Sixty basketball players heard their names called at last week’s NBA Draft an 51 of them came from the ranks of college basketball. None of them were Huskers, but there were several Big Ten players and one Omaha native selected, and the trends from the draft can teach us a bit about college basketball.
First of all, of the 51 collegiate players drafted, 18 of them were freshmen, 10 of them were sophomores and 11 were juniors. That means 12 of them were seniors, the second highest total by class. NBA teams certainly lean towards taking a younger player because of the perceived upside, but there is still a place in the draft for upperclassmen. That is a good sign for somebody like James Palmer Jr.
From a conference perspective, there were eight conferences that had multiple players drafted this year. The ACC led the way with 10 selections, although four of those were Duke players. Miami had two players taken and four other teams had one taken apiece.
Second was the Big Ten with eight players. Michigan and Maryland each had two players selected while Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Purdue each saw one of their players drafted. Furthermore, there were more upperclassmen (three) than freshmen (one) drafted from the Big Ten, although the sophomore class leads the way with four selections. That shouldn’t come as any surprise when you look at the 2017 recruiting classes in the Big Ten. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., taken fourth by Memphis, was the only top-50 recruit in the Big Ten last season. The league’s coaches just didn’t manage to land one-and-done recruits.
However, the sophomore class was pretty strong league-wide. Michigan State’s Miles Bridges could have been a lottery pick last season but chose to return to school for his sophomore season. He was taken 12th in the 2018 draft. Penn State’s Tony Carr was a high 4-star recruit who put up some big numbers in his two years with the Nittany Lions while Maryland’s Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson were both slightly less heralded but still 4-star prospects who showcased tools that made them very attractive to NBA teams. Michigan stretch-five Moritz Wagner and Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop out of Ohio State were the two juniors and Purdue Swiss-Army knife Vincent Edwards was the lone senior selected.
Looking ahead, the Big Ten only has two 5-star recruits joining the conference for 2018-19 in Indiana guard Romeo Langford and Maryland big man Jalen Smith. Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Indiana’s Juwan Morgan and a handful of others could put themselves on the draft radar with a good season.
The Pac-12 and SEC each had seven draft picks, the Big 12 had six, the Big East had five (four of them from Villanova and the fifth being Omaha native and Creighton guard Khyri Thomas) and the American had four. The Mountain West (Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison), the Missouri Valley (Missouri State’s Alize Johnson), the Sun Belt (UT-Arlington’s Kevin Hervey) and the Atlantic 10 (Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo) each had one player drafted.
So, if the Big Ten was the second-most well-represented team in the NBA Draft, that means the league’s talent was probably pretty solid, right? So why didn’t that translate to success on the court?
Though the 14-team Big Ten had eight players from six different teams drafted, the league only sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament last season. For comparison’s sake, the 15-team ACC with 10 draft picks from six different teams, sent nine teams to the Big Dance. The 14-team SEC had eight tournament teams and seven draft picks, the 10-team Big 12 had seven tournament teams and six draft picks and the 10-team Big East had six tournament teams and five picks. Perhaps the only league that was more disappointing than the Big Ten in terms of postseason success relative to player talent was the Pac-12, which only sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament to go with seven draft picks.
The Big Ten did pretty well in the 2018 NBA Draft, much better than it did in the 2017-18 season. Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan had strong seasons while Ohio State and Nebraska were pleasant surprises, but teams like Penn State, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa all disappointed relative to roster talent. A lot of those teams either bring back much of that talent or added quite a bit with their recruiting classes. Will history repeat itself, or is the Big Ten in store for a bounce-back 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.