There were 156 underclassmen who declared for the NBA draft, with 92 returning to school (59 percent) after Monday’s withdrawal deadline.
Look at the comparison from the past three seasons: 2019 — 86 withdrew out of 165 (52 percent); 2018 — 97 withdrew out of 171 (57 percent) and 2017 — 77 withdrew out of 137 (56 percent).
What is driving this number? Feedback. The NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee advised 225 players in 2020, up from 217 in 2019 and 144 in 2018. And while combine invites still went out to eligible draft players — those who stayed in and those who didn’t — not having an actual combine probably contributed to the decisions. But not even receiving a combine invite does tell an underclassmen that he isn’t on the first two rounds of the draft boards. Those numbers don’t lie.
Still, whatever the reasons, a high number of players are returning who will have a major impact on their teams in the 2020-21 college basketball season. Here is my list of the top 25 most important NBA Draft withdrawal decisions.
1) Luka Garza, Iowa: The 6-11 senior will be the National Preseason Player of the Year. He averaged 23.9 points and nearly 10 boards a game last season. He gives the Hawkeyes a real shot to make a Final Four run and is the most important person to stop for the opposing team. And he doesn’t back down from anyone.
2) Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois: Dosunmu enters his junior season as one of the most clutch guards in the country. If the game is on the line, he wants the ball. And he’s shown he can deliver in the final moments at home or on the road. Dosunmu is driven to get the Illini back to the NCAA tournament on a deep run toward a Final Four.
3) Jared Butler, Baylor: Butler enters the season as a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year. He averaged 16 points per game last season and those numbers could rise. Getting fellow guard MaCio Teague back as well means the Bears have the core of a previously No. 1 team in tact.
4) Remy Martin, Arizona State: The senior guard is one of the best-kept secrets nationally. Martin averaged nearly 20 points a game and has proven to be a big-game, late-game player. His backcourt mate Alonzo Verge Jr. is back and the addition of Josh Christopher makes the Sun Devils a Pac-12 title contender.
5) Makur Maker, Howard: Maker could have easily taken the bait and played on the G League developmental team (if it happens in 2020-21) or overseas. But he withdrew from the NBA draft and is still planning on going to Howard. He will immediately have a major impact on the HBCU campus and on the court with a team that finished 1-15 in the MEAC and 4-29 overall last year.
6) Corey Kispert, Gonzaga: He’s not just Mr. Glue guy. He’s one of the anchors of a possible national champion. Getting him back is/was critical to the run.
7) Kofi Cockburn, Illinois: The 7-foot big was a force inside as a freshman. He should be even more effective as a sophomore. He averaged nearly a double-double and should push for those numbers this season. His return gives the Illini one of the most intimidating enforcers in the game.
8) Isaiah Livers, Michigan: Livers returns for his second season with Juwan Howard. If he stays healthy he could be a Big Ten Player of the Year finalist.
9) McKinley Wright IV, Colorado: Wright IV has been a hidden gem for years in Boulder. But he should blossom even more on the national stage as a senior and lead the Buffs back to the NCAA tournament.
10) Chris Smith, UCLA: The Bruins were one game out of first with Smith leading them last season. They’ve got a shot to win the league with him back.
11) Jay Huff, Virginia: Huff will be the Cavaliers’ anchor inside. He’s not a dominant post player, but he is a critical piece in the foundation to another ACC title.
12) AJ Green, Northern Iowa: Green would have been one of the stars of March Madness because Northern Iowa had a real good shot to be in the field and win a game or two. Green averaged nearly 20 points a game. Look for him to do something similar and have a major impact.
13) Yves Pons, Tennessee: Pons is a major piece of the Volunteers’ puzzle to rise toward the top of the SEC. Having him back for Rick Barnes means they are on target to make a run.
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14) Jalen Crutcher, Dayton: Obi Toppin got all the deserved headlines last season. But Crutcher was a critical piece toward the Flyers’ run to a No. 1 seed. Crutcher had a near 5-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. If the Flyers win the A-10, it will be because of Crutcher.
15) Matt Mitchell, San Diego State: Mitchell didn’t get as much pub as Malachi Flynn for the Aztecs last season. Now he will be the headliner, giving SDSU a chance to win the league again.
16) Keith Williams, Cincinnati: Williams was a must-get for John Brennan. Losing Jarron Cumberland and Williams would have pushed the Bearcats down in the American. Having Williams return means they can challenge near the top again.
17) Marcus Carr, Minnesota: Carr’s return means the Gophers have a shot at the NCAA tournament. He’s that important to Minnesota. He had a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This is his third year in the Gophers’ program and he’s ready to lead them.
18) Ja’Vonte Smart, LSU: Will Wade desperately needed experience back and he got that with Smart. He had just under a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He will continue to add a presence whenever he’s on the floor for the Tigers.
19) Aaron Henry, Michigan State: Henry returns to Michigan State as its top returning scorer (10 points per game). But the Spartans are so loaded on the perimeter that he doesn’t have to shine. Still, he will.
20) Derrick Alston Jr., Boise State: Leon Rice has a squad that should be picked in the top two in the Mountain West. Alston is the reason why. He averaged over 17 points a game. He could easily go for 20.
21) Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall: “Mamu” becomes the top returning scorer for the Pirates. Myles Powell was clutch. Mamukelashvili was a solid, safe contributor inside. His role won’t change dramatically, but having his ability to finish around the basket will be critical for Kevin Willard.
22) Colbey Ross, Pepperdine: Ross is a stat stuffer. He scored 43 points in a double-overtime loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament. He averaged more than 20 points a game. and had four games of 30 or more. He’s a star.
23) Isaiah Joe, Arkansas: Joe averaged nearly 17 a game for Eric Musselman last season. He easily could be a 20-plus point per game scorer. The Razorbacks will contend for an NCAA tournament bid with Joe back.
24) Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga: Ayayi shined in moments last season. He’ll get even more chances this season as he takes on more responsibility. Playing with Jalen Suggs will make him even better for Mark Few.
25) Timmy Allen, Utah: Allen led the Utes in scoring with 17 a game. Losing Both Gach to Minnesota made Allen’s return even more paramount. Allen gives the Utes hope and a shot at an NCAA tournament berth. The 25-spot he put up against Kentucky shows he can deliver against any opponent.