In this week's Rivals Roundtable, analysts Eric Bossi, Corey Evans and Dan McDonald discuss the fallout at Arizona, surprise players that could emerge in the NCAA Tournament and intriguing recruitments.
After allegations were published linking Arizona coach Sean Miller to improper tactics, Miller has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and the University is standing behind him. However, the Wildcats 2018 recruiting class has fallen apart, what type of obstacles will Miller and his staff face from here on out?
Eric Bossi: “As I watched the Arizona press conference where Sean Miller denied any wrongdoing I saw a man who appeared to be genuinely disgusted with how his name has been sullied and I’m sure the stress has him at his breaking point. Unfortunately for Miller, the allegations that he was discussing paying prospects combined with former assistant Emmanual Richardson being arrested back in the fall are going to be awfully difficult to overcome. At least in the near future.
“Arizona being linked to the federal investigation into college basketball has now cost them their entire 2018 recruiting class of five-stars Jahvon Quinerly, Shareef O’Neal and four-star Brandon Williams. The Wildcats also appeared to be heavy favorites for unsigned four-star senior combo guard Devonaire Doutrive and they were making up ground on four-star wing Tevian Jones. They’ll be able to sell playing time to those guys, but being caught up in negative headlines is really going to hamper Miller and the Wildcats. With anybody they try to recruit, the questions are going to be there and there is no doubt that opposing coaches will do everything they can to throw Arizona under the bus.
“Should Miller be vindicated and have it proven that he’s been the victim of false accusations he’s too good of a recruiter and coach to not bounce back quickly. But in the short term, the fallout has been disastrous for him and the Wildcats.”
Corey Evans: “Back in August, Arizona was on the verge of landing one of the best recruiting class in school history. Now, after five-star big man Shareef O’Neal and top 40 point guard Brandon Williams have backed out, they don’t have any commitments from the senior class. The FBI investigation into corruption had already cost them a commitment from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly and also knocked them out of contention for topranked senior R.J. Barrett and other five-stars like Bol Bol and Nassir Little back in the fall
“Even if Miller is completely vindicated and allegations against him are completely false, it still will be difficult to clear his name for at least a couple of years. We, as society, tend to forget which should help Miller and his program over the long haul but the immediate future for the head coach in Tucson and his program is on difficult footing. They will be killed by fellow coaches on the recruiting trail, and will have many future prospects a bit pessimistic regarding the potential of the program given that they stand to lose a lot to the NBA and graduation. With nobody onboard from 2018, it could be a tough sell in Tucson.”
Dan McDonald: “It's going to get worse before it gets better for Arizona now that the Wildcats have lost their entire 2018 recruiting class. The uncertainty around Arizona's program is going to be a serious problem, whether Sean Miller keeps his job or not. It's the same problem schools like North Carolina faced until recently or even Miami in football.
“When there is a question about NCAA rules violations, the period during the investigation is the worst part because other schools can use that against you and there is nothing that can be done about it. They can get recruits to believe a serious penalty is coming because the NCAA is so unpredictable with dealing out punishment. For example, many people believe Brandon Ingram would have picked UNC instead of Duke had it not been for the ongoing investigation and not knowing if sanctions were on the way. It could be really rough for Arizona the next couple years if Sean Miller isn't completely exonerated soon.”
What lesser known prospect do you see emerging as a potential early entry candidate during Conference and NCAA Tournament play? Is there a replacement in line if he leaves?
Bossi: “I think that the SEC and NCAA Tournaments are going to introduce the general hoops viewing public to Arkansas freshman big man Daniel Gafford. Already well known in NBA circles and to the hardcore fans, Gafford is one of the best players and prospects that nobody really knows about.
“Gafford is an athletic and quick big man who is averaging 11.9 points, 6.2 points and 2.1 blocks per game on the season. Even with those impressive numbers, the near seven-footer is only scratching at the surface of his potential and it’s worth noting that he didn’t begin playing competitive basketball until his freshman year in high school when his coach basically told him he was too tall to be in the band. While there isn’t necessarily a Gafford waiting on deck should he leave for the NBA, Mike Anderson and the Hogs do have a top 20 recruiting class that features a pair of Rivals150 big men Ethan Henderson and Reggie Chaney that could help soften the blow.”
