On Sunday, Big Ten and consensus national player of the year Trey Burke made official his entrance into the NBA draft. There was basically nothing surprising about this decision, save maybe one thing -- the conference Burke left behind.
Now that the POY is gone, and taking other top scorers Deshaun Thomas, Cody Zeller and Brandon Paul to the NBA draft with him, the top two returning points-per-game scorers in the Big Ten will both play for the same team. Ah, but which team? Burke's own Michigan Wolverines, which shot their way to the national title game? Similarly efficient Indiana? League powers Michigan State or Ohio State? Emerging Iowa? No, no, no, no and no.
At the start of the 2013-14 season, the Big Ten's top two returning scorers will be D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, both of whom play for ... Penn State. Penn State? Penn State! It's a true story, and one that probably says more about Pat Chambers' team than the Big Ten, when you really think about it.
First of all, as anyone even remotely into efficiency statistics would recognize, points per game is not the greatest statistic in the world. It's pretty simple stuff: Taking a larger number of shots to score a certain number of points doesn't always mean you're helping your team. Both Newbill and Marshall, despite finishing fifth and sixth in Big Ten scoring last season, failed to post an offensive rating higher than 100.0 last season. Penn State simply wasn't very good, and definitely wasn't deep, because star guard Tim Frazier -- who was a preseason conference POY sleeper pick who finished the 2011-12 year second in the conference in scoring with 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game -- was lost to a season-ending an Achilles rupture in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. Newbill and Marshall were asked to do a lot more than they probably bargained for, and while it didn't always result in efficiency, it did result in points.
In other words, it's not like saying Newbill and Marshall are the best returning players in the Big Ten. Obviously not. Michigan State will have Keith Appling and some combination of Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine; Indiana has point guard Yogi Ferrell; Michigan could have Mitch McGary or Glenn Robinson III; Ohio State has Aaron Craft and a March-emergent LaQuinton Ross; Wisconsin has Sam Dekker; Iowa has a score of interesting players, particularly center Adam Woodbury; Purdue has A.J. Hammons, who could be a beast; new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has a really good returning backcourt (Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins; Joe Coleman), provided it can figure out how to stop turning the ball over.
You get the point: There are still going to be a lot of good players in the Big Ten. Rest assured, the Nittany Lions will not come off a 10-21 season with a monopoly on college hoops talent.
Even so, Penn State will be intriguing. The Nittany Lions have been the victims of some really awful luck in the past two seasons, the first of it minor (when Big Ten teams hit the lottery from beyond the arc against them, a bit of production not entirely related to defense) the latter of it Frazier's injury, which came just six weeks ahead of the start of one of the more brutal Big Ten conference seasons in memory.
But Frazier will be back next season. Newbill and Marshall will still be around. Penn State will have more depth, more skill, more issues being guarded on the perimeter. Don't expect the Nittany Lions to compete for a conference title, because that would be even crazier than saying Penn State has the top two returning scorers from the best Big Ten season in recent memory. But they will be very intriguing.