Author: Jeff Eisenberg

Authorities identify seven people who threatened referee after Kentucky's NCAA tourney loss

John Calipari argues with referee John Higgins over a call during Kentucky's 75-73 loss to North Carolina. (AP)
John Calipari argues with referee John Higgins over a call during Kentucky’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina. (AP)

A two-month investigation by a Nebraska prosecutor has identified seven people who threatened referee John Higgins after Kentucky’s 75-73 NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina last March.

Those seven people could eventually face charges from the FBI or authorities in their jurisdictions, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov told the Associated Press on Friday.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Polikov said in a statement.

Kentucky coach John Calipari incited a firestorm when he opened his postgame news conference by lashing out at the referees. Said Calipari, “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance.”

The 19 fouls called on Kentucky were only one more than the 18 assessed to North Carolina, but Wildcats stars DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo each spent huge chunks of the first half on the bench in foul trouble. Fox, Monk and senior forward Derek Willis finished the game with four fouls apiece.

What ultimately cost Kentucky more than the first-half foul trouble was a late drought after the Wildcats had opened a five-point lead with five minutes to go. North Carolina scored the next 12 points, endured a furious Kentucky rally and won the game on a Luke Maye jumper as time expired.

Angry that their team had fallen one basket short of the Final Four, a small percentage of Kentucky fans took out their frustration by harassing Higgins.

They bombarded Higgins’ roofing business with a flood of bogus negative online reviews, causing his ratings to plummet. They made nonstop phone calls to Higgins’ business and his unlisted home number. The worst of the lunatics even made death threats toward Higgins.

Polikov told the Associated Press that at least two media outlets had promoted and posted a video montage that exposed Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation,” Polikov said.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

North Carolina's response to the NCAA strongly disputes the most serious allegations

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham was ‘disappointed’ by the latest list of allegations. (Getty Images)

North Carolina is digging in its heels in its fight with the NCAA.

In a scathing 102-page response to the NCAA’s latest notice of allegations, North Carolina challenged the most serious accusation that academic fraud in African-American Studies classes taken by athletes constituted an “extra benefit” violation.

North Carolina argued that athletes were not treated any differently than non-athletes since the bogus African-American Studies courses were available to all students. Athletes made up only 29.4 percent of the enrollment in those courses, according to the school, and the athletes who took those classes were required to turn in the same coursework as non-athletes did.

While North Carolina conceded that the classes themselves were fraudulent, the school paints that as a problem stemming from “inadequate academic oversight unrelated to the Department of Athletics.” North Carolina therefore argues that the academic fraud allegations are outside NCAA jurisdiction and don’t constitute a violation of NCAA rules.

North Carolina had until May 16 to respond to the NCAA’s third notice of allegations. The response wasn’t made public until Thursday because the school said it needed several days to redact potential violations of privacy law.

The NCAA’s third notice of allegations inspired a strong reaction from North Carolina because it was significantly harsher than the previous two. It put football and men’s basketball back in the crosshairs, broadened the time frame of violations and expanded the scope of potential penalties North Carolina could receive.

Among the biggest changes was the NCAA reintroducing the argument that the bogus classes constitute extra benefits for the athletes enrolled in them. The Notice of Allegations claimed that North Carolina’s athletic department leveraged its relationship with two African-American Studies professors to “obtain and/or provide special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”

The third Notice of Allegations also didn’t scapegoat the North Carolina’s women’s basketball team like the previous version seemed to do. The most recent edition specifically stated that “many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility.”

The timeframe in the NCAA’s latest allegations spanned from 2002-2011, a period which includes national titles the Tar Heels men’s basketball team won in 2005 and 2009. If the NCAA’s committee on infractions deems that players on those teams received extra benefits, they could be ruled ineligible, which would put North Carolina at risk of potentially vacating those titles.

The NCAA enforcement staff will have 60 days to review North Carolina’s response and address the issues raised. The case is then expected to proceed to a committee on infractions hearing later this summer.

 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

A post-draft deadline look at college basketball's 2017-18 preseason Top 25

Allonzo Trier's return catapulted Arizona to the top of Yahoo's 2017-18 preseason poll. (Getty)
Allonzo Trier’s return catapulted Arizona to the top of Yahoo’s 2017-18 preseason poll. (Getty)

At last, we have some clarity regarding next season’s college basketball landscape. 

The deadline for early-entry prospects to withdraw from the NBA draft passed Wednesday night at midnight, so we now know which teams were hardest hit by draft declarations and which will begin next season in better-than-expected shape. With that in mind, here’s a new edition of Yahoo’s 2017-18 no-longer-way-too-early preseason top 25: 

1. ARIZONA
Key losses: G Kadeem Allen, F Lauri Markkanen, G Kobi Simmons, C Chance Comanche
Key returners: G Allonzo Trier, G Rawle Alkins, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, C Dusan Ristic, F Keanu Pinder
Notable newcomers: G Dylan Smith, F DeAndre Ayton, G Brandon Randolph, F Ira Lee, G Alex Barcello, G Emmanuel Akot
Outlook: Next season will be a golden opportunity for Sean Miller to shed the label of college basketball’s best coach never to reach a Final Four. Miller boasts a roster with an enviable blend of talented newcomers and experienced veterans. The key for Arizona is the return of wings Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, both of whom could have been selected in the NBA draft had they turned pro. Trier is a preseason All-American candidate after averaging 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists last season. Alkins is a bulldozing wing with the strength to finish through contact, the toughness to play through a fractured finger and the skill to sink 37 percent of his threes. With those two back, seniors Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright also returning and a top-five recruiting class set to arrive, Arizona is the Pac-12 favorite and a threat to start next season atop the polls.

2. KANSAS
Key losses: G Frank Mason, C Landen Lucas, F Josh Jackson, F Carlton Bragg, F Dwight Coleby
Key returners: G Devonte’ Graham, F Svi Mykhailiuk, G Lagerald Vick, C Udoka Azubuike, F Mitch Lightfoot
Notable newcomers: G Malik Newman, G Sam Cunliffe (eligible second semester), F Billy Preston, G Marcus Garrett, F Jack Whitman
Outlook: For a program that loses the national player of the year, a top-five NBA draft pick and a two-year starter at center, Kansas enters next season in astonishingly good shape. Devonte Graham is ready to be a lead guard after a couple years as Frank Mason’s sidekick. Bill Self has already predicted that heralded Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman will be all-Big 12 caliber. Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett will battle for wing playing time, as will Sam Cunliffe when he becomes eligible. And five-star freshman Billy Preston and returning center Udoka Azubuike form a talented if unproven frontcourt duo. It should all add up to a familiar outcome for Kansas: A team that’s favored to win the Big 12 for the 14th straight year and capable of achieving much more than that.

