Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team (and college basketball as a whole):
We hit on the winners of the NBA draft early entrant withdrawal process yesterday. Illinois was obviously a clear winner with the return of both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. The Illini would have wound up on this list — the losers of that process — had neither of those players opted for another season in Champaign.
Here’s the 10 that made it instead:
It became fairly clear rather early in the season that Arizona’s trio of freshmen — Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji — wasn’t long for Tuscon, Ariz. And they weren’t. Their departure plus the graduation of four seniors means a near total reload for Wildcats’ coach Sean Miller. He landed some intriguing international prospects, but not of the “three potential first round picks” kind.
The Razorbacks actually qualified as a winner — or at least a push — until the very last day. Then Isaiah Joe, citing the uncertainty of the 2020-21 college basketball season actually happening, put his name back in the draft after initially pulling it out. Arkansas has an intriguing freshman class coming in plus grad transfer Justin Smith from Indiana, but no Joe and no Mason Jones is tough.
(This one was just for me). The Matadors had one thing going for them other than their unique coaching staff, which included Mark Gottfried, Jim Harrick and Mo Williams (before he got the Alabama State job). That was Lamine Diane, who isn’t coming back. Diane averaged 25.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 blocks in his two seasons at CSUN.
Just think how good the Seminoles would be if Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams opted for another year in Tallahassee, Fla. Of course, both could wind up being drafted in the lottery. Easy decision not to come back at that point. Five-star freshman Scottie Barnes winds up a rather nice consolation prize.
It’s not like Kentucky was counting on its best players sticking around. Not all of them at least. Still, to lose Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, E.J. Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards means the Wildcats are back to having one of those freshmen-heavy rosters after a couple seasons of kind of experienced teams.
It was inevitable Jordan Nwora would stay in the draft this time around after testing the waters last summer and returning to Louisville. The Cardinals were prepared to lose their leading scorer. And while it was always a possibility, the official loss of a potential replacement leading scorer in JUCO star Jay Scrubbs just doubled down on any disappointment.
It’s not hyperbole to say Mississippi State could have been in the preseason top 25 this fall. Reaching that point, though, would have meant some combination of Reggie Perry, Nick Weatherspoon and Robert Woodard returning to Starkville, Miss. All three stayed in the draft instead, eliminating 40.4 points, 20.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game from the Bulldogs.
San Diego State
You can’t fault Malachi Flynn for striking while the iron is at its absolute hottest. Flynn was a consensus Second Team All-American in 2019-20, averaging 17.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds in leading the Aztecs to a 30-win season. Matt Mitchell’s return to San Diego State helps, but Flynn’s departure is a rather sizable hole to fill.
Stanford coach Jerod Haase got perhaps the steal of the 2019 recruiting class when he landed Tyrell Terry out of De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. A top 100 recruit? Sure. All that talked about? Not exactly. Then Terry put up 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooing 41 percent from three-point range, and the Cardinal won 20 games. The ceiling is lower in Palo Alto, Calif., without him.
How does an 11-21 team get worse? It loses its best two players, including the guy who had the ball in his hands more than any other player on the roster. While Aaron Nesmith played just 14 games before a foot injury sidelined him the rest of the 2019-20 season, his absence creates a 23 points per game hole. Losing point guard Saben Lee (18.6 points, 4.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game) is just as big a blow.