Analyzing the Top Ten Recruiting Classes of 2011Posted by zhayes9 on October 7th, 2011
In this era of one-and-done, where every touted freshman and blue-chip prospect must lace up the sneakers in college for at least a season, recruiting has never been more important.
As recently as a decade ago, programs were built, legacies were formed and trophies were hoisted on the basis of developing and grooming four-year players. In 2003, freshman Carmelo Anthony bucked that trend by carrying his Syracuse team to a national title. When David Stern instituted an age limit to participate professionally, impact players such as Greg Oden, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose may have only dipped their toes in the collegiate water, but the Final Four berths won’t soon be forgotten.
This upcoming season, college basketball hasn’t been gutted as dramatically as in the past. Assumed lottery picks passed on the immediate NBA riches whether in fears of a prolonged lockout or simply to accomplish goals left unmet. A plethora of battle-tested seniors also make their dramatic return. Despite this welcomed development, freshmen will still have their say in who grabs the four all-important #1 seeds and who ultimately graces the hardwood in Indianapolis next April.
Here are the ten teams primed to receive a substantial contribution from their talented newcomers this upcoming season:
1. Kentucky– Brandon Knight is the latest Calipari-coached freshman to bolt early for the pros. Luckily for Big Blue, their coach’s recruiting skills hasn’t eroded in the least bit. In pretty much any other freshman class in the country, Kyle Wiltjer would top the list; in Lexington, he’s easily the fourth-best rookie on the squad. The headliner is center Anthony Davis, the early favorite to be selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. The Chicago native reminds many scouts of a young Kevin Garnett with his tremendous versatility, remarkable athleticism and exceptional rebounding abilities. Formerly a lightly-recruited guard prior to a timely growth spurt, Davis is more than comfortable handling the ball around the perimeter. Taking over at point guard for Knight is Marquis Teague, a lightning-fast lead guard and the younger brother of former Wake Forest and current Hawks reserve Jeff Teague. Teague is a better fit for Calipari’s preferred dribble-drive motion offense than the ball-screen dependent Knight. The third potential freshman starter is St. Patrick’s own Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Gilchrist is an intense competitor and will be absolute joy for Calipari to coach. Witjer should prove a valuable backup big man with a refined perimeter game.
2. Duke– Losing your three most productive players – two face-of-the-program seniors and a point guard that just happened to be chosen #1 overall — would result in a multi-year rebuilding process at most schools. Most schools aren’t Duke, and the Blue Devils are once again expected to compete in the top ten. The biggest reason why is Austin Rivers. Easily the best scoring guard in the freshman ranks, Rivers is a legitimate threat to average 17-20 PPG during his first (and likely only) season in Durham. Rivers does possess the ability to create his own shot, but could struggle to get opportune looks until Seth Curry develops a comfort level at point guard. Oak Hill’s Quinn Cook is expected to compete for minutes at the point once he recovers from a knee injury. He appears destined to be Duke’s floor general of the future. Cook is a born leader that has one priority: to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. How deep Coach K opts to utilize his bench will determine the playing time of wings Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy, along with the third Plumlee brother, Marshall Plumlee. All three will be regular contributors down the road. Once Murphy develops some strength, he could be the best of the lot as a scoring threat with sneaky athleticism.
3. Arizona– Sean Miller is building a sustainable program in Tucson. Don’t expect a dramatic drop-off despite the loss of Derrick Williams and MoMo Jones. While throwing a freshman to the wolves at point guard is a dicey proposition, Josiah Turner has the makings of a quick learner. Turner is the ideal floor general for Arizona due to his ability to force a defense to collapse before finding the Wildcats numerous dead-eye shooters on the wings. He’s in constant attack mode and just needs to develop consistency with his shot to reach stardom. The best pure athlete in the 2011 class might be shooting guard Nick Johnson. Much like Turner, his jump shot needs to improve, but Johnson should find the floor immediately for Miller as a fantastic on-ball defender and tough competitor. Sidiki Johnson is a candidate to play four years at Arizona and become one of their program’s unsung heroes. His post skills are limited due to his below-average athleticism, but Johnson’s wingspan and rebounding prowess make up for that perceived setback. Also debuting at Arizona will be Angelo Chol, another post prospect with serious upside once he integrates a wider range of post moves to his game. Here’s a scary note for the Pac-12: Miller’s 2012 class is even better.
4. Connecticut– The recruiting bombshell of the summer was #1-ranked center Andre Drummond not only bypassing prep school to enroll at Connecticut, but also reclassifying to the 2011 class to play this upcoming season. The move immediately vaulted the Huskies to Big East favorite and will undoubtedly make the post-Kemba transition much easier to handle (as will the return of one Jeremy Lamb). When Drummond is motivated, he’s nearly unstoppable in the post with his explosiveness and well-rounded skill set. Ryan Boatright has finally found a permanent home at UConn and should provide a nice counter to starting point guard Shabazz Napier. While Napier is more of a defensive pest and gifted passer, Boatright is a scorer with an array of offensive moves. Look for power forward DeAndre Daniels to see time off the bench spelling Roscoe Smith. Daniels is another phenomenal shooter with a quick trigger and confident release. His game needs refining, but Daniels will be a part of Connecticut’s rotation because of his playmaking ability.