3. MICHIGAN STATE
Key losses: G Eron Harris, G Alvin Ellis,
Key returners: F Miles Bridges, F Nick Ward, G Cassius Winston, G Josh Langford, G Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, G Matt McQuaid, F Kenny Goins, F Gavin Schilling, F Ben Carter
Notable newcomers: F Jaren Jackson, C Xavier Tillman
Outlook: Only a handful of times in Tom Izzo’s decorated career has he had a championship-caliber roster. Next season should be one of those years. The unexpected return of would-be lottery pick Miles Bridges gives Michigan State a star around which to build. Bridges, who averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds as a freshman, is an early candidate for preseason player of the year. Surrounding Bridges will be all but two rotation players from last year’s 20-win NCAA tournament team, a supporting cast highlighted by forward Nick Ward and point guard Cassius Winston. The Spartans will also add talented freshman power forward Jaren Jackson and veteran big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, both of whom missed all of last season due to injury.

4. KENTUCKY
Key losses: F Derek Willis, G Dominique Hawkins, G Mychal Mulder, G Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, F Bam Adebayo, G Isaiah Briscoe, F Isaac Humphries
Key returners: F Wenyen Gabriel, F Sacha Killeya-Jones
Notable newcomers: G Hamidou Diallo, F Kevin Knox, F P.J. Washington, C Nick Richards, G Jarred Vanderbilt, G Quade Green, F Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Outlook: John Calipari’s ability to reload on the fly will be tested like it seldom has before. Eight of Kentucky’s nine leading scorers from last season either turned pro or graduated. Forward Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, is the most accomplished returner. Kentucky remains a clear-cut preseason top 10 team thanks to a heralded incoming class featuring a half dozen five-star freshmen. The Wildcats caught a massive break Wednesday night when prized wing Hamidou Diallo withdrew from the draft rather than making the preps-to-pros leap. He’ll be one of the centerpieces of next year’s team along with incoming point guard Quade Green and versatile forward Kevin Knox.

5. WICHITA STATE
Key losses: G Daishon Smith
Key returners: F Markis McDuffie, G Landry Shamet, F Shaq Morris, F Zach Brown, G Conner Frankamp, F Darral Willis, F Rashard Kelly, F Rauno Nurger, G Austin Reaves
Notable newcomers: G Samajae Jones, C Asbjorn Midtgaard
Outlook: Wichita State should have no problem handling the step up in competition from the Valley to the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers will be preseason favorites in their new league thanks to the return of their entire rotation from a team that won 31 games last season and pushed Kentucky into the final minute before falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Whereas previous Wichita State teams leaned heavily on Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, the hallmark of last year’s Wichita State team was its balance. The Shockers were top 15 nationally in offensive efficiency despite having nobody averaging more than forward Markis McDuffie’s 11.5 points per game. Wichita State was also an elite defensive team last year. Opponents shot poorly from the field and seldom made a dent on the offensive glass against the Shockers’ aggressive man-to-man.

6. DUKE
Key losses: F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, F Jayson Tatum, F Harry Giles, F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, G Frank Jackson
Key returners: G Grayson Allen, C Marques Bolden, F Antonio Vrankovic, F Javin DeLaurier
Notable newcomers: G Trevon Duval, F Wendell Carter, G Gary Trent Jr., G Alex O’Connell, G Jordan Tucker, G Jordan Goldwire
Outlook: One of the reasons Duke fell short of expectations last season was the absence of a true point guard. That shouldn’t be an issue next season now that the Blue Devils have landed elite recruit Trevon Duval. An explosive athlete with the strength, quickness and body control to get wherever he wants on the floor, Duval excels making plays in the open court. His jump shot needs work and his decision making in half-court sets can be erratic, but he should be an ideal fit alongside Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. in the Duke backcourt. The only missing piece for Duke next season might be a small-ball power forward in the mold of Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram or Jayson Tatum. With Kevin Knox unexpectedly choosing Kentucky over Duke, the Blue Devils may opt for two traditional big men with heralded freshman Wendell Carter alongside Marques Bolden.

Grayson Allen returned to Duke for his senior season, keeping the Blue Devils in the title picture. (Getty)
Grayson Allen returned to Duke for his senior season, keeping the Blue Devils in the title picture. (Getty)

7. VILLANOVA
Key losses: F Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins, C Darryl Reynolds
Key returners: G Jalen Brunson, F Mikal Bridges, G Donte DiVincenzo, G Phil Booth, F Eric Paschall, C Omari Spellman
Notable newcomers: F Jermaine Samuels, F Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
Outlook: Even though All-American Josh Hart, title game hero Kris Jenkins and key role player Darryl Reynolds are all graduating this spring, Villanova has a good chance to extend its run of Big East dominance next season. The Wildcats bring back a strong nucleus highlighted by unanimous first-team all-Big East selection Jalen Brunson and wing Mikal Bridges, both of whom decided to stay in school without even testing the NBA draft process. Brunson averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season and should be a preseason All-American candidate next fall. He’ll be surrounded by an excellent supporting cast that includes Bridges and rapidly blossoming Donte DiVincenzo, versatile forward Eric Paschall, promising big man Omari Spellman and presumably healthy guard Phil Booth.

8. WEST VIRGINIA
Key losses: G Tarik Phillip, F Nathan Adrian, G Teyvon Myers, F Brandon Watkins, F Elijah Macon
Key returners: G Jevon Carter, F Esa Ahmad, G Daxter Miles, F Lamont West, F Sagaba Konate
Notable newcomers: F Derek Culver, G Brandon Knapper, F D’Angelo Hunter
Outlook: West Virginia received the good news it needed earlier this week when Jevon Carter withdrew from the NBA draft. Carter, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer and top perimeter defender last season, averaged 13.5 points and 2.6 steals per game and led the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16. The return of Carter solidifies West Virginia as the top challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 next season. With three starters and several key reserves back from last season, the Mountaineers could be even better than they were a year ago. Carter will initiate the offense, provide outside shooting and anchor Press Virginia. Guard Daxter Miles and forward Esa Ahmad are both breakout candidates. And West Virginia replenishes its depth with a five-man recruiting class highlighted by four-star center Derek Culver.

