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Rivals Roundtable: Top defenders, national title talk, stock raisers

National recruiting analysts Rob Cassidy, Dan McDonald and Russ Wood tackle several topics about college basketball and recruiting.


Rival Views: Who's the front-runner for Coach of the Year?

2021 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2022 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2023 Rankings: Top 30


1. Which 2021 prospect has impressed you most with his work on the defensive end of the floor?

Moussa Diabate
Moussa Diabate (

Cassidy: I’ve long been impressed with the motor and defensive prowess of Michigan commit Moussa Diabate. That said, the display he put on during his IMG Academy team’s The St. James NIBC Invitational still managed to blow me away. We’ve long known the big was a rim protector that changes shots underneath and defends the high post, but at the St. James Event, he consistently stayed in front of five-star guard Kennedy Chandler when he was forced to switch on to him. Diabate may not be the single most dominant defensive player in the class, but he’s the most versatile.

McDonald: I've always been a big fan of Jahmai Mashack's work as a perimeter defender, and I'm quite certain that's why Rick Barnes made him a priority in the 2021 class. He's athletic, physical and aggressive, which are three traits that will make him a great fit for Tennessee. Regardless of who stays and who goes in Knoxville, he'll be a tough guy for Barnes to keep off the floor next season.

Wood: Aminu Mohammed is the best example of an elite defender that I can think of in the 2021 class. His athleticism, length, toughness, desire, instincts and incredible motor can make him – dare I say it – a shutdown defender in college. It will be difficult for Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing to take Mohammed off the court.

2. Gonzaga and Baylor look like the two most popular picks to push for the national title. Which team outside of those two do you think belongs in the conversation?

Luke Garza
Luke Garza (AP Images)

Cassidy: I’m a believer in 13-1 Michigan. It sits at No. 3 on the Pomeroy Rankings. Hunter Dickinson and his 15 PPG get a lot of deserved credit, but the fact that the Wolverines have enough shooters around him to shoot themselves out of trouble should they find themselves in a hole come March is just as important.

McDonald: Iowa has to be considered that next team. It has the firepower to score in the 90's if need be, but it is tough enough defensively to where it can win an ugly game too, which is important in March. It also helps to have one of the best players in America in Luka Garza.

Wood: Hail, Hail, to Michigan. The Wolverines have a great low post player in Dickinson and four guys around him who can really play. They are hard to guard at every position. In the low post, if you don’t double them, they score and if you double them they kick out to guys who can make threes. Eli Brooks has developed into a very good point guard. The only game Michigan has lost this season is a game Brooks did not play.

3. How do you feel about conference tournaments?  Should they go ahead as planned or is it too big of a risk to host MTEs just before the NCAA Tournament?

Cassidy: Holding multi-team events the week before the sport’s marquee tournament seems like it’s playing with fire. The travel involved and the temptation for college students to be college students while on the road seems like an unnecessary risk unless vaccine distribution improves. Shutdowns are already all too common as it is, and such things are more costly in March. Skipping conference tournaments is certainly less than ideal, but that can be said about anything that has taken place this season.

McDonald: I'm in favor of playing it out as currently scheduled. As we've learned since conference tournament week last year, college basketball will need to be flexible with all scheduling to finish up this season until we reach the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic. But I'm cautiously optimistic we'll be able to finish the season with some level of normalcy.

Wood: I don’t think they should go ahead as planned but I think conference tournaments should still happen. Perhaps some conferences, if not all, should hold early games at campus locations then advance the semifinalists to the conference tournament location.

4. Which committed or signed prospect has impressed you with a recent performance? 

Ryan Nembhard
Ryan Nembhard (FIBA)

Cassidy: Tamar Bates’ jumper seems to be getting more and more consistent. The Texas signee looked great in most facets during a recent game against a loaded Sunrise Academy team, but his efficiency is what stood out most. Bates was 6-for-10 from the floor against a roster loaded with Div. I prospects while he also impressed with defense. Bates looks like he’ll be an instant-impact type of player for Shaka Smart.

McDonald: I really like what I saw from Bates earlier this week at the St. James NIBC Invitational. I could've used him in response to the first question regarding the type of defensive player he is, but I also really like what he does offensively, too. He's a shot maker that plays with a ton of energy, which makes him a really good fit for the culture Shaka Smart has built at Texas.

Wood: Ryan Nembhard. I’ve watched him throughout his time at Montverde Academy and I just love his leadership and his mental and physical toughness. I don’t think many people immediately think “tough” when they look at Nembhard but, as people got a chance to see during The St. James NIBC Invitational, he has plenty of heart and might be Montverde’s best defender. Nembhard is a great get for Creighton.