Four teams begin play Wednesday in the first-ever 14-team Big Ten Tournament. Besides having poor conference records, three of those teams' rosters have something in common.
Rutgers, Penn State and Minnesota do not get much production out of their junior class even though the Big Ten's recruiting haul in 2012 was one of the most star-studded in recent history.
In fact, the main reason Nebraska joined those three teams in the tournament's first round today is because all four of its juniors severely under-performed this season. What a disappointment for a squad which appeared to have the second-best collection of talent in the class behind Michigan during the 2013-14 season.
Despite losing a number of star players to the NBA, seven juniors were among the Big Ten's first, second, or third-team honorees on Monday. Last season, with Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Glenn Robinson III and others still in school, the current junior class placed six members on that same list.
Sam Dekker and A.J. Hammons, two of the most talented players to join the league in 2012, finally asserted themselves with consistency and toughness this season. Heck, even Jarrod Uthoff emerged as one of the more important players in the league. And just like a year ago, an injured Wolverine was too unhealthy to garner any accolades while remaining one of the league's best pro prospects (Mitch McGary then, Caris LeVert now).
If you divided the All-Big Ten teams and honorable mentions by class eligibility, it's clear the junior class is still stacked. They are an all-conference first team all by themselves, even with the injuries, letdowns and early entries.
|1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team|
|Kaminsky (Wisc)||Trice (MSU)||Ferrell (Ind)||Uthoff (Iowa)||Hayes (Wisc)||Irvin (Mich)||Russell (OSU)||Edwards (Pur)|
|White (Iowa)||Hollins (Minn)||Hammons (Pur)||Layman (Mary)||Hill (Illi)||Jok (Iowa)||Trimble (Mary)||Mason (Minn)|
|Wells (Mary)||Octeus (Pur)||Dekker (Wisc)||Davis (Pur)||Williams (Ind)||Nunn (Illi)||Blackmon (Ind)||Haas (Pur)|
|Newbill (PSU)||Rice (Illi)||Valentine (MSU)||Demps (NW)||Koenig (Wisc)||Loving (OSU)||Tate (OSU)||Dawkins (Mich)|
|Dawson (MSU)||Walker (Minn)||Petteway (Neb)||Olah (NW)||Stephens (Pur)||Hartman (Ind)||McIntosh (NW)||Johnson (Ind)|
Last summer's NBA Draft completed an exodus of star power from the Big Ten that began with early departure declarations in April. The league retained plenty of talent -- perceived to be enough to maintain its perch at the top of the college basketball landscape for another season -- but the losses presented an opportunity for a shakeup of the balance of power in the Big Ten.
The shakeup was rockier than the conference anticipated. Notable contenders like Michigan and Nebraska fell off the map with a handful of embarrassing losses early. Michigan State and Iowa also struggled mightily at times. According to Ken Pomeroy's numbers, the Big Ten slumped from being the top-rated conference to being fourth and holding only a small edge ($) over the SEC.
A key transfer and the addition of Maryland pumped up the depth of the senior class' talent level, but the lack of stars in last year's freshman class was concerning. If you broke down last year's All-Big Ten honorees by their respective class also, you could have forecasted a down year for the league. Outside of Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes and either Zak Irvin or Derrick Walton at Michigan, the class was full of unknowns.
|1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team||1st team||2nd team|
|Marble (Iowa)||Appling (MSU)||Kaminsky (Wisc)||An. Hollins (Minn)||Stauskas (Mich)*||Dekker (Wisc)||Vonleh (Ind)*||Irvin (Mich)|
|Payne (MSU)||Brust (Wisc)||Rice (Illi)||Mathieu (Minn)||LeVert (Mich)||Hammons (Pur)||Hayes (Wisc)||Smotherman (Pur)|
|Craft (OSU)||Au. Hollins (Minn)||Ross (OSU)*||Gasser (Wisc)||Harris (MSU)*||Robinson (Mich)*||Walton (Mich.)||Hill (Illi)|
|Frazier (PSU)||Sheehey (Ind)||Newbill (PSU)||Jackson (Wisc)||Petteway (Neb)||Valentine (MSU)||Stephens (Pur)||Kaminski (MSU)|
|Crawford (NW)||Smith (OSU)||White (Iowa)||Dawson (MSU)||Ferrell (Ind)||Shields (Neb)||Nunn (Illi)||Williams (Ind)|
Considering the emergence of Frank Kaminsky, last year's senior class doesn't seem as good as this year's in retrospect. Adreian Payne, Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron Craft and Tim Frazier were a few of the household names lost to graduation in 2014. Several successful teams, Wisconsin included, said goodbye to an integral role player or two.
Inevitably, though, the best players in the best conferences are going to leave early. No one can fault Noah Vonleh for moving on. However, last season in particular, some of the other decisions to leave school were unfortunately "forced" (McGary), dubious (Robinson III), reckless (LaQuinton Ross) or downright strange (have you forgotten that this guy went PRO??)
