Harrison Barnes staying at UNC

Harrison Barnes staying at UNC

Published Apr. 18, 2011 9:17 a.m. ET

For the Cavaliers, the NBA Draft Lottery just got a whole lot more important.

In a move that has to be considered a surprise -- it's certainly a huge surprise to this writer -- North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes will return to school for his sophomore season.

Barnes would have been considered as the top pick in this year's NBA Draft and almost certainly would have been one of the top two players selected. There had been rumors the last couple weeks that Barnes was leaning towards returning to North Carolina; the school made it official with a news release Monday morning.

The Cavs have the second-best chance, at 19 percent, to win the May 17 lottery and the draft's first pick. Barnes' decision basically ensures Duke's Kyrie Irving will be the No. 1 pick. About all that could change that right now is bad news when Irving undergoes medical checks or a team that's already set at point guard becoming a surprise winner of the lottery.

The Timberwolves have a 25 percent chance to win the lottery and presumably have Ricky Rubio in their plans, but they're far from set at just about any position. Arizona's Derrick Williams now becomes all but a lock to be a top-3 pick despite some teams being unsure if he's best fit at small forward or power forward.

The rest of the pool of potential top picks includes UConn's Kemba Walker, still undecided Kentucky freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, another Kentucky freshman who was ineligible to play last year in Turkish big man Enes Kanter and other young international prospects like Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo. Colorado guard Alec Burks is also yet to announce his NBA decision.

The decisions of players like Barnes and Jared Sullinger to stay in school bucks a recent trend of top prospects using college as simply a short detour to the NBA. North Carolina now seems a lock to be the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball and might play at Ohio State in December in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. That will be announced next month, but the Buckeyes are expected to host either UNC or Duke. All three of those teams should open the season ranked in the top four.

Barnes' decision is good for college basketball, but that's for another blog entry and another day. For now, the Cavaliers are hoping as much as ever that the ping pong balls bounce their way.

--Zac Jackson