Which NBA Draft Prospects Impressed During the Big Ten Tournament?

Everyone knows about Michigan State's top prospects, but who else impressed during the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden?
Publish date:

The Crossover’s Front Office took in all 13 games of the Big Ten Tournament—held this year at Madison Square Garden for the first time—as a number of current and future draft prospects took the floor for post-season competition. A throng of executives and scouts lined the stands all week, with Michigan State’s pair of first-rounders headlining, but bowing out early. Red-hot Michigan upset the Spartans and Purdue on their way to a tournament title.

With the season wrapping up, stay-or-go draft decisions are fast approaching, and a handful of Big Ten players have positioned themselves to test the waters. Here’s how the Big Ten’s top prospects performed.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State, C

Height: 6’11” | Weight: 240 | Year: Freshman | Age: 19
Draft Projection: Top Seven

It was a frustrating week for the Spartans, who failed to bring their A-game on both days they played and were sent home in a heated game by a well-drilled Michigan team. Jackson, who has played his way into teams’ conversations as a top-five pick, was mostly absent throughout. His poor showing shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of his long-term potential but does serve as a reminder that he’s far from ready to contribute in the NBA on a consistent basis. He will be one of the youngest players in the draft and has a number of correctable habits that tie into the maturity factor. He can disappear for stretches of the game as a scorer, rebounder and shot-contester, sometimes forces bad takes when pressing and displays visible frustration with both game flow and officiating at times. His tools and versatility are terrific and will keep him among the first six or seven players drafted.

Jackson was notably bad Friday against Wisconsin, managing just 15 minutes before fouling out and struggling to involve himself in the game flow in any regard. He was a bit more involved statistically in the loss to Michigan, but found himself swarmed by defenders and unable to finish creatively in crowds and also struggled shooting from the perimeter. He has flashes of brilliance and makes few egregious or mental mistakes, but needs to pack on more muscle to be able to push opponents on the interior and create space for himself to make plays. He can make threes (and hit a step-back off the dribble late against Michigan that was eye-popping), but doesn’t get great rotation on his ball and needs to keep working on his consistency. He’s an above-average athlete but not vertically explosive, and physical maturity should help split the difference. There’s still a lot to love about Jackson’s soft touch with both hands, shooting ability, impressive wingspan and ability to defend in space, but there’s some variance of opinion around the league when it comes to his actual star potential. He remains a hot draft commodity despite the struggles.

NBA Draft Spotlight: Five Prospects Who Deserve More Shine

Miles Bridges, Michigan State, F

Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | Year: Sophomore | Age: 19
Draft Projection: Lottery to Mid First

Bridges, who turns 20 this month, has definitely shown improvement in the back half of the season and remains in the late lottery mix despite many teams feeling like they’ve figured him out as a player. He had positive flashes in the tournament, making three threes in each game and doing a nice job on the glass. Bridges’ athletic ability pops, and he’s established himself as a threat on one-dribble pull-ups and shooting threes at the top of the arc. Against Michigan, he had success using his thick lower body to generate easy looks on the left block against weaker defenders, a nice potential long-term offensive wrinkle.

The fundamental concerns with Bridges remain the same: his game is paradoxical. He’s best suited as a small-ball four-man, but has length that plays better at shooting guard. His upper body strength and brute athleticism suggest he should attack the basket aggressively, but a limited capacity to handle the ball renders him primarily a jump shooter (he averages a shockingly low 3.3 free throw attempts per game). In the NBA, you’re probably asking him to be a high-level glue guy and supporting player, but in reality, Bridges is a finesse scorer who hasn’t shown a ton of commitment to defending or hustling at a high level. He has some NBA-caliber tools, but drafting him will mean buying in on his willingness to adapt.

