The deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to school passed on Wednesday and all but one of the Big Ten players who were still testing the waters chose to return for another year of college basketball.
The one player who chose to remain in the draft was Maryland’s Kevin Huerter, a 6-foot-7 wing who averaged 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists last year for the Terrapins. Huerter is likely to be selected in the first round come June 21 after impressing at the NBA Combine with his athleticism and savvy play.
The Terps went 1-for-2 with Draft decisions as center Bruno Fernando chose to return to College Park for his sophomore year. Huerter’s decision will have a big impact on the Big Ten landscape in 2018-19.
Maryland is set up to make a big jump next season with Fernando back along with Anthony Cowan, one of the most productive point guards in the league. Add a top-10 recruiting class featuring a 5-star big man and a pair of 4-star guards and Maryland has as much talent as anyone in the league. With Huerter back, the Terps very well could have been the favorite to win the league after Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all lost their best players to the Draft and Purdue lost most of its starting lineup to graduation.
Without Huerter, Maryland should still be a conference contender, but the loss of his sharp-shooting and playmaking from the wing will put more pressure on incoming freshman Aaron Wiggins to make an impact right away and on Cowan to elevate his game.
Michigan lost its top two players after Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman exhausted his eligibility and Moritz Wagner entered the draft and signed with an agent, but the Wolverines got good news on Wednesday as Charles Matthews withdrew from the draft. He was one of the last Big Ten players to make a decision, but with his return John Beilein will have a roster on his hands that can compete with anyone.
Matthews, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Kentucky, had a great nonconference before falling off a bit in Big Ten play. However, he’s arguably the most explosive athlete in the conference and with an improved jumper he could play himself onto the 2019 NBA Draft radar with a strong junior season.
Sharp-shooting guard Jordan Poole and versatile forward Isaiah Livers both impressed as true freshman and are poised for bigger roles next season while Zavier Simpson, perhaps the best defensive point guard in the league, is back to run the show. Add quality role players like 7-footer Jon Teske and back-up point guard Eli Brooks plus a freshman class that includes four 4-star prospects plus Austin Davis coming off a redshirt year and Michigan has a deep and balanced roster.
Michigan State lost most of its frontcourt with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges (both projected lottery picks) signing with agents along with a couple others exhausting their eligibility. However, after testing the waters, center Nick Ward withdrew from the draft on Tuesday and will return for his junior season. Ward is undersized but incredibly efficient around the basket and a strong rebounder. Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman are back as well and Tom Izzo signed 4-star forward Marcus Bingham Jr. and 3-star center Thomas Kithier to bolster the frontcout depth.
Tum-Tum Nairn’s leadership and defense will be missed at the point guard spot, but his production was minimal and the rest of Sparty’s backcourt rotation returns. Cassius Winston led the league in assists and 3-point shooting as a sophomore, Joshua Langford is a dynamic scorer on the wing and combo-guard Matt McQuaid is back for his senior season. Izzo signed a pair of 4-stars in Foster Loyer and Gabe Brown and a 3-star in Aaron Henry (a Husker target at one point) to round out the backcourt. Michigan State lacks the top-end talent it had last year with Bridges and Jackson, but it has plenty of experience now and a jump by Winston or Langford could keep the Spartans at the top of the conference.
Purdue lost four starters to graduation and should take a step back next season, but Tuesday’s news of Carsen Edwards withdrawing from the draft should help ease that blow. Edwards was one of the best guards in the conference as a sophomore last season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after putting up 18.5 points per game. Nojel Eastern, a 4-star recruit in 2017 who gained experience off the bench last season, also tested the waters before announcing his return to school on Wednesday. The Boilermakers need the 6-foot-6 guard to make a big leap as a sophomore to complement Edwards, defensive-minded 7-footer Matt Haarms and sharp-shooter Ryan Cline, Purdue’s top returners.
Juwan Morgan was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten this season and after testing the waters, he is set to return to Indiana for his senior season. Morgan put up 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds last season during Archie Miller’s first season in Bloomington. With Morgan’s return, Indiana should have one of the deepest front courts in the league. De’Ron Davis is a solid option at center if he returns to full strength after tearing his Achilles tendon in January. Justin Smith and Race Thompson were 4-star recruits last season; Smith was very productive in a reserve role while Thompson redshirted. Add in Clifton Moore, a 3-star recruit ranked just outside the top 150 in 2017, 2018 3-star recruit Jake Forrester and St. Mary’s graduate transfer Evan Fitzner and the Hoosiers have plenty of options to play with.
In the backcourt, only Devonte Green And Aljami Durham return after playing supporting roles behind seniors Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk, but Miller did some serious work on the recruiting trail. He brought in 5-star guard and legendary Indiana high school scorer Rome Langford, 4-star point guard Robert Phinisee and 4-star wings Jerome Hunter and Damezi Anderson. After going 16-15 last season, Indiana has the talent to vault itself into contention if the freshmen are ready to make an immediate impact.
Ethan Happ, the All-Big Ten performer and former All-American for Wisconsin, tested the waters as well, and all signs point to him having every intention of sticking in the draft. However, after not receiving a Combine invitation and failing to receive the feedback he seemingly hoped for, Happ is headed back to Wisconsin for his senior season.
As talented and productive as Happ is on both ends of the court, the supporting cast around him was not quite what fans have seen from the Badgers the last several years and Wisconsin ended up going 15-18 last year. Brad Davison had an impressive freshman year, but he was more or less the lone bright spot outside of Happ and Greg Gard’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked 13th in the Big Ten.
Iowa was one of the most disappointing teams in a down Big Ten last season after big things were expected from a group of young Hawkeyes heading into their sophomore year. However, the loss of Peter Jok proved too much to overcome as the Hawkeyes finished 14-19 overall and 4-14 in the league with a Big Ten-worst defense.
Despite the team struggles, forward Tyler Cook and guard Isaiah Moss both had quality offensive seasons and chose to test the NBA waters. First Moss, a sharp-shooting off-guard, then Cook, a physical interior scorer, announced their decisions to return to Iowa City.
With Moss and Cook returning along with the rest of Iowa’s core plus the addition of 4-star guard Joe Wieskamp, Iowa will once again have more than enough talent to win — if they can figure out how to defend.
Previously, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop (the Big Ten Player of the Year), Penn State’s Tony Carr (the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer), Maryland’s Justin Jackson, Rutgers’ Corey Sanders and Illinois’ Leron Black all signed with agents, forfeiting their remaining eligibility.
Last but not least, we can’t forget about the Huskers, one of the biggest winners from this year’s NBA Draft deadline. The team’s top two scorers both tested the waters and they both decided to return for one more year rather than seeking professional opportunities. With that, Nebraska has 78.6 percent of its scoring, 73.4 percent of its rebounds and 74.9 percent of its assists back from a team that went 22-11 and 13-5 in the Big Ten.
A bounce-back season from Glynn Watson Jr., Jordy Tshimanga building off of his stretch run from last season and contributors emerging from the group of Thomas Allen, Nana Akenten, Thorir Thorbjarnarson and incoming freshman Amir Harris could have the Huskers poised for another top-five finish in what looks to be an improved Big Ten.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.