In Midst of Recruiting Scandal, Duke Remains Supreme

There hasn’t been a more talked about off-season in college basketball than this year. By now everyone knows about the FBI investigation that flipped multiple programs upside down, and likely isn’t going anywhere for sometime. The investigation has exposed all the flaws and corruption that exist in college recruiting. Despite the negativity surrounding recruiting, one thing remains constant. Duke is number one.

Last night, RJ Barrett, ESPN’s #1 player in the class of 2018 announced his commitment to Duke over Kentucky and Oregon. Barrett solidified himself as the premiere recruit in the 2018 class with his play in the U19 FIBA games this past summer. He led Canada past Team USA, coached by John Calipari, in the semifinals on his way to a gold medal.

With Barrett’s commitment, Duke has now landed the top ranked recruit in four of the last five recruiting classes. In the those five years, Coach K has landed a total of 22 players ranked in ESPN’s Top 100. Barrett gives the Blue Devils three of the top ten next year already.

Five lottery picks in the last three years and countless McDonald’s All-Americans prove that when it comes to recruiting, it is Coach K, along with John Calipari, at the top of the list. And with players like Barrett, Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent and Cam Reddish waiting for their draft nights, you can expect that lottery number to continue to rise.

A lot of people like to label Coach K a cheater. When top recruits choose Duke, critics like to make pay-for-players jokes. Whatever your personal opinion may be, facts are that coaches all over the country are getting busted for illegal recruiting. None of them have the last name Krzyzewski. The FBI investigation is expected to be around for awhile. Duke may come up, they may not. But until that day comes, you have to admire and respect Coach K’s ability to bring in the best of the best.

Best Thing All CBB Season: Champions Classic

Marvin Bagley shook up the college basketball world Monday night when he announced his commitment to Duke and reclassification to the Class of 2017. Many put Bagley at the top of the Class now as the most prized recruit, over Michael Porter Jr. The move also gave Duke, who is welcoming in three McDonald’s All-Americans, an absolutely loaded ’17 recruiting class. After the Bagley news settled in, my mind jumped right to the Champions Classic; this year is going to be absolutely loaded with college talent.

While an event that features college basketball blue bloods, and four Hall of Fame coaches is sure to always draw attention, this year is different. Let’s take a look at each team as they head into the 2017-18 season.

Kansas

Kansas may have the least hype heading into the season of this quartet, but don’t be fooled, Bill Self’s team is still the favorite to win the Big 12. Self will return a good core from last year’s Elite Eight team. Yes, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are gone. A returning cast of DeVonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick is a solid group to contend. The Jayhawks will also get back Udoka Azubuike, who missed most of last season with a wrist injury.

New to the Jayhawks will be freshman Billy Preston, a 6-10 forward from Oak Hill University, as well as Malik Newman. Newman was a former five-star recruit who will suit up for his first game action at Kansas after transferring from Mississippi State. If KU can pull a rabbit out of a hat and land five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson-and get him eligible- they will join the conversation as National Championship contender. For now, front court depth will remain a question mark for Rock Chalk.

Kentucky

Spoiler alert: John Calipari has another great recruiting class coming into Kentucky. The Wildcats lose a lot of pieces from last year’s team, but bring in a strong class, featuring 5 five-star recruits. Kentucky’s strengths will be at the wing and in the back court, not to say they are weak in the front court by any means. With Kevin Knox and PJ Washington, Kentucky has two elite wings who can get out on the break and finish everything around the rim. With a back court duo of Hamidou Diallo- who practiced with the team during the second half of last season- and Quade Green, Calipari has a team that will love to get up and down in transition and make highlight reel plays above the rim.

Add Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and a returning Wenyen Gabriel, and Kentucky has a group of bigs that will mainly be asked to protect that paint and own the glass, things each of them have proven capable of doing. Kentucky may have lost a lot, but in typical John Calipari fashion, he brought in a new wave of future Pros to Lexington. SEC favorites once again.

Michigan State

Similar to Kansas, Tom Izzo does not have a recruiting class coming in that compare to Kentucky and Duke’s. Also like Kansas, he has a very talented group returning with a year of experience under their belt, and a hunger for improvement. The Spartans saw a lot of ups and downs last season, with four freshman playing crucial roles. All four return for their sophomore campaigns including Miles Bridges, who was a lock to be a lottery, and likely even a top 10 pick in last Spring’s NBA draft. Also returning are Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn. These two guards will be crucial for any success next season, as they will be leaned on to control the offense.

