Freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones have yet to hire agents, but they're close to gone. Knight's mother said it would take "something unexpected" to keep her son out of the draft, where he's projected to be either the second or third point guard off the board, and be taken in the top 10. Jones, also a lottery pick, is a long shot to return. In the unlikely event both players contract lockout-itis and opt to stay in Lexington, the Wildcats would overtake North Carolina as 2011-12's preseason No. 1.
Coach John Calipari has a better shot at keeping junior defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, who's fishing for a guaranteed contract. "He's a mid-to-late second-rounder right now," one NBA scout said of Liggins, "but he could be a find for someone, because he has offensive talent that he hasn't been able to fully show while playing with ball-dominating guards, like John Wall, or [Eric] Bledsoe, or Knight." Liggins would be playing with another ball-dominating guard (incoming freshman point Marquis Teague) in 2011-12, but could elevate his profile by serving as the key veteran on a national title contender.
Three Longhorns threw their names in the draft on Friday; sophomore Jordan Hamilton announced plans to hire an agent, but freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph are leaving open the option to return. The two Canadian rookies have talked about sticking around for one more season to join forces with fellow Ontario product Myck Kabongo, a five-star point guard from the Class of 2011. The Kabongo-Joseph-Thompson trio could very well lead Texas to a Big 12 title, and serve as the nucleus of a top-10 team, but will they ever take the court together in Austin?
If Thompson, a 6-foot-8, offensive-rebounding, shot-blocking force, makes his decision based on draft stock alone, his college days are over: He's viewed as a certain first-rounder, and could even be selected in the lottery. "People draft on potential, and you can see his potential," one scout said of Thompson. "I think his stock is even higher than Hamilton's." As for Joseph, a 6-3 combo guard, the current odds are that he'll return, giving the 'Horns a killer Canadian backcourt that just might be strong enough to make up for their lack of a dominant post presence.
Brad Stevens' tournament magic is only so powerful: If Shelvin Mack doesn't return for his senior season, the Bulldogs won't be a Final Four contender for a third straight season. The junior combo guard made the logical decision to declare for the draft, given that he's coming off another run to the national title game, and had plenty of NBA hype last summer as a member of USA Basketball's Select squad. But scouts expected Mack's college productivity to go way up after his impressive summer, and because that significant sophomore-to-junior surge didn't happen, it's hard to find an NBA source who'll call him a first-round lock. ("I have five, maybe six [point guards] ahead of him," one scout said of Mack. "I'm not saying he won't be able to make a team -- I'm just saying there's a good chance he gets dumped into the second round.")
In the short window Mack has to audition, it'll be difficult for him to change minds. That means he'll be faced with a choice: Is it better to stay in a weak draft and hope his later workouts secure him guaranteed money -- which could very well happen -- or come back to Butler and try to elevate his stock for 2012?
Point guard Darius Morris was one of the nation's biggest breakout sophomores, going from averages of 4.4 points and 2.6 assists as a freshman to 15.0 and 6.7 this season. Now he's testing out his draft stock while the Wolverines pray that he returns. Their breakthrough season -- John Beilein has spent four years building a top-15-quality team -- hinges on Morris staying in school. He and Tim Hardaway Jr. could form the Big Ten's best backcourt duo, and give Ohio State a serious run for the Big Ten title. That very well could happen, because scouts seem to favor another year of seasoning for Morris.
"I can't see him getting picked in the first round," one scout said. "He has a good feel, especially in transition, but there are still some issues with shooting [25.0 percent on threes] and athleticism that leave a lot to be desired."
The Panthers can be a top-four team in the Big East if they keep junior combo guard Ashton Gibbs, who's one of the league's most efficient scorers. Conflicting information has been floating around about him; he reportedly told one agent he was "100 percent certain" about staying in the draft after declaring, but NBA sources seem to think that's just posturing, and Gibbs' father has since said that his son's future is still TBD.
That's a good thing for Gibbs, because leaving now would be unwise; multiple scouts I spoke with predicted he'd go undrafted in June. "Very good college player," one scout said, "but not prepared [for the NBA] on a number of levels." A season as Pitt's primary scorer and playmaker off the dribble (which was more of what Brad Wanamaker did last year) could enhance Gibbs' preparedness for the pros.
