At this time last year, all the draft talk surrounding players coming back to school centered around North Carolina and Kentucky. With starting lineups full of future first-round picks, the two schools dominated most of the 2011-12 season, looking poised for an epic national championship game before Kendall Marshall's injury in the NCAA Tournament.
This season, with no threat of a lockout, the blue bloods were decimated by NBA defections. As a result, many of the top NBA prospects returning to school for the 2012-2013 season are from schools off the beaten path, setting up what could be an extremely wide-open NCAA Tournament in 2013.
1. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Who he is: The youngest brother of the Zeller clan, Cody has more potential than either Luke (Notre Dame) or Tyler (UNC). At 6'11, 230 pounds, he's the most solidly built of the three, which enables him to establish deep post position on the low block. A fundamentally sound player with the physical tools to be a top-line NBA center, he got Anthony Davis in foul trouble in both of their meetings last season. As a freshman, he averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds on 62.3 percent shooting.
What he needs to improve: He'll still need to put on weight to operate in the paint on the next level, so 10-15 pounds of muscle would go a long way. As a sophomore with a lot of talent around him, he'll be expected to have a 20/10 first-team All-America season.
2. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Who he is: Originally slated to graduate high school in May, 2012, he re-classified as a college freshman in December and joined Tennessee for the SEC play last season. A powerful 6'8, 250-pound post player with huge hands, quick feet and a long wingspan, he has the frame of an NFL LT to go with an excellent low-post game. If Jared Sullinger was as good as everyone thinks he is, he would be Jarnell Stokes. As a freshman, Stokes averaged 9.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on 53.4 percent shooting.
What he needs to improve: He'll need to take the training wheels off next season and become a full-time player averaging 30-35 minutes a game. More importantly, the Volunteers need the perimeter comedy trio of Trae Golden, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson to hit open jumpers and make good decisions with the ball for their post players shine.
3. Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Who he is: A top 20 talent from the Class of 2010 originally slated to play at Missouri before eligibility concerns sent him to the Sun Belt. An athletic 6'8, 235-pound swing forward with the athleticism to dominate on the interior and the skill-set to excel on the perimeter, he dominated at North Texas last year, averaging 14.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks on 56.7 percent shooting. His 43.9 percent three-point shooting percentage opened eyes as well.
What he needs to improve: Understandably for someone who sat out a year, he was still a fairly raw player as a freshman, dominating inferior competition on pure talent. North Texas lost in the Sun Belt Championship Game to a 16-19 Western Kentucky team; Mitchell should be able to carry the Mean Green to the Tournament by himself as a sophomore.
4. Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
Who he is: A freshman with a grown man's body, Nash struggled with the transition to the college game before coming on strong at the end of the season. At 6'7, 230 pounds with the broad shoulders of a football player and an inconsistent perimeter game, he can look like Ron Artest circa 2003 one day and Metta World Peace circa 2012 the next. As a freshman, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds on 39.4 percent shooting on an Oklahoma State program undergoing a massive roster turnover.
What he needs to improve: As a sophomore on a Cowboy team stocked with young talent, he'll be expected to put the inconsistency of his freshman season behind him. If his shooting percentages don't improve dramatically next year, his draft stock could plummet.
5. Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Who he is: An athletic sophomore point guard with incredible size at 6'5, 185 pounds, Brown was the catalyst for NC State's run to the Sweet 16 last season. After playing as a shooting guard as a freshman, he proved he could be an excellent floor general, averaging 6.3 assists to 3.2 turnovers. With a 45 percent shooting percentage, including 35 percent from beyond the arc, he's the most well-rounded PG in college.
What he needs to improve: While his size and floor game will make him a 10-year NBA veteran, his overall ceiling will depend on his scoring ability. Brown averaged 12.7 points per game last season, and a consistent floater would take his game to the next level.
6. Myck Kabongo, Texas
Who he is: A highly-touted freshman point guard who struggled on a Texas team decimated by defections to the 2011 NBA Draft, Kabongo nevertheless showed enough glimpses of talent to remain well-regarded coming into next season. A lightning quick 6'2, 170-pound pure point guard with an improving outside jumper, he has the potential to be a five-tool PG on the next level. As a freshman, he averaged 9.6 points and 5.2 assists on 39 percent shooting.
What he needs to improve: With J'Covan Brown leaving school, Kabongo will dominate the ball for the Longhorns next season. He'll need to dramatically improve his offensive efficiency numbers across the board while leading Texas on a deep NCAA Tournament run to clean his slate after a disappointing freshman campaign.
7. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Who he is: A long and athletic 6'10, 240-pound sophomore center, Payne dramatically improved from his freshman season, putting himself in the position to be a high first-round pick in 2013. Not only does he have the physical tools to defend the post and protect the rim (1.1 blocks per game) at the next level, but his offensive game is improving as well. His 69.7 percent free-throw shooting percentage indicates he could become a pick-and-pop shooter at the 5.
What he needs to improve: Without Draymond Green next to him, Payne will have to create more of his own offense next season. No one expects him to become a featured player offensively, but if he can maintain his percentages while taking on a bigger role, his physical tools will win over a lot of NBA front offices.
8. James McAdoo, UNC
Who he is: An extremely athletic 6'9, 220-pound power forward, McAdoo is still a blank slate after a freshman season where he caddied for Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Playing only 15.6 minutes per game, he was almost never given the chance to create his own shot, making his overall potential still fairly unclear.
What he needs to improve: With UNC sending four players to the first round of the NBA Draft in June, McAdoo will have every chance to showcase his game next season. Hopefully, he spent what was essentially a redshirt season wisely.
9. Reggie Bullock, UNC
Who he is: An athletic 6'7, 205-pound sophomore shooting guard who recovered from a knee injury as a freshman to fill in for Dexter Strickland last year. He has the length, athleticism and outside shot (38 percent from deep) to be an NBA role player, but he rarely got the chance to be a featured offensive player in his first two seasons in Chapel Hill.
What he needs to improve: With the Tar Heels exodus of talent, Bullock will have the chance to be a featured player next year. He was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, so he should have the talent to be a front-line ACC shooting guard next season. He could end up as a better NBA player than Harrison Barnes.
10. Elijah Johnson, Kansas
Who he is: An athletic 6'4.195-pound junior point guard who has bided his team on some extremely talented Kansas teams, Johnson will have his chance to shine as a senior in Lawrence. Playing alongside Tyshawn Taylor last year, he showed flashes of an excellent all-around game, averaging 10.2 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds on 43 percent shooting.
What he needs to improve: The big question with Johnson is whether he can run the point full-time, which his 3.5 assist/1.8 turnover ratio as a shooting guard last season suggests he can. His physical tools are only average for an NBA combo guard, but they are off the charts for a full-time PG.