Frustrating or not, the 2016-’17 college basketball season ended for the Big Ten last Friday night, as Wisconsin fell in dramatic fashion to Florida. Despite having three teams in the Sweet 16, the league wasn’t able to get anyone to the Elite Eight.
But while most of the hysteria dies down in the days following the end of the season, there’s still plenty of drama for fans to follow in the spring as well. In fact, there’s a decent argument to be made that April and May are the most important months of the year for determining the outlook of college basketball rosters.
In other words, buckle up.
And what should fans be looking for? Here are the top four things to watch.
1. NBA Decisions Everywhere.
This one is obvious, but it bears mentioning. With the season concluded, underclassmen are going to be making their decisions on whether to stay or school or take their talents to the NBA. Admittedly, these decisions can sometimes be obnoxious, but they still have a massive impact on the college game.
For the Big Ten, here are some of the decisions fans will be waiting on:
- OG Anunoby (Indiana)
- James Blackmon (Indiana)
- Miles Bridges (Michigan State)
- Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
- Vincent Edwards (Purdue)
- Corey Sanders (Rutgers)
- Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
- Melo Trimble (Maryland)
- Moritz Wagner (Michigan)
- DJ Wilson (Michigan)
That’s nine different players from six different Big Ten teams. And that doesn’t even include Trevor Thompson (already declared from Ohio State) or players like Isaac Haas, Ethan Happ, and Nick Ward, who aren’t really on any Draft boards, but have enough potential to make the bold decision to jump to the professional leagues.
These decisions alone won’t determine how next year’s Big Ten season unfolds, but it’s hard to overestimate the impact they could have on the league.
2. Somebody’s Going to Land A Huge Transfer.
We’ve all heard the narratives and statistics on transfers. College basketball transfers are at an all-time high and show no signs of slowing down. And, of course, the Big Ten is no exception to this trend. In fact, this year’s Big Ten transfer list is already growing by the day.
And, like the NBA decisions, these transfers have a significant impact on the league. For some perspective, look no further than Spike Albrecht last season, Bryn Forbes during the prior season,and Jarrod Uthoff the year before that. All three of those players helped guide teams to great seasons and they’re just three examples.
It’s hard to project who will be the transfer or transfers that impact next year’s Big Ten, but it’s safe to say that we know some transfer is going to leave a mark. And who will it be? In the next few weeks, somebody will land a transfer that’s going to shake up the league. That’s a key spot where fans should pay attention.
3. Mohamed Bamba Saga Likely Comes To A Close.
If you’re a Michigan fan, or just a college basketball fan in general, odds are that you’re familiar with Mohamed Bamba. He’s an elite 2017 prospect that has been considering Michigan for quite some time. As of late March, Bamba is the top uncommitted prospect on the board and will send ripples, regardless of where he commits.
But projecting where Bamba will end up isn’t an easy task. He has offers from everywhere. No matter if it’s Duke, Kentucky, or Trump University, Bamba will have his choice of the litter when he finally makes his college decision.
Naturally, since Bamba continues to include Michigan in his top group, his recruitment could have a major impact on the Big Ten. Even if you think Bamba is overrated and/or that his impact on Michigan would be limited, he would instantly become the Big Ten’s most talented player, should he make the trip to Ann Arbor.
And that alone makes this a storyline worth following.
4. Can Brad Underwood Save Illinois’ 2017 Class?
While the decision to let go of head coach John Groce was an expected one for Illinois after the team’s underwhelming 2016-’17 season, it also came with some consequences. In particular, there’s a great deal of concern that Groce’s firing could pull apart what was set to be a stellar 2017 recruiting class for the Illini.
According to 247Sports, Illinois is currently set to welcome the Big Ten’s best class to campus next fall. That group of four commits features three four-star prospects, including top 30 prospect Jeremiah Tilmon. It’s the kind of class that could turn into something special for Illinois down the road.
However, with Groce now gone, nobody is sure whether all four commitments will stick with new head coach Brad Underwood. Obviously, securing the class will be a top priority for Underwood, but holding this class could very well determine the success of his tenure in Champaign.
That may sound dramatic, but considering that Underwood inherits a young roster and will likely be a bit behind in his 2018 recruiting, a collapse in the program’s 2017 recruiting class could legitimately set Illinois back two or three years. As such, the next few weeks will be telling for Illinois and Underwood.