April 21, 2008

Who could be hurt most by early departures?

CAST YOUR VOTE: Which team stands to be hurt the most by the early entries?

While the offseason is just beginning in college basketball, this is proving to be a nerve-wracking time for several coaching staffs.

Many are wondering whether they will lose their top player in the coming weeks. Some fear they may lose their top two, or even top three.

Thirty-one players have declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft, and many more still are considering whether to do the same with the early entry deadline six days away.

Only seven of those 31 have signed or are expected to sign with an agent, leaving the possibility that two dozen players could stay in school. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is June 16.

Some teams have more at stake than others. At least six teams could lose multiple players, including defending national champion Kansas.

So, who stands to be hurt the most by the early entries? We posed that question to Rivals.com college basketball editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara.

MCCLELLAN'S PICK: UCLA

The Bruins have been to three consecutive Final Fours. Don't make plans for a 4-by-4.

Freshman center Kevin Love, sophomore guard Russell Westbrook and junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute already have declared for the NBA Draft, though neither has hired an agent. Junior guard Darren Collison said he'll make his announcement this week.

Josh Shipp must be feeling lonely right about now. At this rate, the senior-to-be will be coach Ben Howland's only returning starter. Now don't get me wrong, Shipp (12.2 ppg) is good, but he's not carrying UCLA anywhere near the Final Four.

It's a good thing Howland is bringing in a recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally by Rivals.com. It is composed of four prospects ranked among the top 51 in the nation, including five-star point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday is the No. 3 overall prospect in the class and the top-ranked point guard the same rankings occupied by Memphis' Derrick Rose in the 2007 class. He's capable of stepping in right away, and he'll have to.

Howland had to have figured there was a decent chance Love would be one-and-done. But Westbrook's departure is punch to the gut. He went from freshman afterthought (9 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 0.7 apg) to sophomore sensation (12.7 ppg, 4.3 apg).

"I'm really excited and proud of what Russell accomplished this year," Howland said. "I haven't had a player that has improved more in one year, ever, than Russell. He's just going to continue to get better and better and better because of his work ethic and his habits and his great attitude."

Too bad that attitude and work ethic will be leaving Los Angeles. There will be a lot of pressure on the incoming freshman class, but a return to the Final Four simply isn't going to happen if Love, Westbrook and Mbah a Moute stay in the draft.

SKWARA'S PICK: Texas

Texas point guard D.J. Augustin probably won't enter the draft. At 6 feet tall, Augustin is hardly a lock for the lottery. Plus, the last memory scouts have of the sophomore is watching Memphis' Derek Rose (likely the No. 1 or No. 2 pick) outplay him in the NCAA Tournament.

But Augustin is considering making the jump, and until the early entry deadline passes without his name on the list, Texas has the most at stake of anyone.

Many times, NCAA Tournament hopes hinge on whether one early entrant stays in the draft. Some teams can make a deep NCAA Tournament run if a certain somebody says "no" to the NBA.

The Longhorns' national-title hopes hinge on Augustin's decision. With him, they have a solid chance to win it all for the first time. Without him, they would be fortunate to get back to the Elite Eight, where Rose and Memphis ended their 2007-08 campaign.

While most of the elite teams are losing at least one key player, the Longhorns could return every scholarship player (Augustin appears to be the only one seriously considering leaving) from a team that won 31 games.

But Augustin is easily the most valuable of the bunch. Senior-to-be A.J. Abrams and junior Justin Mason can play point guard, but Augustin excels at the position. Few, if any, players in the college ranks can score and pass like Augustin, who ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring and first in assists. He beat out a number of strong candidates (including Rose) for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard.

Augustin is the difference-maker for the Longhorns the difference between fielding a team with realistic title dreams or one that is just solid.

CAST YOUR VOTE: Which team stands to be hurt the most by the early entries?

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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