Last year, this list contained six players, and five of them made the NCAA tournament. One lost in the Sweet 16 (Zeller), one lost in the Elite 8 (Thomas), and one is in the Final Four (Burke). As I wrote last week, staying has helped Burke’s stock soar; Zeller, not so much. Working under the assumption that guys like Otto Porter, Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, the aforementioned Trey Burke and Nerlens Noel are gone, here are seven players who, if they stay, will have a huge impact on college basketball next season:
Gary Harris & Adreian Payne, Michigan State: Harris, a freshman, and Payne, a junior, will be contenders for Big 10 Player of the Year next season. Harris is a scoring machine with a feathery touch from the perimeter; he could be a lottery pick in June. Payne, wildly athletic, could sneak into the lottery, too. Payne is 22, though, and it’s tough to see his stock going higher, especially with the 2014 draft very top-heavy. If both players stay, the Spartans only lose one senior (Derrick Nix) and will open next year in the Top 10, maybe Top 5.
Tony Snell, New Mexico. The Lobos had a fantastic regular season, then got stunned by Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament. New Mexico returns everyone from a 29-6 team, and Snell is their best player. This group has the talent to make a deep run next March – if Snell (12.5 ppg) returns.
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke. Curry, Plumlee and Kelly all graduate, and Sulaimon is the team’s best returning player. If you combine Sulamion and incoming freshman Jabari Parker, you’re looking at a dynamic duo, and the Blue Devils would be the preseason favorites in the ACC. Would the 6-foot-4 guard leave if he’s going to get drafted in the lottery? At times, he’s looked like Kyrie Irving, but often differed to Curry and Plumlee.
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. There’s no chance he stays in school … right? The guy talked about wanting to get paid for much of March, and it seems like a longshot he returns to Ole Miss. But if you follow his twitter feed, he does love the college life, so perhaps the Rebels have a shot of keeping him. Why he’d leave: The other two best players on the team (Buckner, Summers) graduate. If he thought defenses keyed on him last year … good luck improving on that 38 percent shooting next season. If he did stay, it would be a huge win for college basketball because the dude’s a character. One NBA assistant coach thinks Henderson will definitely play in the NBA.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga. Player of the Year candidate, best player in the WCC, and probably just a bit peeved about the 2nd round loss to Wichita State. It’s tough to gauge the prospects of the 7-footer, but he’s fluid for his size, has nice touch inside 15 feet and I think he’ll make a better pro than Robin Lopez. If he stays, the Zags open in the Top 20 and can legitimately make the Final 4 an attainable goal. Without him, no shot.
Allen Crabbe, California. The Bears return their five best players, and Crabbe’s the centerpiece. The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year had a nice end to the season, and probably is a late 1st round pick. Does he improve his stock by sticking around? I’m not sure. To quote Dazed and Confused, “you are in the serious need of an attitude adjustment young man.”