Rival Views: Sleepers, conference tournaments, intriguing recruits
Each week, Rivals.com’s Rob Cassidy and Travis Graf field questions from around the basketball world. This week in Rivals Views, the duo debate sleeper recruits, conference tournaments and which college player could break out nationally in March.
1. WHICH PLAYER CASUAL FANS MAY NOT KNOW LOOKS POISED TO MAKE A NAME FOR HIMSELF IN MARCH?
Cassidy: Earlier this week, I wrote about Chattanooga's Malachi Smith, who looks to be the most dominant SoCon player since Steph Curry, and I’ll do so again here. Smith has scored 20 or more points in 17 games this season and ranks 13th nationally in scoring. His Chattanooga team is the class of the conference and looks capable of ruining some large fan base’s collective day come tournament time. Smith declared for the NBA Draft at the conclusion of last season but ultimately decided to return to college and likely has some semblance of a professional future, whether domestic or abroad. If the Mocs make noise in March, he’ll be standing at the center of the commotion.
Graf: Murray State has a chance to be this year’s Cinderella team and if that happens that would most likely mean that senior forward KJ Williams is having a stellar tournament performance. The 6-foot-10 forward is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, averaging around 18 points and eight rebounds per game for the Racers. Williams is a very skilled forward with polished finishing skills around the basket. He’s also a threat to step out and shoot from the outside. Williams has one of the highest PER’s in the entire country this year, having been extremely efficient in the OVC. He’s only failed to reach double figures in scoring four times this season and has scored 20 or more points in 12 different games.
2. WHICH CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED TO WATCH?
Cassidy: I’m usually a low-major tournament guy. And while I’ll have one eye on the Colonial, where no fewer than four teams have a realistic chance of winning the automatic bid, my honest answer is probably the Big East. First off, I’m a sucker for Big East Tournament nostalgia. Secondly, the emergence of Providence as a national power makes this year’s installment particularly interesting. The Friars look like a real threat to capture the tournament crown for the first time since 2014 and the second time since 1994. The excitement that has taken hold of the fan base is infectious. So while I don’t typically “root” for teams, it’s certainly hard to avoid getting swept up by Friar-Mania, which seems to be running wild … brother.
Graf: It’s probably going to be the SEC tournament for me this year. There’s a total of five, maybe six teams that could realistically win the tournament this year in Tampa. Auburn most likely heads into tournament week as the one seed and the favorite, with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee right there and all of which could make Elite Eight or Final Four runs. If Alabama is making shots, it can beat anyone in the country. LSU is just now getting back to full health and is one of the best defensive teams in America. It’ll be very interesting to see who comes out on top this year without a run away favorite
3. WHICH PROSPECT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE GRASSROOTS CIRCUIT?
Cassidy: I’ve only seen 2023 Ugonna Kingsley on film as things stand, but I can’t wait to change that. The Nigerian-born center started making waves at Connecticut’s Putnam Science Academy in the last few months and looks like an elite rim-protector with a hyper-intriguing offensive upside on tape. He’ll likely play the adidas 3SSB circuit with the NY Jayhawks, so his exposure will get a healthy bump. It’s unclear exactly what level of long-term prospect Kingsley is, but that picture should clear this summer. He’s tantalizing to say the least.
Graf: I’ve seen 2023 point guard Josh Hubbard on stream a bunch, but haven’t gotten the chance to see him in person. He did a great job against a lot of top guards last year at Peach Jam for Team Thad, averaging just under 20 points per game on 50-percent shooting at the event. Hubbard recently eclipsed 3,000 points at the high school level and holds offers from Houston, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others.