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Monday, September 15, 2008

Pro Prospects in the Big Ten

Another way to measure how low the Big Ten Conference's quality has dipped over the years is to look at the individual talents moving on to the next level. is currently evaluating the top NBA prospects from each major conference and released a two-part series (Part 1 :: Part 2) regarding legit pro prospects from the Big Ten.

For comparison's sake, note that the first subject in this series, the Big XII, had a three-part article covering 15 players. So the Big Ten, with only 10 players reviewed, cannot even muster enough star power to call itself the most talented conference in the heartland any more.

Take a look at the top of the list and you see the problem right away: Manny Harris is the top-rated player based on pro potential. Harris is a very nice player and opened some eyes carrying a poor Michigan team last season. But he is far from a household name and a far cry from the big-name value the Big Ten enjoyed with Eric Gordon coming in last year. As the team at Draft Express points out, Harris' game leaves a lot to be desired.

As you might expect, this list has no seniors on it. The seven sophomores and three juniors making the top ten largely consist off players that still have not proven anything yet, though I do like Evan Turner (#2) and Robbie Hummel (#5). With a marginal talent pool so young, none of these players are sure-fire NBA-caliber players yet.

Only three players were drafted from the league this summer, which unfortunately, was the fourth time in the last six years that three or fewer Big Ten players were chosen.

Fun with numbers
Checking those statistics inspired me to dig back further for more Big Ten draft data:

  • There have been 20 NBA drafts since 1989 when the format changed to become a two-round event. The Big Ten has seen 99 of its players drafted in that time -- 53 in the first round and 46 in the second round.
  • In the past 10 years, every conference school has has at least one draft pick, and every one but Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue have at least one first-round selection (Purdue's Carl Landry juuuust missed in 2007).

  • The glory days for men's basketball was back at the turn of the '80s into the '90s. The Big Ten pumped out a total of 17 draft choices in 1989 (7) and 1990 (10), with five first-rounders going each time.

  • From 1994 to 1995, the conference produced 15 total NBA draft picks, and three first-rounders in both years. Remarkably, seven different Big Ten schools produced a total of eight draftees in 1994, the most-widespread output of the past 20 years. (Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin did not have one).

  • The next best run started again in 1998, when 24 Big Ten players were drafted in four years, spearheaded four first-rounders and four second-rounders in 2000.

  • Individually, Michigan State has had the longest streak of any program in the conference, but not when you might expect. At least one Michigan State player got the call on draft day each year from 1991 through 1996. Seven Spartans were drafted in those six consecutive years.

  • Michigan set a record (since tied) in 1990 when four Wolverines were drafted by the NBA. But another team that also failed miserably trying to return to the Final Four that season, Illinois, had three players from it's Flyin' Illini team drafted as well. That was one of five times in the last 20 years when a Big Ten school had exactly three players drafted in one year. Iowa (1989) and Ohio State (2007) are joined by Michigan State, which has achieved the feat twice (2001 and 2006).

  • Broken down by program, the number of players drafted from each school since 1989 looks like this: 16-Michigan; 16-Michigan State; 13-Illinois; 12-Indiana; 10-Iowa; 10-Minnesota; 9-Ohio State; 6-Purdue; 5-Wisconsin; 1-Northwestern; 1-Penn State

Wisconsin's basketball pedigree has come along way, but being low on that last list will keep the Badgers from becoming elite. When you look at the hardware over the last ten years, most of the Badger faithful are alright with that.


  1. Purdue's Glenn Robinson, lest we forget, was the overall #1 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks back in, '94 or '95. So Purdue has a first rounder.

  2. Upon rereading, I see that you limited that second bullet point to the last ten years. My bad.

  3. For the record, I have always and will always love me some Big Dog, and I'm not talking about Austin Carr.

    I think people forget how good Iowa used to be. The Hawkeyes had three players drafted in 1989 alone. Six players in all were either first- or second-round draft picks from 1987-1990.

    Two other "forgotten" runs of pro talent are both from 1997-2000 and deservedly so. Not only were the Minnesota and Michigan players from that era steeped in controversy, but hardly any of them were worth the trouble. Minnesota sent 5 athletes to the league on the wings of academic fraud and Michigan equalled that number in a time that later on proved tainted by the Ed Martin money scandal. The only decent NBA players to come out of those groups were Bobby Jackson and Jamal Crawford (I will not hear Pryzbilla arguments).

  4. It's not a stretch to tie the presence or lack thereof of first round NBA talent to the overall quality of the conference. I agree that more NBA-quality talent is what UW needs to make that next step into the same league as Carolina, Duke, Kansas, et al, but am doubtful that will ever happen. Then again, who thought Devin and Alando were first rounders when they committed?


Do you like the NCAA tournament's new 8-team "first-round" format?

What should Wisconsin do with the newly vacated scholarship?

Poll: Who will win the Big Ten?

Poll: Who was Wisconsin's first-half MVP (thru 16 games)?

Poll: How Many Regular Season games will wisconsin win in 2009-10?