Overall, the Wolverines and Spartans were hit the hardest by departures. Had both teams maintained their recent level of play, the Big Ten wouldn't be in a position to be disrespected nationally. Though the Spartans rallied for the No. 3 seed in the conference tourney, only the top two seeds (No. 6 Wisconsin & No. 8 Maryland) are ranked in the latest AP poll.
With the attrition in the loaded sophomore class, younger guys got their chance this season. But there wasn't a host of underexposed talent ready to fill in the gaps. Players like Malcolm Hill and Bronson Koenig seized their opportunities; guys like Loving and Irvin didn't grow as much as expected.
Fresh faces & missed opportunities
Meanwhile, incoming freshmen were expected to play important roles for several Big Ten teams. With few exceptions, though, league members didn't do a great job of recruiting the bumper crop of talent around them in the 2014 class.
Despite the existence of impressive talent in Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana last recruiting cycle, almost none of the big names in this class matriculated to the Big Ten.
- Franchise big men Jahlil Okafor (No. 1 in 247 Composite rankings) and Cliff Alexander (No. 3) from Chicago opted for blue bloods Duke and Kansas respectively. It is not unusual for the Windy City to send its best to national powers, but Tyler Ulis (No. 19) and Paul White (No. 54) also went out of state.
- New Gophers coach Richard Pitino had no real shot at Minnesota's "Big Three" of Tyus Jones (No. 8), Rashard Vaughn (No. 12) and Reid Travis (No. 37), but also lost J.P. Macura (No. 101) to Xavier. By the way, Chris Mack and Xavier are basically Midwestern recruiting assassins vs. the Big Ten.
- Indiana got a pair of early commitments from top in-state talent in 2014, but both decommitted. Tom Crean eventually hung onto the biggie, James Blackmon, Jr. (No. 20), but Blackmon's three AAU teammates from Spiece Indy Heat did not follow suit. Trey Lyles (No. 10) decommitted in favor of Kentucky, Jaquan Lyle (No. 33) already switched loyalties from Louisville to Oregon to Ohio State after reclassifying, and Trevon Bluiett (No. 40) signed with Xavier.
In addition, top-rated Kevon Looney (No. 11) escaped Milwaukee, Wisconsin for UCLA.
The Big Ten's highest-rated recruit this fall, D'Angelo Russell (No. 16), was from Florida. Russell has proven to be so good for OSU, he's likely now a one-and-done. So the aforementioned Lyle is really his replacement. Ohio State still recruits with the best of them, especially when they have a mass of scholarships available.
It's a good thing too, because you don't see any other Buckeyes cracking the first teams of the All-Big Ten teams this year. Picked to finish third in the Big Ten in the preseason, OSU brought back many familiar faces in Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Marc Loving, but nothing spectacular.
Life has been tougher for Tom Izzo and John Beilein, as not many Top 100 recruits come out of Michigan anymore (insert sad trombone noise for "old Detroit" here). Kentucky (SG Devin Booker, No. 22) and Louisville (PF Jaylen Johnson, No. 86) split the only two such prospects in 2014.
Big Ten schools can no longer escape the reality of the transfer epidemic. So rather than fight it, we saw conference teams embrace it by seeking out talented pieces to add to their roster. Calling the results mixed at this point would be fairly generous though.
Temple grad Anthony Lee was expected to make a run at all-conference recognition as a Buckeye, but the big man was overhyped and battled injury. Lee really made no impact for an Ohio State team desperate for interior help. The Buckeyes are surely hoping for better production when redshirting freshman Trevor Thompson, formerly of Virginia Tech, becomes eligible next year. Those two pickups by OSU on the secondary market are just part of a larger wave of players into the conference.
Another eligible grad, former Colorado State guard Jon Octeus, was a very late addition to Purdue's roster and has been the best of the transfer crowd. Junior Bryan Forbes has made 59-of-138 (42.8%) three-pointers for Michigan State after leaving Cleveland State. On the other hand, Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) was dismissed by John Groce at Illinois and teammate Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) saw his role in the backcourt shrink in favor of younger players.
Maryland essentially traded Charles Mitchell for Georgia Tech big man Robert Carter last summer; Carter will be available in the fall after sitting out his junior season. Joining the talented Mr. Carter on the sidelines this past season was Eron Harris, the West Virginia gunner who signed with the Spartans. Both players will be fourth-year juniors in the Big Ten next season. Their teams are hoping for more success than this past season's crop of transfers.
Outlook for the future
Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State signed Top 15 recruiting classes for next fall, and Wisconsin will join that group if the Badgers can land Diamond Stone. The Spartans boast the top incoming prospect in powerful 6'8" forward Deyonta Davis. As of today, the Big Ten has seven of the Top 50 recruiting classes in 2015, same as last season.
It is unknown how many of the talented juniors will return for their swan song. If Yogi Ferrell, Dekker, Hammons and LeVert all leave early, the ranks will be thinned again. The class behind them needs to step up.
More transfer announcements are likely, but next year's group looks promising. More importantly, a bevy of young point guards led by Melo Trimble and junior-to-be Bronson Koenig puts the conference in good hands next year.