9. USC
Key losses: None
Key returners: F Chimezie Metu, F Bennie Boatwright, F Shaqquan Aaron, G Jordan McLaughlin, G Elijah Stewart, G De’Anthony Melton, G Jonah Mathews, F Nick Rakocevic
Notable newcomers: G Derryck Thornton, G Charles O’Bannon Jr., G Jordan Usher
Outlook: With UCLA, Oregon and Cal each hemorrhaging talent, USC could be the program poised to take advantage. The Trojans may be the top challenger to Arizona in the Pac-12 next season after stretch forward Bennie Boatwright withdrew from the NBA draft and standout center Chimezie Metu opted not to even go through the early-entry process at all. Their return ensures USC will bring back virtually every key player from last year’s 26-win team that won two NCAA tournament games. The Trojans’ only departure is seldom-used forward Charles Buggs. In addition to returning its starting five intact, USC will also add former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton and top 50 incoming freshman Charles O’Bannon Jr. Andy Enfield’s biggest problem with a roster so deep may be managing playing time issues.

10. LOUISVILLE
Key losses: C Mangok Mathiang, G Tony Hicks, G David Levitch, G Donovan Mitchell, F Jaylen Johnson
Key returners: G Quentin Snider, F Deng Adel, C Anas Mahmoud, F Ray Spalding, G V.J. King, G Ryan McMahon
Notable newcomers: F Dwayne Sutton, F Lance Thomas, C Malik Williams, G Darius Perry, F Jordan Nwora
Outlook: The early departure of Donovan Mitchell leaves Louisville without a proven go-to threat, but the Cardinals have enough pieces returning to take that blow in stride. They’ll build around a backcourt featuring incumbent starter Quentin Snider at point guard and leading returning scorer Deng Adel and breakout candidate V.J. King on the wing. With Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud anchoring the frontcourt and a strong recruiting class pushing the starters for playing time, Louisville will be long, athletic and deep once again next season. Look for the Cardinals to once again emerge as an upper-echelon ACC team that uses outstanding defense and lethal transition offense to make up for occasional struggles scoring against a set defense.

11. FLORIDA
Key losses: G Kasey Hill, G Canyon Berry, F Justin Leon, F Devin Robinson
Key returners: G KeVaughn Allen, C John Egbunu, G Chris Chiozza, F Kevarrius Hayes,C Gorjok Gak
Notable newcomers: G Jalen Hudson, F DeAundrae Ballard, F Isaiah Stokes G Michael Okauru, F Chase Johnson, G/F Egor Koulechov
Outlook: Not even three years into his tenure as Florida head coach, Mike White already has the program back to the level it had been under former coach Billy Donovan. The Gators won 27 games and advanced to the Elite Eight last season, achievements they could come close to matching this year despite the departure of standouts Devin Robinson, Kasey Hill and Canyon Berry. Florida is in good shape in the backcourt as Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson are the projected starters with Rice transfer Egor Koulechov capable of making an impact off the bench at wing. The frontcourt is more uncertain with starting center John Egbunu not expected to fully recover from a late-season torn ACL until January, but Kevarrius Hayes and Gorjok Gak should be solid in the meantime.

12. CINCINNATI
Key losses: G Troy Caupain, G Kevin Johnson
Key returners: G Jacob Evans (projected), F Kyle Washington, F Gary Clark, G Jarron Cumberland, F Nysier Brooks
Notable newcomers: G Cane Broome, G Keith Williams
Outlook: For all Mick Cronin’s success leading Cincinnati to seven straight NCAA tournaments, it has to gnaw at him that the Bearcats have yet to put together a deep run. They’ve typically played to their seed but seldom better, reaching the second round four times but advancing to the Sweet 16 only once. Next year’s Cincinnati team is capable of more than that with four of last year’s top five scorers back and impact transfer Cane Broome set to take over at point guard for Troy Caupain. Broome, seventh in the nation in scoring at 23.1 points per game two years ago at Sacred Heart, should provide instant offense, while Jarron Cumberland is a breakout candidate in support of leading returning scorers Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington. That nucleus makes Cincinnati the top threat to Wichita State in an improved American Athletic Conference.

13. UCLA
Key losses: Lonzo Ball, F TJ Leaf, G Isaac Hamilton, G Bryce Alford, C Ike Anigbogu
Key returners: G Aaron Holiday, C Thomas Welsh, F Gyorgy Goloman, G Prince Ali
Notable newcomers: F Kris Wilkes, G Jaylen Hands, F Cody Riley, F Jalen Hill, F Chris Smith, F LiAngelo Ball
Outlook: Had Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday both chosen to remain in the NBA draft, UCLA would have needed to replace its top seven scorers from last year’s Sweet 16 team. Both instead are returning to school for the 2017-18 school year, providing the Bruins with a pair of badly needed veteran leaders to anchor a young but talented lineup. UCLA likely won’t be as explosive offensively with Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all gone from last year’s 31-win team, but there will still be ample talent surrounding Holiday and Welsh. The Bruins return explosive shooting guard Prince Ali, who missed all of last season due to injury, and Hungarian forward Gyorgy Goloman, a rotation player on last year’s team. They also welcome another heralded recruiting class highlighted by point guard Jaylen Hands and forwards Cody Riley and Kris Wilkes.

14. MINNESOTA
Key losses: G Akeem Springs
Key returners: G Nate Mason, F Amir Coffey, C Reggie Lynch, G Dupree McBrayer, F Jordan Murphy, F Eric Curry, F Davonte Fitzgerald
Notable newcomers: G Isaiah Washington
Outlook: At this time last year, Minnesota fans were calling for Richard Pitino’s firing after a dreadful season marred by a series of off-court incidents. Now Pitino has things rolling again with almost everyone due back from a 24-win team, one that didn’t lose in February, and claimed a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. “Almost everybody” includes an All-Big Ten point guard (Nate Mason), a shot-blocker extraordinaire (Reggie Lynch) and rising star (Amir Coffey). Another year of experience for McBrayer, Murphy and Curry, plus the addition of Washington, a top-100 guard, should give Pitino a strong enough seven- or eight-man rotation to emerge as a potential challenger to Michigan State for the Big Ten crown.

