Five-star recruit Caleb Swanigan’s about-face, changing his commitment from Michigan State to Purdue, helps another Big Ten program throw its hat into the 2015-’16 championship ring. Specifically, it’s the hard hat Boilermakers mascot Purdue Pete dons.
Swanigan’s recruitment was an odd roller coaster, whizzing past Michigan State en route to flirtations with Cal and Kentucky, before Purdue head coach Matt Painter finally jumped aboard. The highly touted 6-foot-8 prospect and reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball is Purdue’s biggest recruit in decades.
Roosevelt Barnes, Swanigan’s legal guardian, explained to Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star Swanigan’s motivation for becoming a Boilermaker:
Caleb wants to bring a national championship to Purdue. He won Mr. Basketball in Indiana and won a state championship. He wants to do the same thing for his college team at Purdue.
As Neddenriep notes, Swanigan is the first Mr. Basketball to sign with the in-state Boilers since Glenn Robinson in 1991. All Big Dog accomplished in his time in West Lafayette was win the 1994 Naismith Award and lead Purdue to the Elite Eight that same season.
With Swanigan joining 7-footer A.J. Hammonds in the Boilers frontcourt, next season’s Purdue team has similar potential — if not more. But navigation through the treacherous waters of the Big Ten for prime March positioning in 2015-’16 will be no easy feat.
In a supposed down year for the conference, the Big Ten sent two teams to the 2015 Final Four. While national runner-up Wisconsin embarks on the new season in rebuilding mode — at least, insomuch as Wisconsin ever rebuilds under Bo Ryan — much of the rest of the Big Ten’s top teams reload.
Maryland is a potential preseason No. 1, adding Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon to an experienced and balanced lineup.
Elsewhere, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State bunch, despite losing out on Caleb Swanigan, return a solid corps from last year’s surprising Final Four squad. The Spartans’ first big get was the return of veteran swing man Denzel Valentine.
Much like Barnes told the Indianapolis Star of Purdue, Valentine told Brendan Quinn of MLive.com, “We’ll be back here next year,” referring to Michigan State’s appearance in the Final Four.
With NCAA Tournament breakthrough performer Tum Tum Nairn and a recruiting class still ranked No. 17, even without Swanigan, Izzo has a preseason Top 10 team on his hands.
The Spartans won’t just face competition within the conference, however. Michigan State has a competitor for Big Ten supremacy in Ann Arbor, with the Michigan Wolverines primed for a rebound from last year’s surprising collapse. Dan Stack examined Michigan’s 2015-’16 outlook, which is considerably brighter with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. returning from injuries.
An influx of new talent joins the duo, as well as a corps of youngsters who picked up the slack down the stretch last season with the Wolverine veterans sidelined. After a runner-up finish in 2013 and Elite Eight run in 2014, John Beilein has proven adept at taking the Wolverines far into March. Next year’s team could mark a return to what was becoming Michigan’s status quo.
One huge factor — literally — that could swing the Big Ten landscape next season remains undecided. Swanigan settling on Purdue leaves just one sizable recruiting piece unaccounted for, that being 7-foot prodigy Thon Maker.
Indiana has long been in the mix for Maker, an Australian import of Sudanese descent who will not be eligible until the second semester. That means Tom Crean would have Maker ready to go in time for Big Ten.
Maker is a project to some extent, thus the semester just practicing to acclimating to the college game would benefit him greatly. Feeding off guard Yogi Ferrell, arguably the best backcourt player in the Big Ten, would surely ease Maker’s transition.
With or without Maker, however, Ferrell is aiming high in his last season at Indiana, as he said in a press release, via the Indianapolis Star:
I truly want to leave a legacy of accomplishments at IU, like the great IU legends of the past. I plan to lead my returning teammates and our incoming players to our goal of achieving great things next year in Assembly Hall.