Three-Point Play: Surprise classes, sleeper teams, schools under pressure
STARTING FIVE: Decision time for four-star Boogie Ellis?
In today’s edition of the three-point play, National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi triples up. Up for discussion are three surprise recruiting classes, three teams being slept on in the preseason and three programs under pressure to win.
1. SURPRISE CLASSES
There is still plenty of maneuvering left before the opening of the early signing period in two weeks, but as things stand there are three particular classes that I find to be pleasant surprises.
Louisville: Seriously, who could have expected Chris Mack to be doing so well on the recruiting trail? The Cardinals have been in the wrong kind of headlines for a bit now but the first-year coach has shrugged them off while hauling in a class that currently ranks No. 2 overall. What really sticks out to me about the group of Samuell Williamson, Aidan Igiehon, Jae’Lyn Withers, David Johnson, Josh Nickelberry and Quinn Slazinksi is that it brings in needed talent while building a solid foundation for Mack to rebuild the program around.
Ohio State: I don’t think there’s anybody out there who considered Chris Holtmann some sort of slouch on the recruiting trail. But, with his three-man class that currently ranks No. 7 overall in 2019, he and his staff are proving to be quite dangerous. Sure, talented combo forward Alonzo Gaffney was an in-state kid and not the toughest sell. But they came from behind for five-star D.J. Carton and winning the E.J. Liddell recruitment was eye-opening. I’ll tell you what else, each of the guys in their class has been a major target of Big Ten competitors so it’s like winning twice on each of those guys.
Oklahoma State: I’ve been convinced since early last season that Mike Boynton is a rising star in the college coaching world. The Cowboys making a nice run in the NIT and winning twice against Kansas were things I consider to be glimpses of bigger things coming for Boynton in Stillwater. He’s breaking through on the recruiting trail too and has a trio of Rivals150 players – Marcus Watson, Avery Anderson and Kaleb Boone – as part of a 2019 recruiting class that currently ranks No. 19 overall.
2. THEY SLEEPIN'
Last week the preseason AP Top 25 came out and Loyola (Chicago) was inexplicably missing. I detailed my confusion over that one in this column last week. Today, I want to briefly touch on three other programs I feel are getting slept on nationally.
Cincinnati: Mick Cronin just gets the job done in Cincinnati. I bet big money that he’ll get it done again this year after back-to-back 30-win seasons and eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Burly wing Jarron Cumberland is due for a star turn, Cane Broome is a combustible scorer and the Bearcats have a bunch of tough kids around them.
Florida: Mike White is currently crushing it on the recruiting trail and as the season is approaching, the Gators are being overlooked. Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen are one of the best wing scoring duos in the country and freshman Andrew Nembhard is an elite passer. Keep an eye out for redshirt junior Keith Stone too. I’ve got a feeling he takes a big step forward this year.
Stanford: The Cardinal are really young and they’ve only made the NCAA Tournament once (2014) since 2008. This is the year they make it back. I see a Pac-12 that is as wide-open as it has ever been and Jerod Haase and his staff have assembled as much talent seen in Palo Alto in years. Daejon Davis and Kezi Okpela proving to be legitimate NBA players will go a long way towards them making the leap.
3. UNDER PRESSURE
I don’t like the term “hot seat," so I’m not going to use it. But let’s be real here, there are programs and coaches out there under extreme pressure to win this year. These three stand out to me.
Nebraska: I thought Tim Miles and the Huskers got hosed last year when they were left out of the NCAA Tournament. But I also understand scheduling matters and that their resumé had some holes in it. James Palmer needs to be as good as everybody thinks he is and he’s got plenty of help in guys like Isaiah Roby, Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson. It might be win-or-else in Lincoln, especially with the football team suffering through a miserable season.
St. John's: Under Chris Mullin the Red Storm have experienced some pretty impressive highs – like last year’s back-to-back wins over Duke and Villanova – but it’s been mostly lows as they’ve only gone 12-42 and failed to finish any higher than 8th in the Big East during Mullin’s three seasons. This year they have a legit star in Shamorie Ponds and tons of athletic, interchangeable guys to play with him. If they can’t make real noise this year, when will they?
UCLA: Whether it’s fair or not, Steve Alford gets judged by a different set of standards because he is the head coach of UCLA and the fans demand a lot. Alford has made four NCAA tournaments in five years and three Sweet 16s. The Bruins have two potential sophomore stars in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes and have an impressive recruiting class. But, it is Westwood and the wolves will be out if there are any stumbles.