5. Louisville- Many are bullish on Louisville’s chances this season primarily because of Pitino’s patented full-court press and how he coaxes maximum effort out of each and every one of his players, but what keeps that onslaught at such a high-octane pace is assembling enough depth to shuffle in and out fresh legs. Four freshmen expected to fight for a spot in Pitino’s rotation will make that task indubitably easier during a season when Louisville hopes to contend for a conference crown. Wayne Blackshear is the superstar of the group, a blue-chip shooting guard prospect who can really score. Louisville perennially ranks near the top of the nation in three-point shooting frequency, so his in-the-gym range should fit in splendidly. Blackshear isn’t just a one-trick pony, though; he’s a capable defender, thrives in transition and loves to compete. Ohio native Chane Behanan was also a coup for Pitino. This 6’7 power forward may be handed a major role on this year’s Cardinals squad if Rakeem Buckles’ return from an ACL tear isn’t smooth. Center prospect Zach Price will back up the emerging Gorgui Dieng, while former UCF commit Kevin Ware is an explosive 2-guard that should be a major contributor down the road.
6. Syracuse– Jim Boeheim hasn’t yet lost his touch on the recruiting trail. The Orange added three rotation players to an already deep stable that lost only one key cog in Rick Jackson. Rakeem Christmas could find his way into the starting lineup if Fab Melo can’t take a step forward. Christmas is a big-bodied 6’9 center with the shot-blocking skills of an NBA veteran. He’ll make an impact immediately around the rim both swatting away shots and snatching every rebound in sight, leaving the scoring to the likes of Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and fellow rookie Michael Carter-Williams. A product of the famed BABC AAU squad, Carter-Williams is a top-five scorer in the entire 2011 class. He can score in every way imaginable, from NBA range on his threes to mid-range shots, floaters, acrobatic layups and turnaround jumpers. Once his defense and strength improve over the next 2-3 seasons, he’ll be an all-Big East type player. Trevor Cooney is also a pinpoint shooter. Those two freshmen may make it difficult for designated gunner James Southerland to see the floor.
7. Texas– The departure of four seniors and two first-round draft picks (one in Cory Joseph that was completely unexpected) left Rick Barnes with plenty of roster spots to fill. He quickly got busy, securing seven players in the 2011 class ranked in the top 32 at their position according to Scout.com. The highlight is point guard Myck Kabongo, yet another Longhorn coming from the Canada-Findlay Prep-Austin pipeline. Kabongo will instantly take the reins and make the other four players on the court substantially better. He’s a true point guard who thrives creating for his teammates and has a tremendous floor presence. Sheldon McClellan will be on the receiving end of a Kabongo alley-oop in no time. McClellan is a promising wing prospect who can really run the floor. Jonathan Holmes is a versatile forward comfortable facing up, while Julien Lewis can flat out make shots. With J’Covan Brown and Alexis Wangmene the only contributors remaining from last year’s team, there will be a healthy competition among all the freshmen for immediate playing time.
8. Arkansas– Mike Anderson’s first order of business after taking the helm at Arkansas? Keep John Pelphrey’s outstanding recruiting class bound for Fayetteville. Anderson was successful and the Razorbacks have a promising core of combo guard B.J. Young, shooting guard Rashad Madden and center Hunter Mickelson to give the fan base hope for the future. Young has the highest ceiling of the foursome. He’s an aggressive playmaker with a boatload of confidence and also a fantastic athlete that excels attacking the basket. Whether he develops into someone usable at the point is an open question. If Young doesn’t claim the position down the road, Madden is a prime candidate. The Arkansas native is a point guard trapped in a wing’s body. His basketball IQ is off the charts and he loves creating for others. Mickelson is another local product who will transition comfortably into Anderson’s run-and-gun system with his ability to run the floor, even at 6’10. All three of these hyped rookies, and even incoming freshman DeVonta Abron, will compete for minutes on the Razorbacks’ thin roster.
9. St. John’s– Steve Lavin vaulted St. John’s back in the college hoops conscience not only with an outstanding run in the Big East last season, but also due to his recruiting strides off the court. Three members of his touted 2011 class were recently deemed ineligible for the fall semester and their availability during conference play is certainly up in the air, dropping this top-five class down a few pegs to #9. Maurice Harkless, Dom Pointer and D’Angelo Harrison will be eligible from the first practice onward for Lavin. Harkless is an immediate starter with an advanced mid-range game at the wing, while Pointer’s game is more predicated on athleticism and explosiveness. Harrison could lead the Johnnies in scoring as a freshman. He can fill it up from anywhere on the floor.
10. North Carolina- The two freshmen that will break Roy Williams’ loaded rotation are James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, both five-star prospects with enormous potential and upside. McAdoo is sixth man material for Williams in case Harrison Barnes, John Henson or Tyler Zeller need a breather. He loves facing up from 12-16 feet before utilizing a pull-up jumper or a variety of moves to get to the rim. McAdoo is an impressive athlete and an outstanding rebounder, as well. Henson, Zeller and McAdoo might be the best threesome frontcourt in the nation. The Heels are also blessed with a number of capable three-point shooters. Hairston should challenge Reggie Bullock for playing time at the wing given his accuracy from deep. With Hairston’s strong frame, look for the Greensboro native to develop a larger repertoire during his time in Chapel Hill.