How did NBA Draft decisions impact Big Ten men's basketball teams?
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The decisions have been made as to which players are returning to school … and which ones have entered the NBA draft. And, the Big Ten didn’t have a raft of major losses. What does it mean? The 2017-18 season could be a banner campaign for the Big Ten.
BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux took a look at the Big Ten teams most impacted by decisions … or non-decisions.
Dienhart: No team was hit harder by early losses. Guard Robert Johnson decided to come back. Smart move; he had nary a prayer of being selected. And it was no big shock to see OG Anunoby opt to stay in the draft coming off a knee injury. He is a gifted player who excels defensively and has an emerging offensive game. Projected as a lottery pick, Anunoby often is compared to Kawhi Leonard. He had to go. And IU also lost big man Thomas Bryant, too. But should he have bolted? Bryant was poised to be one of the Big Ten’s top players. He projects as a second-rounder. No doubt, he could have used more development. The departure of James Blackmon, Jr., is even more curious; he doesn’t project to be drafted. New coach Archie Miller will have some interesting dynamics in his first year.
Roux: Indiana will look almost totally different next season in Year 1 under Archie Miller, with Anunoby, Bryant and Blackmon all bolting and a new coach at the controls. Those departures can definitely be looked at as short-term bummers for Hoosiers fans, but starting mostly from scratch makes it easier for Miller to instill a culture and style of play from the very beginning at IU. Plus, playing time will be readily available for whoever Miller wants to groom. If Miller’s style and success translate from Dayton like many expect it to, these early challenges could help accelerate long-term gains.
Dienhart: It was a case of good news, bad news, as thiny-thin big man Mortiz Wagner decided to come back to Ann Arbor, while D.J. Wilson opted to skip his senior year and go pro. Wagner projects as one of the Big Ten’s top players next season after enjoying a breakout in 2016-17, going from 2.9 points per game to 12.1 as a sophomore. He was a postseason stud. Now, the lanky German will be one of the Big Ten’s best players. It’s debatable if Wilson is ready. Regardless, he is gone, which likely opens a slot in the starting lineup for Duncan Robinson. The Wolverines will miss Wilson’s defensive ability and sweet-shooting. No doubt, Michigan could have used Wilson, as it already is losing Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, Jr. It is hoped Ohio grad transfer Jaaron Simmons can be the point man. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews will impact on defense along with a good group of recruits led by 6-4 Jordan Poole.
Roux: D.J. Wilson departing with Moe Wagner staying is bittersweet to be sure, as both were a ton of fun to watch while they led Michigan through their memorable run last season. Now, even more of the load falls on Wagner’s shoulders, and he certainly showed at times he can carry a team. If he can be more consistent next season, Michigan can still be dangerous despite losing Wilson to the Association and other key pieces to graduation.
Dienhart: The good news—freshman sensation Justin Jackson opted to come back. The bad news—junior guard Melo Trimble is gone. But, the loss of Trimble isn’t a big shock, as he almost bolted after last season. Trimble was a savvy leader who could play off-guard and the point. He wasn’t afraid of the big moment and was a natural-born scorer. Few got to the charity stripe as often. But the Terps are still loaded and will be built around Jackson and his sophomore class of players with Anthony Cowan playing a bigger role in the backcourt after a nice debut and Kevin Huerter reprising his role as a sweet-shooter.
Roux: Trimble announced his intent to remain in the draft and forego his senior season with the Terps on March 29, alleviating any potential suspense surrounding his decision. Still, losing a First Team All-Big Ten selection and 17 points per game at floor general will have an impact and will challenge Mark Turgeon and his talented group of sophomores-to-be to make up for Trimble’s lost production. Alongside Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan, Jackson is one of those talented rising sophomores who could make a leap in ’17-18. Jackson put up 10.5 points and six rebounds per game as a freshman, and his versatility comes with a skill set the Terps are glad to have back.
Dienhart: Perhaps the biggest shock of all was the fact sensational Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges didn’t even opt to test the NBA draft waters despite likely being a lottery pick. He will return in 2017-18 as one of the nation’s top players. That was great news for the Spartans, who may be the preseason No. 1 team in the nation because of Bridges’ decision. Tom Izzo has a roster loaded with talent like Nick Ward, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, Tum Tum Nairn and a boffo recruiting class led by big man Jaren Jackson, Jr. This team may win the Big Ten’s first national title since 2000, when MSU turned the trick.
Roux: He technically never put his name in the NBA Draft, but the return of Big Ten Freshman of the Year Miles Bridges was still surprising on the surface. And Bridges seems determined to take care of unfinished business in East Lansing. With fellow rising sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford—plus a stellar incoming freshman class—Bridges’ return couldn’t be sweeter for the Spartans.
Dienhart: A big sigh of relief was expelled when Corey Sanders said he was returning. He is the hub of the program, a prolific scorer and shot-maker who is part of a rising program. It will be fun to see what Steve Pikiell and Co., can do in Year Two with Sanders, who became a more well-rounded and selfless player last season. He will team with touted newcomer Geo Baker to make the coming season interesting. Could RU notch its first winning record since 2005-06?
Roux: Losing Corey Sanders would’ve been a blow as head coach Steve Pikiell tries to maintain momentum in Year Two at the helm. His return ensures the Scarlet Knights keep some star power in the backcourt, especially with the departure of Nigel Johnson.
Dienhart: The biggest Big Ten name to make a decision on deadline day on Wednesday was Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. Despite some murmurs that the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year may opt to come back to West Lafayette for this junior season, the big fella opted to stay in the draft despite perhaps not even being a first-round pick. Regardless of his draft projection, Swanigan’s stock doesn’t figure to be any higher than it is now. So, why come back when all you can do is diminish your value?
Even with “Biggie” gone, the Boilermakers still look like an NCAA tourney team. Matt Painter’s squad will be anchored by four seniors, including two who tested the NBA draft waters in Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards. Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson also are back for their final seasons, along with emerging sophomore-to-be Carsen Edwards. And wing Nojel Eastern heads a fine recruiting class.
Roux: The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year got Boilers fans hopes up a bit, as he waited until the eleventh hour to ultimately make the decision to go pro. Most had assumed he would likely leave at the end of his sophomore season, but rumors of a potential return swirled as the decision deadline drew near. Biggie chose to take his game to the biggest stage in the end. Despite losing Swanigan, Purdue should be very solid next season with Edwards and Haas returning alongside other core pieces from last season’s conference title-winning squad. Michigan State will get much of the preseason hype, but the Boilers rightfully believe they’ve got a good chance to defend their title.
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