Bruno Fernando, Maryland, C

Height: 6’10” | Weight: 245 | Year: Freshman | Age: 19
Draft Projection: Late First to Second

Although Maryland went out with a whimper, Fernando managed to help himself with an active 12-point, nine-rebound game against Wisconsin. He made definite late-season strides in terms of consistency, and already is physically mature and athletic enough to play in an NBA game and look passable. With a 7’4” wingspan, nimble feet and the tools to be a force when he’s locked in, Fernando’s ability to run the floor, rebound and play above the rim have scouts intrigued. He remains unpolished and has been in and out of foul trouble all season, but when it comes to projection, he has considerable NBA potential, backed up by 18.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per 40 minutes.

Scouts I spoke with seemed to think Fernando was somewhat misused, as Maryland rarely used him much as a screener or roller despite his tools pointing to that sort of role. Teams are looking for the next Clint Capela, and Fernando is essentially a rough sketch, as a dynamic athlete who could do that job with some added seasoning. He was a functional three-point shooter in high school at IMG Academy and possesses more of a skill level than he was able to show this season. Fernando will be a boom-or-bust selection and isn’t a lock to leave, but will have a chance to make serious waves in team workouts and pay his way into first-round consideration.

Tony Carr, Penn State, PG

Height: 6’4” | Weight: 200 | Year: Sophomore | Age: 20
Draft Projection: Late First to Second

Carr helped himself this week in leading Penn State to the semifinals, making the all-tourney team and showcasing a dangerous perimeter game. He’s been on the radar all year, willing the Nittany Lions to a number of wins essentially by himself, and can sustain runs of hot shooting despite a push motion on his jumper (47% from deep on 5.5 attempts per game this season). His size is ideal for a lead guard, but Carr lacks elite burst and leaping ability, making him more of a jump shooter who otherwise relies on craft. He knows how to get into pockets of space to shoot floaters, but has trouble attacking the rim and lacks a degree of lift and body control that limits his consistency as a finisher. He facilitates but doesn’t always set others up effectively, often hunting his own shot. Scouts are concerned about his defense, where his lack of lateral quickness is apparent, and an apparent lack of playmaking feel. He has somewhat of an aloof personality on the court. Carr has NBA-caliber game and would be drafted if he came out now, but should have a better chance at the first round in a year’s time.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State, F

Height: 6’7” | Weight: 235 | Year: Junior | Age: 22
Draft Projection: Second Round

Bates-Diop showcased a nice level of offensive versatility on his way to 25 points on 10–20 shooting in a loss to Penn State, but is more great college player than fascinating pro prospect. He fell into a terrific situation at Ohio State under Chris Holtmann and was fully weaponized by the Buckeyes all season. However, he’s not an ideal fit for the next level given a lack of great athleticism or physicality to play the four, where his skills are probably best-suited. Bates-Diop does a lot of things well, but nothing great, and how long he’ll be able to last in the NBA likely depends on his ability to become a consistent three-point threat at the next level. He’s done enough to get himself drafted, but there will be challenges when it comes to thriving in an NBA role.


Moritz Wagner, Michigan, C

Height: 6’11” | Weight: 230 | Year: Junior | Age: 20
Draft Projection: Second Round

After testing and staying in school last year, Wagner has definitely improved, although he’s still a bit of an acquired taste among scouts. It depends on what you value in your bigs, and his considerable offensive skills will be worth the risk to some teams despite his lackluster defense and physical limitations in that area. Wagner excels as a screener and post-up option and has a good feel for finding pockets in the defense. He’s heavy-footed and looks a bit clumsy at times, but his skill level facing up, attacking closeouts and keeping defenders honest gets the job done in college. He gets some credit for helping lift Michigan to the title (and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player) but the Wolverines won more by playing great team basketball than relying on Wagner to carry them.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue, PG

Height: 6’0” | Weight: 190 | Year: Sophomore | Age: 19
Draft Projection: 2019

Edwards was a nice surprise this week, earning a spot on the all-tournament team with a pair of big-time performances against Rutgers and Penn State. He turns 20 this month and is positioning himself to get drafted in a year’s time with continued growth. It’s hard not to fall in love with his moxie, and he galvanized the Boilermakers with hustle plays, big threes off the bounce, clever drives to the rim and an unshakable demeanor. He needs to learn to rein his shot selection in at times, and can certainly improve as a playmaker, but his arrow has begun trending upward as a prospect despite his lack of size.