15. MIAMI
Key losses: F Davon Reed, F Kamari Murphy
Key returners: G Ja’Quan Newton, G Bruce Brown, F Anthony Lawrence, G Dejan Vasilijevic, F Dewan Huell, C Ebuka Izundu
Notable newcomers: G Lonnie Walker, G Chris Lykes, C Deng Gak, F Sam Waardenburg
Outlook: Six of Miami’s top eight players are back from a team that won 21 games last season and secured a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. What’s even more encouraging is the potential for several of those returners to make a big leap next season, most notably guard Bruce Brown and forward Dewan Huell. The graduation of forwards Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy will hurt, but Miami also welcomes a top-10 recruiting class headlined by McDonald’s All-American Lonnie Walker, a wing known as an explosive scorer. All in all, this is a guard-heavy roster that almost certainly will take Miami to a third NCAA tournament in a row and could have it challenging for a top-four ACC finish.

Theo Pinson and Joel Berry both withdrew from the draft to give North Carolina one of the nation's top backcourts next season. (Getty)
Theo Pinson and Joel Berry both withdrew from the draft to give North Carolina one of the nation’s top backcourts next season. (Getty)

16. NORTH CAROLINA
Key losses: C Kennedy Meeks, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Stilman White, F Justin Jackson, F Tony Bradley
Key returners: G Joel Berry, G Theo Pinson, F Luke Maye, G Kenny Williams, G Seventh Woods
Notable newcomers: G Jalek Felton, F Garrison Brooks, F Brandon Huffman
Outlook: Producing the program’s first one-and-done in a decade could be a longterm boost for North Carolina on the recruiting trail, but the departure of Tony Bradley is a massive loss for the Tar Heels next season. They now must replace the top three big men from last year’s national title team, a task for which they are ill prepared with only former walk-on Luke Maye and incoming freshmen Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman available. What should keep North Carolina relevant is a backcourt that will be among the nation’s best. Joel Berry might be the ACC’s top point guard, Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams form a capable wing duo and freshman Jalek Felton should push for immediate playing time off the bench.

17. GONZAGA
Key losses: C Przemek Karnowski, G Jordan Mathews, F Zach Collins, G Nigel Williams-Goss
Key returners: F Johnathan Williams, G Josh Perkins, F Killian Tillie, G Silas Melson, F Rui Hachimura, C Jacob Larsen, G Zach Norvell
Notable newcomers: G Corey Kispert, G Joel Ayayi, G Jesse Wade
Outlook: The hallmark of Gonzaga’s program under Mark Few has been its consistency, but the Zags will face a daunting challenge next season. They’ll try to remain nationally relevant despite the departure of four pillars of the program’s first Final Four team. McDonald’s All-American center Zach Collins became the Gonzaga’s first one-and-done, elite point guard Nigel Williams Goss also turned pro and starters Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews both graduated. That means Gonzaga must replace its leading scorer, its two best rim protectors and its premier 3-point specialist. The Zags won’t contend for the national title again next year, but they also shouldn’t fall too far. This is still a preseason top 20 team with four of last year’s top eight players returning, a strong group of newcomers and the possibility of a late graduate transfer still coming aboard.

18. NORTHWESTERN
Key losses: F Sanjay Lumpkin, F Nathan Taphorn
Key returners: G Bryant McIntosh, F Vic Law, G Scottie Lindsey, C Dererk Pardon, F Aaron Falzon, F Gavin Skelly, G Isiah Brown
Notable newcomers: G Anthony Gaines
Outlook: This — 2017-18 — was supposed to be the year. Not last year. But now that last year was the year, the upcoming season looks even more promising. Lumpkin is the only significant loss from a team that not only ended the program’s NCAA tournament drought but also beat Vanderbilt in the opening round. The McIntosh-Law-Lindsey perimeter trio will be even better. Pardon is at worst a second-tier Big Ten big man. Falzon will return from a knee injury that took his entire 2016-17 campaign. The only issue: Northwestern won’t play a true home game all season. It has been pushed 15 miles west of campus to Allstate Arena by renovations to its normal home, Welsh-Ryan Arena.

19. TEXAS A&M
Key losses: G J.C. Hampton, F Tavario Miller
Key returners: F Robert Williams, F D.J. Hogg, G Admon Gilder, F Tyler Davis, F Tonny Trocha-Morelos, G J.J. Caldwell
Notable newcomers: G Duane Wilson, G Savion Flagg, G D.J. Starks, G Jay Jay Chandler
Outlook: Had Robert Williams entered the NBA draft after his impressive freshman season, he would have almost certainly been a top 20 pick with a chance to crack the lottery. The athletic, high-upside 6-foot-9 forward instead chose to come back to Texas A&M for his sophomore season, gambling that he can improve his stock next season if his skill set takes a leap forward. The return of Williams gives Texas A&M an excellent chance to bounce back from last year’s disappointing 16-15 season. The Aggies welcome back their top five scorers including standouts Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder. If J.J. Caldwell or graduate transfer Duane Wilson can solidify the point guard position and allow Gilder to move off ball, Texas A&M should be an upper-echelon SEC team next season.

20. SAINT MARY’S
Key losses: G Joe Rahon, F Dane Pineau
Key returners: F Jock Landale, G Emmett Naar, G Calvin Hermanson, F Evan Fitzner, F Tanner Krebs, G Jordan Ford
Notable newcomers: G Kristers Zoriks, G Cullen Neal
Outlook: Skeptics questioned whether Saint Mary’s gaudy record and national ranking was legitimate or schedule-aided for much of last season, but the Gaels proved themselves in March. They outclassed VCU in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before leading second-seeded Arizona well into the second half. Four starters are back for Saint Mary’s from that team including standout big man Jock Landale and fellow all-league contenders point guard Emmett Naar and wing Calvin Hermanson. The biggest loss for Saint Mary’s is senior guard Joe Rahon, the team’s best perimeter defender. His playing time should be split between Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal and sophomore guards Jordan Ford and Tanner Krebs.

21. NOTRE DAME
Key losses: F V.J. Beachem, G Steve Vasturia, F Austin Torres, F Matt Ryan
Key returners: F Bonzie Colson, G Matt Farrell, G Temple Gibbs, G Rex Pflueger, F Martinas Geben
Notable newcomers: F D.J. Harvey
Outlook: Two years ago, they didn’t miss a beat despite losing standout guards Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Last year, they weathered the loss of forward Zach Auguste and point guard Demetrius Jackson to remain in the ACC’s upper echelon. Perhaps Notre Dame will have a tougher time replacing stars Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem next season, but the Irish have certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. Depth may be a season-long issue for Notre Dame, but the Irish have two stars capable of carrying them in hard-nosed point guard Matt Farrell and undersized double-double machine Bonzie Colson. If sophomore Temple Gibbs and junior Rex Pflueger can both take a step forward next season, Notre Dame has the potential to finish near the top of the ACC once more.

