McDonald's Nuggets: Most underrated team, Walker Kessler and more
Dan McDonald is back with his weekend primer, McDonald's Nuggets. He says LSU is underrated, sees good things ahead for Washington and has recruiting and player of the week notes.
HOT TAKE: LSU is most underrated team in the country
The same benefit of the doubt fans believe the SEC gets in football rankings doesn’t usually translate into basketball. LSU is the perfect example of that in my opinion. Will Wade brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the country this year to what was already a pretty strong roster. Incorporating some of those new pieces into the program took a little longer people thought it would and the Tigers dropped a few games early in the season, two of which came to ranked teams in Florida State and Houston.
Since losing to Houston in December, LSU has been perfect. The Tigers are now 7-0 in SEC play and playing some really good basketball. Will Wade’s roster is one of the most athletic in the country, especially in the front court. Tremont Waters is one of the top point guards in the country averaging 15.3 points per game and 5.9 assists. Backcourt mates Skylar Mays and Ja’vonte Smart are both averaging in double figures as well at 13.3 and 10.2 points per game, respectively to form one of the top perimeter trios in the country. Don’t be surprised if this is a team that makes a run and is still playing really late in March.
PREDICTION: Good times ahead for the Huskies
When Mike Hopkins was announced as head coach at Washington, my initial thought was “wow, that’s a surprising hire”. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Growing up in a family of Syracuse fans, I was very familiar with the great work he did for the Orange. If you have ever met Mike Hopkins, even just in passing, it takes just seconds to see he has a great energy to him that I think plays well on the recruiting trail. Combine all that with him being from the west coast and I thought it was a really good hire.
The Huskies took some lumps in his first season, but managed to win 21 games and made it to the second round of the NIT. This year Washington is currently 7-0 in Pac-12 play with a 16-4 overall record, which should have fans in Seattle really excited. The biggest news in the program lately though is how recruiting is coming along. Quade Green joined the program as a mid-year transfer last month and Hopkins used a long-standing relationship with five-star big man Isaiah Stewart from his time at Syracuse to earn a commitment from the New York native.
The way for Hopkins and his staff to really make noise next season is to finish the 2019 class off with another five-star prospect in Jaden McDaniels, No. 6 overall in the 2019 Rivals150. With the talent the Huskies have returning next season, adding McDaniels along with Green and Stewart gives Washington a real shot at a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
RECRUITING NOTE: Blue Blood for Walker Kessler?
Over the past few months, pursuit of Walker Kessler, the No. 19 prospect in the updated 2020 Rivals150, has really ramped up with him taking official visits to Michigan, Vanderbilt and Virginia, and most recently offers coming in from Duke and North Carolina.
A big part of the reason for his recruitment becoming hot is the talk of him potentially reclassifying up into the 2019 class. That pushes up the sense of urgency with the schools involved with him. If he does move up to 2019, Michigan and North Carolina probably won’t have a spot for him. It could even make it harder for Duke because of the Blue Devils already having Vernon Carey committed, but it certainly doesn’t eliminate them because they do have a spot. Look for a decision on when he will enroll in college to be finalized soon.
If he stays in the 2020 class, which is absolutely still an option, his list opens back up a little bit. Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Virginia are absolutely five schools to keep an eye on, but Auburn and Georgia are still trying to hang in there with him as well. Kessler takes his fourth official visit of the school year this weekend to Duke.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markus Howard, Marquette
This was such an easy call. Markus Howard has been phenomenal every time I have watched Marquette this season, and it kept going this week. If I could pick any player in the country to have on my team late in a tight game, he would be my first choice and it’s not really that close.
On Saturday at Xavier, he was the difference maker. He scored 31 points in the win and made some key plays down the stretch to secure the win. He went off again on Wednesday for 32 points in another road win over Butler. He’s now averaging right at 25 points per game along with 4.2 assists.
Last year, my favorite player to watch was Trae Young. I thought he was must-see TV. I feel the exact same way about Markus Howard this year. What surprised me about Howard is that you don’t see him high on any NBA Mock Drafts this year, yet he’s a full six months younger than Young. I can’t see how he’s not a first round pick in June.