While we’re still nearly five full months away from the start of college basketball season, Wednesday marked one of the most important dates on the calendar for the 2017-2018 season. It was the final day for college players who declared for the NBA Draft (and hadn't signed with an agent) to announce they’d return to school.
Now that those announcements are official, it’s time to determine the big winners and losers of Wednesday’s deadline. Here are our picks:
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Although Lauri Markkanen declared as expected and Kobi Simmons declared unexpectedly, few teams “won” quite like the Wildcats this spring. Leading scorer Allonzo Trier never bothered to enter the NBA Draft, and Rawle Alkins declared without an agent and elected to return shortly before the deadline.
Add in a surprise decision by five-star 2018 recruit Emmanuel Akot to reclassify and enroll for the fall of 2017, and the Wildcats could very well start next season ranked No. 1 in the country.
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Winner: Michigan State
The only team that seemingly can compete with Arizona for top billing entering the 2017-18 season is Michigan State, which didn’t need to wait until this week’s deadline to get its good news. Instead, it came weeks ago when leading scorer (and likely lottery pick) Miles Bridges elected to return for his sophomore season.
Add him to fellow returnees Josh Langford and Nick Ward, as well as five-star recruit Jaren Jackson Jr., and Michigan State will not only be an overwhelming Big Ten favorite, but a team capable of cutting down the nets in San Antonio.
De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe all went pro — but all of that was expected. What wasn’t expected was that Hamidou Diallo — a highly-rated recruit who enrolled at the school in December but didn’t play — would not only enter the NBA Draft, but wait until just minutes before Wednesday’s midnight deadline to announce he was returning. Regardless, Diallo will be worth the wait, as John Calipari can now re-insert the future lottery pick back onto another loaded, freshman-heavy roster.
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UCLA lost Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu to the pros. So how could they possibly be a winner? Well, the expectation was always that all three could leave after one year. Because of it, UCLA recruited more than adequate replacements. What there was no replacement for, however, was if either forward Thomas Welsh or guard Aaron Holiday left for the pros. Both declared but eventually elected to return, giving UCLA a veteran backbone to go with that loaded freshman class.
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Winner: Oregon State
Second- and third-leading scorers Stephen Thompson Jr. (son of assistant coach and former NBA player Stephen Thompson) and Drew Eubanks both declared without an agent. And while Thompson was always expected back, Eubanks insisted he planned to stay in the draft.
Regardless, both elected to return to school and when teamed with 20-point-a-game scorer Tres Tinkle (limited to just six games last season because of injury) and uber-recruit Ethan Thompson (Stephen’s brother), there’s a realistic chance that the Beavers could go from a last place finish in the Pac-12 in 2017 to the NCAA tournament next March.
The Razorbacks nearly upset eventual national champion North Carolina in this year’s NCAA tournament and seemed to be building toward a huge 2018 season – until Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford (the team’s second- and third-leading scorers, respectively) decided to enter the draft.
However, after receiving minimal pro interest, both decided to come back. Ad when coupled with a loaded 2018 recruiting class, they should make Arkansas a lock for the NCAA tournament and a dark-horse SEC title contender.
There wasn’t a bigger winner in the entire NBA Draft process than the Trojans, who saw leading scorer Bennie Boatwright declare for the draft but later remove his name. And leading rebounder Chimezie Metu decided not to test the waters at all. With both back, the Trojans now return their top eight scorers from last season and also add Duke transfer Derryck Thornton as well as McDonald’s All-American Chuck O’Bannon.
USC should enter the year as the team best equipped to slow down Arizona in the Pac-12 and – as crazy as it sounds – is a legitimate national championship contender as well.
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Like UCLA, many of you are probably wondering how a team that lost four early entrants to the NBA Draft can somehow come out a “winner.” For starters, two of those guys – Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles – have been known as one-and-done prospects since their early high school days. So, Coach K and his staff had been preparing for their departures since before they even arrived in Durham. Luke Kennard’s decision to go pro was a bit surprising, but not stunning after he averaged a team-best 19.5 points per game this past season.
The interesting one, however, was Frank Jackson, a combo guard expected to return to Durham. He decided to stay in the draft after a solid showing at the combine. But while Jackson’s decision initially felt like a negative, it quickly turned into a positive a few days later when Trevon Duval – the top high school point guard in the country (pictured above) – elected to come to Durham. Had Jackson decided to stay, Duval might have chosen another school. But he will give Duke the true point guard it has lacked for years.
Add in Grayson Allen's surprising decision to return, and Duke – although maybe not be as deep – might actually be better next season than in 2016-17.
Winner: Seton Hall
There isn’t a more surprising winner on this list than Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s club thought it had lost Angel Delgado – the nation’s leading rebounder last season – after multiple reports surfaced that he would pursue professional opportunities either in the United States or in his native Dominican Republic.
Instead, Williams shocked everyone by deciding shortly before the deadline to return. That, coupled with Khadeen Carrington’s return, should allow “The Hall” to start next season ranked in the Top 25.
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When FOX Sports published our “Way Too Early Top 25 for 2017-18” immediately following the Final Four, it was under the assumption that the Cardinals would get virtually everyone back from last year’s roster. Although Deng Adel returned just before the deadline, the Cardinals were dealt a crippling blow when Donovan Mitchell – who has been moving up draft boards since the day he declared – elected to remain in the draft.
Add in Jaylen Johnson’s surprise decision to pursue professional opportunities, and Louisville will be good next year but not “championship good.”
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Loser: North Carolina
It was almost certain from about mid-January on that Justin Jackson would leave Chapel Hill, but what no one could have anticipated was that Tony Bradley — who served as a back-up big man in 2017 — would declare as well. While Bradley was lightly used this past season he was expected to be a centerpiece in 2018. Without him, the Tar Heels have an impossible-to-fill hole in the middle and a much thinner frontcourt than expected heading into next season.
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On the one hand, few teams have been bigger “losers” since the end of the season than Oregon, which lost Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey to the pros and guard Casey Benson to transfer following the Ducks' Final Four run.
The good news for Dana Altman is that while Bell, Brooks and Dorsey all declared, they also immediately hired agents leaving no uncertainty about whether they’d return. The coaching staff has been able to fill some holes, adding transfer Elijah Brown, who averaged 18.8 points per game for New Mexico last season. Oregon also is still in the mix for one of the few remaining top uncommitted high school prospects, Brian Bowen.
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While Eric Mika was BYU’s best player last season (averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game), he has been projected as a second-round pick at best and undraftable at worst. He did nothing at the NBA Draft Combine to change that narrative, but decided to stay in the draft anyway.
In Mika’s defense, he’s 22 years old and married (after spending two years on a Mormon mission) and appears ready to pursue whatever professional opportunities come his way. Still, it’s a crippling blow for the Cougars, who felt like a preseason Top 25 team with Mika in the fold.
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After inheriting an 18-16 club, Archie Miller was always going to have an uphill battle in year one in Bloomington. But things got even more challenging when his roster was pillaged during NBA Draft declaration time.
OG Anunoby went pro, as expected, and after initially declaring without an agent, Thomas Bryant hired one early in the process. Worst of all, leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. elected to go pro, even though he almost certainly won’t be drafted (in Blackmon’s defense, he has already graduated with his degree from Indiana, so it’s hard to blame him for looking at professional options).
Just about the only good news was that guard Robert Johnson declared and then removed his name from the draft. Still, it’s going to be a struggle for Miller next season.
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