22. ALABAMA
Key losses: G Corban Collins, F Jimmie Taylor, F Bola Olaniyan
Key returners: F Riley Norris, F Braxton Key, G Dazon Ingram, F Donta Hall, G Avery Johnson Jr., G Ar’mond Davis
Notable newcomers: C Daniel Giddens, G Collin Sexton, G John Petty, F Alex Reese
Outlook: Having lost in the first round of the NIT during his first two years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama coach Avery Johnson might finally be ready for a breakthrough. The Crimson Tide return their three leading scorers from last year’s middling 19-win team and welcome a talented crop of newcomers that includes five-star guards Collin Sexton and John Petty and Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens, a former top-50 prospect who’s still raw offensively but projects as an excellent rebounder and rim protector. Add that trio to Alabama’s young core of Braxton Key, Dazon Ingram and Riley Norris, and there’s a lot to like about the Crimson Tide. Making the NCAA tournament should be the expectation for Alabama next season and doing some damage is not beyond the real of possibility.

23. XAVIER
Key losses: G Edmond Sumner, F RaShid Gaston, G Malcolm Bernard
Key returners: G Trevon Bluiett, G J.P. Macura, G Quentin Goodin, C Sean O’Mara, F Kaiser Gates, F Tyrique Jones
Notable newcomers: G Paul Scruggs, F Naji Marshall, G Elias Harden, F Jared Ridder, C Kentrevious Jones, F Karem Kanter
Outlook: One of the last at-large teams to make the NCAA tournament last March after a rash of late-season injuries, Xavier caught fire at the right time. Riding the torrid shooting of star Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers reeled off four straight wins culminating with a stunning upset of second-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16. Four key players from that run are back: Bluiett, sharpshooter J.P. Macura, guard Quentin Goodin and center Sean O’Mara. Mix in transfer Karem Kanter and the Big East’s top recruiting class and the Musketeers should be among the top challengers to Villanova once again this year.

24. SETON HALL
Key losses: G Madison Jones, F Rashed Anthony, G Michael Dowdy
Key returners: F Angel Delgado, G Khadeen Carrington, G Myles Powell, F Ismael Sanogo, F Desi Rodriguez
Notable newcomers: G Jordan Walker, F Sandro Mamukelashvili, F Romaro Gill
Outlook: The surprising return of forward Angel Delgado elevated Seton Hall into the Big East’s upper echelon next season. The power forward was among the most unheralded players in the country last season, averaging 15.2 points and 13 rebounds for a Pirates team that made the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. He withdrew from the NBA draft two days before Wednesday’s deadline in hopes of improving his stock next season. Delgado likely will start alongside several other members of the 2014 recruiting class that has led Seton Hall to back-to-back NCAA bids. Guard Khadeen Carrington and forward Desi Rodriguez are also back, as is promising sophomore-to-be Myles Powell. If Carrington can make a successful transition to point guard, look for Seton Hall to not only return to the NCAA tournament but perhaps advance a round or two.

25. PURDUE
Key losses: F Caleb Swanigan, G Spike Albrecht
Key returners: C Isaac Haas, F Vince Edwards, G Carsen Edwards, G Dakota Mathias, G P.J. Thompson, G Ryan Cline
Notable newcomers: G Sasha Stefanovic, F Nojel Eastern, F Eden Ewing, F Aaron Wheeler, C Matt Haarms
Outlook: While the return of Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards ensures that Purdue remains nationally relevant, the departure of first-team All-American Caleb Swanigan derails the Boilermakers’ hopes of a truly special season. Swanigan waited until just hours before Wednesday’s midnight deadline before announcing his intent to stay in this year’s NBA draft. Swanigan blossomed into the most productive big man in the country last year, averaging 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while showcasing a much improved perimeter game. He’d have been the national player of the year favorite had he returned to school. Without him, Purdue will likely slide Edwards to power forward and lean heavily on him and rapidly blossoming guard Carsen Edwards.

Almost famous: TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Butler, Baylor, Providence, Nevada, Virginia Tech, Rhode Island.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Winners and losers now that the deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft has passed

Arizona was one of the big winners at the draft withdrawal deadline thanks to the return of Rawle Alkins. (AP)
Arizona was one of the big winners at the draft withdrawal deadline thanks to the return of Rawle Alkins. (AP)

The deadline for early-entry prospects to withdraw from the NBA draft passed Wednesday at midnight.

Here’s a look at which programs were hardest hit by draft declarations and which will begin next season in better-than-expected shape:

1. Michigan State: Only a handful of times in Tom Izzo’s decorated career has he had a championship-caliber roster. Next season should be one of those years. The unexpected return of potential lottery pick Miles Bridges gives Michigan State a star around which to build. Bridges, who averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds as a freshman, is an early candidate for preseason player of the year. Surrounding Bridges will be all but two rotation players from last year’s 20-win NCAA tournament team, a supporting cast highlighted by forward Nick Ward and point guard Cassius Winston. The Spartans will also add talented freshman power forward Jaren Jackson and veteran big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, both of whom missed all of last season due to injury.

2. Arizona: Either of Arizona’s starting wings were likely to be selected this year had they entered the draft. Instead both Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins are coming back to Tucson to try to improve their stock and chase Sean Miller’s first Final Four. Trier’s surprise return gives Arizona a star to build around. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists last season despite missing the first 19 games due to a PED-related suspension. Alkins is a powerfully built, ultra-athletic wing with the strength to finish through contact, the toughness to play through a fractured finger and the skill to knock down 37 percent of his threes. With him and Trier back, seniors Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright also returning and a top-five recruiting class set to arrive, Arizona is a leading contender to be next year’s preseason No. 1.

3. USC: With UCLA, Oregon and Cal each hemorrhaging talent, USC could be the program poised to take advantage. The Trojans may be the top challenger to Arizona in the Pac-12 next season after stretch forward Bennie Boatwright withdrew from the NBA draft and standout center Chimezie Metu opted not to even go through the early-entry process at all. Their return ensures USC will bring back virtually every key player from last year’s 26-win team that won two NCAA tournament games. The Trojans’ only departure is seldom-used forward Charles Buggs. In addition to returning its starting five intact, USC will also add former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton and top 50 incoming freshman Charles O’Bannon Jr. Andy Enfield’s biggest problem with a roster so deep may be managing playing time issues.

