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The six NBA Draft decisions that will shape the 2020-21 Big Ten basketball season

In all likelihood, Indiana’s roster for the 2020-21 season is set.  Are the Hoosiers a contender for the upper half of the league?  Could they perhaps even secure a double bye at the Big Ten tournament and make a run at the conference crown?

IU’s standing in the league next season in many ways depends on things that are out of their control.

Six of the top players still technically on Big Ten rosters right now have yet to decide whether they will return for the upcoming season or stay in the NBA Draft.

ILLINOIS — AYO DOSUNMU and KOFI COCKBURN

Illinois is the only team that must anxiously await the decision of the two top players on their team.

And things don’t look good.

After a finishing 13-7 in the Big Ten last season and just one game out of first, Illinois would be one of the favorites if both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn returned for their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively.

Dosunmu averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the floor.  He is widely expected to stay in the NBA Draft.

Cockburn averaged 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on his way to becoming the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.  His stay vs. go decision is less clear.

With Andres Feliz graduating and Alan Griffin transferring, losing both Dosunmu and Cockburn would be devastating for Illinois’ chances to compete for a league title.

IOWA – LUKA GARZA

No pending decision will have a more significant impact on his team’s fortunes than Garza.

Listed at 6’11” and 260 pounds,, Garza was a first team All-American as a junior. He averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game with a 54.2 field-goal percentage and a 35.8 three-point percentage on 3.5 attempts per game.

Garza has said that he intends to return unless it is clear that he will be drafted, but that decision could backfire unless Garza is somehow able to show scouts even more than what he produced during his amazing 2019-20 campaign.

Iowa is already thin in its frontcourt.  If the Hawkeyes were to lose Garza, they would only have the oft-injured Jack Nunge returning as an experienced big man.  Garza’s decision could make or break Iowa’s 2020-21 season.  With him, they could contend for a Big Ten title.

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MICHIGAN – ISAIAH LIVERS

As Michigan’s Isaiah Livers dealt with injuries during the 2019-20 season it became clear just how valuable he was to the Wolverines.

As a junior this past season, Livers averaged 12.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 21 games while dealing with various issues that kept him out of several games during conference play.

Livers has said that he is likely to return to Ann Arbor unless he has a guaranteed contract.  He isn’t widely expected to be drafted.

With Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and David DeJulius already out the door, the Wolverines would likely take a step back in the Big Ten despite a strong recruiting class if Livers doesn’t return.

The Wolverines were just 4-5 without Livers in the lineup this past season.  Overall Michigan finished 19-12 and 10-10 in 2019-20.

MICHIGAN STATE – XAVIER TILLMAN

Michigan State can go from good to great next season if Xavier Tillman returns for his senior season.

The Spartans have the potential to be a preseason top ten team despite losing All American point guard Cassius Winston to graduation.  But the loss of both Tillman and Winston just might be too much for Tom Izzo to overcome when it comes to conference title aspirations.

Tillman averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 rebound, 3 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game in a highly productive junior campaign.

Marquette transfer Joey Hauser will be eligible for MSU in 2020-21, and the emergence of point guard Rocket Watts gives Spartan fans hopes that they can carry on without Winston.

MSU has other pending decisions.  Josh Langford apparently intends to return from injury and Aaron Henry also has his name in the draft.

But Tillman is the biggest open question.  Michigan State won’t have an experienced big, physical presence in the paint unless he returns.  It is a decision that appears as though it could go either way at this point.

OHIO STATE – KALEB WESSON

Finally there is Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson.

The Buckeyes have already seen DJ Carton, Luther Muhammad and Alonzo Gaffney transfer out.  Wesson’s brother Andre has graduated.

Wesson averaged 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in leading Ohio State to a 21-10 record.  He is currently the only experienced big man that could end up on the Buckeyes’ 2020-21 roster.

But most believe Wesson has finished his career at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes appear likely to take a major step back unless they can reinvent themselves.

OTHER BIG TEN NAMES IN THE DRAFT

Two other top players in the Big Ten — Maryland’s Jalen Smith and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu — are also in the draft but their status is certain.  Both players are finished with college basketball.

Henry, C.J. Walker (Ohio State), and Marcus Carr (Minnesota) all have their names in the draft, and all are expected to return.

As of this writing, the date that players must decide to stay or go by is unknown in large part because the date of the 2020 NBA Draft is unknown.


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