Starting Five: The recruiting wins for each Final Four team
After an incredible weekend of NCAA Tournament Basketball, the Final Four has been set. Auburn, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Virginia have punched their tickets to Minneapolis and will compete for the 2019 national championship this weekend.
This week in the Starting Five, Eric Bossi looks at each program's highest-ranked prospect, biggest find and gives a prediction on who wins it all.
Bruce Pearl's Tigers aren't as deep as some of the other teams in the 2019 field when it comes to highly rated talent, but Pearl and his staff have recruited their fair share.
Highest rated: A former five-star prospect, Austin Wiley was the most decorated player as a high schooler on the Auburn roster. After enrolling early during the 2016-17 season, the 6-foot-10 post player showed impressive flashes as a freshman. He sat during the 2017-18 season due to suspension and has seen his role de-emphasized this season as the Tigers have gone to a free-wheeling, wide-open, three-point shooting style.
Best find: I wrote at the beginning of the tournament that Bryce Brown was one of the biggest recruiting finds of the NCAA Tournament and it is more true today than ever before. The former three-star prospect has been mostly excellent during the NCAA Tournament and the offense he and junior Jared Harper (a top 60 recruit in 2016) can provide may ultimately deliver a title.
2. MICHIGAN STATE
Highest rated: Technically, the answer here is junior wing Joshua Langford. However, the former five-star prospect has been out with injury since late December so I'll go ahead and give the nod to Winston. Along with Langford, Winston was part of a killer 2016 class for the Spartans that also netted five-star Miles Bridges and top 50 big man Nick Ward. Ranked No. 29 overall as a high schooler, Winston has developed into an unflappable floor general and a Spartan legend.
Best find: It has to be Kenny Goins. Of the eight Spartans to log minutes during the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, the former walk-on and redshirt senior is the only one who didn't rate as a four-star prospect coming out of high school. In fact, he was unrated by Rivals and I certainly can't recall having seen him play. After never averaging more than 3.4 points or 4.5 rebounds per game during his first three seasons, Goins has been good for 8.1 points and 9.0 rebounds this year. There's also that small matter of hitting the three that sent Michigan State to this year's Final Four.
3. TEXAS TECH
Make no mistake about it, Chris Beard and his staff are starting to accumulate nationally recognized talent -- a top 15 2019 class headlined by stud guard Jahmius Ramsey is proof -- but for the most part this Texas Tech team has been built via transfers and players who were either underrated or overachievers.
Highest rated: Seemingly eons ago (it was actually 2014), shooting guard Brandone Francis was a top 35 ranked shooting guard who signed with Florida. He never made a splash for the Gators and hasn't put up the type of numbers one would expect from such a highly rated recruit during his time in Lubbock. But, there's no doubt that Francis has provided some leadership, made key threes and still has to be accounted from beyond the three-point line.
Best find: There are plenty of finds to choose from on the Red Raiders roster but I have to go with former three-star prospect Jarrett Culver. The hometown product is arguably the best player left in the NCAA Tournament and is equal parts great get by Beard and whiff on the part of myself and other talent evaluators (when it came to high school ranking). He does it all on both ends of the floor and the sophomore is a likely Lottery pick in this June's NBA Draft.
No, Tony Bennett's Virginia team doesn't have that signature Top 25 prospect on the roster. But, it's not exactly lacking for talent as six of the eight players who clocked time during the Cavaliers thrilling overtime win over Purdue were four-star prospects in high school.
Highest rated: Just like Michigan State, Virginia landed a killer 2016 recruiting class that included four-stars Ty Jerome, DeAndre Hunter and Jay Huff. But, it was Kyle Guy who was the highest rated of the bunch checking in at No. 43 in 2016's final rankings. He's lived up to that billing too. After making just three of his first 26 attempts from deep in the Cavs' first three games, he found his shooting stroke at the right time during the Elite Eight. He'll need to stay hot for them to win.
Best find: The easy answer here is former three-star Kihei Clark. The freshman was once committed to UC Davis and most (including myself) thought Bennett was reaching a little when he fell in love with and took a commitment from the diminutive Californian. Well, score another for Bennett because Clark is a tough customer whose incredible pass to Mamadi Diakite (another former four-star prospect) helped the Cavs to overtime against Purdue and ultimately a birth in the Final Four. His numbers don't jump off the page, but he is a huge part of who the Cavs are on both ends of the floor.
5. BOSSI'S PREDICTION
If there is one common trait to each of this year's Final Four teams it has to be toughness -- make no mistake that each has been pretty nasty on the defensive end as well. Tough players, tough coaches and guys who hold each other accountable on both ends of the floor have allowed Auburn, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Virginia to make the Final Four.
I can easily see any of the remaining teams winning it but if I've got to choose the one team I feel the best about cutting down the nets a week from now in Minneapolis. I'll go with Bennett's Cavaliers. They have the best blend of top-to-bottom talent, experience, shot-making, defensive prowess and perhaps depth. That ability to make threes on offense and take them away on the defensive end is what I feel ultimately allows UVA to make the comeback and win it all just a year after the embarrassment of being the only No. 1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed.