Rivals Roundtable: Conference races, Indiana and Matthew Hurt
It’s the weekend and that means Rivals Roundtable time. This week analysts Eric Bossi, Corey Evans and Dan McDonald discuss the most intriguing conference races, Indiana’s recent skid and undecided five-star Matthew Hurt.
What is the most intriguing conference race?
Bossi: Living in Kansas City, I’m in the heart of Big 12 country where Kansas has won an astounding 14 straight titles. This year, maybe more than ever, that streak appears to be in serious jeopardy as they scramble to find consistent offense and deal with injuries and eligibility decisions that have impacted their front court. The Jayhawks face what looks like a must-win game on Saturday when they host Texas Tech, who is part of a three way tie for second with Kansas and Iowa State at 5-3 in conference play.
Atop the Big 12 at 5-2 are Kansas State and Baylor. The Wildcats are finally healthy, have experience and have been rolling in conference play of late. Scott Drew’s Bears have come from out of nowhere to win five straight in league play, making for the most compelling Big 12 race in years.
Evans: How can it not be the Big 12? It is clockwork every season; we begin to question Kansas’ chances at another Big 12 title before the Jayhawks make their run, the rest of the league falters and KU secures a league championship.
However, this year seems a bit different and with there being no separation at the top, it is anyone’s guess as to who will finish the year out as the Big 12 champion. I do like Iowa State’s chances as they have the most talent from top to bottom, as long as its role allocation remains in place. I can’t question Texas Tech and their defensive efforts, or Kansas State, with the experience that they boast but, at the end of the day, this is still Bill Self we are talking about.
Can he win his 15th consecutive title in Lawrence next month? Intrigue is not lacking.
McDonald: I have to go with the ACC here. Duke is the team that grabs all the headlines because of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, and they will certainly be among the top few spots. UNC is starting to play much better lately since the 20-point home loss to Louisville. Virginia is as good as they have been under Tony Bennett. I can't wait to see how that race plays out.
With Indiana on a seven-game Big Ten losing streak, is there more to worry about for Hoosiers fans than growing pains?
Bossi: We are looking at growing pains and reasons for legitimate concern. The Hoosiers don’t have a lot of upperlcass talent and Saturday night’s game at Michigan State will make six of their last eight league games on the road. That’s not easy for a young team that isn’t the most potent offensively.
At the same time, it is Indiana and after some years of struggling, fans are ready to return to their blueblood status and it’s not unfair for them to expect more from Archie Miller and the program. An upset in East Lansing would go a long way towards settling things down. But, if they lose to the Spartans, the Hoosiers are staring down the barrel of what could extend to a double-digit losing streak and no matter the state of a rebuild, that’s got to be considered very worrisome.
Evans: Growing pains, for sure. At the end of the day, the Hoosiers were forced to replace much of their production two years ago, which coincided with the beginning of Miller’s time in Bloomington. He patched things together last season and many assumed the enrollment of five-star Romeo Langford would be enough for Indiana to compete for a Big Ten title.
I love Romeo, but he can only do so much. Besides Langford and Juwan Morgan, consistent production has been hard to come by. Add in the fact that the injury bug has devastated its depth with Jerome Hunter out all season, while Race Thompson and DeRon Davis have not fared great either, and what you have is a middling group this season.
That should change next season. Miller has done a phenomenal job of getting the kind of guys that he wants to build with: tough, versatile and ego-less types that should acclimate well to his coaching style. Sure, they will lose both Morgan and Langford this spring, but Miller is building this program brick by brick and is laying the foundation for long-term success. It isn’t what IU fans want to hear, but if patience is granted, I think they will like what is ahead.
McDonald: I would definitely lean on the side of it being growing pains with the coaching change last year as well as the Big Ten being really tough. I firmly believe Miller is the right guy for that job and will get the Hoosiers back among the elites before long.
Five-star Matthew Hurt's fourth official visit is this weekend at Kansas following trips to Duke, UNC and Kentucky. Who lands him in the end?
Bossi: When Matthew Hurt first set his four official visits, he indicated to me that he wasn’t sure he would set a fifth. Considering that he’s yet to set that fifth visit, I would lean to thinking that the Kansas visit will wrap up the visit process for him, though local Minnesota or perhaps Memphis could still snag a visit.
Kansas has been the team to beat and is still in great position. A good showing this weekend would certainly help, but I don’t see a decision in the immediate future. Hurt would like to see how rosters shake out once players at each of his finalists are done declaring for the NBA Draft, so I anticipate he will enter a bit of a holding pattern after this weekend.
Evans: I still do not see Hurt deciding until the spring, primarily so that he gets a better feel for how the personnel at each of his finalists shakes out. Whether it is due to early departures for the NBA or out-transfers, the power is in the hands of Hurt and he knows it.
The programs involved, primarily Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and UNC, would practically wait until the last second possible to take his commitment. They are not going to use up all of their scholarships and say no to Hurt if he decided on their respective program. I look for a spring commitment and for Kansas, the program that has been the team to beat dating back to his freshman year, to land him.
McDonald: It certainly sounds like he is done with visits after this weekend, which means he'll be on the clock for a decision when he returns from Lawrence. It's hard to pinpoint a time frame on this one. I've always thought Kansas is the landing spot with him, and getting the last visit probably isn't a bad deal for Self and his staff.