Rivals Roundtable: Final Four thoughts, lookbacks
Today's Rivals Roundtable centers around the Final Four, including looking back at some of the spotlight players as high school prospects.
1. Which player are you most surprised to see in the Final Four spotlight, based on what you saw from them in high school?
Eric Bossi: Give me Charles Matthews from Michigan on this one. He's a great example of how too early of a spotlight can create unreasonable expectations and how if a player just continues to work they can find success. I remember seeing Matthews early in his freshman year at St. Rita's in Chicago and thinking to myself he had the tools to be an elite prospect and perhaps even a big point guard with athleticism. He ended up committing to Kentucky and over his last two years of high school he hit a stretch where he just didn't get much better. That and the scrutiny of being a Kentucky commitment cost him some confidence and he just wasn't ready to go as a freshman at UK. Matthews left for Michigan and after a year to focus and work on his game, he's now emerging as the player that we initially though he could be.
Corey Evans: I was late onto the scene, like most, in seeing Cameron Krutwig, the lumbering big man for Loyola who is a bit different compared to his teammates due to his size and skillset. It was the summer of 2016 and Krutwig was completing his senior travel career in Las Vegas. There, he led his Young Legends to a deep run in one of the most talent diverse events of the entire year, The Fab 48. Thinking that I had found a gem in one of the last few days of the travel calendar, I soon realized that Krutwig had already committed to Loyola. Did I think that he could play another level above the Missouri Valley Conference? I sure did but did I think that, less than two years later, that the freshman center would be playing in the Final Four and be a crucial part of his team’s success? Heck no. It goes back to finding the appropriate fit and clicking at the right time.
Dan McDonald: I'll take the easy way out and go with someone on Loyola's roster and say Clayton Custer. We did have him as a four-star prospect on Rivals.com and I didn't feel that was wrong at the time, but I never thought I'd see him playing in the Final Four. I definitely didn't see him leaving Iowa State for a mid-major and then being the guy that takes that mid-major to a Final Four. He's had a terrific year and has certainly played a huge role in helping Sister Jean's squad get to San Antonio.
2. Will Loyola-Chicago's run to the Final Four legitimately boost recruiting or is it just a nice Cinderella story for 2018?
Eric Bossi: There are a couple of things at play here that need to be considered when answering question. In the short term Loyola should benefit from a nice boost. It can now reach out to some recruits and have instant name recognition. All of the face time for head coach Porter Moser makes him somebody that kids and those helping them make decisions feel like they know a bit more. Does this mean they are going to start stealing a bunch of Rivals150 players from high majors? Probably not, but the Ramblers should expect to be able to get in the door with a higher caliber prospect than most others in the Missouri Valley may be able to. Though they are no longer in the Missouri Valley, both Creighton and Wichita State used NCAA Tournament and regular season success to elevate themselves from the "mid major" level and operate as high major programs. Budget and fan support were big parts of that but so is coaching. Dana Altman was in Omaha for 16 years leading Creighton and Gregg Marshall has stuck around in Wichita for 11 seasons. At the end of the day, how big of a bump Loyola gets is going to have to do with whether or not Moser sticks around and if it can get the type of funding and fan support to elevate above the rest of the programs in the MVC on a regular basis.
Corey Evans: For as great of a run that Loyola is on, it all goes back to what the administration is willing to put into the program. George Mason had its own magical run in 2006 and ever since then, despite its move up a level and into the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Patriots failed to bottle the magic from 12 years ago in taking the program to bigger and better heights. However, VCU, despite making a similar leap in conferences, made tremendous strides since 2011. Porter Moser is going to be a wanted man for a number of coaching vacancies and by retaining the person that was at the lead of such a tremendous run would only aid on the recruiting front. Moser and his staff have already shown the ability to land some of the better under-the-radar talents from the Midwest but the next step is landing the more coveted prospects. If Moser can remain loyal to the MVC program and is given a bigger travel budget, better facilities and higher coaching salaries, the success on the recruiting trail should only follow suit where it can follow a similar trajectory as such others programs as Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
Dan McDonald: I do believe they'll see an immediate boost and it will be much easier for the coaching staff to get their calls returned, but I don't believe they will start hauling in Rivals150 players out of high school. I think this will look much more like George Mason's run to the Final Four. It still maintained a high level of success, but it didn't mean it suddenly started beating out high-majors for prospects. If I were giving them advice, I'd say stick with what got you here. Be strong in the transfer game and maybe aim a little higher in the level of high school prospects you target, but don't start trying to walk into the same room as Big Ten schools and think you're going to come away with the prize.
3. Which FF player is going to step up the biggest in the crucial moment, based again on what you've seen from them through the years?
Eric Bossi: I will take Devonté Graham of Kansas here. His transformation from one-time unknown Appalachian State commitment to top 50 prospect and now first-team All-American has been incredible to watch. I'm sure it's quite inspiring to other young players out there who feel like they have been a bit overlooked, and it should be because Graham is an incredible story. But this is about who is going to come up big in a critical moment and what I've seen from Graham throughout his career in Lawrence tells me he's the guy. Now that it's Final Four time, I think Graham is due for a big weekend and if he can play the way he did during the heart of Big 12 Conference play then I think Kansas will cut down the nets.
Corey Evans: How can it not be Jalen Brunson? There is not one player in America more ready for it than the Villanova sensation. Brunson didn’t just find magic in a bottle this year but rather it has been the story of his life. Never one to wow you with tremendous athleticism, Brunson’s game has been built on a rock-solid foundation of wits and fundamentals. A five-star prospect out of high school, Brunson was a catalyst for his Stevenson High team’s run to a state title his senior year and was also the face of the well-known Mac Irvin Fire program. His progressions throughout the years should come as no surprise thanks to his upbringing as the son of former NBA journeyman Rick Brunson and finding the ideal landing spot under Jay Wright, a guard-mentoring savant, only bettered his chances of success.
Dan McDonald: This is the easiest question to answer. Devonte Graham always seems to make the big play for Kansas. He always did it when he was in high school and prep school. I don't know if Kansas will be in a position where he'll have the opportunity to make a clutch play, but if it is, I feel very confident he'll make it.