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Rivals Roundtable: UCLA targets, 2020 stars and teams to watch

RANKINGS: 2019 Rivals150 | 2020 Rivals150 | 2019 Team Rankings

After a short break for the Holidays, the Rivals Roundtable is back. This week basketball analysts Eric Bossi, Corey Evans and Dan McDonald discuss who they would target at UCLA, juniors with rising reputations and teams to watch in the new year.

MORE: Seven predictions for 2019

1. Who should UCLA hire and why?

Bossi: There’s a big part of me that says UCLA should do any and everything they can to get either Fred Hoiberg or Earl Watson put in place, and now. Eliminate the interim coaching plan and let one these guys begin to establish a culture and work on building a staff and getting a start in recruiting. Watson is a former players’ favorite while Hoiberg has proven he could win.

If not that, the guy that would be No. 1 on my list is N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts. I know it would be a gamble to roll the dice on a guy without West Coast ties, but I see Keatts as a program builder, a people connector and the type of coach that could quickly energize a fanbase and recruits out West just as he’s done in Raleigh.

Evans: I get the Hoiberg and Watson talk, and would go as far to say that Washington coach Mike Hopkins would be a slam dunk due to his connections to the Los Angeles area and a personable nature that would strike a chord in Westwood.

However, if it is a safe but sure-fire successful hire we’re talking about, I will go with Mike Brey. Sure, he has not been employed by a program west of the Mississippi, but he has also made Notre Dame one of the more successful programs nationally since he took over nearly 20 years ago. He has made the Elite Eight twice in the past four years, has an outgoing personality that would suit the UCLA boosters and fan base well, and also deploys a fun, entertaining four-out offense that would excel in LA. Throw in the Under Armour connections and Brey would make a lot of sense. If there is ever a time for him to make the leap, now would be it.

McDonald: I'm going with a former Pac-12 star with a background in coaching travel ball who also has experience coaching in the NBA, but probably not the one you're thinking about. I think Miles Simon, a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach, would be an interesting move here. He did a terrific job coaching the California Supreme in the Nike EYBL years ago, and now he can add being a part of LeBron's coaching staff to his resume'. The likelihood of UCLA going this route and choosing Simon over a former UCLA player like Watson is probably not very high, but it would be a wise move.

2. What 2020 player has raised his stock the most and where does he stand in his recruitment?

Bossi: This is an easy answer for me, seven-footer Makur Maker has put himself into the conversation of 2020’s most elite prospects and will push for the national top five next time we update rankings. The cousin of the Milwaukee Bucks' Thon Maker and former four-star big man Matur Maker, can do a little bit of everything. He’s got deep shooting range, can handle the ball, is becoming a shot blocker and presents nightmare matchup issues.

His recruitment is just starting to take off. UCLA had been making a major play and I assume whoever takes over will do so as well. USC and Oregon recently offered and Kansas just jumped in this week. He’ll have everybody in the country checking in.

Evans: I am pretty happy that we have Jalen Cone already within the top-100 of the Rivals150 and while I had questions about him in the past and if his game would and could translate to the highest level, what he did in Charlotte prior to Christmas was something else. He exploded for 49 points off of 18-for-28 shooting from the floor, all while displaying a major competitive chip to him. Sure, he might not have the requisite size out top where he stands under 5-foot-10, but tell me this: how many high-major programs would love to have someone like Chris Clemmons, a very comparable prospect to him, running their team this year? About 95-percent including a handful of national title aspiring programs.

Too bad his lack of size is undermining his recruitment but kudos to Ole Miss, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest for getting in there early and having a great chance with Cone as his stock continues to ascend thanks to his explosiveness, scoring arsenal and just how hard he plays.

McDonald: This one is pretty easy for me, and it's been trending this direction for a couple months now. I think Deivon Smith needs to be viewed as one of the top point guards in the 2020 class. He's an electric athlete, a great passer, a great finisher at the rim, and he can make shots. I love his upside at the next level and how he makes guys around him better.

On the recruiting side, he just added offers from Clemson and Georgia Tech last week. Florida, Georgia, St. John's, TCU and Xavier offered in November or early December. He's visited Georgia and Georgia Tech within the past few months.

3. What team is poised to surprise during conference play?

Lindell Wigginton
Lindell Wigginton (USA Today)

Bossi: A lot of eyes will be on Ames, Iowa this weekend to see how Iowa State handles perennial Big XII champion Kansas. Regardless of what happens Saturday afternoon, I’m high on the Cyclones and their potential in conference an NCAA Tournament play. They are just getting back to full strength as sophomore star Lindell Wigginton works his way into shape and they’ve already overcome adversity in building an 11-2 record.

I’d look for sophomore forward Cameron Lard to return to last year’s level of play sooner than later and the freshman backcourt duo of Talen Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton looks to have legitimate star potential. All of that plus some experience in fifth year seniors Nick Weiler-Babb and Marial Shayok makes for a dangerous team.

Evans: I really like Minnesota; not sure why the hot seat conversation pieces heading into the season even included Richard Pitino, but he has already shown that it was foolish to think that the Gophers would be in for a bad season. They have sneakily put together a strong resume thus far with wins over Nebraska, Washington and Wisconsin, and also have one of the more productive players in college ball in Jordan Murphy.

Last year’s team struggled not just because of its inability to make shots or defend but rather due to its lack of healthy bodies. Fun guard play with Dupree McBrayer and Amir Coffey, a rim protector in Daniel Oturu, and a shot maker in Gabe Kalscheur, could equate for a dark horse Big Ten unit that has already beaten two of the better teams within it.

McDonald: I like LSU to creep back into the national picture. The Tigers have a young team and took a few tough non-conference losses, but they are starting to play good basketball as conference play rolls around. Will Wade is a really good coach with a really good staff, and with the talent they have in Baton Rouge, I wouldn't be surprised if we see LSU make a run back into the rankings and finish in one of the top few spots in the SEC.