The clock tolled midnight Wednesday night marking the deadline for early entrants to pull their names from the NBA Draft. Many college fan bases breathed enormous sighs of relief, as key contributors returned to their respective programs for another run towards the madness. As every program is thankful to return major depth pieces, the following 10 are most impactful towards their school’s success this November.
1. Jordan Nwora SF, Louisville: Nwora was a huge reason the Cardinals averted a disastrous season under new coach Chris Mack. Scoring 6.9 PPG more than the next best option on the team, he was an extremely reliable part of the team’s offense. Finishing as Louisville’s leading rebounder as well, the small forward from Buffalo made a tremendous leap in production from his freshman to sophomore season. Entering 2019, he will again be counted on to carry the bulk of the scoring for the Cardinals. However, a stout incoming Freshman class has Louisville positioned extremely well to vault towards a potential run to the Elite 8 or possibly the Final Four with Nwora’s talent at the helm.
2. Devon Dotson PG, Kansas: Kansas has had a rough offseason, losing leading scorer Dedric Lawson, backup PG Charlie Moore and failing to land an ESPN top-50 recruit (pending any drastic changes in rankings) for the first time since 2008. Not to mention the temporary moment of happiness for Jayhawk fans when Quetin Grimes announced the decision to remove his name from the draft, only to subsequently transfer from the program. Before Dotson vocalized his return to Lawrence, the moves have left the roster without a primary ball handler. Losing 63% of their scoring from last season, many of the Jayhawk’s current players will need to step up to take this team deep into March’s biggest tournament. Dotson’s scoring and ability to integrate new and lesser productive pieces at the helm of the offense will dictate how far this team can really go.
3. Myles Powell SG, Seton Hall: The most natural scorer on this list, Powell has been the heart and soul of the Seton Hall program over the last 3 seasons. At 23.1 PPG and improving on his production every year, Powell was virtually irreplaceable to the Pirates. Without the star shooting guard on the roster and the lack of an incoming freshman class, the depth of this team is very thin. Much the case last season as well. However, the Pirates can expect to maintain and even build upon their 3rd place conference finish and NCAA tournament birth. The only departing player from the 2018 team was Senior forward Michael Nzei (9.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG), and the Pirates will now have the services of former Syracuse big man Taurean Thompson (9.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG).
4. Neemias Queta C, Utah State: The Freshman Center from Portugal was a large part of the Aggies returning to the NCAA tournament and finishing with their best season in 8 years. Queta was the team’s second leading scorer and was a dominant defensive presence in the paint. Averaging a rebound short of a double-double, the 6’11” Center will again have a huge impact for this team at both ends of the floor. With his services, Utah State will be one of the favorites to bring home the Mountain West title for a second-consecutive year. Signing their highest-rated class of recruits, Coach Craig Smith should have another deep team to roll into the Big Dance.
5. Killian Tillie C, Gonzaga: During his Sophomore campaign, the 6’11 Center was a huge contributor on the offensive end with 12.9 PPG. A torn ligament in his foot derailed Tillie’s Junior season and resulted in a large setback for the talented French big man. However, he failed to crack the Zags starting lineup filled with future NBA players after fully recovering from the injury. With 77% of the team’s scoring production leaving for next month’s draft or graduating, Tillie has a big opportunity to again become a vital part of Gonzaga’s gameplan on both ends of the floor. This team projects to run a bit slower tempo playing right into the Frenchman’s wheelhouse.
6. Tyrique Jones PF, Naji Marshall SF/PF, Paul Scruggs SG, Quentin Goodin PG, Xavier: The Musketeers experienced a relative setback, after the departures of Coach Chris Mack and players JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett, despite tying for third place in the conference. In their first season seeing big minutes, the quartet of Jones, Marshall, Scruggs and Goodin each improved their game to average north of double-digit points. The return of the ‘Big 4’ sets the program up to have great chemistry and a real shot at improving on their 9-9 conference record. Not to mention preventing the program from having to completely reboot with no returning starters. The signing of KyKy Tandy and Dhamir Bishop, both 4-star combo guards, also provide the Musketeers with quality backcourt depth in 2019. Look for Xavier to crack the 20-win mark and break back into the NCAA tournament next season.
7. Andrew Nembhard PG, Florida: The Gators are losing a lot of Senior leadership and scoring from last year’s team, but fortunately have the luxury of keeping their primary playmaker in Nembhard. The 2018 team was very defensive minded and shared the offensive load fairly evenly. Nembhard’s 5.7 APG figure was far and above any other player on the team, but the incoming weapons (five-star G Tre Mann and five-star SF Scottie Lewis) now surrounding him can collectively represent one of the best backcourts in the nation. Florida’s guard rotation makes them a very dangerous team this year, not only in the SEC but nationally as well.
8. Nick Richards PF/C, E.J. Montgomery PF/C, Kentucky: Like most seasons since the 1-and-done rule was created, the Wildcats have heavily recruited and been routinely gutted by immediate NBA talent. Great news hit early for Coach Cal when starting PG Ashton Hagans decided not to go through the draft process, but his emotions must have soared getting Richards and Montgomery back. The pair of big men did not have stellar scoring with Kentucky in 2018, due to the abundance of talent on the roster. However, they were instrumental rebounding the ball, contesting, altering and blocking shots inside the paint. As athletic players, their impact was far more ranging than what was on the stat sheet. The incoming recruiting class will likely do little to allow either Richards or Montgomery to expand their role on the offensive end, but the Wildcats do have the privilege of boasting NBA-caliber players 2-deep at every position. The pair of bigs will do wonders for this team in holding down the frontcourt on the glass and defensive end. Coach Cal’s team is one of the early favorites to cut down the nets next March.
9. Skyler Mays SG, Javonte Smart SG, Emmitt Williams PF, LSU: The Tigers had their best season since the 99’-00’ team, that also lost in the Sweet 16, with 28 wins and 3-seed in the NCAA tournament. While losing Tremont Waters and Naz Reid, LSU gets to run it back with Mays, Smart and Williams. Each player had strong offensive production, 14+ PPG per 40 minutes, and will get a chance to increase on their roles from prior seasons. Add in 5-star versatile forward Trendon Watford and this team has a chance to make noise again in the SEC and NCAA tournament. Fans should be prepared for a lot ‘small ball’ with this roster.
10. Anthony Cowan Jr. PG, Maryland: Sans Bruno Fernando, the Terrapins bring back the entirety of their team that came within 2 points of reaching the Sweet 16. Cowan was the most experienced and productive player on that overwhelmingly young squad and will resume that role in 2019. His return will provide Mark Turgeon with a veteran presence on the court for a very talented team that seemingly keeps getting younger. The additions of 4-star Centers Chol Marial and Makhi Mitchell will replace the production void left by possible 1st-rounder Bruno Fernando. This team has tons of potential in the Big 10 and in the NCAA tournament. Look for Maryland to be a dangerous team to face this season.
Honorable Mention: Jarron Cumberland (SF/Cincinnati), Anthony Lamb (PF/Vermont), Kaleb Wesson (PF/Ohio State), Tres Trinkle (SF/Oregon State) & Ethan Thompson (SG/SF-Oregon State)