We Wonder: What If Oden, Durant, and Co. Were Still in School?

    
January 15th, 2008

What-if …

I was watching Kansas play about a week ago, and listening to the starting line-ups got me thinking …“Man – they have a loaded roster. And that’s without Julian Wright!!” I started thinking that I could take that team to a title, that even I couldn’t screw up a team with all that talent.

So then I started wondering what the Top 10 might look like if stars like Wright, Kevin Durant, and Greg Oden decided to stick around for another year, if they weren’t able to leave early. Some solid teams would become a lot better, some good teams could become great, and some great teams could become just plain ridiculous.

Of course it should be pointed out that teams like Michigan State, Memphis, Washington State, Tennessee and Indiana had no significant defections, and they’re all cruising this year, thanks to the return of their stars and the addition of capable freshmen. But here’s a look at some of the other teams we could be watching this year.

#1 Florida
Yes, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Joakim Noah all could have returned for one more year if they wanted. In fact, the Gators’ only losses could have been senior sharpshooter Lee Humphrey and sixth-man Chris Richard. Billy Donovan could simply have plugged Walter Hodge into Humphrey’s spot, used Marreese Speights to play the role of Richard, and added firepower off the bench with freshmen Nick Calathes, Jai Lucas and Chandler Parsons. The bulls-eye on their chest would have been larger than ever throughout the year, but would anyone really want to play against these guys in the NCAA Tournament?

#2 Ohio State
Like the Gators, the Buckeyes only significant losses would have been a senior guard (Ron Lewis) and a post player (Ivan Harris) – both of whom could be replaced. Senior Jamar Butler would provide the leadership, as sophomores Mike Conley and Greg Oden continued to dazzle (and perhaps Oden would never have gotten hurt). Daequan Cook and David Lighty provide athleticism from the wings, while Othello Hunter is a perfect compliment up front to Oden. Plus, add in the sharpshooting of freshman Jon Diebler off the bench, as well as big man Kosta Koufos, and these Buckeyes would be pretty hard to crack.

#3 Georgetown
The Hoyas lost only one player early to the draft in forward Jeff Green, and as a result, they’re still in the top-10. However, add the multi-faceted forward to this roster, and the Hoyas would be downright nasty. With more perimeter depth in the form of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, plus the continued development of big men Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers, the Hoyas would have more than enough firepower to take down Florida or Ohio State. Green, Roy Hibbert, Jonathon Wallace and Jesse Sapp would provide veteran leadership. Things still look pretty good without Green, but he no doubt would have helped.

#4 UNC
I know they’re the top-ranked team right now, but imagine how good they could be with Brandan Wright in the paint for another season. The Heels reached the Elite Eight last year starting three freshmen and a sophomore, with the main reserves including another freshman and three more sophomores. So bring back Wright, give this team another off-season to mature together…and watch out. Junior wings Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green could both ably fill the vacancy left by senior Reyshawn Terry, while Wright and Hansbrough would continue to dominate up front. Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington both had ups and downs as freshmen, but gained valuable experience that is showing this year. With big men Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson spelling Hansbrough and Wright, and Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas providing backcourt depth, the Heels would have an even-more ridiculously stocked roster.

#5 UCLA
The Bruins are among the favorites to cut down the nets this season without Arron Afflalo, so just think about how good they could be with the tough-minded shooting guard. Afflalo was a team leader who helped to set the defensive tone, and who always wanted the ball in clutch situations. With super freshman Kevin Love in the mix, the Bruins would have a tremendously balanced roster, capable of beating teams inside and out. Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata-Real, Alfred Aboya and Russell Westbrook would fill out a roster that would seem to be a lock to reach a third straight Final Four.

#6 Kansas
Even with Julian Wright back, the Jayhawks would have hard time cracking the top-5 on this list. But there’s still plenty of talent here to have the Lawrence faithful thinking about a Final Four trip. A loaded backcourt includes Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins, while the frontcourt will be manned by Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson. Wright would join Brandon Rush on the wings as match-up nightmares, while freshman Cole Aldrich and senior guard Rodrick Stewart provide even more depth. Things are still good in Jayhawk country without Wright, but it’s hard to argue that they’re better off without him.

#7 USC
The only question in L.A. had Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt returned would be if there were enough shots to go around. With Young and Pruitt being joined by star recruit O.J. Mayo in the backcourt, the Trojans’ athleticism would have rivaled many NBA teams. Up front, Taj Gibson and Davon Jefferson would cause match-up problems galore with their quickness, while Daniel Hackett would lead a solid bench. Team chemistry would definitely be an issue, with so many players having a shoot-first mentality, but there’s no denying they could be fun to watch.

#8 Texas
Some may argue that the Longhorns are playing better as a team without Kevin Durant, but I’m having a hard time believing they wouldn’t welcome him back with open arms. Durant was an absolute match-up nightmare for opponents, and his scoring opened up the floor for everyone. With the continued development of D.J. Augustin and Damion James, as well as the deadeye shooting of A.J. Abrams, the Horns would have plenty of weapons for a shootout. Texas has surprised some people with their fast start this year, and they’ll still be dancing at the end of the year, but there’s little argument that they’d have a much better chance of cutting down the nets if Durant stuck around.

Others:
LSU (Glen Davis): Big Baby’s return may not have helped John Brady’s bunch win a title, but it sure would have been fun to have another year of one of the game’s most entertaining personalities and likable players.

Duke (Josh McRoberts): With the Devils playing at a faster pace this season because of more depth, McRoberts would have more of an opportunity to showcase the skills and versatility that had him pegged as a future lottery pick out of high school.

Georgia Tech (Javaris Crittenton, Thaddeous Young): Tech faithful would love another year with the ultra-athletic Young, as well as Crittenton, who was one of the conference’s best point guards by season’s end.