2022 NBA Draft: Ten schools with a lot on the line as key underclassmen decide to return to school or turn pro

The way the NBA Draft calendar works, college coaches are often waiting into the summer months to know if key players will be on their roster as key underclassmen decide if they will return to school or stay in the draft. And with a few weeks to go until the NCAA’s June 1 deadline for early entrants to withdraw and maintain eligibility for next season, some college coaches are still in the dark on what their teams will look like next season.

This year’s pool includes All-Americans dipping their toes in the water, both from last season and likely future All-Americans as well. And conference titles and even national titles — remember that last year, Kansas was waiting on Ochai Agbaji’s decision until the 11th hour — can swing based on the right player telling the NBA ‘no.’

Here are 10 teams with a lot on the line as some of their key underclassmen are testing the waters before deciding whether to remain in the 2022 NBA Draft or return to play college basketball for another season

The Wildcats could return four starters from a team that went 33-4, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16. In order for that to happen, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry need to head back to Arizona. Koloko was among the best defensive big men in the country, and he put up 12.6 points on 63.5% shooting. Terry could be the most intriguing option; his versatility could allow him to take off and compete for All-Pac-12 honors as he steps into a bigger role on the wing.

Among SEC teams, Tennessee has more players making more decisions, though perhaps they’re more locked into stay-or-go choices than Jaylin Williams is. The vision of Arkansas as arguably the nation’s best team starts with its elite defensive potential, capped by a roster of versatile, switchable players. And that doesn’t look nearly as feasible without Williams, a 2022 first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive team pick, on the back line.

The bad news for the Bears is that Matthew Mayer appears destined for another school after entering the transfer portal, if he doesn’t stay in the draft. The important player here is Adam Flagler. Flagler was Baylor’s best guard in conference play, when he averaged almost 16 points per game while shooting 43.3%. A return could see Flagler as the frontrunner for preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, and he’d be among the nation’s best players.

David Roddy is the difference between the Rams being a dangerous team and a dangerous mid-major team that may not reach the NCAA Tournament. At the college level, he’s a unique talent who looks like, rebounds, blocks shots and scores inside like an old-school power forward, while also shooting 43.8% from 3-point range and passing like some point guards. Should Roddy come back to Colorado State, this could be a top 25-ish team, and he could make a run at All-America honors.

The Bulldogs are fascinating in that they aren’t just waiting on potential stars Drew Timme and Julian Strawther — that would be enough for a spot on this list — but also for potential transfers as well. That includes Texas Tech wing Kevin McCullar, who is choosing between the NBA, Gonzaga and Kansas and would seem a perfect plug-and-play option. Bringing back Timme alone likely establishes the Zags as a top five team once again.

The Hoosiers currently rank 11th nationally on BartTorvik.com with the assumption that Trayce Jackson-Davis will come back to school. Take him out, and Indiana plummets to 33rd. That’s quite a drop, from top 10-type team to a potential high seed: KenPom.com’s No. 33 team heading into the NCAA Tournament was Michigan, which earned a No. 11 seed. There are few single players testing the waters who have that kind of potential swing on their respective teams.

Kansas would get a big boost if Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson returned to school.

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Kansas

Like Gonzaga, Kansas’ in-or-out telescope is focused on both potential returnees and transfers. Unlike Gonzaga, Kansas can’t do one without the other. Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson are both testing the waters, and should both return, Kansas is scholarship tight. So transfer targets like McCullar and Missouri State’s Isiaih Mosley (who are also testing the waters) really feel like fallback plans in case Braun and or Wilson leave. Braun appears the most likely to stay in the draft, which would free up one scholarship for a potential transfer, while Wilson may be destined to return after failing to garner an invite to the NBA Draft Combine.

Michigan

Both of the Wolverines’ five-star freshmen, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate, decided to test the waters. And Houstan may be staying in after he declined an invite to the NBA Draft Combine—that can often indicate a promise levied by an NBA team. Both players returning sets the Wolverines up as a no-doubt top 10 team. If neither returns, Michigan slides down those rankings significantly. And if Diabate returns, the Wolverines will be somewhere between.

There’s just one player truly deciding here, but it’s a big one: guard Max Christie. Christie averaged 9.3 points per game after arriving at Michigan State as a five-star freshman, but he didn’t shoot the ball anywhere close to his ability level. A return to MSU makes sense both for Christie and the Spartans, who could win a Big Ten title if he plays to his star potential.

Should Max Christie return for another season at Michigan State or stay in the NBA Draft? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take a deep dive on key players who could be heading to the next level.

If it seems like 3/4 of these teams are Big Ten schools, it just kind of worked out that way, which means the top of the conference remains somewhat in flux. But the Scarlet Knights have the potential to emerge as a not-so-dark-horse Big Ten candidate should Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell decide to run it back at Rutgers.

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