Now that the college basketball season is a few weeks old, it’s time to take a quick look at the Big Ten and its NBA Draft prospects within the conference. It’s been an up-and-down start to the non-conference portion of the schedule for the Big Ten, as teams have struggled while a few have thrived in the early going.
Michigan State and senior Denzel Valentine have looked like a contender to win the Big Ten and make a run in the NCAA tournament, and his NBA stock has risen as well. Thursday, in Tom Izzo’s 500th career win, Valentine earned his second triple-double of the season by putting up video game-like numbers at 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He followed that up with a career-high 32 points, and he’s now averaging 20.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG and 9.2 APG on 48.8 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from three. If Valentine can keep up even close to the production he has, look for him to be firmly on the first-round radar come next June.
Caris LeVert is another senior swingman with high NBA aspirations, and he’s looking pretty good coming off his second foot surgery in as many years while carrying the load for a struggling Michigan team. LeVert is as efficient as ever, scoring 18.5 per game, while notching 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals a contest. Levert has hit a ridiculous 14-of-25 from beyond the arc and is shooting 53.6 percent from the field overall this season. It seems like LeVert is back to full health, and if that’s the case, he should be a mid-first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Iowa senior Jarrod Uthoff has lived up to preseason expectations and looks like a potential second-round pick early on for the Hawkeyes. Uthoff is filling up the stat sheet for Iowa, averaging 16.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals on the year. What’s most impressive is his efficiency doing it — Uthoff’s hitting both 50 percent from the floor and from three. He’s been on the draft radar as a potential second-round pick for a while now, and it seems like his talent is coming to fruition in his third year in the Hawkeye program.
Wisconsin junior forward Nigel Hayes has really struggled as a first option early on this season, and it’s hurt his draft prospects in the process. At the next level, Hayes won’t be asked to isolate as much as he has this year, as it’s clear he’s going through a tough stretch learning how to handle the pressure of being the go-to guy. He’s still putting up solid numbers — 14.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.8 RPG — but his efficiency has trailed behind at 38.5 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but if it doesn’t, perhaps he’ll stay at Wisconsin another year.
Stud Freshmen Bigs
Maryland center Diamond Stone — a five-star McDonald’s All-American — has been solid, albeit inconsistent, thus far for Maryland. Stone’s putting up 7.8 points, 3.6 boards and 1.2 blocks in 16.0 minutes per game for the Terrapins, and he’s notched double figures every other game for Maryland. He clearly has a lot of talent, but he’ll need to gain more consistency to solidify his potential lottery status for the next draft.
Michigan State big man Deyonta Davis has been living up to his five-star status of late for the Spartans. Davis has hit double figures in the Spartans’ last three games and has shown excellent shot-blocking ability too. The youngster is now averaging 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for Michigan State, and it shouldn’t be too long before he makes his way to the next level. Davis has the size and length to be an excellent two-way player for the Spartans and beyond, but he’ll have to keep working on his low-post game while extending his range to earn a spot as a first-round pick in a couple years.
Arguably the most impressive frosh big man in the Big Ten has been Thomas Bryant of Indiana. The five-star recruit has notched double figures in three of the Hoosiers’ first five games, while also protecting the rim on the defensive end. Bryant’s put up 12.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 23.7 minutes per game. He’s a physical center who has a decent jump shot that’ll need to be improved down the line, but he’s been one of Indiana’s best players early on and should continue to produce when Big Ten play starts.