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Starting Five: National championship prediction, Hagans heating up

It's national championship night and National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi has his prediction. The battle for 2019 point guard Ashton Hagans is heating up and classmate D.J. Carton's recruitment is set to blow up. Those topics, and more in this week's Starting Five.

MORE: Top HS players predict Michigan-Villanova

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Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson (USA Today Sports Images)

This year's NCAA Tournament was as unpredictable as ever, but as it turns out the right teams are playing for the title as Villanova and Michigan are set to square off at the Alamadome in San Antonio on Monday night.

Nobody has been hotter than Michigan over the last month as it has blown through the Big Ten Tournament and done what it takes to make the title game. Meanwhile, Villanova has been the best team in the country throughout the course of the season.

My apologies to John Beilein, Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and the Wolverines' fanbase, but at this point I can't pick against Jay Wright, Jalen Brunson and the Wildcats.

I had the opportunity to attend Saturday's Final Four games and after watching the Wildcats dismantle Kansas with a shooting performance for the ages, it's tough for me to see them finishing the season with anything other than a win.

We've all read the analysis, we all know what they bring to the table, but at the end of the day Villanova has Brunson and Michigan doesn't. And, in my eyes, that's ballgame. Brunson's leadership and shot making along with Wright's trust in his players and talent development – two things Beilein is a master at as well – have turned Nova into a juggernaut that is clicking on all cylinders.

I'll go Villanova 82, Michigan 75 with Brunson cementing himself in Villanova lore.

The only question I have if Villanova wins is whether we should start talking about Wright as the best coach in college hoops. If the underdog Wolverines pull it off, then we need to start talking about just how high Beilein ranks. Either way, it's my belief that college hoops fans will be treated to a great ending to the 2017-18 season featuring two teams built on skill and execution.


It was inevitable, but the chase for five-star point guard Ashton Hagans from Covington (Ga.) Newton has picked up some serious juice.

The former Georgia commitment, who is new Bulldogs coach Tom Crean's top priority, has now added offers from Kentucky and Louisville to go along with those he already had from Georgia, Providence, Marquette, Georgetown, Maryland, Arizona State and others.

At this point the Kentucky offer is one to stand out. Last summer Hagans made it clear to me that an offer from Kentucky or North Carolina would be a game-changer for him and I've got no reason to think that what he said last July doesn't hold water today. I'm not saying he is a Kentucky lock, but I do feel that the Wildcats are going to make things interesting for everybody else here.

Now the rub is whether or not Hagans stays in the class of 2019 or enrolls as a 2018 graduate. For now, the plan is for Hagans to play the spring and summer on the adidas circuit with Georgia-based Game Elite.

Circling back a little, Kentucky's star freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hasn't announced whether he will enter the NBA or return to college but a decision to return would be one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. Factor in the offer to Hagans and the talk that Hagans will end up in 2018 that won't die down – despite efforts from those close to him to squash it – and it's tough to not think Hagans and John Calipari are looking like they could be a match.


The travel ball or "grassroots" season is about to shift into fifth gear in just a few weeks with live evaluation periods where college coaches can scout during the last two weekends of April.

As I start to gather notes, plan a schedule and figure out who we need to be watching, I spend a lot of time thinking about whose recruitment could really take off. The more I consider the coming month, the more I feel that four-star point guard D.J. Carton will see his stock soar.

Don't get me wrong, Carton is no unknown. He's already ranked No. 51 nationally and holds offers from Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Marquette, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio State to name a few. He has size, he has skill, he has athleticism and he's a top line leader.

What I also find interesting is that Carton – who runs with Quad City Elite – doesn't play on any of the major shoe sponsored circuits. That means that coaches are going to have to go off the beaten path a little to see him and there's no doubt in my mind that they will be glad they did. As long as coaches are doing their homework, look for his recruitment to go to another level before the end of the month and don't be surprised if he emerges as one of 2019's elite prospects.


The annual coaching carousel has turned into a great late recruiting source for programs whose coaching staffs remain intact. Gone are the days where schools were against releasing signed players and in place is a yearly late March and April free-for-all.

Released from his letter of intent with Connecticut, Tacoma (Wash.) Wilson wing Emmitt Matthews is going to end up a nice pickup for somebody.

After watching game film of Matthews' senior season, I feel he's a strong candidate for elevation to four-star status and he's somebody that could really help a high-major in need. He's got great wing size, is a nice athlete and is capable of making shots from deep. Though not quite on the same level, he reminds me some of current Washington Wizard and former five-star prospect Kelly Oubre as a high school senior.

Not surprisingly, Washington has jumped into the fray as have others such as Georgia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, N.C. State, Oklahoma and others. Look for that list to expand and look for Matthews to be among the most heavily recruited seniors over the next month.


I guess it is unavoidable that this will sound at least somewhat like whining. But in denying credentials to those considered scouts for the inaugural Next Generation Sunday event that the NCAA held at the Final Four because they didn't consider it a recruiting event, the organization missed a great opportunity to showcase the good that it can do.

The idea behind the event was to bring the top 24 high school juniors – including top-ranked Vernon Carey, Jr. – to the Final Four, partner with USA Basketball and give a glimpse of what could be achieved in the future, along with a chance to play in the Alamodome. At least, that's what I think the point was but I don't know for sure since information about the event and the purpose wasn't ever made completely clear.

This was a chance for the NCAA to get some great publicity about what looks to be a smart program that is beneficial to potential student athletes. I have no doubt that those who participated will benefit from it. That being said, in choosing to freeze out those who cared most about covering the event, the NCAA missed a golden opportunity to promote a positive.