247Sports National basketball recruiting team Gary Randazzo, Chris Fisher, Brad Allis and William Gunter take a look at several topics from who has the most to gain as the 2012 recruiting cycle comes to a close as well as who is the sleeper team to watch heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky has closed strong under coach John Calipari each of the past two seasons.
Who has the most to gain in recruiting as we head into the final 45 days of the 2012 recruiting period?
Gary Randazzo – John Calipari is known for his late signees so Kentucky is always a team to keep an eye on this time of the year. Out west, UCLA still has some work to do. The Bruins lose their starting backcourt to graduation following the season. They’ve already landed 5-star point-forward Kyle Anderson and swingman Jordan Adams, but the Bruins need more help in the backcourt. The loss of decommit Dominic Artis to Oregon hurts. Can Ben Howland find more depth at the guard position before the clock runs out? 247 Sports’ No. 2 player Shabazz Muhammad remains UCLA’s top target, but is Muhammad ready to fill the shooting guard role on the college level? Finally, no high-major program out west has more to gain than Washington. Lorenzo Romar has yet to sign a single player for 2012.
Chris Fisher – Kentucky coach John Calipari has developed quite the reputation as a strong closer, particularly in the spring signing period and the Wildcats look to be very active and aggressive down the stretch in the 2012 class. Calipari and UK figure to be mentioned prominently with perhaps the nation's top three unsigned prospects: Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett and possibly, depending on how things shake out with Muhammad, McDonald's All-American Devonta Pollard as well. UCLA also figures to be very active. The Bruins are still in the hunt for Muhammad and would also like to add Georgia big man Tony Parker.
Brad Allis - If UCLA can somehow pull Shabazz Muhammad that would be huge for Ben Howland. Howland is on thin ice in Westwood and grabbing a second top-10 player in the class would be huge. If he misses out on Muhammad, as I think he will, then the vultures will be circling a bit more. Howland took UCLA to a trio of Final Fours, but that was four years ago. Since then the Bruins have a second round NCAA loss and two tournament misses. Unless they win the Pac-12 Tournament, they will miss the NCAAs for the third straight year. Howland has a big time class coming in, but he needs a class that not only returns the Bruins to the postseason, but can make a deep run.
William Gunter – Kentucky is the likely answer for most to gain as they are in contention with Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may return to Lexington however it is likely that Anthony Davis and Terrance Jones head to the NBA. Being able to land Noel or Bennett could help fill the void in the middle, while Muhammad would add another scoring wing. Few teams close like John Calipari and the Wildcats and it could be another big April for Big Blue Nation.
Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett are the top players remaining on the board in the 2012 class. Who is likely to have the biggest immediate impact on their college of choice next season and why?
GR – Nerlens Noel may make the most obvious impact because of his shot blocking ability. However, the player to watch is Anthony Bennett. Bennett has a college-ready body and the inside-out game to match his physically imposing frame. If Bennett enters the right program where he’s able to utilize his versatility rather than getting pigeon-holed as a low block player, the Findlay Prep standout can make waves as a true freshman.
CF – Noel. The one and done rule has strip-mined college basketball's talent for the better part of 20 years and allows for freshman to have a much greater impact. There's no question in my mind that Noel can have a similar effect on the defensive end to that of Kentucky's Anthony Davis. Noel's length, combined with his impeccable timing defensively will allow him to be a dominant force right away.
Anthony Bennett has the size and quickness to make an immediate impact at his college of choice next season.
BA - I think a lot of it depends on where the players wind up. Bennett is physically the most ready to play, but Noel and Muhammad have such tremendous upside that if they figure it out early on, they have a greater chance of being stars their first season. Obviously, if any of the players chooses a less established program, they have a greater chance of being an impact guy. If Bennett or Muhammad wound up at UNLV, they would immediately become program changers. Same thing if Noel wound up at Providence or Muhammad went to UCLA, which needs a star in the worst way right now.
WG – I will take Anthony Bennett as he I think he is the most ready to contribute his freshman year. The key for me is that Bennett has the tools right. While Noel is a great prospect, I am not sure what type of impact he will provide offensively while Muhammad will have to improve defensively. Bennett should be able to score the ball as well as be a solid defender right away.
College coaches are allowed to hit the road in April again for the first time in five years. How much of an impact will this have on recruiting going forward with coaches being allowed to attend AAU events and watch prospects in competition?
GR – The addition of the April evaluation period will likely lead to more offers and verbal commitments earlier in the recruitment process. Further, rather than college coaches wasting the entire July evaluation period chasing their top targets and verbal commits so they can send their prospects the subliminal message that “we’re here watching you,” coaches will now be able to focus more attention on future classes and searching for the proverbial diamond in the rough as the summer winds down.
CF – Very, very positive development for recruiting in my opinion and should allow for more accurate evaluations from coaches and more exposure for low to mid-major prospects. I'd imagine you'll see an increase in both early offers and early commitments as well and should put an end to the "presidential wave" you see from college coaches to their top targets in July.
BA – I think it will have a huge impact for a variety of ways. The most immediate will be the chance to see the few unsigned seniors that are still playing AAU ball. Of course these will not be top-150 type players, but occasionally a few late bloomers will jump out and get noticed. This can really help programs that had some unexpected departures. It will also let coaches get a jump start on noticing talent, and let talent notice coaches. I would expect to see programs identify fast risers sooner and try to land more unofficial visits. The rule change will allow coaches to make decisions on players earlier in the year.
WG – Coaches being out early will allow them to identify their players much earlier and be able to see them in a competitive environment. Mid-major programs will be helped the most as players deemed not talented enough will not be kept on the radar for high majors as long this allowing an idea of what level they will best fit in. It is a win/win situation across the board for all parties involved.
As we head toward the NCAA Tournament who is the potential sleeper (seeds 6-10) that you would not want to see on your side of the bracket?
Cincinnati has a 5-4 record against the RPI Top 50 and is a sleeper team to watch in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
GR – When I look for tournament upsets, I always seek out match ups that feature a team that can lockdown its opponent defensively in the half court set. Sleeper teams I wouldn’t want to face as a high seed during the opening weekend include Kansas State, San Diego State, Arizona, Virginia and Cincinnati. As far as a real sleeper, look out for Iona. The Gaels are an up tempo team led by Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who transferred to Iona this summer after helping Arizona reach the Elite Eight a season ago.
CF – I wouldn't be 'shocked' to see Wichita State in the round of 16. The Shockers have won 16 of 17, have an experienced ball club who's been together for a long time as well as a legit 7-footer in Garrett Stutz who can spread you out to the 3-point line. Murray State is also for real. Racers' guard Isaiah Canaan is a future pro. Also keep an eye on UNLV and Long Beach State as teams that could advance against higher seeds.
BA – Obviously I have some West Coast bias, but I would not want to see Washington in my bracket. The Huskies are VERY athletic and can score in bunches. If they get a team with less athleticism, they could be a shock to the system. The Huskies are also surprisingly physical, so if they get officials that let them play, they can slug it out with teams. Other sleepers I like are Iona with their great guard play, Long Beach State, who are battle tested, Wichita State and Kansas State, though the Wildcats may be playing their way into a higher seed of late.
WG – One of the key teams I will be watching will be the Cincinnati Bearcats who are currently projected anywhere between a seven and ten seed. The Bearcats are 2-2 against the RPI top 25 and 5-4 against the top 50. Mick Cronin’s group also plays lock down defense checking in nationally at 34th as they only allow 61 points per game. The Bearcats also are 30th nationally in assist to turnover ratio meaning they are not likely to give the opposition easy baskets in a close, pressure filled ball game.
Who is your choice for regular season player of the year and why?
GR – I agree with those who think the award will come down to a battle between Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. If I had a vote, though, I’d give the hardware to Robinson. The junior is averaging a double-double on the season. Although Davis is arguably the most exciting player in the country, as well as a bona fide future NBA star, Robinson’s play in the middle for Kansas is what makes the Jayhawks really click as a team this year.
CF – It's a two-man race and I'm not sure you can really go wrong with either Kansas' Thomas Robinson or Kentucky's Anthony Davis. But I have to give the edge to Davis. If you reference John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Statistics, Davis is No. 1 with a rating of 36.16. The next closest is Weber State's Damian Lilliard with 34.08. Robinson is 19th with a rating of 28.86.On the season, Davis has had four games with at least 22 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. The rest of the players in the six major conferences have just three such games combined. While the two are comparable as far as points and rebounds, Davis is much more efficient not to mention the effect he has on the defensive end, leading the nation with 4.9 blocks per game. Overall, no one has a larger effect on the game than does Davis.
BA – I actually have a Wooden Award vote, so this one might change by the time I cast my ballot, but if I had to choose today, I’d probably go with Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. Not only is the big man averaging a double-double, 17.8 points and 11.8 rebounds a game, but he has led a Kansas team I believe is over achieving. The Jayhawks will likely get a number one seed, and no worse than a two-seed, but I thought before the year that they were just a fringe top-25 team. Robinson has been a beast for the Jayhawks. I’d also give serious consideration to Marcus Denmon, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green. My sleeper shout out would go to UNLV’s Mike Moser.
WG – Anthony Davis has been sensational this season doing things on both ends of the floor to lead the Wildcats. The freshman is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds each time out to go along with five blocks each game. The only player more impressive than Davis has been Kansas junior Thomas Robinson. The 6-foot-10 forward has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds while willing his ball club to a Big 12 Championship. If Davis did was not a part of the Wildcat program I am not sure they would be number one but they would still be a very strong team. If Robinson was not a part of Kansas it is hard to imagine them wining the Big 12 so I will take Robinson as Player of the Year.