Tony Bradley’s departure will leave North Carolina inexperienced in the middle.
Roy Williams expected to have Tony Bradley in the middle this season. Now, after Bradley’s decision to leave Chapel Hill after his freshman season, Williams might be forced to go with a pair of unproven big men: Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman.
Williams isn’t the only coach from last year’s Final Four who took a major hit with the NBA draft. Oregon’s Dana Altman lost four players early to the NBA, and South Carolina’s Frank Martin watched PJ Dozier bolt from Columbia, despite no assurances of being a first-rounder.
While they had to deal with departures, no one was smiling more than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo after he heard the news that Miles Bridges will return to East Lansing for his sophomore season.
Now that all of the college players who tested the draft process have made their decisions whether to remain in the NBA draft or return to school, it’s time to look at the winners and losers.
Arizona: It was a given that Sean Miller and the Wildcats were going to lose Lauri Markkanen early to the NBA draft, and the departures of Chance Comanche and Kobi Simmons were virtually irrelevant. The keys were that Allonzo Trier didn’t even test the draft process and Rawle Alkins decided to return to Tucson. This gives Miller experience to go with an incoming freshman class that includes talented big man DeAndre Ayton. This might be Miller’s best opportunity to get to the Final Four since he arrived in Tucson.
Texas A&M: Robert Williams was considered a lock as a first-rounder and possibly even a lottery pick, but the athletic freshman big man didn’t even bother to test the process. His return, along with the addition of point guard J.J. Caldwell, is huge for Billy Kennedy and the Aggies. Texas A&M also returns Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos up front and D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder on the perimeter.
Michigan State: If Williams’ return to Texas A&M was a surprise, then the decision of Bridges to come back to East Lansing for his sophomore campaign was a shock. A 6-foot-7 forward, Bridges averaged 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds and probably would have been a lottery pick. He will return, and that means Izzo and Sparty will have a chance to go deep in the NCAA tourney next season. Not only is Bridges back, but Izzo will also have depth up front with the returns of Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter and experience in the backcourt now that Cassius Winston has a year under his belt at the point.
Texas: Shaka Smart lost big man Jarrett Allen after just one season in Austin but will replace him with an upgrade: incoming freshman Mohamed Bamba. Long and athletic, Bamba will provide Smart with a defensive game-changer. The Longhorns also got good news when talented wing Andrew Jones, who struggled this past season as a freshman, decided to come back after testing the draft waters.
Duke: Mike Krzyzewski was expecting to lose Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Luke Kennard. The early departure of Frank Jackson was somewhat of a surprise, but the Blue Devils more than made up for that with the return of Grayson Allen for his senior season and the addition of talented freshman point guard Trevon Duval. Coach K will also get big man Marques Bolden back after Bolden contemplated transferring and, despite a disappointing season, even leaving for the NBA draft.
USC: Andy Enfield was concerned about losing multiple guys. Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and Shaqquan Aaron all flirted with the idea, but all three decided to return. That means the Trojans bring back their top six scorers and add Duke transfer Derryck Thornton. You can make a case that USC will be the second-best team in the Pac-12 behind Arizona to start the season.
North Carolina: Roy Williams was expecting to lose Justin Jackson early, and Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks were both seniors. But he was not prepared to lose freshman big man Bradley after just one season in Chapel Hill, one in which he logged an average of 14.6 minutes per game. Williams loves having a post presence, and now he’s left with the freshmen duo of Brooks and Huffman — two complete unknowns.
Oregon: The good news is that the Ducks went to the Final Four this past season. The bad news? Three players left early, and there’s a chance that none will be selected in the first round. Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell all decided to bolt Eugene for the NBA draft, and with senior Chris Boucher also departing, it’ll be a reload — and possibly even a rebuild — for Altman this season.
Indiana: The goal for new coach Archie Miller was to try to keep everyone in the fold. He knew there was virtually no shot of keeping OG Anunoby, but the hope was that maybe Thomas Bryant and/or James Blackmon Jr. would return to Bloomington. However, Bryant and Blackmon decided to keep their names in for the NBA draft, despite the fact that neither is expected to be a first-rounder. The silver lining is that Robert Johnson and the incoming recruits will be in Bloomington this year.
Purdue: The Boilermakers did return Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas, both of whom tested the NBA process. But Matt Painter lost big man Caleb Swanigan, his top player and, if he had returned, arguably the national preseason player of the year. Swanigan put up insane numbers as a sophomore this past season and would have made Purdue a Final Four contender. Instead, the Boilermakers will be a fringe Top 25 team.
BYU: Dave Rose was set to have just about everyone back after a disappointing season in Provo this past season. But his best player, big man Eric Mika, decided to remain in the NBA draft, despite the fact he’s probably a second-round pick. Mika averaged 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks this past season, but he’s already 22 and married, and he wants to get on with his professional career. This leaves a huge void up front for the Cougars.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks, like Oregon, are still getting over the Final Four hangover. However, Martin took a huge hit with the departure of his perimeter trio. Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice were expected, but the early departure of Dozier was not, and that’ll likely put Martin & Co. in rebuilding mode this season.