Wednesday's Mailbag: Kentucky, Pitt, Indiana, Duke, Seton Hall
The wheels keep spinning on the commitment front, with Kennedy Chandler becoming the latest to come off the board when he popped for Tennessee on Friday. Many questions are still in play, and we include a few in today’s Wednesday’s Mailbag as we take a look at what the loss of assistant coach Kenny Payne means for Kentucky, Pitt’s primary needs in the 2021 class, Indiana’s next commitment and much more.
2022 Rankings: Top 75
Bruiser Flint is not Kenny Payne, but John Calipari is not going to ask Flint to be that guy for Kentucky. Rather, he is a sounding board that Calipari has great trust in, thanks to the fact that Flint previously spending time on his staff at UMass in the 1990s and is someone that can tell Calipari what he needs to hear - unlike any other newcomer that may be afraid to speak up from the get-go. He is also a former head coach and is able to potentially take some responsibilities off of Calipari and allow him to focus on the more important aspects of running a program.
Losing Payne may hurt Kentucky some with Paolo Banchero seeing that Payne was perceived as one of the best at developing big men in college basketball before he left for the New York Knicks job. We could also see the responsibilities of Joel Justus and Tony Barbee grow. The last time Calipari was forced to make a hire, he gave little-known Justus a bump in responsibility and he has flourished ever since.
There is no reason why Justus and/or Barbee couldn’t take even greater ownership of the program, at least until Flint gets the lay of the land in Lexington. Further, news began to trickle out Tuesday evening that Jai Lucas would be leaving the Texas staff for an off-court role in Lexington. If that is the case, it opens the door even greater for blueblood recruiting in the state of Texas, where the Lucas name holds major clout.
No one is going to completely fill Payne's shoes, but as long as Calipari is overseeing the UK program and remains motivated the Wildcats should remain among the elite in the sport.
Yes, Pitt doesn’t have as great of a need in the 2021 class compared to 2020, when the Panthers secured five high school commitments and another via the transfer portal. But just because not much information is out there regarding who they are involved with doesn't mean the Panthers aren't remaining active during the pandemic.
A center is one of their most pressing of needs, which is why Efton Reid is atop their list. Reid hasn’t done a whole lot with his recruitment after deciding to remain in the 2021 class, but Pitt is one of the few teams to watch with the 7-footer. Michigan and Ohio Stare are two of Pitt’s greater competitors for his commitment, and while there is no timetable for his decision, the Panthers should be in it until the very end.
Meanwhile, if Nike Sibande doesn’t get a waiver to play right away, Pitt would just have one scholarship to fill after the season, thanks to Terrell Brown’s graduation. If Sibande does play this season and thus graduates alongside Brown, look for Pitt to chase after another guard-wing. The Panthers are involved with Brandon Weston and David Jones, but the likeliest path for filling that need might come via the transfer wire in the spring.
In the 2021 class, Trey Kaufman is the guy for Indiana. Sure, there has been talk that he wouldn’t mind leaving the state for college and that after the North Carolina offer the Tar Heels may have surpassed the Hoosiers. Virginia is also in the mix, as are Louisville and Purdue, but Archie Miller rarely loses a battle for a top prospect from his state, and until proven wrong, I am going to stick with Kaufman for IU.
For the year after, the safest bet would be to look at who the top prospects are in 2022 from the state of Indiana. That brings us to D’Ante Davis, the younger brother of DeAndre Davis, who will be a freshman at Louisville this fall. The Cardinals could be tough to beat if his older sibling’s time at Louisville is a good one. But D'Ante already holds an IU offer, so he is one to keep an eye on. The same could be said for Avery Brown, a three-star guard out of New England that Miller and his staff have made a push for in recent weeks.
Listen, I get it, you want to see progress from your Seton Hall Pirates, whether it comes in the form of on-the-floor success or the talent that is being recruited. However, let’s sit back and appreciate all that Kevin Willard has done for the program. Just five years ago, Willard was often included in various hot seat articles. But the Big East program has taken off and not only competed for a Big East title practically every year since, but it has also made the NCAA Tournament every year.
Willard has done that with a few recruiting wins, but even more importantly, with his keen eye for finding under-the-radar players. He has the ability to get the best out of his players and invest in their skill development. That is always going to be the ethos of the Seton Hall program as long as Willard is in town, but that doesn’t mean that Rivals150 commitments should not be expected.
Sure, Willard hasn't landed any top 100 players, but let’s not shortchange the Pirates. Tyler Powell and Ryan Conway are both Rivals150 recruits who are culture guys that should have quality college careers. They might not have the cache of the players in Villanova’s top 10 class, but they definitely will be central cogs on future NCAA Tournament teams.
Maybe Seton Hall can strike with Jakai Robinson or Mac Etienne, and I am sure that would satisfy some of your wishes. But either way, the Pirates will remain involved for the ranked three-star or a four-star players every now and again. And if those players do pick Willard’s crew they likely outplay their ranking, thanks to the culture set in place at the Big East program.
If I am a Duke fan, I am monitoring Trevor Keels, Pat Baldwin, Caleb Houstan, Paolo Banchero and Charles Bediako. That does not mean the Blue Devils are going to land all those players, but they should feel good about where they sit with the tremendous group.
Keels has often been connected to Duke and Villanova, the two likeliest landing spots for him. Baldwin is in a similar boat, but his father’s program, Milwaukee, will be difficult to beat, as will Kentucky and North Carolina. If it doesn't get Baldwin, then potentially Duke makes Houstan an even greater priority. I’d say the Blue Devils' last successful Canadian transplant, RJ Barrett, worked out well in Durham and that could help them when it comes time for Houstan to commit.
Banchero is in the middle of a national battle that includes the local programs, Gonzaga and Washington, and also Arizona, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Blue Devils are definitely one of the teams to beat, but his commitment will be a tricky one. Don’t slight Tennessee’s chances now after it just secured his good friend, Kennedy Chandler. Finally, Bediako is a key target that Alabama is making a serious run at, as are Memphis, Tennessee, Texas and a number of others. Whether or not Mark Williams leaves after the season will determine how great of a need Duke has at the center position.
Expect at least three of the five to commit to Duke and joining AJ Griffin on the Durham campus in a year. If Duke feels as if it is losing steam on any of them, then maybe it circles back with someone like Harrison Ingram or another player that doesn’t hold a Blue Devils’ offer.