Freshman power forward Tobias Harris and junior two-guard Scotty Hopson are still up in the air regarding the draft, and have reportedly kept up with schoolwork while also participating in private workouts away from campus. If new coach Cuonzo Martin can pull off the coup of keeping them, he'll have an NCAA tournament-caliber team in Year 1 (provided the NCAA doesn't ban the Vols from the postseason due to former coach Bruce Pearl's transgressions.) If Martin loses both, his rebuilding project in the post-Pearl era gets a lot tougher.
Harris is considered likely to stay in the draft due to his stock -- he's viewed as a relatively safe mid-to-late first-rounder -- but Hopson is a wild card. "He has pro talent," one scout said, "but you can't trust him to be consistent. I think someone would take him in the second round, without any [guaranteed] money invested in him, just to find out how he reacts in the pro setting." Does Hopson want to take that chance, or take another year in college to prove he can score consistently?
Point guard Tu Holloway is the face of the Musketeers. He played 94.5 percent of available minutes last season -- only one NCAA tournament player, Penn State's Talor Battle, was on the floor more often -- and used 28.0 percent of possessions while leading Xavier to the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. Holloway can contend for another league title if he returns for his senior season after testing the draft waters -- and that's what he's expected to do, since he would have little shot at earning a guaranteed contract. "I can't see him staying in the draft," one scout said. "If he does, he's making a big mistake."
Frank Haith, who was perhaps the most-questioned hire of the offseason, will step into the most favorable situation of any new coach if he can retain the services of seniors-to-be Kim English and Laurence Bowers. The Tigers have a strong enough roster to win the Big 12 if those two players come back -- and they should, since their current ceiling is the late second round. Both English and Bowers would run the serious risk of going undrafted.
The Cardinals' season doesn't entirely hinge on 6-9 junior forward Terrence Jennings returning; 6-10 freshman Gorgui Dieng was a solid producer off the bench in '10-11 and would be a serviceable starter for Rick Pitino. But Jennings possesses a different level of athleticism than Louisville's backup bigs, and if he were to have a monster senior year, it would elevate the Cards to a top-10 team with a shot at the Big East title. If Jennings opts to stay in the draft, he'd at best be a second-round pick by some team willing to take a minor risk on his potential. His eight-point, four-rebound showing against Morehead State in the NCAA tournament -- a game in which projected first-rounder Kenneth Faried had 12 points and 17 boards -- showed just how far Jennings has to go to be considered an NBA-ready prospect.
The Terps were the second-most efficient team that missed the NCAA tournament this year, and they could be an above-.500 ACC team in 2011-12 -- but that's only if sophomore center Jordan Williams pulls out of the draft. He was their centerpiece last season, averaging 16.8 points and 11.8 boards, and they might not even be an NIT team without him. Scouts still have doubts about Williams and list him as a second-rounder with an outside shot at the first. "His productivity as a rebounder is incredible," said one scout, "but I've never seen him make jump shots, or show any sort of dribbling ability, and it's a crime that they list him as 6-10." No matter what Williams' actual height is -- 6-8? 6-9? -- he's said to be leaning toward remaining in the draft and hiring an agent.
Washington State (for junior shooting guard Klay Thompson, who's likely gone); Miami (sophomore center Reggie Johnson, a key to new coach Jim Larranaga's NCAA tournament campaign in Year 1); Boston College (junior scoring guard Reggie Jackson, who's likely gone); West Virginia (versatile forward Kevin Jones, an all-Big East candidate); Georgetown (sophomore Hollis Thompson, a surprise draft entrant who should return); Georgia Tech (defensive stopper Iman Shumpert); Notre Dame (junior forward Carleton Scott, who's expected to return); Northwestern (junior forward John Shurna, an all-Big Ten candidate who's expected to return); UC-Santa Barbara (21.1 points-per-game star Orlando Johnson, a junior who should return); New Mexico State (junior Troy Gillenwater, who took 34.7 percent of its shots and should return).