4. Texas A&M: Had Robert Williams entered the NBA draft after his impressive freshman season, he would have almost certainly been a top 20 pick with a chance to crack the lottery. The athletic, high-upside 6-foot-9 forward instead chose to come back to Texas A&M for his sophomore season, gambling that he can improve his stock next season if his skill set takes a leap forward. The return of Williams gives Texas A&M an excellent chance to bounce back from last year’s disappointing 16-15 season. The Aggies welcome back their top five scorers including standouts Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder. If J.J. Caldwell or graduate transfer Duane Wilson can solidify the point guard position and allow Gilder to move off ball, Texas A&M should be a top 25 team next season.

5. Villanova: Even though All-American Josh Hart, title game hero Kris Jenkins and key role player Darryl Reynolds are all graduating this spring, Villanova has a good chance to extend its run of Big East dominance next season. The Wildcats bring back a strong nucleus highlighted by unanimous first-team all-Big East selection Jalen Brunson and wing Mikal Bridges, both of whom decided to stay in school without even testing the NBA draft process. Brunson averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season and should be a preseason All-American candidate next fall. He’ll be surrounded by an excellent supporting cast that includes Bridges and fellow wing Donte DiVincenzo, versatile forward Eric Paschall, promising big man Omari Spellman and presumably healthy guard Phil Booth.

6. Kansas: Kansas lost national player of the year Frank Mason, elite freshman Josh Jackson and top big man Landen Lucas, but the Jayhawks have to feel fortunate more players aren’t leaving. Standout guard Devonte Graham didn’t even test the NBA draft process even though he might have been selected in the late-first or early-second round and key reserve Svi Mykhailiuk withdrew from the draft hours before Wednesday night’s deadline. Those two will be part of a strong nucleus that includes heralded Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, returning big man Udoka Azubuike and top freshman Billy Preston. Throw in a solid bench, and Kansas is once again a clear favorite to capture the Big 12 title for the 14th year in a row.

Other winners: Texas (Andrew Jones withdrew from the draft); Xavier (Trevon Bluiett withdrew from the draft); Maryland (Justin Jackson withdrew from the draft); Miami (Bruce Brown returned to school); Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson returned to school); Georgia (Yante Maten withdrew from the draft); UCF (Tacko Fall withdrew from the draft); West Virginia (Jevon Carter withdrew from the draft).

1. Oregon: The price of reaching the Final Four for the first time in 78 years turned out to be high for the Ducks. They’re losing the three pillars of that team as Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell have all entered the NBA draft even though none are certain to go in the first round. Throw in the graduation of Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher and the transfer of point guard Casey Benson, and Oregon will be without six of last year’s top seven scorers next season. Oregon coach Dana Altman has pledged not to lower expectations, but whether that’s possible will depend on the newcomers he lands. Altman has added New Mexico graduate transfer Elijah Brown and he is still hoping to add heralded wing Brian Bowen to a strong recruiting class that already includes high-scoring wing Troy Brown.

2. Kentucky: John Calipari’s remarkable ability to reload on the fly will be tested like it seldom has before next season. Kentucky is losing eight of its top nine scorers with Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries all declaring for the draft and Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder graduating. Freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged a modest 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, is the only rotation player returning. The silver lining for Kentucky is that its star-studded freshman class remains intact. Hamidou Diallo, a five-star guard who enrolled at Kentucky in January, announced minutes before Wednesday’s midnight deadline that he is withdrawing from the draft and returning to the Wildcats.

3. Purdue: While the return of Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards ensures that Purdue remains nationally relevant, the departure of first-team All-American Caleb Swanigan derails the Boilermakers’ hopes of a truly special season. Swanigan waited until just hours before Wednesday’s midnight deadline before announcing his intent to stay in this year’s NBA draft. Swanigan blossomed into the most productive big man in the country last year, averaging 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds while showcasing a much improved perimeter game. He’d have been the national player of the year favorite had he returned to school. Without him, Purdue goes from a Final Four contender to a fringe top 25 team.

4. BYU: The lone silver lining to BYU’s disappointing 2016-17 season was supposed to be that much of the rotation would return intact. The Cougars instead will have to try to gain ground on Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s without their best player. Eric Mika, an all-conference big man who averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds last season, chose to stay in the NBA draft even though he’s unlikely to be taken before the second round if he’s selected at all. Now 22 years old and married, Mika was simply ready to pursue professional basketball. For BYU, replacing Mika’s interior production will be difficult. The Cougars will have to hope that a backcourt highlighted by the remaining members of the famed Lone Peak Three can help next year’s team break a two-year NCAA tournament drought.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ chances of building off the momentum of their unlikely Final Four run took a hit last month when sophomore P.J. Dozier entered the NBA draft and hired an agent. Dozier would have been the centerpiece of next year’s team after averaging 13.9 points and 2.8 assists, but he opted to leave school despite a real possibility that he could go unselected in this June’s draft. The departure of Dozier, coupled with the graduation of star Sindarius Thornwell and key role players Duane Notice and Justin McKie, leaves South Carolina’s backcourt in tatters. The trio of returning combo guard Rakym Felder, transfer Kory Holden and incoming freshman David Beatty will be responsible for making up for much of what the Gamecocks lost.

6. Indiana: Archie Miller did an impeccable job of gaining the trust of Tom Crean’s final recruiting class, but he was not as successful retaining the early-entry candidates from last year’s team. Three of the four chose to remain in the draft even though only OG Anunoby is likely to be taken in the first round. Softening the blow from the departure of Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon was Robert Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the draft. The 6-foot-3 combo guard has long been one of the Hoosiers’ most reliable perimeter defenders and blossomed offensively last season in the wake of Yogi Ferrell’s departure. Johnson is likely to start alongside incumbent point guard Josh Newkirk in the backcourt with Collin Hartman, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis anchoring the Hoosiers’ frontcourt. That nucleus won’t contend for the Big Ten title or anything, but it should at least keep Indiana from falling too far.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Hamidou Diallo returns to Kentucky instead of making the leap from preps to pros

Hamidou Diallo, like Thon Maker last year, was eligible for the NBA draft without playing a college game. (Getty)

Almost six months before he’s expected to make his Kentucky debut, Hamidou Diallo showed he already has a knack for beating the buzzer.

The heralded freshman waited until minutes before Wednesday’s midnight deadline before sending out word that he’s withdrawing from the NBA draft and playing for the Wildcats next season.

