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Starting Five: Big weekend for LSU, gut check time at Duke

It was a big weekend on the recruiting trail at LSU. In Durham, it's gut check time for Duke as it looks to break out of a funk. Bishop Gorman is on a special run in Las Vegas and more in this week's edition of Eric Bossi's Starting Five.

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Sunday morning started off pretty good for Will Wade and LSU when they landed a commitment from four-star senior guard Eric Gaines.

They got even better Sunday evening when top 50 junior big man Jerrell Colbert pledged his allegiance to Wade and the Tigers.

We've actually spent quite a bit of time covering Gaines the past few weeks. He's explosive, he's got upside and he can really get to the rim. But what exactly is LSU getting in Colbert?

Despite a bit of a drop during the winter rankings update because of some inconsistent play, Colbert is a potential McDonald's All-American level big man. He is a high level rim protector, he cleans the glass and he does a nice job of running the floor. He does need to get stronger and be a bit more physical, but it's also worth noting that he looks like he has potential to play some pick-and-pop down the road.

When I watch Colbert play, I'm reminded quite a bit of current Washington Wizards and former Indiana big man Thomas Bryant. If Colbert can be anything close to what Bryant was for the Hoosiers, then he's going to be pretty good in Baton Rouge.


How about what Grant Rice and Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman did over the weekend? Rice is not only one of the nicest coaches I've come across during my 20 years in the business, he's one of the most successful and he just led the Gaels to a ninth (!) straight state championship.

Now, having the best talent in Nevada on a yearly basis is pretty helpful, but as we've seen on all levels, simply having the most talent doesn't mean you will win. You still have to execute and their ninth title ties a boy's high school record.

The run was started in 2012 by a team that featured former No. 1 Shabazz Muhammad and this year's team is once again loaded. Four-star senior forward Mwani Wilkinson has been one of the fastest rising players in the country and recently committed to LSU. Stanford signee Noah Taitz saw his first action since the first game of the season when he played in the semis and finals. Behind those two, Gorman also boasts two of 2021's very best players in UCLA committed shooting guard Will McClendon and top 50 point guard Zaon Collins.

In total, the teams who have won titles during the nine year run have featured 14 players who either finished in or are currently ranked in the Rivals150, five McDonald's All-Americans and 21 total three-star or better prospects.


Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski (USA Today Sports)

It's not even been a full week since I declared Duke one of my four favorites -- along with Baylor, Kansas and Kentucky -- to cut down the nets this April in Atlanta.

I still believe that Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have the horses to do it. Heck, they have two players capable of taking over games in point guard Tre Jones and big man Vernon Carey Jr. and plenty of former highly ranked talent around them. Nobody is disputing that they can get on a run.

Right now, though, the Blue Devils are in a bit of a tailspin and it's gut check time in Durham.

Last week they gave a game away late to struggling Wake Forest before heading to Virginia and losing to the Cavaliers. Counting a blowout loss at N.C. State, they've lost three of their last four. In the process they went from being in a good spot to win their first regular season ACC title since 2010 (something that's pretty remarkable if you think about it) to now having to hope for some serious help from both Florida State and Louisville to do so.

This week, the Devlis get a chance to exact some revenge on N.C. State when they host the Wolfpack and they finish things off by hosting rival North Carolina, whom they already beat in Chapel Hill during an improbable comeback. They need to use these games to get right headed into tournament time and to show the country who they really are.

If they want to advance they need to become much tougher away from Cameron Indoor Stadium and maybe more than anything they need a third player to step up and become reliable. If either Matthew Hurt or Cassius Stanley can get hot down the stretch, these guys can still be formidable.


Shaka Smart
Shaka Smart

Don't bury Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns just yet.

It wasn't but three weeks ago that Texas was in the midst of a four game Big 12 losing streak to drop to 13-11 overall and just 4-8 in conference play. They were also facing mounting injury issues -- most notably to athletic big man Jericho Sims -- and Smart was considered to be on the hottest of hot seats in Austin.

All they've done since then is rip off four-straight conference wins and as they prepare for a trip to Oklahoma on Tuesday night. If they beat the Sooners and then finish things out by beating Oklahoma State at home on Saturday, they should be in pretty good shape for the NCAA Tournament.

Living in Big 12 country, I see a lot of the Longhorns and I've noticed a few things. First of all, I've never seen Smart coach his team as hard as he has. He's turned up the intensity and a team that was getting panned for being soft has responded in a big way. Just as important, guards Andrew Jones -- whose play in a return from Leukemia has to be one of the best stories in all of college basketball -- and Courtney Ramey have really turned things up and proven to be a potent scoring duo.

Would a strong Big 12 finish and an NCAA Tournament berth be enough for Smart to settle down Longhorn fans and get them off his back? Can a strong finish help them keep 2020 five-star forward Greg Brown home? I would like to think so and in my book the Longhorns are emerging as one of the most compelling teams to watch over the last week of the regular season.


I'm sure Arizona State would have liked to have won at both USC and UCLA during their tour through Los Angeles. Wins there would have given them a serious inside track to a Pac-12 championship. Unfortunately, they dropped a pair and and will need help.

If it's any consolation Sun Devils fans, ASU has won my futurecast for top 40 big man Clifford Omoruyi.

He's not too far removed from a trip to Tempe and was at Rutgers over the weekend. He's also still planning to hit Kentucky and Connecticut and is hoping to find his way back to Auburn, so lots can change. However, I like where Bobby Hurley's team stands with the relentless and physical big man so I've gone ahead and made my pick.

If it can pull Omoruyi off and pair him with five-star Marcus Bagley, its class would move into the top 20 range nationally. Oh by the way, they're still fighting for five-star shooting guard Josh Christopher and if it can somehow land him to go along with Omoruyi, it would move comfortably into top 10 (based on today's standings) of the 2020 team rankings.