I’ll never understand this. People already are making predictions regarding next year’s Big Ten basketball race. There are several super early national Top 25 rankings out for next season. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi already is projecting the bracket for the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Why? What’s the point? Why don’t we just wait until the dust settles on this season before we start playing guessing games about the next one?
And there’s an awful lot of dust still out there, enough to make the view of the 2017-18 Big Ten season extremely cloudy.
We still don’t know exactly which players are making the jump to the NBA.
We still don’t know the destinations for those 700 to 800 Division I transfers that we have every year.
We still don’t even know if the players that schools have signed all are going to fulfill their commitments.
Top prospect Jeremiah Tilmon asked Wednesday to be released from the letter of intent he signed with Illinois. We have the Big Ten freshman of the year and several other players sitting on the fence debating whether or not they want to turn pro. And who knows which school might land a graduate transfer that might make the difference between making the NIT and a berth in the NCAA tournament?
There are a few things we do know, Big Ten-wise.
Tillmon, an athletic 6-foot-10 prodigy from East St. Louis who most figured would be Illinois’ starting center next season, has asked out despite the fact that new coach Brad Underwood retained the assistant coach, Jamall Walker, who cultivated a close relationship with Tillmon. He has left open the option of still joining the Illini, but why would you ask for your release if that was a realistic possibility?
Nebraska already has lost two fairly significant players via the transfer route with steady Ed Morrow and promising freshman Jeriah Horne announcing intentions to go elsewhere. Michigan big man Mark Donnal is going elsewhere as a graduate transfer. You can bet there will be more players heading for the exits in other Big Ten programs.
Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. and Ohio State’s Trevor Thompson already have entered their names in the NBA draft and Trimble already has hired an agent, precluding any possible return to school. Blackmon and Swanigan have made it clear they will not hire agents. Yet. We may not know what either of them is doing until sometime in May.
Many, many other Big Ten players reportedly are at least contemplating an early plunge into the draft, including Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards, Michigan’s D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and O.G. Annunoby, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.
So, how do you make any sort of viable predictions with that many impactful players in limbo?
If Swanigan, Haas and Edwards all return for another season, you could pencil in Purdue as the favorite to repeat as the Big Ten champion. If all of them turn pro, the Boilermakers may be picked 12th. Rutgers could be picked above them.
Michigan would be in similarly dire straits if both its starting big men, Wagner and Wilson, jump into the draft, especially since Donnal also is leaving. The Wolverines, like Purdue, would have exactly one returning starter and obviously will not have time to go out and recruit many new players to fill those spots.
Michigan State also would miss Bridges although the Spartans do have the 10th best prospect in the country, Jaren Jackson, coming in and reportedly are involved with more excellent recruits, including Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith.
Wisconsin, Maryland and Michigan also have recruiting classes coming in that are ranked in the top 35 nationally by Rivals.com. Then again, Illinois had the Rivals No. 13 class — No. 9 by Scout.com — before Tillmon defected.
Tomorrow could bring more news that could cast even more clouds over an already overcast picture.
Today’s predictions are tomorrow’s garbage. Let’s just wait to see where all the dust settles.