Hamidou Diallo is withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Kentucky, a source told @CBSSports.

— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) May 25, 2017

Had Diallo remained in the draft, he would have been the rare prospect to go straight from preps to pros. The 6-foot-5 wing enrolled at Kentucky in January at the start of the spring semester and practiced with the Wildcats during the second half of last season, but he chose not to appear in any games out of fear that not making a sufficient splash would damage his draft stock.

The NBA was an option for Diallo because of the same loophole that Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker took advantage of a year ago. Since Diallo graduated from high school last spring and turns 19 in July, he was eligible to enter the draft without playing a year in college first.

Diallo had a chance to be a first-round pick next month because of his explosive first step to the basket, high-level motor and jaw-dropping physical tools. He posted a 44.5-inch vertical leap earlier this month, the highest of any player at this year’s draft combine and the second highest in combine history. His wingspan of just over 6 feet, 11 inches was longer than several power forwards expected to be selected next month.

Sources: Several teams in 20’s were serious about selecting Diallo, but no guarantee came high enough to convince him to stay in draft. https://t.co/e2kEvYidd3

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) May 25, 2017

For Diallo, returning to school is high-risk, high-reward because he won’t be able to hide any longer. It’s easy to envision him playing his way into next year’s lottery by showing improvement in his ball handling, passing and outside shooting. Or he could fall out of the first round altogether if he suffers an injury or reveals he’s more of an athlete than a basketball player.

Kentucky fans spent much of Wednesday refreshing their social media accounts every few minutes because Diallo’s decision was critical to the Wildcats’ title hopes next season.

Eight of Kentucky’s nine top scorers from this past season either graduated or turned pro, leaving forward Wenyen Gabriel as the most accomplished returning player. As a result, the Wildcats will lean even more than usual on a star-studded incoming freshman class that includes a half dozen other five-star prospects.

For a few weeks, Kentucky couldn’t be sure if Diallo would be part of that class or not. Now they can rest easy knowing that he’ll be a centerpiece of next year’s young but talent-laden team.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Purdue's ceiling gets lower now that Caleb Swanigan is staying in the NBA draft

Hours before the deadline, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan finally decided whether to remain in the NBA draft. (Getty)

When Caleb Swanigan selected a college destination two years ago, the McDonald’s All-American forward dragged out the process into late May before finally picking Purdue over Cal and Michigan State.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that his decision whether to remain in the NBA draft also went down to the wire.

Swanigan announced that he is staying in the NBA draft Wednesday evening less than than seven hours before the midnight deadline for early-entry players to withdraw. The 6-foot-9 sophomore is projected to be taken somewhere between 20-40 in next month’s draft.

Never thought I’d be sad to say that I am going to chase my reality in the NBA. Y’all got my love forever. #boilerup

— Mamba Forever (@calebswanigan50) May 24, 2017

The departure of Swanigan drastically alters expectations for Purdue next season.

Had Swanigan become the first AP first-team All-American since Doug McDermott to return to school, Purdue likely would have begun next season as a top 10 team and as co-favorites in the Big Ten along with Michigan State. The Boilermakers instead now appear to be a good team but not a great one, a top 30ish team nationally that will spar with Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin and perhaps a few others in the Big Ten’s second tier.

After a solid freshman season playing alongside A.J. Hammons, Swanigan blossomed into the most productive big man in the country last year. He averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds, showcasing the ability to dominate in the paint or to knock down jumpers from behind the arc.

What’s preventing Swanigan from being a surefire first-round pick are questions about whether he has the mobility and lateral quickness to defend in space. Opponents consistently hurt Purdue last season by putting Swanigan and 7-footer Isaac Haas in ball screens, forcing them to try to stay in front of smaller, quicker guards off the dribble without fouling.

While losing Swanigan is a massive blow to Purdue, the Boilermakers did learn this week that Haas and versatile forward Vince Edwards are both returning. That duo combined with a sharpshooting backcourt will certainly keep Purdue relevant nationally, but the ceiling for the Boilermakers isn’t quite as high as it would have been if Swanigan made a different decision.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

 

Mixed news for Michigan: DJ Wilson stays in the draft, Moe Wagner returns to school

Michigan will get one of its two promising big men back next season. (AP)

On the final day for early-entry prospects to pull out of the NBA draft, Michigan received both good and bad news.

Sophomore center Moritz Wagner announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the draft and returning to the Wolverines for his junior season.

Yup ain’t getting rid of me that fast ???????? pic.twitter.com/P4nvWtNWya

— Moe Wagner (@moritz_weasley) May 24, 2017

But redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson is reportedly forgoing his final two years of eligibility and turning pro.

Sources tell DraftExpress that D.J. Wilson is keeping his name in the 2017 NBA Draft and will not return to Michigan.

— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 24, 2017

Buried on the bench the previous year, Wagner and Wilson both enjoyed a breakout 2016-17 season for a Michigan team that caught fire in the postseason, winning the Big Ten tournament and coming within a single basket of the Elite Eight.

Wagner, a tough cover for opposing centers because of his outside shooting prowess, averaged 12.1 points per game and hit 39.5 percent from 3-point range. Wilson, a spindly but athletic 6-foot-10 forward, made an impact in numerous different ways, protecting the rim, leading the Wolverines in rebounding and scoring anywhere from at the rim to behind the arc.

The skill level that Wagner displayed might have been enough for an NBA team to take a second-round chance on him, but he can solidify his draft stock next season if he gets stronger and improves his defense and rebounding. Wilson is likely to be selected anywhere from 20-40 in this year’s draft, but the team that takes him may have to stash him in the D-League for long stretches of his rookie season while he adds the muscle necessary not to get pushed around in the paint.

The return of Wagner will allow Michigan’s young centers Austin Davis and Jon Teske to grow into a big role in time rather than having to do so before they were ready. Wagner’s prowess as a pick-and-pop shooter will also be a big boost for point guards Xavier Simpson and Jaaron Simmons as they try to replicate the success graduated senior Derrick Walton had this past season.

Duncan Robinson is one possibility to replace Wilson in Michigan’s starting lineup, as is freshman forward Isaiah Livers. The sharpshooting 6-foot-8 Robinson would allow Michigan to have shooters all over the floor, but he would not be able to replace Wilson’s rim protection or rebounding prowess.

If Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews can duplicate Zak Irvin’s wing scoring and Simmons and Simpson can collectively make up for the loss of Walton, Michigan should be an NCAA tournament contender once again next season.

