With the turning of the clock to May 25, 2017 earlier this week, this year’s NBA Draft drama officially concluded, or at least as far as college basketball is concerned. All of the decisions have now been finalized, including some monster announcements from Michigan’s Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.
The passing of that deadline, of course, brings about plenty of emotions. Plenty of fans will wake up disappointed that they won’t get to see their favorite player in a college uniform again, while others will rejoice about the return of a star player.
It’s a wild swing of emotions with everything in between.
However, the passing of the deadline finally also allows fans the ability to look ahead to next season. No longer do we have to preface every discussion about next season with a comment about a player’s NBA decision. After all, try projecting how the Purdue Boilermakers will perform next season without knowing whether Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan will be on the roster.
It’s not exactly an easy task.
And this year’s deadline came with a fair share of drama. As such, here are five thoughts Big Ten fans should have coming out of this year’s decisions.
1. Michigan State is the Clear Cut Front-Runner.
This won’t come as any surprise, but with the NBA Draft decisions in the bag, there is little debating that Michigan State will enter next season as the Big Ten’s clear frontrunner. The Spartans have the most talent of any roster in the conference, a proven head coach, and a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Miles Bridges.
Simply put, there’s a lot to like.
Once Bridges announced that he was returning to East Lansing, most figured that the Spartans would be the favorites, but there was some late drama when it looked like Caleb Swanigan and DJ Wilson might return to their respective teams. If either of those two had opted to return, Purdue and/or Michigan would have at least been close enough to get some discussion going.
However, with Swanigan and Wilson heading to the NBA, this is now Michigan State’s conference to lose. This will be the second time in the last four years that the Spartans enter the season as massive Big Ten favorites. Spartan fans will be hoping it goes better than last time.
2. Michigan and Purdue Will Be Wild Cards.
Given how last season unfolded, one can make a pretty strong argument that Michigan and Purdue finished the season as the two best teams in the league. Purdue won the regular season Big Ten title, Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament and 12 of its final 15 games, and both teams made the Sweet 16.
However, with the departures of players like Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton, there were going to be some questions for both of these teams, regardless of who declared for the NBA Draft. So, when each team had three top players declare early, expectations for next season ranged widely for the Boilermakers and Wolverines.
The good news, of course, is that both teams got two of those early Draft entrants to return to campus for next season. Michigan got good news from Jaaron Simmons and Moritz Wagner and Purdue will see both Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas return.
Unfortunately, the two teams will also each be losing a star player. Michigan will see DJ Wilson depart for a shot at being a late First Round pick and Purdue will have to move on after last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, Caleb Swanigan, took his talents to the next level. Each will be a significant loss.
And, while Michigan and Purdue will look considerably different next season, these NBA Draft decisions leave both in a similar position. Each team has enough ‘horses’ to make noise next season, but neither has enough to be a guaranteed top 25 team.
Let’s start with the Wolverines. While Michigan should have two probable star players in Simmons and Wagner, there are a lot of questions elsewhere. To begin, how good are Simmons and Wagner? Are they All-Big Ten? Additionally, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has proven he can be a solid starter, but can he develop further?
And the wing group has even more of a question marks, largely expecting to rely on an inconsistent Duncan Robinson and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. I think Michigan is a safe bet for the NCAA Tournament, but somebody is going to have to take a considerable step forward for the Wolverines to be a top 25 team.
For Purdue, the story is largely the same. Edwards looks like an All-Big Ten candidate heading into next season, but there are a lot of questions elsewhere. Although Haas has the raw skillset to be an elite player, he still hasn’t shown he can do it for significant portions of time. In fact, he has yet to play even 50 percent of the team’s minutes in a given season during his first three years with the program.
Additionally, even though players like Ryan Cline and Carsen Edwards have shown promise, they’re not “locks” to be top-tier players next season. This is especially true considering that Swanigan’s absence will dynamically change the look of the offense. After all, he did account for almost 100 more field goal attempts than any other Boilermaker last season and, undoubtedly, indirectly led to far, far more.
Purdue probably has more proven options than the Wolverines, but I do like the ‘top’ of Michigan’s roster better than Purdue’s roster. Needless to say, both of these teams could easily develop into top 25 units with just one or two things breaking the right now. And that makes them wild cards for next season.
3. The Hoosiers Are Going to Look Much, Much Different.
No Big Ten team got hit harder by NBA departures than the Indiana Hoosiers. Not only did the team lose its top two players in total win shares from last season (James Blackmon and Thomas Bryant), but it also lost arguably its most talented prospect as well in OG Anunoby.
Regardless of how you interpret things, those are massive, massive losses for the Hoosiers. All three of those guys would have started on next year’s Indiana team, which means that, essentially, Indiana is losing three starters off a roster that went 18-16 last season. Even if you recruit like Duke or Kentucky, that’s not good news.
Of course, Indiana will still have hope for next season. Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk should make up a capable backcourt. And De’Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan look primed for breakout seasons. But, even if the team finds some footing, there’s little debating that next year’s Indiana team will look much different.
4. Don’t Overlook the Terps.
Since the end of the season, I’ve been one of the most optimistic people regarding Maryland’s chances next season. From the onset, I thought the Terps were going to be a scrappy team next season that could challenge the Big Ten’s best.
Now, while I admit that that prediction was probably ambitious (nobody expected Miles Bridges to return to Michigan State at the time, after all), I do still think Maryland is going to be a dangerous team. And this is even more true now that Justin Jackson is returning.
Jackson may not have been an elite player last season, but he was still a freshman that averaged 10.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He also came up big late in the season, scoring double-digits in three of the team’s final six games, including 15 points in a key win over Michigan State at home to end the regular season.
And while Jackson will get most of the attention this offseason, Maryland projects to be far more than that next season. To start, Antony Cowan and Kevin Huerter could very well compose one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten.
Add in interesting players like Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky upfront and a key reserve like Dion Wiley and Maryland suddenly turns into a really dangerous team. And that’s not even mentioning Jackson, who could very well turn into an All-Big Ten player over the course of next season.
Given how some of the NBA Draft decisions and transfer news broke, Maryland will probably be a step or two behind the top teams in the league, but with a talented roster and a great home court advantage, don’t count out the Terps just yet.
5. Ohio State Avoided Complete Implosion.
The new NBA Draft rules create a lot of interesting announcements, but perhaps none was more bizarre than Kam Williams’ decision to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent this year. I’m not trying to belittle Williams as a player (he’s a fine contributor in the Big Ten), but nobody could have thought he was a major NBA prospect.
Of course, whether surprising or not, Williams did end up returning to Ohio State for one more season. He will hope to put the finishing touches on a career that has seen him progress from a bench option into one of the top players on the roster. Perhaps he can even lead the Buckeyes out of the program’s recent NCAA Tournament slump.
But the significance of Williams’ return comes far more from what it means for the program than what it means for Williams himself. That’s because it comes in the midst of one of the roughest offseasons in modern history for Ohio State. The program has gotten slammed with bad news in recent weeks and this is a rare positive break.
Even with Williams back in the fold, Ohio State doesn’t project as a great team next season, but William’s return does prevent a “doomsday” type scenario for the Buckeyes. With him back on campus, Ohio State and Thad Matta should at least be safe from the lowest rungs of the college basketball ladder.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that this could quietly be significant news for the Big Ten from a conference strength perspective. To a certain extent, a league is only as good as its worst team and this should raise the floor for the Buckeyes considerably.