Uncertainty ball. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The deadline for putting one's name into the NBA Draft has come and gone, so we now enter the period of uncertainty as players who didn't hire agents go through the pre-draft process before deciding whether to return to school. The Big Ten already has several notable early entrants who will hire agents and stay in the draft, including Moe Wagner and the duo of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges at Michigan State. (Also, uh, Nebraska's Jack McVeigh?)
Even more are testing the waters without an agent, including Charles Matthews, and those decisions will go a long way towards determining the Big Ten outlook for 2018-19. College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster put together a list of the most influential early entry decisions from a college hoops perspective; of the 12 teams listed, five are from the B1G, and two of those teams (Maryland and Nebraska) have two players with NBA choices to make.
Here's a look at who's gone, who's testing, and how the draft could impact the conference standings next season.
Gone For Sure
These players have declared and will hire an agent, locking them into the draft.
F Leron Black — A big loss for an Illinois team that relied heavily on Black's scoring and rebounding. The Illini have some decent young talent and a solid incoming class but this is a setback for Brad Underwood after a rough first year. As for Black, he's probably going undrafted.
F Justin Jackson — Jackson had the misfortune of getting injured after coming back for his sophomore season, and he'd already been off to a stock-hurting start. Still, he's a talented player who made a solid impact as a freshman, and the Terps could be losing a lot depending on a couple other draft decisions.
C Moe Wagner — I don't need to tell you about the impact of this one for Michigan—we've covered it extensively and there will be plenty more to come. Wagner is currently a late first- or second-round prospect who's considered a safe pick without a ton of upside (his defense remains a sticking point).
F Miles Bridges and F Jaren Jackson Jr. — Bridges was overdue to enter and probably slipped a few spots in a loaded draft year because he returned to jack up 25-footers over a 2-3 zone. Jackson, after taking a strangely long time to make a decision that seemed quite obvious after that Syracuse game, made the obvious choice—he could go as high as #3 overall. Both are obviously major losses for an MSU team that may end up starting Kenny Goins at the four. They could lose the third member of their starting frontcourt, too.
F Jack McVeigh — Is not an NBA prospect, to be frank. He barely played for the Huskers this year after being useful rotation piece in his first two seasons. Nebraska's fates are much more closely tied to the decisions of two players who haven't hired agents.
F Keita Bates-Diop — An expected departure as KBD put together a Player of the Year-caliber junior season that earned him first-round projections. The Bucks also lose Jae'Sean Tate and Kam Williams from the starting lineup. They're set to drop back after a shockingly good first year under Chris Holtmann.
PG Tony Carr — Remember that brief moment when Penn State was a dark horse conference title contender for 2018-19? It's over now. Pat Chambers still has a team that could make some noise but they're going to have a very tough time replacing Carr's high-usage, high-efficiency offense. Carr should go in the second round.
PG Corey Sanders — A huge loss for Rutgers, as Sanders dragged that offense out of the KenPom 300s in efficiency the last couple years by taking all the bad shots he could handle and making a respectable number of them given the circumstances. While bad-shot-making is an NBA trait, Sanders isn't expected to be drafted.
[Hit THE JUMP for the water-testers.]
Up In The Air
Maryland has a lot riding on two decisions. [Paul Sherman]
These players have declared for the draft without hiring an agent, allowing them to go through the NBA combine (if they're invited) and team workouts to determine their stock before choosing whether to keep their name in the draft.
F Tyler Cook and G Isaiah Moss — Neither player makes the ESPN (formerly DraftExpress) top 100 list, so returns from one or both seem likely. Cook isn't enough of a rim protector to be the small-ball center he'd have to be at the NBA level while Moss could show more shooting efficiency—defense is also a question for both given how horrid Iowa was on that end this season. Iowa is hoping to push for the bubble with these guys; they'd be in rough shape without them.
F Juwan Morgan — Another player outside the top 100, but unlike the Iowa duo, I could see Morgan catching the eye of some NBA teams as a potential second-rounder. As a junior, he's in a position where his draft stock probably won't get higher no matter what he does in his final season in college; it wouldn't shock me if Morgan leaves, and that'd be a massive blow to the Hoosiers.
