient scorer and strong defender on the wing who shot 38.7% from three, while Jarreau is a 6’ 5” guard who can play the point and had the fourth-best assist rate in AAC play.

Michigan (Isaiah Livers)

Livers's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Michigan's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: No. 20

The Wolverines already got good news when rising sophomore Franz Wagner announced he will return, but Livers is the biggest piece of their 2020–21 puzzle. His impact on Michigan was clear when comparing the team’s performance with him and without him last season, with injuries costing the junior 10 games. The Wolverines are already losing program stalwarts Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske and saw the transfer of guard David DeJulius (plus brought in Columbia point guard Mike Smith), and after a couple recent recruiting setbacks, getting Livers back to lead an intriguing developing roster would be a major boost.

Seton Hall (Sandro Mamukelashvili)

Mamukelashvili's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A

Despite losing program legend Myles Powell and starters Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill, the Pirates are setting themselves up to stay in the mix next season. They landed coveted Harvard grad transfer Bryce Aiken to step in at point guard, bring back some intriguing pieces in Myles Cale, Ike Obiagu and Jared Rhoden and likely aren’t done picking up reinforcements. They could greatly benefit, though, from the return of Mamukelashvili. The forward’s junior season was interrupted with a wrist fracture, but he averaged 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds and showed a big improvement in his three-point shot (43.4%), even if it was on just 53 attempts. Mamukelashvili’s size and scoring ability will be needed, and if he stays in the draft, Seton Hall will be looking at four starters out the door.

NC State (signee Josh Hall, D.J. Funderburk, Devon Daniels)

Funderburk's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Daniels's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A

Wolfpack fans may be experiencing a case of déjà vu, as a top committed NC State recruit is once again considering heading straight to the pro level. One year after Jalen Lecque, who eventually went undrafted and signed with the Phoenix Suns, this time it's Josh Hall, the No. 36 recruit on the 247Sports composite. Hall is eligible now because the 19-year-old from Moravian Prep (N.C.) reclassified from 2019 to 2020. While Funderburk and Daniels have also declared, it's Hall who appears to be the biggest risk to stay in, which would take away the crown jewel of a top-10 recruiting class.

[Update: On Thursday, Hall announced he will forgo college and stay in the NBA draft.]

Arizona State (Remy Martin, Romello White)

Martin's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
White's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
ASU's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: Next five out

Martin is reportedly all-in on the NBA draft, but without a great draft stock plus the uncertainty of the process this year, perhaps there’s a chance for a change-of-heart. White seems likelier to return, and with scoring guard Alonzo Verge back and five-star guard Josh Christopher and four-star wing Marcus Bagley on the way in, the pieces are there for the Sun Devils to stay relevant—more so if at least one of Martin and White opts to stay in Tempe.

LSU (Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, Darius Days)

Smart's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Watford's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
Days's ranking on SI’s draft Big Board: N/A
LSU's ranking in SI’s Way-Too-Early Top 25: Next five out

Emmitt Williams is already out the door, but LSU has three more dominos it will have to wait for this spring. While none of Smart, Watford or Days seem overly likely to be drafted (Watford has the best case), they combined with Williams and the graduating Skylar Mays to make up the Tigers' top five scorers. Will Wade does have reinforcements on the way in—a top-five recruiting class led by SI All-American Cameron Thomas and transfers Shareef O'Neal (UCLA) and Josh LeBlanc (Georgetown)—but if even two of the above trio stay in the draft, that's a lot of scoring and experience to make up for.

Other Situations to Watch: Northern Iowa (A.J. Green), Colorado (McKinley Wright IV), Minnesota (Marcus Carr), Cincinnati (Chris Vogt, Keith Williams), Missouri (Xavier Pinson, Mitchell Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon), Clemson (Aamir Simms), UCLA (Chris Smith), Tennessee (Yves Pons), Memphis (Landers Nolley), Vanderbilt (Saben Lee), Georgetown (Mac McClung), South Carolina (A.J. Lawson), Nevada (Jalen Harris), Georgia (Rayshaun Hammonds), Washington State (C.J. Elleby), San Diego State (Matt Mitchell).