Early Signing Period: Winners and losers
The Early Signing Period for the class of 2019 comes to a close Wednesday. Analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans weigh in on which programs came out winners and losers from the the Early Signing Period.
THEY GOT THE JOB DONE ...
Penny Hardaway was hired at Memphis to inject new life into the program and put the Tigers in position to win big on the recruiting trail, particularly with 2019’s No. 2-ranked prospect, James Wiseman.
So far, so good in the Bluff City. Tuesday’s addition of Wiseman – who Hardaway coached in the summer and at Memphis (Tenn.) East – has the fan base going absolutely crazy. Toss in a couple of highly regarded guys in top 50 forward D.J. Jeffries and Rivals150 big man Malcolm Dandridge and the Memphis class ranks in the top 10 nationally.
Moving forward, the Tigers now have a bunch of momentum to work with and still have some high-level prospects in their sights. Five-star forwards Matthew Hurt, Precious Achiuwa and Trendon Watford, along with four-star point guard Damion Baugh, are just a few that Memphis is still involved with and could add during the spring.
TEAMS WITH STAFF TURNOVER DUE TO FEDERAL CORRUPTION CASES
Let’s be clear: Nothing about the federal investigation into corruption in college hoops has been good for the game or the schools involved. However, it’s pretty incredible to see what a difference a year has made for the five programs – Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, Oklahoma State and USC – that fired coaches as a result of the 2017 bombshell. Incredibly, after mostly poor 2018 recruiting efforts due to arrests, firings and controversy, all have top 25 classes and four of them currently rank among the top nine.
Look at USC. In 2018, the Trojans did the best of any of the implicated programs by landing the No. 21 class after letting assistant Tony Bland go. This year, the Trojans have the top-ranked class in America, one that features a pair of five-star big men in Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu.
After not even signing any high school prospects in 2018, both Louisville and Auburn have experienced huge bounce-back years. Louisville currently has the No. 3 class, while Auburn is at No. 9. Last year, Arizona had to scramble late to barely land a top 35 class, but this year the Wildcats have a pair of five-stars and the No. 6 class.
And, finally, after only ranking No. 46 in 2018, second-year coach Mike Boynton has helped the Cowboys land three Rivals150 prospects and the nation’s No. 23 class.
After years of building with middle top 100 level talent, Jay Wright has the No. 2 class and an unprecedented level of talent headed to the Main Line next fall. Villanova got ahead with the commitment of Eric Dixon, a horse down low who can score in the post and also to the perimeter. Next came Justin Moore, a tough, shot-making guard who fits the mold of guys with which they have had success. But two five-stars really made the Wildcats winners.
Shooting guard Bryan Antoine was expected by most to pick Duke, but chose the Wildcats. The five-star guard was coveted by the traditional bluebloods, but the family sell and relationship that Wright and his staff built ultimately won out. It was similar to that with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The five-star forward is arguably the most ready-made freshman forward that Wright has ever landed, and he said no to a Kansas program with which he had heavy ties. Villanova is pretty easy to see as a winner.
The SEC has seven teams in the top 30 of the team rankings.
For basketball. Not football.
Thanks to an influx of coaching talent and recruiting success by teams, the league is in the best shape it has been in the past 10 years. As usual, Florida and Kentucky headline the conference, and they’ve each landed two five-star prospects to go with well-regarded four-stars.
The greater optimism is with Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Each has the type of class that should strengthen the league and shrink the difference between the top and bottom of the conference. Just a few years ago, the SEC was only able to produce three teams for the NCAA Tournament. That will not be the case this year, and thanks to the recruiting classes this fall, the chances of that happening again any time soon look to be nearly impossible.
THEY HAVE WORK TO DO ...
The Early Signing Period wasn’t as kind to the traditional bluebloods as we are accustomed to seeing. Duke did land in-state five-star wing Wendell Moore and top 50 combo guard Boogie Ellis. And it was a bonus to come in late to beat North Carolina for Ellis. But we know that Duke isn’t going to totally whiff on prospects, either. The surprise is that instead of contending with Kentucky with the top class, the Blue Devils are in the top 15 with work left to do.
In particular, the Blue Devils have to land a ready-to-go big man. Vernon Carey Jr. and Isaiah Stewart are both on the board, and the Blue Devils have been heavily involved. With all of the firepower expected to leave for the NBA after this season, landing an alpha dog scorer is an absolute must. If they land either Carey or Stewart, the panic will die down. If they miss on both, though, their 2019 class could be way down in comparison to what Blue Devils fans have grown accustomed to from Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.
The Jayhawks were the headliner of the first FBI investigation trial earlier this fall and they've been having to address it with recruits. Bill Self and his staff were able to land solid four-star wing Christian Braun and four-star point guard Isaac McBride but although Jeremiah Robinson-Earl said the trial had nothing to do with his pick of Villanova over Kansas, there will always be some wonder. The bright side, though, is that Self and the Jayhawks are still in the top three for top remaining shooting guard Cassius Stanley, and may still lead for five-star forward Matthew Hurt. They are also right in the mix for top 40 Zeke Nnaji, who will announce his decision Friday.
John Calipari is not accustomed to losing on the recruiting trail, but it has been a tough fall. The main issue has been with landing a top-flight big man. James Wiseman said no, and so did Oscar Tshiebwe and Zeke Nnaji. The Wildcats are still on the board for five-stars Vernon Carey Jr., Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, but they don’t appear to be in the pole position for any of those three. If they miss on them, pickings are slim for a high-level big man.
Here’s the crazy thing, though: Even with a “down” start to the 2019 class, Calipari and the Wildcats have still landed a pair of top 10 prospects in wing Kahlil Whitney and guard Tyrese Maxey, to go along with solid four-star wing Dontaie Allen to give them a top 10 overall class. So maybe the Early Signing Period goes down as a bit of a loss, but it’s way too early to start writing off Kentucky as a major force on the recruiting trail.
The Tar Heels landed five-star big man Armando Bacot and four-star guard Jeremiah Francis. The two-man class is a good one for the blueblood program, but compared to what the Heels had hoped for, it misses the mark a bit.
First, it was Tre Mann who decided Florida was a better spot for him than Chapel Hill. Then Josh Green did the same, selecting Arizona over the Tar Heels. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Boogie Ellis were the next two to head elsewhere, and now UNC has to continue to chase a playmaking guard and big man. The bounceback could begin Friday, if the Tar Heels are able to land top 40 big man Zeke Nnaji. But if they miss on Nnaji, too, it could be Cole Anthony or bust between now and the Late Signing Period.