Top Five Big Ten Basketball Players With NBA Decisions To Make

By James Grega on May 2, 2018 at 10:10 am
James Palmer Jr.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten didn't lack big time names on the floor last season, as a number of players from the 2017-18 season declared themselves eligible for the upcoming NBA draft. 

Some players, like Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop and Penn State's Tony Carr, made it permanent by hiring agents. Others, however, have until the end of the month to return to school as long as they don't sign with representation. 

Plenty of Big Ten stars took advantage of the rule that allows them to declare in order to test the NBA waters, or return by May 30 without hiring an agent. We take a look at the top five players who decided to take that route, and rank them by how much their decision will impact the complexion of the 2018-19 Big Ten season. 

5. Ethan Happ, Center, Wisconsin

The Badgers were not a very good team in Happ's junior season, but the big man in the middle for Wisconsin was dominant. He ranked fourth in the conference in scoring (17.9 ppg) and third in the conference in rebounds (8.0). 

He was recently spurned by the NBA Combine, not receiving an invite, which leads many to believe he will return for a senior season. If he does, the Badgers immediately become a favorite to finish in the top third of the conference because of how well they finished the 2017-18 season and the talent they have returning. 

4. Bruno Fernando, Center, Maryland

The freshman big man for the Terps showed why he is already considering the NBA after just one season in 2017-18. His athleticism and shot-blocking ability could make him the centerpiece of a Maryland team that is expected to return to the top third of the Big Ten next season. 

Mark Turgeon has signed a top-10 2018 recruiting class and the Terps are set up to be young, but extremely talented, in 2018-19. If Maryland can get back their shot-blocking big man, they should return to the top of the conference very soon. 

3. Nick Ward, Forward, Michigan State

An Ohio native, Ward has been a beast inside for the Spartans in each of his first two seasons on campus. Last season for Michigan State, he averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 boards for Tom Izzo's squad, leading him to declare for the NBA draft, but not hire an agent. 

Ward's skill set translates to that of a true center, but at just 6-foot-8, he is extremely undersized for a center. He needs to develop much more of a perimeter game in order to take the next jump. However, his departure would mean that the Spartans lost three starters in him, Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges who are projected as top-15 picks and have already signed with agents. 

2. Carsen Edwards, Point Guard, Purdue

Perhaps the most explosive guard in the Big Ten last season, Edwards put together a stellar 2017-18 campaign that has him on the brink of heading to the NBA. 

He finished third in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game and connected on 97 three-pointers, good for second in the conference. His ability to create his own shot off the dribble and collapse defenses makes him a prime candidate to leave for the next level. 

The only reason he doesn't top this list is because the Boilermakers are guaranteed to lose their other three stars (Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias). Even if Edwards does return, the Boilermakers have a lot of production to make up for next season. If he does come back, however, it makes the Boilermakers a dark horse contender in the conference title race. 

1. James Palmer Jr. / Isaac Copeland, Guard / Forward, Nebraska

The duo of Palmer Jr. and Copeland almost single-handedly saved Tim Miles' job last season, and if they return to school, they might even get him an extension. 

Nebraska finished fourth in the conference last season, but failed to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, eventually bowing out early in the first round of the NIT. However, there was no denying Nebraska's ability last year, as the Cornhuskers pasted the eventual national runners-up Michigan at home. 

If this Cornhusker duo returns to Lincoln in 2018-19, Nebraska becomes a contender for the conference crown. Without them, they might have a hard time reaching the .500 mark in conference play. 

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