As we prepare for the NCAA Tournament to get underway in earnest tomorrow, one team is notably absent from the Madness: The defending champion Kentucky Wildcats. Not only did Kentucky fail to earn a spot in the field of 68 — the Wildcats also dropped their first game of the NIT, losing 59-57 to Robert Morris.
Despite a disappointing season, Kentucky still has plenty of candidates to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft this June. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Archie Goodwin all rank in Chad Ford's top 20 at ESPN.com. Although Noel still seems like a good bet to enter the draft and be a top-five pick, the other three freshmen sound unconvinced about being one-and-done, as they tell Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"I don’t know if it’s a question whether I’m going (to the NBA) or not," Goodwin said. "I don’t think I’m ready to go. It’s no reason why I think any of our guys should really leave. We should come back next year … and just try to do better than what we did this year. Because the expectations we had for ourselves this year, we didn’t meet them at all. We didn’t come close. So I think think that’s what says we should all come back."
For the most part, Poythress and Cauley-Stein echoed Goodwin's sentiment, indicating they didn't feel ready for the NBA. However, as NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper notes, front offices don't always put a ton of stock in what prospects say after emotional losses, and Cauley-Stein hinted that while he may be leaning toward returning for his sophomore year, he'll consider all his options.
"I’ve just gotta look out for me and my family," Cauley-Stein said. "If it comes down to it, if my family needs me, then I’ll go [to the NBA]. But if not, I’ll stay and get a couple more years of education and develop myself [into] more of an all-around basketball player."
Ford currently ranks Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Goodwin 13th, 16th, and 20th respectively on his big board, while Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com has them 16th, 21st, and 18th on his list. Should the trio decide to return to Kentucky for the 2013/14 season, it would be another blow to a draft class that's already being viewed as the weakest in the last several years.