Rivals Roundtable: Coaches who need to make the tourney; Trendon Watford
It’s the weekend and that means that the Rivals Roundtable is here. This weekend national basketball analysts Eric Bossi, Dan McDonald and Corey Evans are discussing coaches under the most pressure to reach the NCAA Tournament, National Player of the Year candidates not named Zion and five-star Trendon Watford.
1. Which bubble team/coach is under the most pressure to reach the NCAA tournament?
Bossi: Corey and Dan both have Texas (who I was going to pick as well) covered pretty thoroughly, so I will go with Minnesota. Richard Pitino and the Gophers are squarely on the bubble right now and pretty much hold their own destiny in their hands. If they could beat both Purdue and Maryland, they are locks to make the NCAA Tournament and could even move up to a single digit seed line. If they can beat one of them and win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, then they should be pretty safe. Fail to beat the Boilermakers or Terps and it they’ll be left out in the cold. Could Pitino survive if his team is sub .500 in the Big Ten and misses the NCAA’s for the fifth time in six years?
Evans: One would have to assume Shaka Smart would not only like to get back to the NCAA tournament but also win his first ever game in it as the head coach at Texas. The Longhorns have not been short on talent in recent years, but the idea of having three consecutive seasons of one-and-done centers that will not get a win in the NCAA tournament is difficult to wrap your arms around. Missing the NCAA tournament this year is not going to cut it for the Texas faithful, especially after seeing Rick Barnes flourishing in Knoxville with the chance to take his new employer to their first ever Final Four this month.
McDonald: I really think Smart needs to find a way to get Texas into the NCAA Tournament. I don't see any way he gets fired this year because of his buyout, but if the Longhorns don't get into the NCAA Tournament this year, next year his seat could get pretty warm and the pressure really ramps up.
2. Who is second in line for National Player of the Year, after that guy named Zion?
Bossi: In a non-Zion Williamson balloting, it would be pretty tough to not go with Markus Howard at this point. He’s leading Marquette to a likely Big East title and he is doing so with some serious style while averaging 25.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. The junior guard isn’t always the most efficient guy, but there aren’t many in America who can get it rolling like he does when he is hot. He’s gone over 30 points eight times this season and doesn’t miss from the free throw line late in games. On the other hand, I could easily get behind Murray State’s Ja Morant as the NPOY as well.
Evans: Why not go to the next face of the Duke program in RJ Barrett? In the three games without Williamson, (including North Carolina), Barrett has been sensational, posting per-game averages of 28 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists, all while making 71 percent of his shots from the floor. Yes, Duke has lost two of those games but Barrett remains the best takeover artist in the game. He is talented, has an alpha-personality on the court, and can check every box on the final stat sheet.
McDonald: Grant Williams would have to be the guy for me. He's been nothing short of spectacular for a Tennessee team that has been incredibly consistent. 19.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game is a really impressive stat line, and add in the fact he's been an incredible leader for Rick Barnes and I like him as a National Player of the Year candidate.
3. Can Duke make a run at five-star Trendon Watford?
Bossi: I mean, it is Duke. Duke and Kentucky are the two programs capable of getting involved with anybody at almost any time. But, the Devils are looking to jump in awfully late and they would really have their work cut out for them. Places like LSU, Memphis and Indiana have ties to Watford that date back to before he even started high school and Alabama has been on him hard for four years now. Would I totally rule it out the Blue Devils? No. But, they are going to have to make up some serious ground to get in the game.
Evans: If they do offer and make a hard run at Trendon Watford, I think he ends up in Durham. Watford has stuck to the timeline he outlined last summer when he said he would take his recruitment into the spring before signing in April. Before Duke jumped into the picture, it was a major battle between Alabama, LSU, and Memphis. Each had sat in the pole position at one point in time and LSU had things heading in their favor. However, Duke is a school that would catch Watford’s eye and if an offer came, a commitment follow.
McDonald: I do think the Blue Devils can make this one really interesting. Prior to Duke's involvement, I thought it was pretty tight between LSU and Memphis for his signature with Alabama being next in line. Between Duke jumping into the mix and the potential for fallout from the FBI investigation with Will Wade, Watford's recruitment could get pretty interesting down the stretch here.