Despite the tremendous nucleus returning, Izzo still managed to bring in Jaren Jackson, ESPN’s #8 recruit in the Class of 2017. As a 6’11 stretch forward, Jackson brings versatility to a team that is already versatile. He and Bridges, two assumed lottery picks should they declare for the 2018 Draft, can play multiple spots on the floor. Giving a coach like Tom Izzo so many combinations to run is a dangerous thing come March.

Duke

Last but not least, Duke. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Devils changed the game when they landed Marvin Bagley. Coach K had already inked three of ESPN’s top seven recruits. With Bagley, they now have four of the top eight. Bagley, paired with Wendell Carter, gives Duke two Top 10 recruits joining Marques Bolden in the front court in Cameron. While depth is always a concern, all eyes will be on Bagley to carry the load and solidify their preseason #1 ranking.

The Blue Devils also landed the best possible freshman to replace Frank Jackson and Luke Kennard. Coming to Durham this season is top point guard Trevon Duval and top shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. Duval is an explosive point guard; think Dennis Smith-esque. Trent is one of the best scorers in the class. As ESPN called it, he’s a “bucket getter,” and loves the ball in his hands when his team needs to score. With him and Bagley on the floor, Duke should not have any problem finding ways to score the basketball.

This is a brief overview of four of the top teams in college basketball next season. An in-depth look could go on for pages. The Champions Classic is always stacked with NBA lottery pick talent among four high profile college basketball programs. This year however is a bit different; no team is going to be “down” from last year. When it’s all said and done, this year’s Champions Classic could produce the #1 Overall Draft pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as well as at least 10 first round picks, most of which will be lottery picks. Get excited, college basketball is almost here.

Marvin Bagley’s Possible Impact if He Reclassifies

It was reported weeks ago that Marvin Bagley, the top player in the class of 2018, filed paperwork to re-class and enroll in college next season. Last night, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Bagley will make his college decision tonight. This move is less about playing college basketball this season, and more about declaring for the NBA Draft this Spring. Bagley is doing everything possible to make himself eligible for a team by this Fall. With his commitment coming tonight, let’s take a look at how Bagley could impact the six schools with the chance of landing him.

Duke

Many perceive Duke to be the favorite to land Bagley tonight. The Blue Devils once again brought in a strong recruiting class. But with Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum going pro, Amile Jefferson graduating and Chase Jeter transferring, there still could be added firepower to the front court in Cameron. The addition of Bagley would deepen Coach K’s roster, something they have struggled with come March. Bagley, who already took an official visit to Duke, could slide right into the line up alongside Wendell Carter and give Coach K a much more solid front court duo to compliment a strong back court ofTrevon Duval and Grayson Allen. Having landed Tre Jones yesterday, it could be quite the two days for the Blue Devils if Bagley chooses Duke.

USC

USC woud love to pick up where they left off last season with a late commitment from Bagley, who has already taken an official visit. The Trojans won a play in game before winning a last second thriller over SMU in the NCAA Tournament this past March. They return key contributors to last year’s NCAA team and are expected to be a top team in the Pac 12 this year. Unlike most teams on this list that could use front court help, the Trojans’ two top returning players are 6’10 Bennie Boatwright and 6’11 Chimezie Metu. While this would be a problem welcomed by head coach Andy Enfield, it could prove to be an issue if the three cannot play together.

UCLA

Steve Alford would love nothing more than to replace two NBA lottery picks with the probable #1 overall pick of whatever draft he enters. After losing Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf to the NBA, Alford has holes to fill. He also lost son, Bryce and fellow senior Isaac Hamilton to graduation. Those four players contributed 60 points per game last year for the Bruins. And while Alford’s incoming group of freshman is another strong group, Bagley would put them over the top and give Arizona a run for its money for Pac 12 champ. Bagley would be paired alongside incoming freshman Cody Riley, and give UCLA as big and strong of a front court as any team in the country.

The three schools above are clear favorites to land Bagley, as he took official visits to all three spots. However, anything can happen in the college basketball world. Arizona, Kentucky and Kansas are all long shots to land Bagley, but with three of the best recruiters in CBB running each team, you can’t call them dead. My guess is Bagley ends up at Duke and there will be a new preseason #1 in College Basketball. Twitter seemed to agree.