Big Ten readies for changing of the guard
Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Deshaun Thomas have made it official, and now it's official that Trey Burke won't be returning.
2012-13 was a banner year for Big Ten basketball, and next season the league is going to be very, very different.
With Oladipo and Zeller joining departing seniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, Indiana loses four 1,000-point career scorers. Michigan might bring back a nice core, but will lose Burke, the national player of the year, and maybe as many as three other starters.
If Tim Hardaway Jr. chooses to leave for the NBA draft, all five players voted first-team All-Big Ten in 2012-13 will be gone. Michigan State's Adreian Payne, a second-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches, is still facing a decision, too. Payne had his best season but might benefit from staying for his senior year.
Of the 11 players on the second and third teams in the All-Big Ten coaches voting, Payne's decision will determine whether five or six of them return. Thomas was the Big Ten's leading scorer, but Ohio State brings back almost all of its other scorers. If Payne returns, Michigan State becomes next year's favorite on paper.
This was all much more fun a few weeks ago when there were actual games being played, wasn't it?
For the first time in a while, multiple Big Ten teams are dealing with multiple players facing NBA decisions. The deadline for such decisions isn't until the end of the month, but Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross has said he's coming back and the Michigan trio of Hardaway, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have said only that they need to think about it.
Over the past several days, Burke, Oladipo, Zeller and Thomas made official what we pretty much knew was coming.
For Oladipo and Thomas, the decision was easy. It may have been more complicated for Zeller given that he didn't play his best basketball late in the season, but a spot in the NBA lottery beckons. Burke is in the same spot.
McGary's emergence in the NCAA tournament made Michigan more dangerous than the Wolverines were during conference season. McGary is older than most freshmen and was a decorated recruit; like Thomas, he probably came to college thinking his stay would be a short one. Ditto Robinson and Hardaway, who have NBA bloodlines.
Ohio State has lost seven early entries to the NBA Draft since 2007, but it hasn't been happening often at other Big Ten schools. Besides those Buckeyes, only Meyers Leonard (Illinois, last year) and Eric Gordon (Indiana, 2008) have been early-entry first-round picks from the Big Ten since 2007. Darius Morris left Michigan two years ago and went in the second round, clearing the way for Burke's emergence.
Basketball at Michigan has been pretty good since. Sometimes, these decisions work out best for both parties.
In the recently completed season, the talent upgrade across the Big Ten was obvious. It can still be a very good league next year, too, especially if a couple of the Michigan players and Payne come back to school. Keith Appling and 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris also are back for Michigan State. Ohio State should be loaded, and Ross looks like a star.
That's not to mention Iowa returning its best players, talented recruits coming to Indiana, Wisconsin returning key players and getting guard Josh Gasser back from a knee injury and the possibility not only that Robinson returns to Michigan, but that he blossoms into a star. Purdue has some pieces, too, Northwestern and Minnesota have new coaches and Scout.com's 2013 recruiting rankings list Indiana's six-man incoming class as the third-best group nationally; Michigan (tie-11th) and Illinois (tie-14th) also cracked the top 25 list.
You generally don't win big with freshmen in the Big Ten (at least freshmen not named Burke or Sullinger, anyway) but as this season proved, crazy things happen in deep leagues. The Big Ten again will be a deep league. It's almost always a competitive league, and it could again prove to be one of the nation's best. It's just that the names will be different, the styles might be different and the stage figures to be open for new stars to emerge.
Get to know Ross and Harris. That Aaron Craft guy will be back for one last go-round, too. As for the rest? Stay tuned. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that nobody really knew much about guys named Oladipo and Burke.