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Monday, April 28, 2008
Early entrants leave teams playing the waiting game

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Don't sweat it, college hoops fans. Even if every one of the early entrants who filed their paperwork for the NBA draft by Sunday's deadline stays in the draft, next season's potential first team All-Americans are safe.

Forget about the June 16 deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft. The announcements that the following five players are all returning mean that the All-American first team can be penciled in now: forward Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), the consensus winner of the national player of the year, forward Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), and guards Darren Collison (UCLA), James Harden (Arizona State) and Stephen Curry (Davidson) .

A potential second team isn't too shabby, either; Louisville's Earl Clark, Pitt's Sam Young, Tennessee's Tyler Smith, Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet and Boston College's Tyrese Rice also declined to test the draft.

Of course, the odds of every early entrant's staying in the draft aren't high; there are only 30 first-round picks.

So, let's look at the 27 college teams that are affected by the early-entry decisions after Sunday's deadline to declare. The official list from NBA will come out by midweek.

Alabama
Testing: Ronald Steele, Richard Hendrix
Result: The Tide have a shot to be an NCAA tournament team next season if Steele and Hendrix come back. If they don't, they likely won't be dancing next season. Steele didn't play in 2007-08 due to injury, and the Tide simply weren't as good without him. Hendrix was the team's leading scorer with nearly 18 points per game. The Tide, as usual under coach Mark Gottfried, signed an impressive recruiting class, with multiple players who could contribute right away, like Steele's brother, Andrew, and forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell.

Arizona
Testing: Chase Budinger
Gone: Jerryd Bayless
Result: Head coach Lute Olson is back after a one-season leave of absence, and that could help with team stability if the early entrants end up leaving. Bayless' return, regardless of the coach, was doubtful after his All-American season. Budinger will be an intriguing test case. He's talented enough to go in the first round but could easily slide into the second. He'll have a tough decision to make. If he returns, the Wildcats could push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-10 title with stud incoming guard Brandon Jennings joining Nic Wise in the backcourt to go along with Jordan Hill up front. The Wildcats won't be deep again this season unless newcomers Emmanuel Negedu, Jeff Withey and Brendon Lavender produce early and often.

BYU
Testing: Lee Cummard, Trent Plaisted
Result: BYU coach Dave Rose is assuming that both juniors want to see where they stand in the draft. Where they are may be too far down to warrant remaining in the draft. If they don't return, the Cougars won't win the Mountain West. If they do return, along with shooter Jonathan Tavernari, the Cougars should be the favorite to repeat.

Cal
Testing: Ryan Anderson
Result: This will be one of the more interesting decisions of any of the early entrants. Anderson has the potential to work his way into the first round. But he also has a shot to be an All-American and a legit competitor for Pac-10 Player of the Year under new coach Mike Montgomery if he were to return. Cal was close to being an NCAA tournament team. The Bears certainly proved with the late-game loss at UCLA that they were capable of competing with anyone in the country. The pieces are in place if Anderson returns -- with Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle in the backcourt and Jamal Boykin and Theo Robertson up front -- to be a serious player in the Pac-10 next season.

Florida
Testing: Marreese Speights
Result: Speights is a talent. But how the NBA will judge him is still an unknown. He clearly needs to refine his game and return for another season. If he does, and the natural improvement occurs with talented all-everything guard Nick Calathes as well as lead guard Jai Lucas, the Gators have a shot to get back to the NCAAs. The Gators expect plenty of impact performances from incoming recruits like frontcourt players Eloy Vargas, Kenneth Kadji, Rayford Shipman and Allan Chaney, as well as guard Erving Walker.

Gonzaga
Testing: Jeremy Pargo
Result: Pargo's brother, Jannero Pargo (who is currently with the New Orleans Hornets), hopefully will advise Jeremy correctly. If the Gonzaga junior guard is not in the first round, and there's no guarantee he is at this juncture, he should go back to Spokane. Let's assume he does return. If he does, the Zags should be in a conversation about Final Four teams -- at least offensively. There are scorers all over the court with Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt and Steven Gray. Micah Downs should be better after regressing last season. Losing senior forward David Pendergraft hurts this team's chemistry a bit since he was the ultimate glue guy. But this squad is hungry to prove the first-round NCAA tourney loss to Davidson wasn't a true indicator of how far it could have gone this past season.

