Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 07/30/20
With the NBA Draft deadline on August 3 nearing, several teams are awaiting key decisions that will leave lasting impacts on the 2020-21 college basketball season.
Here’s a look at five teams with the most to gain or lose by these draft decisions, and what we can expect should the players return to campus or turn pro.
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Gonzaga — Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert
Ceiling with Ayayi and Kispert: Final Four — Despite losing WCC player of the year Filip Petrusev, Gonzaga should still be considered a top-5 team this fall if both Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert return. Kispert is the rock of the team while Ayayi is on the verge of national stardom. Gonzaga has seen several stars graduate or turn pro in recent years but the program still maintains a streak of five consecutive Sweet 16 appearances or better.
Floor without Ayayi and/or Kispert: Sweet 16 — Much like Petrusev, losing either Ayayi and/or Kispert wouldn’t derail the Bulldogs. It would certainly bump them down a tier or two nationally, but this would translate to Gonzaga leaning more on young talent like Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris and Drew Timme. With Saint Mary’s losing the duo of Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts and BYU watching almost its entire core leave from last season, the Bulldogs would still be a heavy WCC favorite without Ayayi and Kispert.
Illinois — Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu
Ceiling with Cockburn and Dosunmu: Sweet 16 — Expectations would skyrocket if both Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu return to Champaign. Illinois hasn’t advanced to the tournament’s second weekend since reaching the national title game in 2005 and this would be the program’s best chance to end the drought since. Dosunmu can single-handedly bail Illinois out in the clutch and Cockburn is a force down low.
Floor without Cockburn and/or Dosunmu: Miss NCAA Tournament — If both Cockburn and Dosunmu turn pro, Illinois will be without each of its top three scorers from this past season, including graduating senior Andres Feliz. That’s a lot of pressure on Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili to step into high-level scoring roles.
Iowa — Luka Garza
Ceiling with Garza: Elite Eight — It’s not often that the nation’s best player returns to college, making Iowa’s ’20-21 campaign so important if Luka Garza comes back. The Hawkeyes haven’t been a preseason top-10 team since ’01-02 season under Steve Alford, and the program has never finished higher than 25th in the final AP poll with Fran McCaffery. While it’s almost impossible to expect Garza to average 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds again, his presence alone can be the difference-maker for Iowa.
Floor without Garza: Miss NCAA Tournament — Skepticism surrounding this team is justified. Iowa was 264th nationally in raw defensive efficiency last season, giving up 104 points to Purdue, 103 points to Michigan, and 93 points to DePaul. Those teams ranked 151st, 71st and 264th, respectively, in raw offensive efficiency. Iowa also went 5-6 in its final 11 games, making it hard to envision this team being anything more than a bubble team, at best, if Garza chooses to turn pro.
Michigan State — Aaron Henry and Xavier Tillman
Ceiling with Henry and Tillman: Final Four — The expectation for quite some time was that Xavier Tillman had played his final game in a Michigan State uniform. We’re now just days before the NBA Draft deadline and Tillman’s name is still on the list. Whether the Big Ten’s top defensive player is seriously weighing his options or just delaying a foregone conclusion, Michigan State would be a national title threat with Tillman back on campus. We can’t forget Aaron Henry either, who is coming into his own after a productive sophomore season.
Floor without Henry and/or Tillman: Round of 64 — The Spartans have plenty of question marks if both Tillman and Henry turn pro. How does Marquette transfer Joey Hauser fit into the offense? Can Marcus Bingham play at the level of a Big Ten starter? Who steps up in the backcourt with Cassius Winston graduating? Is Gabe Brown the player that had 17 points at Nebraska or the one that went scoreless in five of his last 10 games? The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t get easier if the Spartans lose two productive starters.
Baylor — Jared Butler
Ceiling with Butler: Final Four — Baylor was well on its way to a No. 1 seed in what was a breakout year in Waco for the Bears. The turnaround from a No. 9 seed to one of the country’s elite teams was largely due to point guard Jared Butler, a former top-100 recruit who tallied 16 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per outing as a breakout sophomore.
Floor without Butler: Round of 64 — Butler turning pro would significantly alter Baylor’s plans for the fall. There are worse replacements, certainly, but going from an all-Big 12 honoree in Butler to Presbyterian sit-out transfer Adam Flagler in the backcourt could be a challenging transition.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.