Louisville had a great season last year, but could the Cardinals be even better this season with the talent coming in? Will Ralph Sampson III make Minnesota a Final Four contender? And what travel team has the best backcourt in the country?
These questions and more are addressed by national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer in this week's mailbag.
-- Chris from Louisville
Things look great for Louisville. David Padgett, Juan Palacios and Derrick Caracter are out the door, but replacements are on the way. Samuels and Jennings will fill the void in the frontcourt. Delk and incoming freshman Jared Swopshire have the ability to give Louisville much of what Palacios provided the Cardinals.
Although Padgett was the heart and soul of the 2007-08 squad, Samuels carries the same toughness and winning attitude. What Louisville will really miss next season is Padgett's passing ability. Samuels is a great player who can dominate around the basket and knock down a jumper, but he isn't the type of player you can run your half-court offense through, as Louisville did with Padgett.
Perhaps the biggest lift will be the relief of no longer having to deal with Caracter. At worst, it will be a wash in losing a high-character guy like Padgett and losing a poor-character guy like Caracter. When you account for the players coming into the program, the Cardinals look like a Final Four team.
Gophers getting there
Tubby Smith has Minnesota going in a great direction, and all I hear from fans is how Ralph Sampson III is going to be the guy that puts us over the hump and back into Final Four contention. I'd obviously like to see it happen, but do you think he can be that guy or have Gophers fans already put their foot in their mouths? Also, of the four other incoming freshmen, which guy has the best chance to make an impact?
-- A.J. from Minneapolis
Yes, Smith does have Minnesota going in a great direction. The Gophers overachieved this past season, and he has a top-25 recruiting class coming in.
Still, I do think your intuition is correct about Sampson. He is a solid four-star prospect who is getting better and will continue to improve in college. But he isn't a dominant player who gets the ball and makes great things happen, like, say, a Kevin Love did for UCLA. Sampson can be an integral part of a winning formula, but he is not "the guy," at least not yet.
I do expect Sampson to make a impact next season, but guard Devoe Joseph might stand out even more. There is nothing like having a guard who can handle the ball and produce points, and Joseph is that type of player.
A lot of times, you need to have patience with your big men, and that might be true for Sampson.
-- Rick from Orlando
Great question, Rick. Unfortunately, I don't think I can give you a definitive answer.
I believe you have identified the two best backcourt tandems in the country. All four players are five-star prospects with special abilities. By rankings, the Team Breakdown duo is on top, but the Northwest Panthers' combo has a lot of momentum on its side with strong play over the spring - especially from Bradley, who catapulted into five-star range.
Here is a quick breakdown on each player:
Boynton: He's a superb scorer with a great pull-up jumper. He can play the point, but is more of a shooting guard in my mind. His game is more about shaking his man and pulling up over him than it is to drive by him and create a shot for someone else or finish at the basket. He has deep shooting range off the catch or the dribble, and his lateral quickness and strength make him a terrific on-the-ball defender.
Knight: Has a tremendous feel for the game and good length for a point guard. He possesses a complete game and really knows how to run a team. His weakness right now is that he sometimes doesn't have the physical strength to make all the plays. He is coming off an injury, though, and his frame is going to fill out more.
Gaddy: Is similar to Knight in that he has a tremendous feel for the game and has length as a point guard. Probably not as good a 3-point shooter as Knight, but Gaddy has a nifty arsenal of mid-range shots at his disposal. He has a Mark Jackson-type craftiness to his game rather than blazing speed. Defensively, he's a smart player. Like Knight, he needs to get stronger.
Bradley: A great scorer, Bradley strictly is a shooting guard. He has long arms and is a strong and quick leaper. Not only is Bradley an excellent mid-range shooter, he has an uncanny ability of making that difficult 5- to 12-foot shot. Like Boynton, his strength is his pull-up jumper off nifty ballhandling, but Bradley also can attack the rim. Bradley is a good 3-point shooter, but he doesn't have the same range as Boynton. Defensively, Bradley is a special player. He can dominate ballhandlers and is a multi-positional defender with superb lateral quickness and a long wing span.
How do you think William Buford will fit in at Ohio State? Will he have to play the point? If he doesn't, who will?
-- Troy from Columbus, Ohio
As much as Ohio State fans would love to have a highly ranked prospect take over at point guard, don't expect Buford to be that guy. Certainly, Buford can handle the ball and is capable of getting it up the court. As a point guard, though, Buford would be average and you lose what makes him great. He is a great wing scorer.
A more likely scenario for Ohio State is for Evan Turner to play a lot of point if the traditional point guards on the roster can't win the job. Turner is a playmaker at heart who is good with the basketball. As he gained confidence last year, he started to make more plays and showed a penchant for creating scoring opportunities.
Ohio State struggled shooting the ball from behind the arc this past season. Nobody shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range, and the returning leader in 3-point attempts is Jon Diebler, who shot 28.9 percent from behind the arc. Look for Buford to be the Buckeyes' top 3-point shooting threat, along with junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons. Buford also has a strong mid-range game and uses the bank shot as well as any player I've seen in a while.
Buford is going to fit in well and play a bunch of minutes for the Buckeyes. Don't be surprised if he is their leading scorer on the perimeter.
Head of the class?
How high will Crandall Head be ranked? Will he overtake Jereme Richmond as the No. 1 player in the state and the crown jewel of Illinois' 2010 class?
-- Jeremy from Champaign, Ill.
If you had asked me this question after watching both play at the Kingwood Classic, I would have been inclined to say Head is a better prospect. But after watching Head again at the Cactus Classic, I'm not quite ready to put him ahead of Richmond.
Both are extremely talented, five-star-caliber prospects. Richmond is a smooth wing player who might not be as explosive as Head but has a calmer and more efficient game. Head, who is a combo guard, tends to get frantic with the ball at times and over-dribble and pass up what appear to be easy mid-range scoring opportunities. In Arizona, he didn't appear to have his emotions under control, and it really hurt his game.
Head might have the higher ceiling because of his explosiveness, but the mature skill set and efficiency of Richmond's game is attractive. If Head gains more confidence in his mid-range game and learns to slow down the game, he certainly has a chance to catch Richmond in the rankings. Regardless of who is ranked higher, Illinois fans have a lot to look forward to from the duo.