Ralph Sampson III's decision to finish his career with the Gophers and remove his name from the NBA draft Sunday affected Minnesota's plans for the 2011-12 season. Similar moves by other Big Ten players also changed the outlook of their respective programs and helped shape next year's Big Ten landscape:
The NBA Draft's Impact on the Big Ten
Michigan: The Wolverines shocked the country with their success in last season's NCAA tourney. Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. formed one of the top young backcourts in the nation. The Wolverines were set to enter next season as one of the top squads in America. But Morris decided to enter and stay in the NBA draft after the season. And that changes everything for the Wolverines. A team that would have started next year as a top-15 squad and a Big Ten contender will demand an immediate contribution from incoming freshman point guard Trey Burke. But experienced players Hardaway, Zack Novak and Jordan Morgan will ease his transition. Plus, the departure of Morris clears the way for Hardaway to elevate his game and take on a bigger role for the Wolverines. Morris, however, could create and score in different ways. And as the Gophers learned, he held his own on defense. It's a big loss for the Wolverines.
NBA Draft Impact: High. Morris's move will force others to fill new roles. He was a very talented and crafty point guard for the program. Hard to replace with an incoming freshman. But the Wolverines have a lot of skill coming back.
Illinois: Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey exhausted their eligibility. But Jereme Richmond's decision to go pro was a surprise. He had every opportunity to emerge as a stud in Bruce Weber's offense. The 6-7 prospect could have been a star in the Big Ten. But the drama that came with his potential wasn't worth the hassle for the Illinois program. Plus, Weber has four four-star recruits (according to Rivals.com) joining his program next season. I don't think this team will miss Richmond. And it certainly won't miss the headaches.
NBA Draft Impact: Low. Richmond rarely played to his potential at Illinois. He was talented. But he was horrible for that program's chemistry. Illinois will be a solid young team without him next season.
Wisconsin: Jon Leuer graduated. But after Wisconsin's loss to Butler in the Sweet 16, Jordan Taylor's father suggested that the junior guard might test the NBA waters. Didn't happen. Taylor has the work ethic and skill set to play at the next level. Despite his low draft stock, mostly based on his size, Taylor could have wowed NBA scouts in workouts, a la Morris, and ended up on someone's roster. But he didn't take the risk. So the 2010-11 All-America guard returns for his senior season. He will start the year as a preseason All-America and national player of the year contender. Good news for the Badgers.
NBA Draft Impact: High. Losing Taylor would have crippled a Wisconsin offense that's relied on skillful, intelligent point guards under Bo Ryan. The Badgers should enter the 2011-12 campaign as a top-10 squad.
Northwestern: John Shurna withdrew from the NBA draft Sunday. The 6-8 forward who averaged 16.6 points per game last season (No. 8 in the Big Ten) saved Northwestern's season by returning. The loss of Juice Thompson to graduation is a significant blow for the program. Shurna and Drew Crawford, however, are one of the Big Ten's best duos. And together, they'll have a chance to push the program forward in a young Big Ten.
NBA Draft Impact: High. With Shurna, Northwestern might contend for the program's first NCAA tournament bid.
Ohio State: Oh boy. Ohio State is back. Jared Sullinger pulled an anti-Texas by fulfilling his promise to return next season. William Buford is back, too. They'll team with blossoming sophomores Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas, who might evolve into a first-rounder next year, and lead the Buckeyes back to the top of the rankings. Sullinger will be the preseason frontrunner for every national player of the year honor. And even though the Buckeyes lost three key veterans in David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale, I don't expect Ohio State to suffer much because of the talent that it will have on its roster during the 2011-12 season. Great news for Ohio State fans. Bad news for the Big Ten.
NBA Draft Impact: High. Sullinger is arguably the best player in America. And he's back for another year. That's all you need to know.
Minnesota: Ralph Sampson III's toughness has been questioned for the last three years. When he entered the NBA draft this year, many wondered if he had the tenacity to play at the next level. But those concerns can be addressed next summer. His return to the Gophers is a boost for next season. I think Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason are talented post players. But they haven't played Big Ten basketball. It's a different level. It's Sullinger, it's Draymond Green ... it's guys who play a aggressive basketball in the paint. Plus, Walker is coming off a serious knee injury. Sampson is a veteran big man who can make a jump next year. Also, Trevor Mbakwe considered the NBA draft. He decided not to enter. But the Gophers could have lost two key post players. Together, Mbakwe and Sampson will form one of the most experienced and talented frontcourts in the Big Ten. That's big for a team that adds four new players to its roster next season.
NBA Draft Impact: High. Mbakwe and Sampson will anchor the Gophers frontcourt. There are many questions about Minnesota's backcourt. But the Gophers have experience inside.