The Big Ten is shaping up to be an elite league next season and while the league lost plenty of talent to graduation and the NBA, an infusion of McDonald’s All-Americans and transfers will ease the loss of stars like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell.
In no particular order, here’s a look at the five newcomers we expect to make the biggest impact on next season’s conference race:
· Eron Harris, Michigan State: The Indianapolis native flew under the radar for much of his prep career at Lawrence North, but a strong summer in 2011 landed him interest from West Virginia and he signed with the Mountaineers. After a pair of seasons in Morgantown, including 2013-2014 where he averaged 17.2 points per game, Harris opted to transfer to Michigan State.
He sat out last season, but is expected to play a major role as a junior. In February, Tom Izzo said that Harris was bringing a “different dimension” to Michigan State practices because of his ability to get his own shot. The graduation of Travis Trice means that immediate minutes and shots will be available for Harris and recent reports suggest that he’s standing out amongst his teammates.
· Diamond Stone, Maryland: The Terrapins won 28 games a season ago and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but the missing ingredient on the roster was a reliable big man. Mark Turgeon got more than just a reliable big man when he signed Stone, the No. 6 player nationally according to the 247Composite. Stone is an imposing 6-foot-10 and more than 240 pounds, but moves well, has a soft touch, can pass and has nice footwork.
So how does he change Maryland’s team? Stone’s presence should open things up even more in the lane for Melo Trimble who got to the basket and to the foul line as well as anyone as a freshman. And he should also help space the floor for guys like Jared Nickens, Jake Layman, Rasheed Suliamon and Dion Wiley. Maryland was a top 15 team before signing Stone, but his addition makes the Terps a legitimate national title contender.
· Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Much like Maryland, Indiana was a perimeter-oriented team a season ago with very little interior scoring. The Hoosiers began to prioritize Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American, in the summer of 2014 and eventually landed his commitment in April. It’s the fifth straight year Tom Crean has recruited a McDonald’s All-American to Bloomington. Bryant plays with relentless energy and will be a major upgrade in terms of production in IU’s frontcourt.
The IU roster is loaded with shooters, but having an inside presence will be a major boost on those nights when the perimeter attack goes cold and the Hoosiers need to find easier baskets. But the bigger impact from Bryant may come on the defensive end and on the glass. Crean’s team last season had little in terms of rim protection and its best defensive rebounder was 6-foot-7 Troy Williams. Bryant should make it harder for opponents to score at the rim and collect second-chance points.
· Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The Swanigan recruitment was full of twists, but the end result was Matt Painter landing his signature following an earlier commitment to Michigan State. Purdue already had a pair of very good bigs in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, but Swanigan solidifies the Boilermaker frontcourt as arguably the nation’s best. Swanigan wants to play the four and it appears he will with Hammons and Haas splitting time at the five.
At 6-foot-9 and 254 pounds, Swanigan will be a matchup problem for Big Ten defenses. He runs the floor well for a player his size, has a soft touch in the paint and can also step out to the midrange. Pairing him with the combination of Hammons and Haas will only make things more difficult for opponents to keep the Boilermakers off of the offensive glass.
· Daniel Giddens, Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost a lot from a group that finished 24-11 and won one NCAA tournament game, including the No. 2 pick in the draft in Russell, a pair of seniors in Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson and all of its rotation big men. Giddens, a consensus top 50 recruit from Marietta, Georgia, should be an immediate upgrade from the departed trio of Amir Williams, Anthony Lee and Trey McDonald.
While he’s not the offensive threat that some of the other incoming big men in the league are, Giddens is a presence on the glass and can block and alter shots. He’s physical, runs the floor hard and can finish plays at the rim off of drop off passes. The post game is still a work in progress, but Giddens is going to get the opportunity to play major minutes early and his body is ready for the challenge.
(Photo credit: Michigan State Athletics)