Three-Point Play: Duke, Final Four picks, Isaiah Stewart
STARTING FIVE: Zeke Nnaji trims list, big decisions coming
We’re introducing a new regular column from the Rivals Hoops team today, the Three-Point Play. In our inaugural edition of the column, which will run at least two times a week, National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi discusses Duke, the Final Four and Isaiah Stewart.
1. THERE IS REASON FOR CONCERN AT DUKE
For a little while now, we’ve been dancing around the subject of whether or not there should be some concern with Duke’s 2019 recruiting. Given that I’m not the “hot take” type, that Mike Krzyzewski is possibly the greatest college coach of all time and that he’s pretty much impossible to bet against, I’ve been cautious. But, we’ve reached a point where some concern about the direction the Blue Devils' 2019 recruiting is headed is warranted and I get the sense that many of Duke’s fans are getting nervous about this class.
Don’t get me wrong, Duke is going to get some dudes. They always do. But after a few years of forging ahead in the great recruiting arms race with John Calipari and Kentucky, there’s some serious work to be done to catch up this cycle. The misses on five-stars Bryan Antoine and Josiah James are significant when the Blue Devils are going to have replace as many as four one-and-done backcourt and wing players after this season. That they appear to be slipping with Vernon Carey and Isaiah Stewart when they really need a big man who can come in right away and produce is bothersome as well.
When you add in those things with a guy like five-star Wendell Moore – who is thought to be a lean to Duke – having not made up his mind yet plus a strange situation with Anthony Harris (the Blue Devils brought him in for a visit over the weekend, but looks like they never pushed too hard and he’s likely going to end up at Virginia Tech), well it’s just not a very Duke-like cycle.
Again, I’m not pushing the panic button here, but until the Blue Devils start to get some commitments, the caution flags are up and it is something to monitor closely.
2. LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
College basketball is finally here as teams across the country officially began practice last week. As such, writers across the country are throwing out preseason predictions so I might as well join in the fun. Today, I’ll take a look at my preseason favorites to make the Final Four as well as one relatively off the radar wild card team that could make a run.
Duke: For all of the justified talk about potential superstar freshmen R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson, the two most important players on the Duke roster are five-star freshman point guard Tre Jones and junior big man Marques Bolden. We know that Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are going to put up big numbers and that they are going to look spectacular doing so. But, a guy like Jones who has earned his rep as a tough on the ball defender and pass first point guard who controls the game is vitally important here. Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all used to having the ball in their hands so it’s going to be up to Jones to serve as a mediator of sorts and keep everybody happy.
As for Bolden, the Blue Devils are pretty light on the interior and for a team where deep jump shooting could be streaky at best, him playing to the level that made him a McDonald’s All-American in high school and demanding an occasional double team would go a long way towards opening up some space. All that said, these dudes are going to score a ton of points and will be fun to watch.
Kansas: If history tells us anything, it tells us that we can’t bet against Kansas winning the Big 12 and that the Jayhawks will be a threat to make at least the Elite Eight under Bill Self. After coaching KU to its third Final Four under his watch, I don’t think it’s a big leap to think Self can get this group to the Final Four again.
Now, the Jayhawks won’t have a Devonte Graham or Frank Mason this year and it’s an awful lot to expect freshmen like Quintin Grimes or Devon Dotson to play to the level those guys did as seniors. But, Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson looks like the real deal at the power forward and Jayhawks have what could be their deepest group of post players since their 2008 National Championship team. After bombing lots of threes the last few years, if Kansas can find a few guys to step up as consistent-shot makers, it will be extremely dangerous.
Kentucky: I’m probably looking forward to watching this Kentucky team as much as any in the Calipari era because they’ll have some experience to go along with their usual supply of one-and-done type talent. Cal’s best teams have featured big-time talent with some (relatively speaking) seasoned veterans and while this team doesn’t have an Anthony Davis on it, guys like P.J. Washington and Stanford transfer Reid Travis can help to lead the Cats.
They have size, they have length, they have depth and they surely have plenty of athleticism. Freshman Tyler Herro is being counted on to make shots but the emergence of another dead-eye shooter would make Calipari much more comfortable with his team’s outlook.
Nevada: Alright, I’m going to go there and pick the Pack as a preseason Final Four team. I’m always a little nervous about teams as reliant on transfer talent as Eric Musleman’s teams have been, but the guy is perfecting it at this point. Everybody is talking about twins Caleb Martin and Cody Martin and power forward Jordan Caroline forming a great three-man punch that adds five-star freshman big man Jordan Brown. All for good reason. But the reason I’m high on Nevada is because of senior point guard Lindsey Drew. I don’t think he’ll put up any crazy numbers, but he’s got a calm and quiet toughness about him that will keep things going in the right direction.
Wild card pick, TCU: Look, I’m not predicting that TCU will make the Final Four. But the Horned Frogs are being slept on by the masses and could make some serious noise. The job Jamie Dixon is doing turning the Horned Frogs into a competitive Big 12 program has been remarkable. I’m assuming junior point guard Jaylen Fisher is going to be fully healthy after knee surgery and I love the idea of him pairing with a senior guard like Alex Robinson. They’ve got some experience to go with those guys, size and a sneaky good freshman class. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if they emerge as at least a top-15 type club.
3. WILL ISAIAH STEWART SHUT THINGS DOWN?
Today I want to finish by touching on the recruitment of five-star big man Isaiah Stewart.
I’m sure most of you know the story by now. A few weeks back he released a top six of Duke, Indiana, Michigan State, Syracuse, Villanova and Washington. He visited Washington officially and then out of nowhere he added Kentucky and visited Calipari and the Wildcats last weekend. Whenever something like that happens, which isn’t all that often, the bat phone has to be ringing like crazy for all the other programs involved.
Now that his visit is out of the way, the question is what will Stewart do next? So far, we really don’t know. He’s not yet set any other visits and I won’t be surprised if he decides to take a little time away from communicating with coaches to really think about what he wants his next move to be. Should he end up setting additional visits, then there’s a good chance that the Kentucky threat could have come and gone. But, if we don’t start hearing about additional visits sometime soon, then it may be curtains for everybody but Kentucky on this one.
He’ll be at USA Basketball’s mini-camp this weekend and I’m sure that the media mafia is going to be out in full force, so we could know much more about what he’s thinking sometime in the next 72 to 96 hours.