Ranking the Top CBB Teams If Players Stayed in School for 4 Years
If college basketball players were required to stay in school for four years, what would the current landscape of the sport look like?
It's a fun hypothetical question with some pretty obvious butterfly effects.
If forced to stay through their senior season, Kentucky would still have seven players that have already left for the NBA, including Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As such, there's a pretty good chance John Calipari wouldn't be reloading with a plethora of top freshmen every single season.
But if we assume that players like Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. wouldn't be going to Kentucky, where would they go instead? And what sort of ripple effect would it have on the recruiting and transferring at those other schools?
It's too much trouble to figure out all that nonsense, so we're foolishly left to assume that players would still commit to the same school, regardless of the logjam they would be entering.
In this world with no cap on rosters or talent, Kentucky ends up looking like the 1927 New York Yankees. But the Wildcats aren't the only team that would be stacked beyond comprehension.
Between what the players have done in both college and the NBA, we've projected how strong their corresponding teams would be and ranked what the preseason top 10 would look like if early entry to the NBA didn't exist.
Don't get me wrong, Wisconsin is absolutely opening the 2014-15 season ranked in the top five. However, the Badgers don't gain anything in this scenario, while more than a dozen other teams would be upgrading considerably with the addition of players who previously bolted for the NBA.
They don't get C.J. Fair back, but it's hard to argue with a team that would have Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant. They didn't quite make the cut, though, because most of the teams in the top 10 would absolutely destroy them in the paint.
If we could undo the butterfly effect, UNLV might crack into the top five. The Rebels would get Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith back, but who knows if Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt would have transferred had the rest of the group stayed put? With those five players on the court, they would win the Mountain West conference in their sleep.
St. John's Red Storm
The Johnnies have been loaded with talent in recent years, but it has never amounted to much. Still, I think a starting five of D'Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Moe Harkless, Jakarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa would be pretty doggone formidable.
Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller. That's a scary thought for any Big Ten team.
10. Texas Longhorns
Noteworthy Early Departures: Myck Kabongo
Hypothetical Starting Five: Kabongo, Javan Felix, Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner, Cameron Ridley
Key Reserves: Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Isaiah Taylor
Texas is already on the cusp of opening the 2014-15 season ranked in the top 10 after landing Myles Turner at the end of April.
If the Longhorns still had Kabongo, though, it would almost certainly push them over the hump.
Rick Barnes' club is going to be stacked in the paint. In addition to the three starters standing 6'8" or taller, Texas also has Lammert (6'9") and Prince Ibeh (6'10") coming off the bench.
But the current state of their guard play is mildly problematic. Both Taylor (39.1 percent) and Felix (35.8 percent) are poor shooters and take a ton of shots—the backcourt duo combined to attempt 21.9 field goals per game last season.
Kabongo wasn't a prolific shooter in his own right, but he played the point guard position better than either of the current options.
The shame of the matter is that Kabongo arguably should still be at Texas. He went undrafted last year and is currently playing in the D-League with the Austin Toros. He did pretty well this year, averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 assists in 45 games, but he was probably expecting more when he left after his abridged sophomore season.
9. Connecticut Huskies
Noteworthy Early Departures: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels
Hypothetical Starting Five: Ryan Boatright, Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton, Daniels, Drummond
Key Reserves: Amida Brimah, Omar Calhoun, Terrence Samuel, Phillip Nolan
No, the Huskies don't get Shabazz Napier back, but they would still be pretty tough to beat without him.
Drummond was a bit hit-or-miss during his one year at Connecticut. He was a big defensive presence, averaging 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes, but it wasn't until this past season in the NBA that he fully evolved into a double-double machine.
Imagine the fun Kevin Ollie could have by deploying the "No Points in the Paint" defense with both Drummond and Brimah on the court at the same time.
Of course, Brimah would have a tough time getting any action if Daniels played as consistently well as he did over the final month of last season.
The big question here—for both the hypothetical team and the real team—is going to be backcourt play.
I love me some Boatright, but how quickly will Hamilton make an impact as a freshman? What will Purvis look like after sitting out a season? Will Calhoun play as well as he did as a freshman or as poorly as he did as a sophomore?
Even with those uncertainties, Connecticut figures to be a favorite in the American conference this year. And if the Huskies still had Daniels and Drummond, no one else in the conference would even stand a chance.
8. Florida Gators
Noteworthy Early Departures: Bradley Beal
Hypothetical Starting Five: Kasey Hill, Beal, Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Walker
Key Reserves: Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza, Alex Murphy
Beal was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and has quickly evolved into one of the best young players in the NBA.
But in a world where players don't get to leave until they have spent four years in college, Beal would be a senior for the 2014-15 Gators.
And goodness gracious, what an incredible three-point shooting team they would be! Between Beal and Frazier, what's the point in even attempting shots that are only worth two?
Teams would be so focused on minimizing the perimeter threat that Walker would be free to do his best Blake Griffin impression above the rim.
