Plenty of NBA talent is coming back to campus and college hoops will be better because of it.
The May 30 deadline for this year’s NBA draft entrants to withdraw from the process and maintain their eligibility for college hoops was a busy one.
The day was filled with surprises. For example, Kentucky Wildcats forward Wenyen Gabriel left his name in the draft, but Michigan State’s power forward Nick Ward decided to return to college for his junior season.
Ward isn’t the only big pro prospect returning to school. He’s joined by many other players who seemed to be surefire NBA picks. So many, in fact, I could probably make two (or more) starting lineups worth of them. But this single lineup represents the cream of the crop, the best player at each position that had his name in the draft and then withdrew. Below you will find your First-Team All-NCAA Returning Team.
The NBA will have to wait while we cherish one more year with these dominant collegians gracing our courts. Make sure to watch these players next season before they leave to make their money.
The 2018-2019 All-NCAA Returning Team
Carsen Edwards (PG), Tyus Battle (SG), Luke Maye (F), Nick Ward (PF), Sagaba Konate (C)
Despite the fact that this would probably be the best offensive team in the history of college basketball, each of these players brings something special to the team. They would be like the 38-2 national champion Kentucky Wildcats from 2011-2012 with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, except maybe even better. We’re talking 40-0 here.
Anyway, the experience of this team (four juniors, one senior) would serve them well. It should be noted, the positions I put them in might not be the position they do or will play next season, but rather the positions I think they would play on this completely imaginary but completely awesome team.
Point Guard - Purdue (18.5 ppg, 2.8 apg)
Edwards had a standout season on a standout team. He was one of the best offensive point guards in the country, except for Jalen Brunson and some guy named Trae Young. While his assist column is not very impressive, it makes sense: He was on a three-point shooting team that also had great passers and ball-handlers in Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson.
When he had the ball, he could create. He finds the pass that leads to the assist, he lets his teammates draw attention so he can create shots, and he’s an incredibly athletic finisher at the rim for a 6-foot-1 guard. He’s powerful and crafty at the same time, and that’s a great combo for a point guard. With fewer passers next year to share with, I think Edwards’ assists will go up, and we’ll start to see a true point guard.
Edwards also shot over 40 percent from three this season — a six percentage point increase from his freshman year. His long-range game only makes him that much more dangerous, and it’s almost impossible to guard him. His 18.5 points per game were an eight-point jump from 2016-2017, so I’m expecting somewhere around 26 ppg next season. And if he has Battle, Maye, Ward, and Konate on the floor with him, how could he go wrong?
Guard - Syracuse (19.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
The 6-foot-6 Battle was a workhorse for the Orangemen last season, playing over 96 percent of the team’s possible minutes. Despite that workload, Battle showed durability and a confidence in his game.
His three-point shooting was lackluster at times, but he always put up his shots, which was vital to an especially inept Syracuse offense. He’s also an attacker that can get to the line and make his free throws. He had five games with 10 or more free throws, and posted a solid 84 percent from the charity stripe in 2017-2018. With a little more help on offense next season, Battle has a chance to be a 20-point per game (or more) scorer.
Battle also brings size and athleticism to the nation’s fifth-most efficient defense. With 1.5 steals per game, Battle was an anchor for Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. A 6‘6” guard that can score and defend with the best of ‘em may sound too good for college, but Battle is doing us all a favor by coming back to school. At the helm of a young Syracuse team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him late in March again, and I definitely expect him to rock the rims in the association one day.
Forward - North Carolina (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg)
What’s left to be said for Luke Maye? March Madness hero, scholar, gentleman, chinstrap beard aficionado — he can do it all, both on and off the court. Maye brings rebounding and basketball IQ to this All-Returning Team. He’s shown steady improvement each year so far, and I can’t see that progress stopping any time soon.
The biggest thing Maye did this year was show that he’s the full package. He rebounded, he passed, and — to the excitement of NBA scouts — he made threes at a 43 percent clip. From his sophomore season to his junior season, he just about tripled his three-point attempts, and his accuracy increased by three percentage points. He didn’t just work on his long-range game, he made it an undeniable strength of his game which makes him one of the best forwards in the country.
But Maye doesn’t just shoot the three ball. He proved he can post up with the country’s best big men, dropping an average of 15 points and grabbing over 8 rebounds per game in three contests against Duke bigs Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr, two top-notch likely NBA picks. On top of his complete game, Maye is a smart passer. He finds the cutting man in the post and tallies a couple assists per game because of his alertness. Luke Maye might not be the most powerful, but he is the nation’s most complete forward.
Power Forward - Michigan State (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
You don’t want to get in Nick Ward’s way, ever. And if you ever see him in your way, well, good luck. He is the definition of a power forward. He took one three-pointer last season, and he made it. But he doesn’t need to shoot threes. He shoots nearly 65 percent from the floor (the 60th-best mark in college basketball). That means when Ward gets the ball near the rim, the odds are forever against the poor soul who has to guard him.
Speaking of poor souls, let’s talk about the players Ward defends. He’s a brick wall in the paint, a staunch defender of the rim. He posted an outrageous 7.3 block percentage last season, with 1.3 blocks per game (including a five-block game against Wisconsin). You do not want to drive down the lane and see Ward waiting for you there.
Ward was also one of the most efficient rebounders in college hoops, with a top-100 defensive rebounding rate. More impressive, though, was his first-ranked offensive rebounding rate of over 18 percent. Offensive boards create second chances, and Ward was able to grab rebounds whenever he wanted all season long to help his teammates. The most impressive thing about Ward? He did this all in under 20 minutes per game. In less than half of the game, he still managed over 12 points and seven boards per game. Nick Ward is the post player every team wants, but only Michigan State can have.
Center - West Wirginia (7.6 rpg, 3.2 blocks pg)
At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, Sagaba Konate just might be the most athletic player in college hoops right now. His seven-foot wingspan allows him to do some pretty incredible things. Have a look for yourself.
That’s right. 116 blocks in one season. That’s 3.2 per game. Or, according to KenPom.com, 15.6 percent of the 2-point shots Konate faced he swatted away. Against Baylor in February, he racked up nine blocks. It’s pretty clear that we haven’t seen a blocker like him since Anthony Davis, and we know how his career is turning out.
Aside from his defense, Konate is a tenacious rebounder with a 35-inch max vertical. He is an elite post player and a phenomenal college center. His offensive skills definitely improved from his freshman year, but at roughly 6-foot-7 he’ll need to learn to shoot if he wants to be a starter in the NBA. And that’s probably why he withdrew from the draft: He’s not quite big enough to be a center or power forward in the NBA, but if he can grow his offensive skillset, he has a chance to be something special.
For now, though, Konate is the centerpiece for my All-Returning Team. He’s a bad, bad man, and he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet in college.
Second-Team All-Returning Team
Although I won’t go into detail here, there are plenty of other returning players who deserve attention. If I had to make a second All-Returning Team lineup, it would go exactly like this:
PG - Trevon Duval (Duke - 10.3 ppg, 5.6 apg)
SG - Mustapha Heron (Transferring to St. John’s - 16.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
F - Juwan Morgan (Indiana - 16.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
F - Mike Daum (South Dakota State - 23.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg)
C - Udoka Azubuike (Kansas - 13 ppg, 7 rpg)
This group has the potential to be just as exciting as the first team. One more year of college can do wonders for a player’s draft stock, and for the quality of NCAA hoops overall. There are only 159 days until college basketball officially starts up, and expect these 10 players will make their mark (again).
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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