Evans: “I’m not sure if we can put the ‘lesser known prospect’ label on Florida shooting guard Jalen Hudson but he is the type of player that could catch fire in March and become the face of the NCAA Tournament. Just like last year, the Gators could easily win more than just one game in the tournament.
“Like the rest of his teammates, Hudson has been capable of laying some duds, like a zero point outing against Georgia last month. Then again, has had some huge outings like the one against Alabama where he had 27 points off of 9-of-13 shooting from the floor. A 6-foot-6 wing that is making over 40 percent of his perimeter attempts, Hudson brings major value to the floor but he will also turn 22 in the spring. If Hudson shows that he can bring a consistent jumper to the heightened platform that the NCAA Tournament provides, the Gators’ redshirt junior may be off to the NBA.
“Fortunately for Florida fans, Mike White’s bunch went out and signed one of the top shooters in the 2018 class, Noah Locke, who led the Nike EYBL in 3-pointers made last summer. Along with Locke is Keyontae Johnson, a Rivals150 wing that should bring the defensive acumen that Locke may currently lack. The duo should be able to provide toughness and shooting, two facets of the game that Hudson may leave but the Gators have already solidified with the signings of the four-star guards.”
McDonald: “Virginia's redshirt freshman forward Deandre Hunter could be a serious stock riser over the next month. He's become a really valuable piece for the Hoos this year and just the other night made a ridiculous shot to avoid an upset loss to Louisville. I've always been a huge fan of Hunter's going back to seeing him with Philly Pride during the summers. He has the body type that NBA scouts will love and his game has really come along. He's a versatile player on both ends of the court and he'll make shots from deep.
“If Hunter does rise up draft boards and leave Charlottesville this year, it'd be a tough blow for Tony Bennett. I highly doubt they anticipated this being a real possibility when the season started. Virginia doesn't have an obvious positional replacement for him, so Bennett and his staff may have to consider the graduate transfer route if he does end up leaving.”
Which available non five-star senior in the class of 2018 has the most intriguing recruitment?
Bossi: “Now that he’s back on the market, I think it has to be point guard Brandon Williams. He committed to Arizona early and was injured all of his junior year and summer before his senior year so very few programs have even recruited him over the past year and a half. With terrific size, athleticism and the ability to be a scorer or facilitator from the lead guard spot, programs are likely going to knock themselves out to get involved.
“For now, Williams is declining interviews and he’s yet to release any kind of list. However, he’s been pushing hard for a move to five-star status in the final 2018 rankings and is the kind of guy who can play at any program in America.”
Evans: “It has to be point guard Courtney Ramey. The one-time Louisville commit who backed off of his pledge in September, Ramey has not longed for college interest ever since and he’s already visited Texas and Oklahoma State officially.
“The giant need for a facilitating lead guard that can make others better and defend is always important. Seeing that there aren’t many others available this winter and many name brand programs have need for one, the intrigue surrounding Ramey has never been bigger. Illinois and Missouri have begun to show more interest and it potentially pits two rivals who figure to be going head to head for several more top players in the St. Louis area. SMU, Clemson, Ohio State and a handful of others remain involved, too, and there seems to be no end in sight for when and where the elite defender might land. Ramey is the type of talent that can immediately transform any program’s backcourt and be the reason that a respective bunch jumps from league contender to league favorite in the blink of an eye.”
McDonald: “J'Raan Brooks has had an interesting recruiting process. Once committed to USC, he decided to back out following the arrest of USC assistant coach Tony Bland in the FBI investigation into college basketball. The day after Christmas, he decided to pick St. John's. Two weeks ago, he opened up his recruitment once again. How his recruitment plays out will certainly be interesting to watch as we move closer to the late signing period. Especially since there are so few big men left who have his combination of size and skill scoring the basketball. This could be one where the coaching carousel that will play out over the next month heavily impacts where he ends up.”