NBA decisions good news for Big Ten hoops

Published Apr. 10, 2012 3:15 p.m. ET

Many of the big names are coming back.

Another big year should be in store for Big Ten basketball in 2012-13.

The annual offseason ritual of college basketball underclassmen departing school for the NBA Draft has been kind to the Big Ten as just two players have announced their plans to enter the draft so far, and both — Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Illinois' Leonard Myers — were expected to do so.

Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas announced last week he will return for his junior season, and Michigan point guard Trey Burke announced the same on Monday. Thomas could be the Big Ten's leading scorer next season, and Burke figures to battle Ohio State's Aaron Craft for the right to be called the league's best point guard.

The Big Ten was regarded as the nation's best conference last season and will have a chance to be even deeper next winter.

Indiana's Cody Zeller and Christian Watford announced Tuesday that they plan to return to school for next season. Zeller, a freshman, led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounds with 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last year. Watford, a junior, averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and hit the game-winning shot in the Hoosiers' regular-season win over eventual national champion Kentucky. The Hoosiers were one of four Big Ten teams to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Kentucky.

Indiana is almost certain to open next season as a top-five team in the national rankings and could be No. 1. The Hoosiers bring back their top five scorers, should welcome Maurice Creek back from injury and are bringing in an outstanding recruiting class.

With Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. returning to the Michigan backcourt, the Wolverines could be a preseason top-10 team as well.

Four of the Big Ten's top five scorers are gone, but only one by early NBA entry. Nos. 6-8 are coming back, as are 14 of the league's top 20 rebounders from last season. Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe is eligible to return for a sixth season after sitting out almost all of last year with a knee injury. Mbakwe was the league's leading rebounder in 2010-11.

Penn State guard Tim Frazier is the league's leading returning scorer at 18.8 points per game. Frazier also averaged a Big Ten-best 6.2 assists.

The Big Ten should again be full of outstanding point guards. Craft and Burke are the headliners at that position, but Michigan State returns Keith Appling; Minnesota returns Andre Hollins; and Indiana is bringing in Yogi Ferrell, the 34th best prospect nationally in the class of 2012, according to ranks three Big Ten recruiting classes among the top 10 nationally —  Indiana at No. 3, Michigan at No. 7 and Michigan State at No. 10 — with Indiana's Mr. Basketball and Michigan State wing recruit Gary Harris (No. 11 by and Michigan big man Mitch McGary (No. 21) the headliners. Ohio State is among the finalists for Georgia big man Tony Parker (No. 20), who's due to decide within the next two weeks.

With Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green graduating, Harris should immediately fill a scoring void for the Spartans. Appling averaged 11.4 points per game as a sophomore last year and was a third-team All-Big Ten pick.

Ohio State returns three starters and its top three reserves from last season. Craft will be in his third-year starting, Thomas should again provide scoring both from the perimeter and the paint, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. proved he could score last season, his first as a starter.