Indiana
Gone: Eric Gordon
Result: The Hoosiers simply need to implode and start over with Tom Crean in charge. Losing Gordon was a foregone conclusion even prior to the Kelvin Sampson firing. The Hoosiers were already going to be without senior D.J. White inside. The suspensions of Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis made it even more likely that the Hoosiers' roster was going to be gutted at season's end. Crean will have this squad back in the upper echelon of the Big Ten -- just not next season.

Kansas
Testing: Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur
Gone: Brandon Rush
Result: It shouldn't be a shock that the Jayhawks could potentially lose three key underclassmen to go along with seniors Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Russell Robinson and Rodrick Stewart after winning the national title. Rush was likely gone regardless of the outcome of the title game. The same was true of Arthur since he was a candidate to bolt after his freshman year. While Arthur hasn't technically signed with an agent, the assumption is that he'll be gone because he has the talent to be a lottery pick. Chalmers is on a high after taking the shot heard 'round the Sunflower State. He could end up toward the end of the first round, especially with San Antonio selecting and the connection with Kansas teammate Chase Buford, who is the son of Spurs GM R.C. Buford.

So, let's assume Chalmers, Arthur and Rush are gone. What's left? Well, there is still enough talent left in Lawrence to be competitive in the Big 12, with Sherron Collins the stud on the perimeter and a developing Cole Aldrich up front. But the onus will be on the recruiting class to produce immediately, led by the 6-foot-9 Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, power forward Quintrell Thomas and guard Travis Releford as well as the JC transfers (guard Tyrone Appleton and small forward Mario Little).

Kansas State
Testing: Bill Walker
Gone: Michael Beasley
Result: Beasley essentially carried the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament's second round. As a sidekick, Walker gave the Wildcats a powerful 1-2 punch. Since Walker's chum O.J. Mayo is in the draft for sure, don't be surprised if Walker stays, too. Walker likely would have been a first-round pick out of high school if the age-limit rule had not been in place. If he does bolt, the Wildcats and Frank Martin will be in a rebuilding mode. They've got a solid start with Jacob Pullen at the point, who ended up being a steal for them in last year's class as K-State's third-leading scorer. That means the JC transfers -- guard Buchi Awaji and center Abdul Herrera -- need to be productive.

Louisville
Gone: Derrick Caracter
Result: Not much. Caracter wasn't going to make a huge difference for Louisville. The bigger news for the Cardinals came when Earl Clark decided not to put his name in the draft after originally saying he would. The Cardinals do lose seniors David Padgett, Juan Palacios and Terrance Farley. But the perimeter is set with Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Andre McGee, while the frontcourt has Terrence Williams and a monster recruiting class led by center Samardo Samuels. Coach Rick Pitino again has a legit Final Four contender.

LSU
Gone: Anthony Randolph
Result: If Randolph returned, new coach Trent Johnson would have had a legitimate shot to win the SEC West in his first season. Tasmin Mitchell is coming back from an injury, and leading scorer Marcus Thornton is also returning. Experienced wing Garrett Temple also returns. But now that Randolph is gone, the Tigers will be a hard team to figure out. Mitchell will have to come back and be a big-time talent for the Tigers to have a chance.

Marquette
Testing: Jerel McNeal
Result: The surprising thing here is that McNeal, not Dominic James, was the one who declared for the draft. McNeal did lead the Golden Eagles in scoring, but James was the one who flirted with the NBA the past two seasons. New coach Buzz Williams has the pieces in place, if McNeal returns, as he should, to be a factor in the top half of the Big East yet again. The same question of whether the frontcourt can be consistent enough may hit the Golden Eagles in October. But this squad is on stable enough ground to be a factor next season.

Mississippi State
Testing: Jamont Gordon
Result: The Bulldogs desperately need Gordon and his 17.4 points per game to return next season. Mississippi State already was losing senior forward Charles Rhodes, and Ben Hansbrough decided to transfer. If Gordon goes, only two of the top five scorers would return: guard Barry Stewart (11.5 ppg) and center Jarvis Varnado (7.9 ppg). The Bulldogs need a perimeter pop like Gordon and another power player inside. If Gordon stays, the bleeding stops and the Bulldogs can remain competitive near the top of the SEC West.