Kevin Huerter, Maryland, SG

Height: 6’7” | Weight: 190 | Year: Sophomore | Age: 19
Draft Projection: 2019

Just starting to tap into his array of skills as a scorer, Huerter is young for a sophomore, has nice size for a shooting guard and a solid fundamental game, shooting 41% from three this year and excelling as a spot-up option. Maryland didn’t make it far, but Huerter made several impressive plays down the stretch (although a missed free throw and mental mistake ended up costing his team the game). He’s a decent athlete, and his ability to space the floor and make plays is appealing. Scouts like his offensive versatility and frame, and Huerter should be in a good place to test, get feedback and improve. He’s young for his class to begin with and won’t turn 20 until August.

Dakota Mathias, Purdue, SG

Height: 6’4” | Weight: 200 | Year: Senior | Age: 22
Draft Range: Second Round to Undrafted

A sneaky-great role player, decision-maker and defender, Mathias was excellent against Penn State and will draw NBA interest as a player with few major weaknesses. He’s quicker than he looks, and his elite skill is his IQ—he’ll be able to fit in on a team and make others better as a passer and support option. He’s a strong shooter with a quick release (47% this season), and as long as that stays consistent, Mathias should have a place on someone’s bench. He’s got a little bit of ability off the dribble, too. He may not get drafted, but the intangibles and overall package are plenty interesting.

Isaac Haas, Purdue, C

Height: 7’2” | Weight: 290 | Year: Senior | Age: 22
Draft Range: Second Round to Undrafted

Put simply, Haas is a massive human, and he will earn an opportunity in the NBA off that alone. He’s a load in the post and is essentially automatic when establishing deep post position. Although the game is moving away from slow-moving center, Haas is athletic enough to cut it on some level, clearing out tons of space, contesting shots and eliminating angles just with his presence. He’s not a great rebounder out of his area or shot-blocker, but as the adage goes, you can’t teach size. He’s somewhere between Miles and Marshall on the Plumlee scale.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, F/C

Height: 6’9” | Weight: 235 | Year: RS Junior | Age: 21
Draft Range: Second Round to Undrafted

One scout wondered if Happ was the most polished post scorer in all of college basketball, and it’s actually a pretty fair question. Happ has a diverse, European-style game, full of hesitations, half turns and scoop shots, and he downright abused Michigan State for much of Friday’s game. But he’s never added a jump shot to his game, which makes him an awkward fit positionally. He’s not big enough to play the five, and while he can defend in space and handle at the four, the lack of jumper and issues impacting the glass against bigger players will make him a tough sell. He needs the ball in his hands to be effective, but NBA teams won’t want to play directly through him. He’s a terrific college player and should end up a productive pro at some level.

2018 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 100 Prospects

Vince Edwards, Purdue, F

Height: 6’8” | Weight: 225 | Year: Senior | Age: 21
Draft Range: Second Round to Undrafted

Despite appealing numbers, Edwards can be a bit underwhelming to watch, doing a little bit of everything to help Purdue, but doing it a step slow when it comes to NBA projection. He was excellent against Rutgers but did little to help his team beyond that. Edwards plays a little bit stiff and lacks the lateral mobility and ball-handling skills to play on the wing at the next level, which means he’ll likely need to be a small-ball stretch-four to stick. Beyond the open threes he consistently makes, Edwards’ shot selection is questionable and it’s unclear what kind of impact he’ll be able to have as a scorer. The ball sticks in his hands a bit too much for a player who struggles to create his own shot. His versatility will get him an opportunity this summer, but there’s not a ton about his game to really sink your teeth into.

