Brian Rauf | @brauf33 | 08/03/20
The 2020 NBA Draft deadline for early entrants to withdraw was set for 11:59 pm ET on Monday night, yet all the major decisions were made well before that deadline – and a vast majority opted to return to college.
Of the 156 underclassmen who declared for the draft, only 64 remained in the draft, which is the lowest percentage in years. As a result, we will see a large number of really, really good teams this coming college basketball season…however that looks.
Gonzaga lost Filip Petrusev but did bring back Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert, securing their place as an elite team. Virginia brought back Jay Huff, securing their place in the top five. Alabama and Arkansas saw John Petty and Isaiah Joe, respectively, opt to return, ensuring their places in what looks like a crowded SEC title race.
That said, almost all those decisions were expected. A number were not, and those colleges will reap the benefit – or suffer the loss.
Here are the teams that were the biggest winners and losers from the 2020 NBA Draft early entry withdrawal deadline.
Illinois Fighting Illini
When both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn entered the NBA Draft following the end of the season, the expectation was that both players would be gone. Heck, Ayo even admitted that he was dead set on leaving after his sophomore season before it even began. With the expected departure of those two and Alan Griffin’s decision to transfer to Syracuse, Illinois was projected to be a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team.
So, when both announced their decisions to return to Champaign with a 20-hour span, the Illini immediately shot up to a Big Ten favorite and top 10/15 team nationally.
Dosunmu provides a stabilizing and explosive threat in the backcourt and should be a preseason All-American after being an All-Big Ten performer last season.
Cockburn, meanwhile, may have actually been the Illini’s most important player a year ago. Illinois was just 1-7 when he scored fewer than 10 points compared to a 20-4 mark when he hit the 10-point threshold. That success (or failure) extends to his rebounding, too. The seven-foot, 290-pounder averaged 5.8 rebounds per game in their 11 losses while, in their 21 wins, he averaged 10.1 rebounds. Having him back gives Illinois a legitimate force in the middle and we should see some natural progression in his second season.
No team gained more positive momentum from NBA Draft decisions than Brad Underwood’s squad, and it’s why they’re the biggest winners.
There’s not much to talk about here, right? Luka Garza announced he was returning to Iowa for his senior season on Saturday, ensuring the Hawkeyes will have the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. They now bring back almost all their important pieces, yet Garza was the piece that put them over the top.
Garza was not projected to be a first round pick, but it’s also rare to see players of his pedigree – without anything else to really prove at the college level – opt to return to school, so there was an air of uncertainly surrounding his decision. He said he couldn’t pass on what could potentially be a special season for the Hawkeyes, and his return makes that more of a reality.
With him, Iowa is projected to be a top 10 team and perhaps the favorite in the Big Ten. Without him, the Hawkeyes may not have been a top 25 team.
LSU head coach Will Wade wasn’t exactly sure how his team would look given the amount of players he had declare for the NBA Draft. Many expected Trendon Watford to be gone and both Darius Days and Javonte Smart weren’t sure bets to return, either – yet all three opted to return on Monday before the deadline.
Getting that trio back is a coup for the Tigers and will allow them to compete at the top of the SEC once again. With Kentucky loading up with another top recruiting class, Tennessee doing the same while bringing back defensive star Yves Pons, and Arkansas bringing back Isaiah Joe with an elite class, the race to the top of the SEC is going to be extremely competitive (I didn’t even mention Alabama or Auburn, either). LSU is right in the mix with that top six thanks to the return of this trio.
Baylor had one of those special seasons in 2019-20 and spent a majority of the season ranked #1 in the country. That helped elevate the draft stock of a number of players, namely MaCio Teague and Jared Butler, so both of them opted to test draft waters. Neither was projected to be a first round pick, but it’s become somewhat expected for players to go pro after big team seasons like that.
Instead, both announced their return to Baylor prior to the deadline, solidifying the Bears as a top three team in the preseason. Both cited the chance to win a national title when announcing their respective decisions to return to Waco, and they put Baylor in the mix with Gonzaga and Villanova in the battle for preseason #1.
Whether they can deliver on that or not remains to be seen, but now that the Bears return virtually everyone from last season’s 26-4 team, they’re on the extremely shortlist of favorites.
Sport of college basketball
One of the byproducts of having so many high-caliber players return to school is that the level of play we can expect see in college basketball should be extremely high. Last year, level of play suffered across the sport as many of these decisions went the other way, leaving some teams shorthanded. This year, there are a number of teams that are LOADED.
Having great teams (with great players) makes college basketball more fun, and it’ll be even more fun considering how many there are and how many games there will be between them.
The NBA pre-draft process wasn’t a total loss for Stanford as All-Pac-12 performer Oscar da Silva opted to return to school, and pairing him with five-star freshman Ziaire Williams ensures the Cardinal will be fun to watch and should have them be an NCAA Tournament team.
That said, losing point guard Tyrell Terry really hurts them. Terry is a borderline first round pick (I have him going in the 2nd) and wasn’t a sure bet to leave. They don’t have any obvious candidates to step up and replace his offensive production or steadiness at the point guard position. With him, the Cardinal looked like a top 20 team – maybe even a top 15 team – and could have been the favorites in the Pac-12. Instead, they won’t be ranked in the preseason top 25 and might be a step behind the top tier in their conference.
Washington State Cougars
Washington State is the only team on this list in either section that didn’t really have a great chance to make the NCAA Tournament. That said, they were in a position to finish with a winning record for the first time in a decade and be relevant in the Pac-12 for the first time since the Tony Bennett era.
Wazzu will likely end up sniffing around the basement of the conference standings again following star CJ Elleby’s decision to remain in the NBA Draft, however.
Elleby was expected to return as he isn’t widely thought of as a first round pick, and his departure is a significant blow to the Cougars. The 6-6 wing led Washington State in every statistical category but assists a year ago. He would’ve been a preseason All-Pac-12 selection and been the driving force behind what could’ve been a big step forward (relatively speaking) in head coach Kyle Smith’s second season. Instead, the Cougars won’t have their best talent to rely on.
Delaware Blue Hens
Delaware is not a traditional NCAA Tournament team with just one appearance in the Big Dance since the turn of the century, but they were the clear favorites in the CAA until star Nate Darling opted to remain in the draft.
The Canadian led the Blue Hens with 21 points per game while making 40 percent of his three-pointers a year ago. Now, Delaware is unexpectedly looking for a new go-to guy – something that became harder after Justyn Mutts (the team’s second leading scorer last year) transferred to Virginia Tech.
The Blue Hens are still among a crowded group of favorites in the CAA, but they certainly aren’t the favorite anymore.
Michigan State Spartans
I debated whether or not Michigan State deserved to be on this list because, well, there are extenuating circumstances surrounding Xavier Tillman’s decision to stay in the NBA Draft.
He’s not projected to be a first round pick, but Tillman does have two children and earning a paycheck becomes a LOT more important when you have a family to care for. But, in the weeks leading up to his decision, there was a sense (maybe a hope among those in East Lansing) that he would return for his senior season.
That return would’ve bolstered Michigan State into the preseason top 5 and solidified their place as the clear favorite in a loaded Big Ten. The Spartans will still be a top 15 team without Tillman, but having him would’ve put them in the elite stratosphere.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.