Russ Smith (AP)
Six days before the NBA's deadline for players to announce if they're entering this year's draft or not, a handful of top college prospects remain undecided. Here's a look at some of the decisions that will have the most bearing on next year's college basketball season:
1. Russ Smith (Louisville): Immediately after Louisville captured the national title by beating Michigan, Smith's father told reporters his son was entering the NBA draft. Since then, however, we've learned Smith himself isn't so sure. Both Smith and Louisville coach Rick Pitino have said the 6-foot-1 junior guard is 50/50 whether to stay or go, with a decision expected sometime this week. The Cardinals will be one of the nation's better teams with or without Smith, but his return would make the Bluegrass State the epicenter of college basketball again next season and give Louisville a far better chance of defending its title.
Why he should stay: The risk for Smith if he leaves is he is not a surefire first-round pick despite leading the Cardinals to a championship because he lacks the size to defend shooting guards in the NBA and the vision and passing ability to play point guard. His ability to provide instant offense off the dribble is unique enough to get him drafted, but Smith knows that going in the second round would mean an NBA contract and roster spot next season is certainly no guarantee.
Why he should go: It's probably going to be difficult for Smith to elevate his draft stock much if he returned as a senior because he wouldn't be playing point guard. Freshman Terry Rozier and junior college transfer Chris Jones are likely to inherit Peyton Siva's role, meaning Smith would not have much chance to showcase newfound passing and playmaking skills even if he were to improve in those areas over the offseason.
2. Adreian Payne (Michigan State): When Gary Harris announced Friday he will return to Michigan State, the fact it wasn't a joint announcement with Payne suggests the junior forward is still weighing his options. Payne's decision is crucial to Michigan State's hopes of contending for a national title next season. Everyone besides Derrick Nix would be back if he returns, but the Spartans would have no battle-tested big men if he leaves.
Why he should stay: Payne has the size, athleticism and skill set to be selected were he to enter the draft, but only at the end of this past season did he begin to more consistently tap into his potential. If he could defend, rebound and score with his back to the basket and from the perimeter for a full season as a senior, that could elevate his status from fringe first-round pick to a top 20 pick.
Why he should go: In his final 11 games of the season as a junior, Payne averaged 14.2 points and 9.5 rebounds and showcased an ability to score in the paint and from behind the arc. Though he could certainly improve his stock by returning for his senior season and leading Michigan State into national title contention, he showed enough upside the past two months that he likely has a chance of sneaking into the first round if he were to leave now.
Why he should stay: The chance for McDermott to play in the Big East, help his dad make a smooth transition to a new league and lead Creighton beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament has to be enticing. McDermott's draft stock isn't likely to fluctuate much since he's a known commodity at this point, but working on his lateral quickness defensively and ability to score off the dribble couldn't hurt.
Why he should go: How much more could McDermott really improve his draft stock by returning another season? He put up remarkably similar numbers as both a sophomore and junior, averaging roughly 23 points per game, sinking 49 percent of his threes and showcasing a knack for dominating a game without dominating the ball. His ability to score with his back-to-the-basket or from behind the arc will be an asset whether he leaves as a junior or senior. Similarly, concerns about whether he's quick enough to defend NBA small forwards or big enough to keep power forwards in check will exist either way.
4. Shane Larkin (Miami): Was Shane Larkin's post-NCAA tournament thank you note to his Miami teammates and fans a sign the sophomore point guard intended to enter the draft? Perhaps not, since he remains undecided. Larkin told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this past weekend that he intends to wait until Sunday's draft deadline before he makes a decision. "I'm just going to class right now," he said. "I have finals coming up, so that's what I'm really focused on."
Why he should stay: Despite making first-team all-ACC and leading Miami to a sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles, Larkin is still only considered a fringe first-round pick. He'd be the focal point of Miami's attack as a junior, giving him the chance to have a Trey Burke-like all-American season and show that his improvement as a sophomore was no fluke.
Why he should go: No matter how well Larkin played if he returned to Miami, it's very unlikely the Hurricanes will win the ACC again since they're losing so many standout seniors. Furthermore, there might be more risk than reward for Larkin individually in coming back to school. At 5-foot-11, his slight stature is always going to be a concern for NBA scouts whether he enters the draft this spring or in the future.
Other top players who remain undecided: C.J. Fair (Syracuse); Isaiah Austin (Baylor); Shabazz Napier (UConn); Andre Roberson (Colorado)
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