Hill would be the real X-factor on this roster. He only played 22 minutes per game as a freshman, but he averaged 5.7 assists per 40 minutes while backing up Scottie Wilbekin. How much of a leap he makes as a sophomore would determine whether Florida could climb any higher.
Throw in having one of the best coaches in the game today and Billy Donovan's team might actually have a chance at coming within 20 points of beating the Kentucky team we'll see later.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Noteworthy Early Departures: James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston?
Hypothetical Starting Five: Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks
Key Reserves: Hairston, Theo Pinson, Joel Berry, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, Joel James
Even in this fictitious universe, I'm not entirely sure whether North Carolina gets Hairston back. We'll compromise by putting him on the roster, but not in the starting lineup.
With or without Hairston, getting a fourth year out of McAdoo makes the already formidable Tar Heels even more so. McAdoo was frustrating to watch at times, because it always felt like there was more potential that he couldn't seem to reach. But even if he simply duplicated his 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds from last season, he'd be a very welcome commodity.
Paige is arguably going to be the most valuable player in the country this season. His leap from "solid point guard" to "go-to scorer" last year was the driving force that kept North Carolina from flirting too much with disaster. His presence on the court makes the rest of these guys even better.
If Jackson is any bit as good as advertised, this team is going to be scary. Leslie McDonald was a serviceable shooting guard, but Jackson could be the phenomenal force that pushes the Tar Heels over the top.
Meeks probably doesn't have the stamina to get starter minutes, but the team won't be much worse for wear when he needs to be replaced by Johnson, Hicks or James.
Heck, the six guys coming off this bench could probably make their own team win at least 10 games in ACC play.
6. UCLA Bruins
Noteworthy Early Departures: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad
Hypothetical Starting Five: Anderson, Muhammad, Adams, Kevon Looney, Tony Parker
Key Reserves: LaVine, Norman Powell, Thomas Welsh, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Jonah Bolden
The Bruins probably won't even be ranked in the AP Top 25 when the season begins, but they certainly could have been.
For some reason, they couldn't seem to put it all together during the 2012-13 season. Muhammad was solid, but Adams shot it poorly compared to the following season, and they didn't yet fully appreciate how great Anderson could be.
Get the gang back together and put an additional year of seasoning under their belts, and you have to think they would be pretty darn unstoppable in 2014-15.
Especially once you consider the supporting cast they would have.
LaVine's decision to bolt for the NBA was a bit of a surprise, but he was never given a fair shake at UCLA. He has been extremely impressive in his NBA workouts and is being regarded as a potential top-10 pick.
And yet, LaVine would probably be coming off the bench on this stacked team.
Parker might be a liability at center, but Welsh is one of the best incoming centers in the country. Depending on how well his game translates to the college level and what Hamilton looks like after UCLA's top 2013 recruit had to sit out this past season, the Bruins could actually make a run at a spot in the top three.
5. Arizona Wildcats
Noteworthy Early Departures: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson
Hypothetical Starting Five: T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski
Key Reserves: Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Gabe York, Craig Victor, Kadeem Allen
They wouldn't be quite as stacked as the top four teams, but we're talking about adding Stanley Johnson and re-adding Ashley to a team that opened the 2013-14 season with 21 consecutive wins.
What this team would have that others might not is obvious chemistry. Unlike some of the teams on the list where we're talking about reintroducing players who haven't played college ball in nearly three years, this is a roster that was almost perfect a few months ago.
Stanley Johnson might have been the missing piece to the championship puzzle—and very well still could be, as Arizona's actual roster is expected to open the season in the top five. Widely regarded as one of the most NBA-ready players of this year's recruiting class, there's no reason to doubt his ability to deliver from the beginning.
The only question we have about this roster is the same one we have with the real-life Kentucky Wildcats: Where would Arizona find enough playing time to keep everyone happy? Allen was named the Junior College Player of the Year this past season, and I'm not convinced he even plays 10 minutes per game if the roster still included Nick Johnson and Gordon.
For quite a while there, the Wildcats were the prohibitive favorite to win the 2014 national championship. And the only departing senior from that team (Jordin Mayes) was lucky if he played 10 minutes in any given game.
Bring everyone back, and it's pretty hard to argue against them being one of the top dogs.
4. Michigan Wolverines
Noteworthy Early Departures: Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary
Hypothetical Starting Five: Burke, Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Robinson, McGary
Key Reserves: Kameron Chatman, Mark Donnal, Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht
(We're assuming for this ranking that McGary is healthy, as good as he was in the 2013 tournament and not suspended for the season for smoking marijuana.)
I was on the fence about whether to put Michigan or Arizona at No. 4.
But if Burke won the Naismith Award in 2013, they would have had to name the award after him by the end of the 2014-15 season.
Imagining how good Burke would be as a senior in college is practically impossible. It was enough of a surprise that he graced us for two seasons. Make him play four, and our obsession with Burke would make Dan Dakich's love of Aaron Craft seem like a grudge.
The only pivotal player missing from the team that made it to the championship game in 2013 is Tim Hardaway Jr.—and I would venture to argue that LeVert is already marginally better than Hardaway was.
Because of that perceived upgrade and the actual improvement in the games of Stauskas and Robinson from their freshman to sophomore seasons, the Wolverines would run away with the Big Ten title and make a serious run at a national championship.
Hopefully Michigan fans can hang their hats on what could have been while the team is struggling to crack the Top 25 this year.
3. Duke Blue Devils
Noteworthy Early Departures: Austin Rivers, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood
Hypothetical Starting Five: Tyus Jones, Rivers, Hood, Parker, Jahlil Okafor
Key Reserves: Rasheed Sulaimon, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones
Before we knew for sure whether Hood and Parker were staying or going, Duke was considered one of the favorites to win the 2015 championship, possibly even the favorite.
So imagine how good the Blue Devils' chances would be if they still had Rivers in the fold, too.
Rivers was certainly a polarizing player—even more so than most Dukies. Grantland's Mark Titus spent most of 2011-12 referring to Rivers as ARPF, which is short for "Austin Rivers' Punchable Face." He was (and still is) a ball hog, averaging more than 14 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes.
But much like Parker was this past season, Rivers was forced to play out of position. He wasn't built to be a true point guard. Rivers finished his one season at Duke with more turnovers than assists, but Mike Krzyzewski didn't really have any better options when it came to the primary ball-handler.
On this fictitious team, Rivers slides over to his natural position at shooting guard while Parker gets to play something other than center with Okafor coming to town.
An obvious issue for this team would be ball distribution. We mentioned Rivers' tendency to shoot it too often, but Hood and Parker weren't exactly John Stockton with the ball, either. Duke would need a point guard who is perfectly content with averaging more assists than points per game, and Jones might be that guy.
This team has a ton of quality depth, but the starting five wouldn't appear to be anywhere near as dominant as the remaining blue bloods on the list.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Noteworthy Early Departures: Ben McLemore, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins
Hypothetical Starting Five: Devonte Graham, McLemore, Wiggins, Cliff Alexander, Embiid
Key Reserves: Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden Jr., Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Brannen Greene, Conner Frankamp, Frank Mason, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Alexander might be the best incoming freshman in the country. Oubre isn't far behind him. Throw in Graham and Mykhailiuk, and Kansas could potentially start four freshmen this season and win the Big 12 by a landslide.
The Jayhawks are already packed to near-maximum capacity with talent, and now we're adding three bonafide starters back into the mix.
The benefits of having Embiid and Wiggins back go just about without saying. Both are highly likely to be taken in the top three of the NBA draft later this month, expected to help immediately transform a professional team. Had Embiid been healthy at the end of the 2013-14 season, he and Wiggins might have been the driving force of a championship team.
And then you have McLemore, who shot 42.0 percent from three-point range during his one season with the Jayhawks—an attribute the team could have desperately used this past season. Selden should eventually be a solid shooting guard, but McLemore was the type of guy who was capable of simply taking over a game from the moment he arrived on campus.
Even with those three studs coming back, the Jayhawks would still be iffy at point guard. Between Graham, Mason and Frankamp, though, you have to think they'd be able to figure out something that makes them the second-best team in the country.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Noteworthy Early Departures: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Marquis Teague, Julius Randle, James Young
Hypothetical Starting Five: Teague, Young, Kidd-Gilchrist, Randle, Davis
Key Reserves: Noel, Goodwin, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Karl Towns Jr., Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker
As if you didn't already regard John Calipari as an evil recruiting genius who gets every big-name player under the sun.
The 40-0 T-shirts were a bit premature this past summer, but feel free to restart those printing presses with this roster.
I'm not sure which is more absurd: Noel and the entire 2014-15 real-life roster coming off the bench, or the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft (Kidd-Gilchrist) serving as possibly the weakest link in the starting five.
As a freshman, the Brow averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. In the NBA this past season, he averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
What do you think is a reasonable expectation for what Davis would do in his fourth year at Kentucky? Has anyone ever averaged a triple-double in college? He would certainly average a double-double, as would Randle.
When one of those stars needs a break, Noel would be the first guy off the bench as the second-most prolific shot-blocker in the nation.
Let's put it this way: We're already considering Kentucky to have the deepest and most talented frontcourt in the country this season, and the players leading us to that conclusion would barely even see the court on this team.
As seemed to be the case with most of these top teams, Kentucky could probably ask for a better point guard. But the Wildcats also have plenty of options. If Teague struggles to get the job done, Ulis or Andrew Harrison would be more than capable of taking his place on this dream team.
I would pay way too much money to see these players get together to go up against the collective forces of the consensus 2014 All-American team.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.