The deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft passed on Wednesday and a few of the Big Ten decisions went down to the wire. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the four players who had decisions to make after the NBA Draft Combine, and now we know what those players chose.
I sort of nailed my predictions for the four players in my previous column (although I only actually gave a definite prediction for two of them). Two players are staying in the draft while the other two are returning to school.
The biggest name of the group was the last one to make his decision: Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan is staying in the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-9, 247-pound forward/center is projected to be taken at No. 40 by DraftExpress.com.
Swanigan was the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year after putting up 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 52.7 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from 3 and 78.1 percent from the free-throw line for a 27-8 (14-4) Purdue squad. Had Swanigan returned, Purdue could have been at least a top 15 team and perhaps even better.
As it is, Purdue is still a fringe top 25 team (CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish has the Boilermakers at 25) and that seems about right with everything they bring back. Matt Painter loses his best player but returns his next six top scorers and adds a recruiting class headlined by a 4-star prospect in wing Nojel Easton.
Projected depth chart:
- PG: Dakota Mathias (SR)
- SG: PJ Thompson (SR), Ryan Cline (JR), Sasha Stefanovic (FR)
- SF: Carsen Edwards (SO), Nojel Easton (FR), Aaron Wheeler (FR), Grady Eifert (JR)
- PF: Vince Edwards (SR), Eden Ewing (JR)
- C: Isaac Haas (SR), Jacquil Taylor (JR), Matt Haarms (FR)
Swanigan was a big loss, but they have the 7-foot-2 monster Isaac Haas to step in at center and Vince Edwards has always been more effective at power forward than small forward. Carsen Edwards had a very productive freshman season (10.3 points per game) and could improve his efficiency with a full year under his belt.
On the other end of the spectrum, Maryland’s Justin Jackson has decided to return for his sophomore season after doing well at the NBA Combine. Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward, was Maryland’s second leading scorer last season at 10.5 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from 3 and grabbing 6.0 boards per game. He likely would have been a second round pick with a chance of sneaking into the first had he remained in the draft, but DraftExpress has Jackson at No. 21 in its 2018 mock draft.
Jackson was one of three freshmen who started for the Terrapins last season and with all three back in addition to four other rotation players returning, two incoming freshmen and a graduate transfer big man, the Terps should have a strong squad despite Melo Trimble leaving to go pro.
Projected Depth Chart:
- PG: Anthony Cowan (SO)
- SG: Dion Wiley (JR), Darryl Morsell (FR)
- SF: Kevin Huerter (SO), Jared Nickens (SR)
- PF: Justin Jackson (SO), Ivan Bender (JR), Joshua Tomaic (SO)
- C: Michal Cekovsky (SR), Sean Obi (SR), Bruno Fernando (SR)
Maryland may not be a top three team in the Big Ten like it was a season ago, but it should still be a top-half team in the conference and should make another run at a NCAA Tournament berth.
The final two players both are from the same school, Michigan, and the news was both positive and negative for the Wolverines. First, sophomore forward/center Moritz Wagner withdrew his name from the draft. Wagner, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound stretch five, was not likely to be taken in this year’s draft and thus returned to Michigan. DraftExpress has him at No. 59 in its 2018 mock draft.
Wagner averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from 3 and 72.6 percent from the line. With its top two scorers in Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin exhausting their eligibility, Wagner is the most productive returning Wolverine.
The bad news is that sophomore forward DJ Wilson decided to stay in the draft, DraftExpress has the 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward at No. 30 in its 2017 mock draft. Wilson put up 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from 3 and 83.3 percent from the line. Losing him is a big blow to Michigan as he was poised to make a big jump as a junior and could have formed one of the better frontcourts in the Big Ten alongside Wagner.
Projected Depth Chart:
- PG: Jaaron Simmons (SR), Xavier Simpson (SO), Eli Brooks (FR)
- SG: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (JR), Jordan Poole (FR)
- SF: Charles Matthews (SO), Ibi Watson (SO)
- PF: Duncan Robinson (SR), Austin Davis (FR), Isaiah Livers (FR)
- C: Moritz Wagner (JR), Jon Teske (FR)
Even without Wilson, Michigan should still be a formidable team again, especially with the addition of Ohio graduate transfer point guard Jaaron Simmons and with Kentucky transfer guard Charles Matthews coming off his redshirt year. With Duncan Robinson and Wagner, Michigan will have one of the best shooting frontcourts in the conference and perhaps the country.
Ohio State wing Kam Williams also withdrew his name from the draft on Wednesday. However, he was in no danger of staying in the draft unless he was interested in playing overseas next year. Williams was sixth in scoring on a 17-15 squad last year.
The news on Wednesday was a mixed bag for the Big Ten, but despite losing two big names the conference has a chance to be pretty deep. This doesn’t even factor in what should be a stacked Michigan State team who also benefited from a draft decision as projected lottery pick Miles Bridges decided to return for his sophomore year well before the deadline.
Minnesota and Northwestern also return almost everyone. Parrish has the Spartans at No. 3, the Golden Gophers at No. 14 and the Wildcats at No. 15. Wisconsin lost most of its starting lineup but returns Ethan Happ who should be the favorite alongside Bridges for Big Ten Player of the Year.
The Huskers are going to have to take some big strides forward if they want to make some noise next season.
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.