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Who wins if freshmen stay?

What the nation's top teams would look like if freshmen weren't draft-eligible

Updated: March 12, 2014, 1:30 PM ET
By Jeff Goodman | ESPN Insider

Suspending reality allows you to examine issues both in hindsight as well as in the hypothetical.

So when at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference two weeks ago NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked by his interviewer -- author Malcom Gladwell -- what he would do if he had a magic wand and could change anything about the NBA, Silver said he would raise the NBA's minimum age limit to 20 for any player entering the league.

In the spirit of magic wands and suspending reality, Chad Ford offered a 2014 NBA lottery mock draft without any freshmen.

Likewise, we'll break down how seven programs led by top freshmen would look in the 2014-15 campaign if freshmen were not eligible for the NBA draft and were forced to stay in school another year.

College basketball analyst Dan Hanner of RealGM.com simulated the 2014-15 season for our top four teams to get a better sense of how talented they might be. I've included analysis on three more teams with significant freshmen and how they might shake out.

Remember, this is a hypothetical exercise -- as Hanner says, a "dream scenario." In reality, with so much talent and competition for minutes, some players would simply transfer or not enroll. But it does underscore just how talented these major programs could be, if only they could hang on to their freshmen for one more season.


The Top Four

Duke Blue Devils

Coach Mike Krzyzewski will bring in both the top high school center in Jahlil Okafor and the most college-ready point guard in Tyus Jones. Duke would return wings Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones and welcome Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, two more quality wing players. The one thing next year's team could be lacking is a big scoring forward -- and if Jabari Parker stayed, to me Duke is the nation's best team entering the season. Hanner sees a jump in Pythagorean Winning Percentage from .922 to .958 based on the strength of an largely improved defense with Okafor, a more mature Marshall Plumlee and Parker.

Hanner says even though defensive improvements seem minor, chemistry and returning minutes are actually much more important on offense. As this table shows, that is where the big improvements would come for these elite teams. These top four teams would immediately be better in 2014-15 than the No. 1 team this season if their freshmen returned for their sophomore seasons.

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