Player turnover is always a significant story line every college basketball off-season.It can signal new hope with an infusion of seemingly limitless talent (see: Kentucky 2011-2012). Or it can take a national title contender and bring them to their knees (see: Kentucky 2012-2013). Every year, players graduate, flee for greener pastures in the NBA, or transfer for hopes of better opportunity elsewhere. While the Big Ten still has some of the best talent in the country across the board, I'm here today to discuss the players who left after the 2012-2013 season and will be the hardest to replace in terms of production and what they meant to their team.
5. Deshaun Thomas, F Ohio State - Many of you may wonder how Thomas isn't higher on the list. Yes, he led the league in scoring with 19.8 points a contest but the Buckeyes have always emphasized a hard nosed defensive approach, embodied more so by their senior leader for this upcoming year Aaron Craft. Sure, those 19.8 points will be hard to replace but consider the impact a year older Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, and LaQuinton Ross will have on the overall team offense concept. Though Thomas could fill it up in a hurry and ranked in the top five in the conference in both Player Efficiency Rating (24.2, good for 5th) and effective field goal percentage (.551, also good for 5th), he may have been over emphasized on the offensive end.
Now, you may also be confused as to why I would point out how Thomas is replaceable in an article about being irreplaceable. It was pretty obvious last year that Deshaun was the best pure scorer in the conference, capable of going on a 10-0 run all by himself in the blink of an eye. Those types of players are always difficult to replace, regardless of how talented the players are that have been left behind. Ohio State will find themselves missing that instant offense, especially when the outside shots aren't falling during a tough defensive battle and they need that spark. With Craft leading the way, it's hard to imagine the defense slipping all that much. But with Thomas and his nose for finding the basket in a myriad of ways gone, the scoring burden will have to be distributed more equally across the board which could prove easier said than done.
4. Trevor Mbakwe, F/C Minnesota - Possibly one of the most underrated players in the entire conference last year (3rd team All-Conference at the end of last season according to the coaches), Mbakwe lead the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounds. He also ranked among the top five in player efficiency rating and block percentage. In short, in the physical world that is the Big Ten paint, Mbakwe was a man among boys. Minnesota was a team that relied heavily on offensive rebounds to spark an often slogging half court offense. They ranked 3rd in the nation in offensive rebounds per game and often had to rely on second chance points to score during the vigors of Big Ten play with Mbakwe playing a heavy hand in this board-crashing effort.
Without Mbakwe, the Gophers lose their most physical and dominate presence in the front court. While the team is drastically changing it's style of play to match Pitino's preferred trapping system more prone to fast breaks and three pointers, the athleticism and pure strength of Mbakwe will be dearly missed. Though he wasn't as much of a threat to score outside of ten feet, you can never underestimate the value of a strong physical presence in the Big Ten. While the transition to a different style offense may soften the blow, Mbakwe's nose for the ball and pure power will most certainly be irreplaceable for the Golden Gophers heading into the new coaching regime.
3 & 2. Victor Oladipo G/F and Cody Zeller C Indiana - The Hoosiers were both blessed and cursed with Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller during the 2012-2013 season. Blessed to watch the two bring Indiana back into the national spotlight and to the top of the rankings, but cursed in knowing both were virtual locks to move to the next level after the season came to a close. It's safe to say that most programs would give a kidney to have those types of problems. It's also safe to say that Zeller and Oladipo are two of the most irreplaceable players in the conference considering they ranked 1-2 in player efficiency, effective field goal percentage, and wins shared per 40 minutes. Not to mention Oladipo was named defensive player of the year in the conference by the coaches.
While transition offense was used frequently in Bloomington this year, both Zeller and Oladipo played a huge role in success of the often break neck Hoosier attack. While Zeller would out hustle fellow centers and utilize the incredible dexterity he possessed for his size, Oladipo would often overwhelm opponents on the break with his unbelievable athleticism and penchant for taking smart, open shots (as reflected by his league leading true field goal percentage). Coach Crean may not be as successful running the court in this upcoming year without the unique pairing of Zeller and Oladipo wrecking havoc in transition and a likely fall in the conference standing will reflect the "irreplaceability" (made up word alert!) of Zeller and Oladipo.
1. Trey Burke G Michigan - As Trey Burke went, so did Michigan. While people credit Mitch McGary for his spectacular tournament performance, the straw that stirred John Beilein's curious drink was always Burke. He could find his spots to score while still facilitating the mercurial offense deployed by the Wolverines. This is reflected in the numbers, as he finished fourth in usage percentage while leading the league in assist percentage and offensive wins shared. He was able to dominate a game without shooting at a volume like Deshaun Thomas while still being able to score, finishing fourth in the league in offensive rating behind teammate Glen Robinson III and the Hoosier duo discussed above. And oh, I forgot, he was the National Player of the Year.
Michigan will still be loaded with talent this upcoming year. But they will be missing a great college player in Burke, who was also capable of stepping up when the Wolverines needed a big time play, as displayed against Ohio State during the regular season and Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. While Michigan may still find a lot of success this upcoming year, in all likelihood they won't find themselves in the National Championship again. And that's because they won't have Trey Burke leading the way. It is his multi-dimensional playing style as both a scoring and passing point guard and his ability to run the Michigan offense that makes him the most irreplaceable player who has left the Big Ten.