James Palmer, Nebraska, G/F

Height: 6’6” | Weight: 210 | Year: Junior | Age: 22
Draft Projection: 2019

An athletic slashing wing, the Miami transfer was a catalyst all season for the Huskers but has work to do to legitimize himself as a draftable prospect. He has a wide, boxy frame that enables him to duck his shoulder and turn the corner on defenders. His dribble-drive game is predicated on generating a head of steam, and without it, he lacks any desirable element of shake. Palmer fits the NBA bill with his length and speed in the open floor and has potential defensively, but without becoming a more consistent shooter or creator will have a tough time separating himself from the pack. He’s a name to track for 2019 but needs to up his versatility.

Juwan Morgan, Indiana, F

Height: 6’8” | Weight: 230 | Year: Junior | Age: 20
Draft Projection: 2019

Morgan struggled with foul trouble in Indiana’s lone tournament game, but there’s some potential in his versatility on both sides of the ball. He’s a good athlete capable of making plays around the basket and has a functional handle on the perimeter. Indiana used him in a number of ways, scoring mostly on the block but also floating on the baseline and working well as a screener. His intelligence and ability to fill a number of roles makes him worth following next season, and if he can become a more consistent outside shooter it might appeal to teams. Morgan’s contributions don’t always show up in the box score, and NBA teams can use players in his mold who have a positive impact on winning.

Corey Sanders, Rutgers, G

Height: 6’2” | Weight: 175 | Year: Junior | Age: 20
Draft Projection: 2019

One of the top performers in the tournament, Sanders showed off his high-end athleticism and ability to drain difficult, off-balance shots while leading last-place Rutgers to surprise wins over Indiana and Minnesota, and nearly toppling Purdue (with help from impressive freshman Geo Baker). He totaled 54 points in three games and shot 53% from the floor. That said, it’s truly bizarre to find a scorer this unconscionable in this day and age who barely ever shoots three-pointers. Sanders’ inability to drain shots from outside and trigger-happy approach won’t do him favors with NBA teams, and his best bet is returning to school and continuing to improve.

Charles Matthews, Michigan, SG

Height: 6’6” | Weight: 200 | Year: Junior | Age: 21
Draft Projection: 2019

The former Kentucky transfer has been plagued by consistency issues throughout his career but has an outside chance at the league depending on how much he can improve over the course of the next year. “I can’t put my finger on what he does well,” says one scout, the sentiment being that Matthews is best suited as a 3-and-D wing given the heavy demand for such players. He has the right type of body to fit in the league, but struggles to create his own offense and has to simplify his approach. He did hit a pair of threes against Michigan State, but must improve his shot selection and become a consistently impactful defender to succeed in the NBA. 

Tyler Cook, Iowa, F

Height: 6-9 | Weight: 255 | Year: Sophomore | Age: 20
Draft Projection: 2019–2020

Cook surprised some scouts with his skill level, helping lead Iowa to a win over Illinois and looking like he belonged against Michigan. He possesses a good knowledge of the floor and has been a crafty, effective finisher dating back to his days as Jayson Tatum’s AAU running mate. His versatility on the perimeter and strong body give him a chance. Only a sophomore, if Cook adds the floor-spacing element to his game and becomes an inside-out threat he can keep himself on the radar going forward. Iowa is a young team that could be markedly better in a year if he makes a leap. There are rumors he could transfer, which would make him even more of a long-term name.

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota, PF

Height: 6’6” | Weight: 240 | Year: Junior | Age: 21
Draft Projection: 2019

After a hot start, Murphy’s prospect stock has trended downhill amidst Minnesota’s mid-season implosion. Branded as a rebounding specialist, he’s struggled to make the same impact without Reggie Lynch clearing out space alongside him, totaling 11 points and eight rebounds in a loss to Rutgers. Defenses have kept him quiet by throwing bodies at him and making life difficult, and while he’d look better on a better team, it’s good to recognize his limitations. “The league’s going away from what he does,” one scout said. He can defend forwards, makes hustle plays all over the floor and has the intangibles working in his favor, but his lack of size and skill level hurts. Murphy is best served playing out his senior year.