Missouri
Testing: DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons
Result: It's hard to see a scenario that has Carroll and Lyons staying in the draft. If they do, coach Mike Anderson's rebuilding job in Columbia will have taken a major step back. The season was already too chaotic with off-court issues. If Carroll and Lyons leave, the bottom of the Big 12 may not look lovely in February. If they stay, the Tigers will have a chance to move forward. There is no buzz that either Carroll or Lyons would be a first-round pick, so common sense says they return.

Memphis
Testing: Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier
Gone: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose
Result: Losing CDR and Rose was expected as soon as Kansas held on during overtime of the national championship game. Add that to the departure of senior Joey Dorsey, and the Tigers were already going to look completely different next season. But the announcement that Anderson and Dozier also declared for the draft shouldn't come as a shock. They're juniors. Coach John Calipari encouraged them to test the waters to see where they stand. But he, like everyone else around the program, would be surprised if they stayed in the draft.

So let's assume they return, with big men Shawn Taggart and Pierre Niles, guards Willie Kemp and Doneal Mack, and newcomers like guard Tyreke Evans and forwards Angel Garcia and Matt Simpkins (plus, the Tigers are still in the mix for a few other notable remaining players in the class of 2008). The result is that the Tigers are still the most talented team in Conference USA, a Top 25 team, and a squad that could potentially win a few games in the NCAA tournament.

Nevada
Gone: JaVale McGee
Result: The Wolf Pack had a real shot for something special inside next season with McGee and incoming freshman Luke Babbitt. They were already losing senior Marcelus Kemp. Coach Mark Fox hasn't had a rebuilding situation since he always seems to have a stud to rely on, and that should be the case once again. Babbitt will be a featured star in Reno like Kirk Snyder (when Fox was Trent Johnson's assistant), Nick Fazekas and then last season with Kemp and McGee. Nevada won't go away in the WAC next season, but not having McGee or Kemp means it won't be the favorite.

North Carolina
Testing: Danny Green, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington
Result: The biggest news for the Tar Heels was the announcement Friday that Hansbrough, the consensus national player of the year, is returning for his senior season. He's the favorite to win the award again, be the face of the game next season and put up even more records in Carolina. Green likely will return since he's not a first-round lock, but don't be surprised if Ellington and Lawson stay in the draft.

If that's the case, don't cry for the Tar Heels. They could still be the preseason No. 1 with a frontline of Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, and a backcourt of Green and a healthy Bobby Frasor. The bench is still mighty with big man Alex Stepheson and newcomers Larry Drew, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis.

NC State
Testing: J.J. Hickson
Result: With Hickson, the Wolfpack finished last in the ACC. So does it matter whether he returns? Of course, the Wolfpack were hit with the injury bug, notably at the point with Farnold Degand out for all but 10 games. Hickson has the talent to woo a general manager or two in the first round. That might be enough to keep him in the draft. There is plenty of productive talent on this squad, with Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells. NC State should be much-improved next season. If Hickson comes back, there is no excuse for NC State not to finish much higher in the ACC.

Ohio State
Testing: Kosta Koufos
Result: Koufos could easily opt to play in Greece for large sums of money if he doesn't get the vibe that he's going high enough in the NBA draft. Watch how this one develops, because it won't be as easy as the other choices. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have a chance to be a Big Ten contender with Koufos back since he would join yet another stellar incoming 7-footer in B.J. Mullens. The backcourt will still be solid, albeit inexperienced, with newcomers William Buford, Walter Offutt and Anthony Crater joining David Lighty, Evan Turner and Jon Diebler. Not having senior point guard Jamar Butler will be hard to overcome. But coach Thad Matta hasn't had trouble adjusting to personnel changes during his time in Columbus.

Stanford
Gone: Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez
Result: You can't minimize this hit. The Cardinal could have made a legit claim to being a Final Four favorite if the Lopez twins had returned. Even if just Robin came back, the Cardinal would have been quite formidable under new coach Johnny Dawkins. The guards are all back in Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill and Mitch Johnson. But the Cardinal may need more than originally planned from incoming freshmen Miles Plumlee and Jarrett Mann. This team may look more like Dawkins' Duke teams of the past two seasons that were devoid of a true low-post threat. If that's the case, Dawkins should be able to figure out how to ensure the Cardinal remain successful.