C Bruno Fernando and F Kevin Huerter — Maryland is arguably the team with the most to lose in the draft. They have a strong recruiting class coming in and would contend for the conference title if Fernando and Huerter come back. While Huerter is the better college player—an ideal college stretch four—it's the jacked-up Fernando who intrigues NBA scouts more. Fernando also has some extra incentive to leave; he's tangentially connected to the FBI probe. While the Terps have a five-star center on the way, Jalen Smith is listed at 6'10", 195 pounds—he may need some time before he's making an impact in the paint like Fernando, and by that time he may be eyeing the NBA, too.
F Charles Matthews — Again, you generally know the story here. Matthews is either projected as a second-rounder or a 2019 prospect most places. When The Athletic's Brendan Quinn poked around for pre-draft evaluations, Matthews' choice was laid out in clear terms:
It will be up to Matthews whether he wants that development to occur at the next level or at Michigan. Each evaluator who spoke to The Athletic, including an NBA G League executive, projected him as an undrafted free agent.
“Basically, he’s got a decision to make,” the assistant GM said. “He can choose to play at Michigan next year and continue to grow and have playing time or he could be maybe playing in the G League next year. The differences are really wide between the two of them.”
You never know, but given that choice, I'd expect Matthews to return. If he leaves, Iggy Brazdeikis likely gets thrust into a starting role from the get-go, and the offense would lean heavily on Jordan Poole for shot creation. If Matthews comes back, Michigan should be the conference favorites heading into next season; it gets murkier if he bolts.
F Nick Ward — I'm just gonna say it: Poor Damn Nick Ward. After Tom Izzo spent two years toying with Ward and often sitting him for lesser players, Ward doesn't have much in the way of draft stock—he'd likely go undrafted—but he also doesn't have a ton of incentive to return to East Lansing. The problem is he'd have to sit a year if he transfers to another school, which would really be the ideal scenario for Ward—go somewhere he'll be allowed play enough to show scouts he can be dominant over long stretches. Perhaps there should be a waiver for coaching malpractice.
If Ward leaves in whatever fashion, State is scarily thin up front and hoping hard for breakout years from Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid.
F James Copeland and F James Palmer — If Maryland has the most riding on draft decisions as a team, Tim Miles may have the most riding on draft decisions as an individual, despite his recent one-year extension. It wasn't long ago that Miles was on the hot seat and if both Copeland and Palmer leave, there's almost nothing left from last season's roster aside from Isaiah Roby and Glynn Watson. Dauster laid out the stakes and why Copeland and Palmer could decide to leave even if their stock isn't high:
They are a borderline top 25 team that should get Tim Miles back to the NCAA tournament. They are also both transfers that might opt to turn professional with a degree in hand, and if that were to happen, the Cornhuskers are going to be heading back into rebuilding mode.
Actually, I've changed my mind. Nebraska has the most riding on this year's draft.
G Carsen Edwards and G Nojel Eastern — Edwards may have the single toughest decision of the players listed here. While he's currently listed as a second-round pick, he's a player I suspect will see his stock rise—this is a draft light on shooting guards and Edwards is a modern NBA off-guard with some point guard skills. On the other hand, he'd be the featured player on a team that lost every other starter if he comes back—that could be a very good or very bad thing for his 2019 draft standing depending on how he performs.
Eastern, meanwhile, is an oversized combo guard who can't shoot, so I expect he'll be told in no uncertain terms that he needs more seasoning.
C Ethan Happ — Continue trying to drag what's quickly become a glorified MAC team outside of Happ to the NCAA Tournament or hope a team likes Happ's all-around game enough to use a second-round pick on a player who may not fit well in the modern NBA? That's the choice Happ faces, and it'll determine whether the Badgers bounce back from a disastrous 2017-18 season or continue to linger in the bottom half of the conference.
This is a really wide open conference next year in largely the same way it was this year—it's going to be a relative down year for the Big Ten—except there isn't an preseason top-ten team like last year's MSU and Purdue outside of (gulp) maybe Michigan. Every contender has already taken a significant hit or could take one before the May 30th deadline to withdraw. It's wide open at the top, and even if Matthews leaves, I like Michigan's chances in the conference next year, especially if Maryland loses at least one of Huerter and Fernando.