Starting Five: July storylines to track
Traditionally, the month of July has been huge for college basketball and recruiting. With changes to the recruiting calendar and fewer events for coaches to attend, this July could be unlike any we've seen in some time. In this week's edition of the Starting Five, Eric Bossi looks at five storylines to watch.
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WHO EMERGES AT NO. 1?
Currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the class of 2020, seven-footer Evan Mobley and skilled guard Cade Cunningham have created a little bit of separation between themselves and the rest of the rising senior class.
Mobley took over the top spot during the winter and held onto through the spring while Cunningham has made a meteoric rise from the national top 15 to the second spot over the last six months.
A mobile, athletic and versatile big man, Mobley is perhaps more of a future play. He doesn't always put up huge numbers, but a lot of what he does defensively in discouraging or disrupting shots doesn't show up in a boxscore and he's gotten much more polished offensively. Cunningham is extremely productive across the board and as a 6-foot-7 point guard, is pretty unique himself.
Something else that is pretty interesting with Mobley and Cunningham is that both of them have seen family members get hired by high major programs. Mobley's father Eric was hired by USC in 2018 while Cunningham's older brother Cannen was just hired by Oklahoma State last week. The assumption is that both of these guys end up with their family members (and USC already landed Mobley's older brother Isaiah Mobley, a 2019 McDonald's All-American), so perhaps a nice prop bet could be which one of them makes their college decision first?
2. WILL THE NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL ACADEMIES WORK?
Instead of the three five-day live periods coaches have had to evaluate prospects during July in past years, this year they will have two options. There will be a four-day window from July 11-14 that will feature tournaments and camps run by shoe companies and independent event operators just like in years past.
After that, things could get tricky.
The only other options that coaches will have to watch players in person will be a USA Basketball event in Colorado Springs or at any of the NCAA's four academies being run in Champaign, Houston, Phoenix and Storrs. The events will feature two sessions at each region (July 22-25 and 25-28) and as many as 2400 total players between the classes of 2020-22 will be playing at the events.
That's where the questions start. I've spent time cruising the academy website, I've talked to college coaches, I've talked to players and I've spoken to youth coaches and even though we are just three weeks out, nobody really has an idea of what is happening.
College coaches either don't know who is playing where or they aren't telling. Most kids are unsure of whether or not to attend and most of the top-rated players -- especially in 2020 -- don't seem to have any interest in attending. What are the schedules going to look like? Is media allowed? How much will traditional tournaments being run and live-streamed hurt the talent level at the academies?
I want to give these academies a chance and I hope that they work out. I was pretty unsure about the NCAA's changes in June when high school associations were allowed to run events and those changes worked out great. So, there's some hope.
But, as I look at things today, I'm pretty nervous about how these academies are going to work out and I sure hope information is either made available or becomes much easier to find in the very near future.
3. WHICH NEW COACHES WILL MAKE SPLASHES?
Over the past few years, coaches in their first year on the job at new programs have been coming out firing with top 10 recruiting classes. Will Wade at LSU (albeit not without controversy) and Archie Miller at Indiana did it with their 2018 classes. Penny Hardaway at Memphis (more on him next) had the top ranked class in 2019, Tom Crean went large at Georgia as did Chris Mack at Louisville. We usually start to get a feel for who is going to have a big first class by the end of July.
History tells us to expect this, leaving the question, who does it with their 2020 class?
Currently, Fred Hoiberg at Nebraska has the No. 11 ranked class in 2020 thanks to retaining four-star prospects Donovan Williams and D'Andre Davis so he's got to be in the mix. Juwan Howard has held onto top 50 prospect Zeb Jackson at Michigan and has been mentioned with some big names like five-star Isaiah Jackson, so he's got a chance.
At UCLA, Mick Cronin has the most high profile new gig and he's got loads of experience from his time heading Cincinnati. There's also loads of talent in Southern California. If he can connect quickly, then he would certainly have a good shot at a top 10 type class.
At Arkansas, Eric Musselman is taking over in a year where four prospects from the state -- Moses Moody, Jaylin Williams, KK Robinson and Chris Moore -- rank among the top 80 nationally so there's a huge opportunity to make a big splash.
Though he's yet to land a player from 2020, I'd also keep a real close eye on Nate Oats at Alabama. He did a great job keeping talent in Tuscaloosa upon landing the gig and has at least gotten the Crimson Tide in the game with big-timers like five-star scorers Jalen Green and Nimari Burnett among others. I could see him and Alabama getting hot, especially with the SEC's rising popularity with top hoops prospects.
4. CAN PENNY DO IT AGAIN?
I don't think anybody thought this time a year ago that Penny Hardaway could land the nation's top ranked recruiting class during his first year on the job at Memphis. But, when he seemed to be everywhere during the month of July, we all got a pretty good idea that he was going to make the Tigers a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail.
So, what can he do for an encore?
Again, I don't think anybody is expecting a No. 1 class and it will be pretty tough to top a first class that featured 2019's top ranked player James Wiseman. But, there's still a lot of buzz out there and I'm betting that by the end of July, we'll start to hear talk heating up about Penny and his staff putting together another big class.
Tops on the Tigers' wish list appears to be current No. 3 in the class, elite shooting guard Jalen Green and they've had him on campus. Other big names they are involved with include five-star point guard Daishen Nix, top 35 guards Kyree Walker and Dalen Terry and five-star forward Greg Brown.
I'm curious to see who they may be considered favorites for by the end of the month or what new names get associated with them.
5. WHO GETS HOT?
Each July we see players either rocket their way up the charts or come from totally off the radar to emerge as big-time targets. So, who does it this year?
Four-star point guard R.J. Davis is off to a good start. His performance over the weekend netted him new offers from Kansas and Texas to go along with those he picked up in mid June from UCLA and Vanderbilt. He's now got in the neighborhood of 20 high major offers and could still be rising.
What about a guy like seven-footer Saba Gigiberia? The European big man hasn't been seen that much but does have offers from Illinois, Georgia Tech, TCU, USC and UNLV. He's skilled, has a big body, plays with some nasty and the native of Georgia could cause a stir at the NBA Academy games in Atlanta during the first live period.
The list of players with potential to truly break out is a long one and it's always fun to see who takes the next step.