Syracuse
Testing: Donte Greene
Result: Whether Greene is staying in the draft is up for debate. If he is indeed staying in the draft and signing with an agent, the Orange will lose a talented featured scorer. But for the Orange to be back in the NCAAs, they'll need the return of injured shooting guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins. The Orange are in a position to make the NCAAs next season with Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris back on the perimeter, a solid developing forward in Arinze Onuaku and a solid small-forward newcomer class of Kris Joseph, Mookie Jones and James Southerland. If Greene comes back, the Orange certainly are a Big East top-seven contender.

Texas
Testing: A.J. Abrams
Gone: D.J. Augustin
Result: The Longhorns could potentially lose their starting backcourt, taking what looked like a No. 1 team in the preseason to a team that will take a few steps back toward the middle of the national pack. Abrams certainly benefited from playing next to Augustin. That won't be the case if he returns (that's the smart move) for his senior season. The forwards are all solid in Damion James, Connor Atchley, Justin Mason, Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman. James is on the verge of being a special player, and the scoring ability of the others is improving. Adding incoming freshman scoring guard J'Covan Brown can offset some of the Augustin loss. But the Longhorns will still lack a true point guard to challenge for the title.

Texas A&M
Testing: Josh Carter
Gone: DeAndre Jordan
Result: Losing Jordan, who is working out with Beasley (both are clients of Joel Bell), isn't a huge loss for the Aggies. Sure, he has monster potential and may go high in the first round, but he never seemed to mesh with coach Mark Turgeon as his minutes diminished toward the end of the season. Carter led the Aggies in scoring and needs to come back for them to be in the Big 12 mix. They're also losing seniors Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk. The return of Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis along with Carter, plus incoming freshman guard Dashan Harris, would give the Aggies a formidable perimeter. The onus will be on incoming power forward David Loubeau to be more active and a scorer.

UAB
Testing: Robert Vaden
Result: The Blazers were probably two wins away from making the NCAA tournament. If Vaden stays in the draft, they may fall that short again. If he comes back, he should be the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year. And, with the return of scoring forward Walter Sharpe, who was academically ineligible the spring semester, and the return of injured lead guard Paul Delaney, who played in only four games this past season, UAB will have talent. Lawrence Kinnard and Channing Toney also are back, making the Blazers one of the most experienced teams in C-USA.

UCLA
Testing: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Russell Westbrook, Josh Shipp
Gone: Kevin Love
Result: As Love progressed during the season, it became more and more obvious that he would bolt for the NBA. The assumption, though, was that so too would point guard Collison. Collison's surprise announcement Saturday that he's not going to test the draft as a junior is a huge coup for the Bruins. Westbrook may stay in the draft since he's a hot name right now, but that's an OK hit considering the Bruins most likely will still have a scoring guard in Shipp (although he struggled at the end of the season), the return of injured guard Michael Roll, and big-time newcomers Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson on the perimeter. Holiday may just be this season's Jerryd Bayless or Derrick Rose, a lead guard who can help change the fortunes of a team. Mbah a Moute, like Shipp, probably won't stay in the draft. And if he comes back, along with Alfred Aboya, James Keefe and newcomer Drew Gordon inside, the Bruins have a real shot to make a play for a fourth straight Final Four. Not having Love to anchor the post is a major hit, but coach Ben Howland has adjusted quite well to different personnel during his tenure. The result is always the same -- the Bruins win and win big.

USC
Gone: O.J. Mayo
Testing: Davon Jefferson
Result: Mayo shouldn't come as a shock. There are conflicting reports about Jefferson's future right now. But if he were to leave, losing the team's top two scorers from last season wouldn't decimate this squad. There are enough pieces in place, with guards Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson up front and another big-time recruiting class led by small forwards Demar DeRozan and Leonard Washington as well as shooting guard Malik Story. The Trojans could finish in the top six yet again in the Pac-10.

West Virginia
Testing: Joe Alexander
Result: It's pretty simple: if Alexander returns, the Mountaineers have a shot to compete for the Big East title, and who knows, maybe a run for the 2009 Final Four in Detroit. Alexander would have a shot to be a first-team All-American if he comes back. But he's got the athletic and scoring abilities to convince at least one team to take him high enough. If he's gone -- and Alex Ruoff, Da'Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla are left without a go-to guy like Alexander -- the Mountaineers would slide back a few spots in the Big East and out of the national title chase. The incoming recruiting class, led by power forward Kevin Jones, is certainly talented enough to keep West Virginia in the mix in the Big East.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.