Well, the Big Ten didn’t get any easier over the weekend as the NCAA’s deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft passed on Monday. Out of all the decisions that came down to the wire for Big Ten players, just one chose to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft.
With the firepower returning at so many schools, as many as seven Big Ten teams are popping up in early top-25 lists. Before we get to the list of big winners from draft deadline day, there were a few players that decided early on they wouldn’t be returning to school, and all of them were big men: Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, Maryland’s Jalen Smith and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu.
Now, on to the good news.
We have to start with the team in Iowa City considering they are set to return who will be the consensus preseason national player of the year heading into 2020-21. Center Luka Garza announced on Sunday afternoon that he was returning for his senior season.
Garza was a monster this season, averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds, and he added a consistent 3-point shot to his already impressive arsenal. Now he’s back for one more run with what should be a loaded Iowa roster.
The Hawkeyes will get sharp-shooting point guard Jordan Bohannon back after multiple hip surgeries and can pair him in the backcourt with one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big Ten in shooting guard CJ Fredrick (46.1%). Add bucket-getting wing Joe Wieskamp and the Hawkeyes will be able to score with anyone in the country. They’ll also get forward Jack Nunge back after a torn ACL cost him most of last season, and he’ll step in for the departed Ryan Kriener.
Many view Iowa as a top-10 team nationally, and whether or not the Hawkeyes will be able to live up to that hype will depend on whether or not they can take strides on defense. Iowa went 20-11 in 2019-20 but was 13th in the Big Ten in opponent scoring (and 260th nationally).
Illinois Fighting Illini
Garza was the biggest name to announce his return in the last few days, but Illinois went 2-for-2 on getting guys back for 2020-21. Guard Ayo Dosunmu announced he was returning to Champaign on Friday and then center Kofi Cockburn followed suit on Saturday.
Dosunmu, a 6-foot-5 combo-guard, emerged as one of the best big-shot makers in the college game this past season and he put up 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. The 7-foot, 290-pound Kockburn was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Trent Frazier is a steady defensive presence next to Dosunmu in the backcourt while Giorgi Bezhanishvili provides another scoring option in the frontcourt next to Kockburn. Add a pair of top-50 recruits in guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo and the Illini will have plenty of firepower.
Illinois lost Andres Feliz and Alan Griffin from a 21-10 team but with four of its top six back plus a strong recruiting class Illinois will look to take a step forward and challenge for the Big Ten title.
Michigan State Spartans
The news was mixed but not unexpected for Michigan State as do-it-all wing Aaron Henry announced his intention to return to East Lansing while center Xavier Tillman Sr. opted to remain in the draft.
There’s no doubt that Tillman’s departure is a big blow to Michigan State. He was one of the best defensive players in college basketball this past season and averaged a double-double with 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. However, Michigan State has some depth in the front court in guys like Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier and Julius Marble as well as 4-star recruit Mady Sissoko and Marquette transfer Joey Hauser, a talented stretch-four, is coming off a redshirt year.
Tillman is also a married man with two kids who has already been in school for four years including a redshirt year. He can help an NBA team right now with his defensive prowess and it’s probably time for him to start cashing checks to take care of his family.
Henry, on the other hand, could benefit from a bit more seasoning and will get that opportunity with another year under Tom Izzo’s tutelage. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 10.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a sophomore.
Michigan State lost its two best players in Tillman and Cassius Winston — one of the best point guards in recent conference history — from a 22-9 team, but with Henry, Hauser, a hopefully healthy Joshua Langford and talented guard Rocket Watts heading into his sophomore year, Michigan State has a strong enough core tone again challenge for the Big ten crown.
>> Productive Minnesota point guard Marcus Carr withdrew from the draft on Friday, but despite his gaudy stats (15.4 points and 6.5 assists per game) he’s struggled with efficiency throughout his career. The Golden Gophers went 15-16 this season and that was with double-double machine Oturu (20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game), who is staying in the draft. Richard Pitino still has a lot of work to do even with Carr returning.
>> Michigan forward Isaiah Livers withdrew from the draft a couple of weeks ago and fellow wing Franz Wagner didn’t even enter in the first place, giving Juwan Howard a nice one-two punch to build around with point guard Zavier Simpson and center Jon Teske moving on. Eli Brooks is a capable scoring guard, but outside of those three the Wolverines don’t have a lot of proven production returning. A lot will come down to how 4-star center recruit Hunter Dickinson transitions to college and how Mike Smith, a prolific grad transfer from Columbia, transitions to the Big Ten.
>> Ohio State had the top-rated recruiting class in the Big Ten in 2019, but a year later two of the Buckeyes’ top three recruits in point guard DJ Carton and forward Alonzo Gaffney are gone. Guard Luther Muhammad is gone as wells are both the Wesson brothers. However, Chris Holtmann has earned the benefit of the doubt and added a big-time grad transfer in Harvard’s Seth Towns. If Towns can stay healthy and if former top-50 recruit EJ Liddell can make a leap as a sophomore, Ohio State will have a chance to be pretty good once again despite losing its leading scorer to the NBA.