With the NBA Draft deadline moved up to May 8 this year, we’ll be able to formulate next year’s college basketball landscape sooner than ever before. The decision of many on the fence could dramatically alter the style, roster and makeup of everyone from Kentucky to Richmond. For many of these super-talents such as North Carolina’s Ed Davis, the decision was probably made a long time ago. But for those like fellow ACC foe Malcolm Delaney of Virginia Tech, their status is very much up in the air for 2010-11. He’s just one of many upcoming decisions that could change the outlook of an entire conference.
Many columns dealing with early entries dissect whether the decision was smart or short-sighted, whether the choice to enter their name was the proper call for their careers. Personally, I don’t care so much about their personal career paths, but about how their decision affects college basketball. Instead, the focus of this column will be on how each early entry to put their name in the draft changes their respective schools’ chances when winter approaches.
Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky)- Many around the Kentucky program believe Orton and Bledsoe are history, but refraining from signing with an agent leaves the door slightly ajar. If one or both return to Lexington, the Wildcats vault ahead of Tennessee as the SEC favorites. Returning to school would be even more beneficial to Orton, a player that didn’t establish himself playing behind Cousins and Patterson, but only showed glimpses of his superb athleticism, defensive prowess and developing low-post moves. Pair Orton in the post with Swiss import Enes Kanter and John Calipari is in business. Put Bledsoe with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb or Darius Miller and the same holds true. Calipari’s loaded class certainly screams reload rather than rebuild, but the returns of Bledsoe and/or Orton would vault expectations even higher.
Gordon Hayward (Butler)- The “babyfaced assassin” (h/t Gus Johnson) might have the toughest call of any early entry this spring. A relative unknown to casual fans just one year ago, Hayward burst onto the scene with a stellar NCAA Tournament, leading the charge behind Butler’s miraculous run to the national title game. Thanks to a late growth spurt, Hayward possesses guard skills in a 6’9 frame and may even go in the latter half of the lottery should he keep his name in the field. Butler would also drop to a ranking similar to the one they enjoyed in October last year. If Hayward returns, it would be a crying shame if Butler isn’t the #2 team ranked preseason behind Duke. The only starter departing is glue guy Willie Veasley. That’s right: Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Matt Howard would all return to school for another March push.
Avery Bradley (Texas)- Sources told Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman that Bradley was likely to stay in the Draft, and quite honestly I can see why. Teams that are looking for a backup point guard with the ability to defend and attack the basket will be flocking towards Bradley near the mid-first round. Findlay Prep point guard Cory Joseph committing to Texas last week takes some pressure off of Rick Barnes if Bradley should opt to stay in the draft. The Longhorns grossly underachieved with Bradley, Dexter Pittman and Damion James; with all three departing, expectations can’t possibly be sky high for Texas, although Kansas, Texas A&M and Baylor should all take steps back this season. Texas is a top-15 team regardless of last season should Bradley, Joseph, Dogus Balbay, J’Covan Brown and Jai Lucas round out a loaded backcourt. I suspect Bradley has played his last game in burnt orange, though.