Tres Tinkle is a potential MVP at Oregon State
A later deadline for college basketball players considering early entry into the NBA draft has been a boon for the game in recent years. Without it, we might have been deprived of such remarkable individual campaigns as former Oklahoma (and current Sacramento Kings) star Buddy Hield's 2015-16, as well as a few of the most memorable national title contenders of the past four years.
Although a staggering number of underclassmen opted to remain in the draft pool for 2019 — almost 90 in total — the draft deadline will again have a positive impact on the coming season's landscape. Several of the teams in the early Top 25 feature noteworthy names who considered the pros, but opted for a return to college; chief among them, No. 1-ranked Kentucky with E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards coming back.
Outside of the Top 25, however, there is no shortage of potential Cinderella stories and Power 5 sleepers who benefited from the NBA draft deadline. The help of advanced statistics via KenPom.com reveals a few such teams to remember in the 2019-20 campaign.
Oregon State Beavers
In 2016, Oregon State built off a surprisingly solid campaign the year before to end the program's 26-year NCAA Tournament drought. The Beavers have not been back since, but the 2019-20 lineup has a look reminiscent of that breakthrough.
Both Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson tested the NBA draft waters but opted to return. Tinkle is a Swiss Army Knife, posting 20.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last season for an Oregon State team that finished 18-13. Ethan Thompson also provided a little of everything with 13.7 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
Having both back is a boon to an offense that ranked No. 48 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. Tinkle, in particular, has the makings of a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender. His importance to Oregon State's offense is undeniable, with national rankings of 101st in shot percentage distribution among all Div. I players, and 71st in possession percentage. The two veterans provide the foundation for Oregon State, which finished a surprisingly strong No. 81 in the nation in KenPom overall rankings, to return to the NCAA Tournament.
TCU Horned Frogs
TCU's enjoyed a successful run for the past three seasons under head coach Jamie Dixon, winning the postseason NIT in 2017; reaching the program's first NCAA Tournament in 20 years the next season; and returning to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals again in '19. However, Dixon faced the prospect of a monumental rebuild in 2019-20, beginning with guard Jaylen Fisher's already declared intention to transfer, followed by the entry of Kouat Noi, Desmond Bane and Kevin Samuel into the draft pool.
The forecast for TCU in 2019-20 isn't entirely rosy after the NBA draft deadline passed — guard Kendric Davis is following Fisher's lead and transferring — but the returnees give the Horned Frogs the potential to be the Big 12's prime dark horse. Bane and Samuel are back, both having started all 37 games a season ago. The duo provides a nice inside-outside combination around which Dixon can build a new-look, but not lacking for talent, team.
Bane is one of the most deadly returning 3-point shooters in college basketball, lighting it up at a 42.5 percent clip last season. Bane also ranked in the top 100 among all Div. I players for offensive rating (92nd), just ahead of projected first-round (and potential late lottery) pick Rui Hachimura of Gonzaga. On the interior, the big man Samuel averaged better than seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game; shot a hair below 67 percent from the floor; ranked 14th nationally in effective field-goal percentage; and was an offensive rebounding monster (58th in percentage) in his freshman campaign.
The arrival of a solid recruiting class and influx of transfers joins TCU's draft-deadline returners to form a low-key contender in the Big 12.
UNC Greensboro Spartans
In what can only be described as a gross miscarriage of hardwood justice, a Southern Conference deserving of as many as four bids to the 2019 NCAA Tournament received just one, the automatic berth for champion Wofford. UNC Greensboro's consolation prize was a No. 1 seed in the NIT, and a second-round matchup against equally stiffed Lipscomb. The Spartans can take the decision out of the NCAA selection committee's hands in 2020 by winning the SoCon — and with big man James Dickey opting out of the NBA draft, they have at least one pillar to do so.
The 6-foot-10 Dickey has not been a scoring machine in his first three seasons at UNC Greensboro, never averaging more than 8.9 points per game. For the Spartans' style of play, however, his other contributions are absolutely essential. UNCG thrives with defense, forcing opponents into lengthy possessions. At 18.3 seconds per game, the Spartans forced opponents to work on offense in a manner comparable to that of Kansas, Cincinnati, and 2019 Tournament Cinderella UC Irvine a season ago. When teams weren't forced to take shots deep into the shot clock, it's often because the Spartans were generating turnovers. Few players in college basketball were more adept at creating such havoc than Dickey.
Dickey averaged 1.3 steals per game, an astronomical number for a post player. In addition, his rim protecting last season was elite: 1.9 blocked shots per game (ever-so-slightly down from 2.1 in 2017-18), and the nation's 45th blocked shot percentage overall. Dickey's harassment were central to UNCG ranking in the top 20 nationally for opponent turnover percentage, and steals created — and that style led to the Spartans winning 29 games in 2018-19.
Vermont had just one underclassman consider entry into the 2019 NBA draft, but his absence would have left a colossal void for the defending America East Conference champions. Instead, guard Anthony Lamb's choice to don the green and gold for one more run gives Vermont its best hope of scoring an NCAA Tournament win since T.J. Sorrentine and the 2005 Catamounts stunned Syracuse.
The Catamounts have knocked on the door twice with Lamb on the team, who scored 20 points in an 80-70 loss to Purdue in 2017, and 16 points with eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a 76-69 decision vs. Florida State this past season. If you are looking for a player who can drive his mid-major program to a Tournament win, and perhaps even a Top 25 ranking in the vein of Wofford's Fletcher Magee last season, look no further than Lamb and Vermont.
Lamb's return is to the Catamounts what Myles Powell's decision to come back to Seton Hall means for the top-10 ranked Pirates. Lamb is an explosive scoring swingman who sets the table for the entire Catamount offense beyond his impressive 21.2 points per game. He also led the Catamounts in assists and was one of the most heavily relied upon players in all of college basketball. His possession percentage in 2018-19 ranked 21st among all Div. I players and he was 12th in shot distribution percentage, all adding up to a No. 9 overall offensive rating. Lamb also is vital on the glass, leading Vermont at 7.8 rebounds per game, but more importantly, ranked No. 92 in defensive rebounding percentage among all players.
Big East basketball should be exceptional in 2019-20. Jay Wright fields another national championship contender at Villanova; Seton Hall is stacked and prepared to challenge the Wildcats' reign of supremacy; Creighton made the Top 25 by virtue of its own corps of returners from the NBA draft deadline; and Marquette has the leading candidate to pace the nation in scoring in guard Markus Howard.
Adding to the top-heavy conference is the veteran lineup at Xavier, by virtue of four Musketeers spurning the NBA draft. Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs all put their name into the pool for consideration; all opted to come back for 2019-20. The foursome combined to average 49.3 points per game in 2018-19, and with graduating Zach Haskins (10.6 ppg) on the way out, the Musketeers stood to lose a staggering 83 percent of their scoring production.
Instead, 85 percent of the offense from a team that ranked No. 56 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency returns. It's a nice combination of scoring, too, with the interior presence of Jones working off Goodin's and Scruggs' perimeter games, and the combo style Marshall provides. Jones' presence goes beyond an impressive 62.4 percent touch inside the arc, much of it coming from the paint; he was third in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding percentage at 16.6.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo by Scobel Wiggins/Oregon State Athletics, courtesy of osubeavers.com)