It seems like everyone’s going the NBA. Dion Waiters left Syracuse early. Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee bolted from Duke. Will Barton is the first – and probably won’t be the only – young Memphis star to leave the Tigers. Royce White decided to get paid rather than maybe lead Iowa State to the Final 4. Working under the assumption that stars like Thomas Robinson, Brad Beal, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger and others are obviously gone, here are five non-Kentucky names to keep an eye on this week:
Cody Zeller, Indiana. Covered him this weekend. Working under the assumption Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are gone, I’d say Zeller’s decision is the most pivotal to next year’s college basketball season. If he stays, you’ll hear more than a few arguments that Indiana should open the season as the Team to Beat.
Trey Burke, Michigan. It was a down year for point guards in college basketball, but Burke was fantastic. He’s only 5-foot-11, but impossible to keep out of the lane and not a bad shooter (34 percent from 3). Obviously the freshman could use another year, but so could have Darius Morris, who left last year and was taken in the 2nd round. He’s currently wallowing on the Lakers’ bench and has scored 37 points this season. Michigan’s losing two seniors – Novak and Douglass – but more importantly bringing in three Top 80 recruits, including Glenn Robinson’s son and backboard-shattering power forward Mitch McGary. With Burke back, Michigan’s a Top 10 team.
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina. The Tar Heels are losing Zeller (senior) and almost certainly Henson, Barnes and Marshall, too. Could they lose McAdoo, a guy who would be their player to build around next season? McAdoo is already a first round pick. At 6-9, he’s still a developing wing player who doesn’t have a post game or 3-point game. But if he enters the draft, who doesn’t take this kid based on potential? He only averaged 6 points and 3 rebounds a game, but tell me the flashes you’ve seen – he was buried behind Henson and Zeller – are at least as impressive as what Perry Jones has shown in two years?
DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State. Thomas has had a torrid two months and one could argue he’s the Buckeyes’ best player right now. Sullinger didn’t really improve after the loss of Diebler … would Thomas be able to further thrive without one of the top post players in college hoops? I’m not sure. Thomas looks like a prototypical NBA small forward – long, nice inside, much nicer outside. Are there 20 players you’d draft ahead of Thomas, who probably hasn’t come close to his ceiling?
Alex Len, Maryland. The 7-footer from Ukraine is a future pro. After sitting out the first 10 games due to suspension (damn NCAA), he played well early, but struggled down the stretch. However, with three other pretty good players returning (PG Terrell Stoglin, G Pe’Shon Howard and wing Nick Faust) and 2011-2012 ACC powers Duke, UNC and Florida State losing a lot, the Terps should be back in the NCAA tourney mix if Len returns. Contending for the ACC title isn’t out of the question.*
CJ Leslie, NC State. As chronicled here, the Wolfpack have a lot of talented underclassmen returning, and perhaps the strongest class of recruits in the country (well, so far). They could be the favorites in the ACC with Leslie as the centerpiece. He’s a 1st round pick, but as the talent exodus continues, Leslie gets pushed further down the list.
* I’m assuming Stoglin doesn’t do something foolish like Jordan Williams did last year.