Getting Wilson back would have certainly helped that goal, but at least the Wolverines will still have one of their two promising young big men.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

 

UCLA's outlook far more promising now that Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday are back

Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh both will be veteran leaders for UCLA next season. (AP)
Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh both will be veteran leaders for UCLA next season. (AP)

Had Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday both chosen to remain in the NBA draft, UCLA would have needed to replace its top seven scorers from last year’s Sweet 16 team.

Both instead are returning to school for the 2017-18 school year, providing the Bruins with a pair of badly needed veteran leaders to anchor a young but talented lineup.

Welsh and Holiday both announced Tuesday afternoon that they had withdrawn from the NBA draft. Neither were likely to be selected had they chosen to leave school this year, though Welsh was among the 60-plus prospects who received an invitation to the NBA draft combine earlier this month.

A former McDonald’s All-American best known for his lethal mid-range jump shot, Welsh will almost certainly start at center for UCLA next season. The 7-footer averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a junior, displaying soft hands, deft footwork and impeccable touch on pick-and-pop jumpers or around the basket.

Holiday excelled as UCLA’s sixth man this past season, but he’ll enter the starting lineup next year as a secondary ball handler alongside heralded freshman point guard Jaylen Hands. The 6-foot-1 junior-to-be averaged 12.3 points and 4.1 assists while continuing to show promise as a feisty on-ball defender and accurate long-range shooter.

UCLA likely won’t be as explosive offensively with Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all gone from last year’s 31-win team, but there will still be ample talent surrounding Holiday and Welsh.

The Bruins return explosive shooting guard Prince Ali, who missed all of last season due to injury, and Hungarian forward Gyorgy Goloman, a rotation player on last year’s team. They also welcome another heralded recruiting class highlighted by Hands and forwards Cody Riley and Kris Wilkes.

There’s still a chance UCLA could add to that class on Wednesday too if top 50 wing prospect M.J. Walker chooses the Bruins over Virginia Tech and Florida State. Holiday’s return makes it less certain that Walker would start from the outset, but he’d certainly have a chance to play a big role if he were to come West.

Even without Walker, UCLA now projects as a preseason top 20 team nationally and an upper echelon team in the Pac-12. Along with USC and perhaps revamped Oregon, the Bruins would be one of the challengers who could take advantage if Arizona fails to meet preseason expectations.

It would have been difficult to imagine UCLA rising to that level if Welsh and Holiday both left.

But with two proven veterans back to anchor next year’s team, suddenly the Bruins look much more promising.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Deng Adel's withdrawal from the NBA draft is a huge boost for Louisville

Deng Adel scored in double figures in 22 games last season. (AP)
Deng Adel scored in double figures in 22 games last season. (AP)

Uncertain whether he would be selected if he remained in this year’s NBA draft, Louisville’s Deng Adel made a smart choice.

The 6-foot-7 wing has informed the Cardinals that he is returning to school to try to boost his draft stock and lead his team to a special season.

Adel’s decision comes on the eve of the deadline for early-entry candidates to withdraw from the draft if they have not hired an agent. The native of South Sudan was projected as a fringe second-round pick this year, but he has the upside to improve on that considerably with a strong junior season.

The return of Adel is a huge boost for a Louisville team that has already lost guard Donovan Mitchell and forward Jaylen Johnson to the NBA draft. The Cardinals can now build around a backcourt that is projected to feature returning starter Quentin Snider at point guard and Adel and breakout candidate V.J. King at the wings.

Adel averaged 12.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season and scored in double figures in 22 of 30 games, but he was at his best over Louisville’s final six games. He led the Cardinals in scoring, averaging 16.3 points and shooting 54 percent from the field.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino predicted Adel would emerge as an NBA prospect during his sophomore season, and Adel was extremely productive. He led the Cardinals in scoring over their final six games of the season, averaging 16.3 points while shooting 54 percent from the field.

With Adel back, Louisville will likely begin next season in the top 20 nationally. The Cardinals should once again push Duke and North Carolina in the ACC.

Rawle Alkins withdraws from the draft, bolstering already formidable Arizona

Rawle Alkins averaged 10.9 points and five rebounds for Arizona last season. (AP)
Rawle Alkins averaged 10.9 points and five rebounds for Arizona last season. (AP)

Just over a month after Allonzo Trier announced that he’s returning to Arizona next year, the Wildcats’ other starting wing revealed that he too is coming back to school.

Rawle Alkins announced on Twitter on Sunday afternoon that he is withdrawing from the NBA draft after originally entering without hiring an agent. The 6-foot-5 sophomore-to-be had until Wednesday to make a final decision.

Story is not over yet, still have some unfinished business to take care of???? ???????? SAVAGELIFE pic.twitter.com/eOBwEYLdL6

— Rawle Alkins (@Iam_RawleAlkins) May 21, 2017

The return of Alkins bolsters Arizona’s chances of starting next season No. 1 in the polls. The Wildcats boast a nice mix of incoming talent and experienced returners from last season’s 32-win team that won the Pac-12 tournament before suffering an upset loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a speedy senior with excellent court vision, will likely start at point guard. Trier, a preseason All-American candidate, will start alongside Alkins at wing with heralded incoming freshman Brandon Randolph providing instant offense off the bench. Anchoring the frontcourt will be skilled 7-foot senior Dusan Ristic and the nation’s second-ranked freshman Deandre Ayton.

It was hardly a foregone conclusion that Alkins would return to school after averaging 10.9 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman and performing well at the NBA combine earlier this month. The New York native likely would have been selected anywhere from 25-50 had he remained in the NBA draft.

What his return gives Arizona is a powerfully built yet athletic wing with the strength to finish through contact, the toughness to play through a fractured finger and the skill to knock down 37 percent of his 3-pointers.  Alkins is most lethal bulldozing his way to the rim in transition, but he also is a capable playmaker, a capable shooter and a solid perimeter defender with the tools to perhaps evolve into a great one.

While Arizona might have been able to land Pittsburgh transfer Cam Johnson or heralded recruit Brian Bowen had Alkins decided to stay in the draft, this is probably the best possible scenario for the Wildcats. Alkins isn’t as tall or as lethal an outside shooter as either Johnson or Bowen, but he’s tough, competitive, athletic and already has chemistry playing alongside Trier and Jackson-Cartwright.

Even if Arizona now misses out on both Johnson and Bowen, it’s probably for the best.

The Wildcats have their two starting wings back, plenty of incoming talent and aspirations of finally taking Sean Miller to his first Final Four.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg