Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin: 'The goal is to be the best team in the SEC'
Jontay Porter’s decision to return to Missouri for his sophomore year offers the Tigers a chance to be just as good next season as they were during Cuonzo Martin's first campaign. But Mizzou’s conference competition should also be just as tough as it was a season ago, when the Southeastern Conference sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA’s Wednesday deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft and maintain collegiate eligibility provided fans of SEC teams with plenty to celebrate. Like Missouri, many SEC squads will return key players who opted to pull out of the draft and go back to school.
Here’s a look at which players are returning to their respective SEC schools and which ones chose to remain in the draft.
The Razorbacks didn’t have an underclassmen declare for the draft, which was a surprise. Center Daniel Gafford likely would have been a first-round pick but announced in late March that he would stay for his sophomore season.
He averaged 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks this past season. Expect him to star for an Arkansas squad that loses six seniors from a season ago, including leading scorers Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
Going pro: Colin Sexton
No surprise here. Sexton declared for the draft in early April and should be a lottery pick. There was never much of a chance the former McDonald’s All-American would return for his sophomore year. He averaged 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His strong play in the SEC Tournament helped the Crimson Tide boost their postseason resume and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Going pro: No one
Returning: Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Austin Wiley
Other: Mustapha Heron
Heron was the Tigers’ leading scorer as a sophomore (16.9 PPG), and he withdrew his name from the NBA Draft — but then decided not to come back to Auburn. He’s transferring and applying for a hardship waiver to be closer to his family in Connecticut, as his mother battles medical troubles, according to reporter Adam Zagoria.
Still, Auburn returns plenty of talent from a team that was one of college basketball’s greatest surprises this past season. Harper and Brown are two guards who are capable scorers. Brown also led the team in assists (5.4 per game).
Wiley, a 6-11 forward, missed last season because of alleged involvement in the FBI’s investigation into former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, but he is eligible to play this season. As a freshman in 2016-17, he averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
The Bulldogs did not have any underclassmen declare for the draft, but they do lose Yante Maten, who was the AP’s SEC Player of the Year as a senior.
Returning: Jalen Hudson
The Gators lose two key seniors from last season’s team in Egor Koulechov and Chris Chiozza, but Hudson was their leading scorer. He averaged 15.5 points per game, and ESPN once had him ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the 2018 draft class.
Going pro: Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt
Returning: P.J. Washington, Nick Richards
Coach John Calipari sends multiple players off to the pros each season. This year, none of the three who chose to remain in the draft project to be a high picks.
The returns of Washington and Richards should give Kentucky a deep front court next season. In addition to those two, the Wildcats will also have forward EJ Montgomery, a McDonald’s All-American, and they could add graduate transfer Reid Travis, a former All-Pac 12 player at Stanford.
Going pro: Brandon Sampson
Returning: Tremont Waters
Another season of Waters far outweighs the loss of Sampson, who averaged 7.7 points per game as a junior while his usage declined from the prior season. Waters, a 5-11 guard, was LSU’s star player as a freshman. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.0 assists per game. He’ll also have more help next season. LSU has the nation’s third-best 2018 recruiting class, according to Rivals.
Returning: Terence Davis
The guard led the Rebels in points (13.8) and rebounds (6.2) per game this past season. He should provide first-year Mississippi coach Kermit Davis with reliable scoring next season.
Returning: Quinndary Weatherspoon, Nick Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters, Aric Holman
The Bulldogs return the entire core of players who kept Mississippi State on the bubble for much of the season. Maybe coach Ben Howland will take Mississippi State to its first NCAA Tournament since 2009 next season.
Going pro: Brian Bowen
Returning: Chris Silva
Bowen, who never played for the Gamecocks, likely won’t be drafted, but he practically had to turn pro. It was not clear when he would have been eligible to play for South Carolina, and he already sat his freshman year out because of eligibility concerns. The former McDonald’s All-American originally signed with Louisville, but an alleged payment made to him, uncovered during the FBI’s ongoing investigation into college basketball, led to coach Rick Pitino’s ouster.
Silva, a rising senior forward, was the Gamecocks’ leading scorer and rebounder this past season, but he did not receive an invitation to the NBA Draft combine.
Returning: Admiral Schofield
The 6-foot-5 Schofield is a versatile, undersized forward who averaged 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this past season. With him and forward Grant Williams — the league coaches’ 2018 SEC Player of the Year — both returning, the Volunteers should be good again next season.
Going pro: Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg and Robert Williams
Returning: Admon Gilder
Williams is a 6-foot-9 forward had a chance to be a lottery pick had he left Texas A&M as a freshman, so the Aggies long figured to lose him after his sophomore season.
His former front court partner, Tyler Davis, who is forgoing his senior season, is unlikely to be drafted and is not even among ESPN’s top 100 prospects in this draft class. Hogg — a 6-8 forward who shot almost 38 percent from three as a junior this past season — profiles as a second round pick at best.
Gilder, a 6-3 guard, was the second-leading scorer on the team (12.3 points per game) and figures to be a veteran presence for a Texas A&M squad that has lost most of its key contributors from last season’s Sweet 16 run.
The Commodores did not have any players declare early for the NBA Draft. Rivals ranked their recruiting class as No. 11 in the country.