Normally, by now I’m well into spring previews of the Big Ten. However, with the changes in draft procedures and transfer decisions (both coming and going) seemingly dragging out longer than ever before, I’m inclined to hold off until around the end of this month, because so many teams are in flux.
Right now, I don’t see anyone in the conference who looks like a surefire national title contender (last year, I thouhgt IU, Maryland and MSU all appeared to have that potential). I do see several teams which should be good and the conference title race should be competitive. So many decisions to come over the next few weeks could seriously impact the balance of power in the league, though.
Only a couple of major recruiting (HS and JUCO types, at least) decisions appear to be out there. MSU is apparently still in the mix for top 100 C Taurean Thompson. He’d add depth to a team which got a big boost in that department yesterday via UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter. There’s also G Markell Johnson. Johnson has been playing AAU this spring with King James but just announced he’s reclassifying to 2016, so all of a sudden he’s a viable name on the market. Johnson is a guy MSU had interest in a year or two ago but that seemed to fade away, and in my judgment, rightly so. I saw him last spring and though he’s clearly an outstanding athlete, I didn’t love his game at the point and he’s only 6’1″. Now, reportedly he’s been very impressive this spring, so maybe he’s turned things around in terms of decision making, creating for others, shooting, etc. Anyway, Ohio State is reportedly in the mix for him and they could definitely use more guard help.
There almost certainly will be some grad transfer decisions to come but at least in terms of guys who have made themselves available thus far, there don’t look to be a lot of major additions available. That’s why MSU landing Carter was so big, because I just don’t see a lot of good Plan B’s out there if they’d missed.
There are still 10 draft decisions out there to be made, Big Ten guys who declared but haven’t hired an agent. Quick thoughts on these guys and their impact…
10. Corey Sanders, Rutgers Sanders wasn’t invited to the NBA combine. I would think he returns to Rutgers and reportedly there has been good dialogue between he and the new coaching staff to that effect. RU is a long, long way from being even a credible program but Sanders is one legitimate talent they have and could use in trying to make that climb.
9. Trevor Thompson, Ohio State – A weird decision on his part in the first place, IMO. WIth Daniel Giddens transferring, Thompson seems set to get big minutes for the Bucks. Again, I would think he comes back.
8. Andrew White III, Nebraska – Big, big decision for Nebraska. I actually like the young guys Tim Miles brought in last year. Nosuperstars but several players he can build with as the Huskers try to establish some consistency. Yet, they need a go-to scorer and White is that guy. Didn’t get a combine invite.
7. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana – Again, no combine invite. Though IU improved after he got hurt, I think he’s a big key for them now that Yogi Ferrell has graduated. Yes, there are defensive issues but all of a sudden IU’s guard group looks a little bit thin without him in the mix.
6. Vince Edwards, Purdue – A key guy for Purdue. His return might even be moreimportant than Swanigan IMO, because he’s a perfect 3/4 swing guy for the modern game. No combine invite.
5. Peter Jok, Iowa –Again, no combine invite. Iowa loses a lot (every starter but him) but could be respectable if he returns. With him, the Hawks have a potential First Team All Big Ten guy who could easily be an 18-20 point scorer next season. Without him, it’s hard to see where they get enough offense generated to be an NCAA Tournament caliber team.
4. Troy Williams, Indiana – Would IU be better if he’s back? Yeah, sure they would. However, they’ve got guys who can play his 4 spot and maybe it might even be a situation where they improve without him, because Troy is maddeningly inconsistent. He has been invited to the combine and reportedly has already graduated (hats off to him for that), so I think it’s pretty clearly going to be about whether he thinks he’ll get picked and where.
3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue –He did get a combine invite and I saw an interview with him the other day where it sure came across as if he wants nothing more than to turn pro. Yet, it’s just difficult to imagine him impressing enough people to get anywhere close to the 1st round and if you’re not a 1st rounder, why are you going unless you just hate being in college? Maybe he does. If Purdue gets Edwards back, I think they could survive Swanigan leaving and I sort of think he’s going to go no matter what feedback he gets. Just a hunch.
2. Melo Trimble, Maryland – He wasn’t as good as I think anyone expected him to be last year and to me, he often played as if his head was somewhere else (i.e. somewhere he’d be drawing a paycheck). I don’t know if that was the case, but appearances suggested an unfocused guy. He too has a combine invite and he definitely has talent, but is it all enough to get him a 1st round grade? Does he even want to come back to Maryland if he doesn’t? Even taking into account his inconsistent play last year, he’s clearly a difference maker for the Terps if he returns.
1. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin – Hayes also got a combine invite. He’s apparently indicated he’s likely to come back to Madison and I would guess that’s the case as well…but I have to say, in a Draymond Green world, I can see why NBA people might be intrigued by a guy with his particular attributes. Now, he’s not Day Day and he likely never will be that level of player, but Hayes has shown defensive versatility, he’s a good and willing passer, he has wingspan that allows him to play a bit bigger than his listed height, and he has the potential to continue to develop his jumper. With him, I’d make the Badgers the Big Ten favorite heading into nextseason. Without him…they’re not, simple as that.