As we move toward summer, and the quiet period for college basketball, there is still some work to be done before things settle down until the fall. A few Top 100 recruits remain uncommitted, the NBA pre-draft combine is coming up, and of course, a number of early entry candidates will make a decision to stay in the NBA Draft, or return to school.
While most of the big-name schools pepper the top of the recruiting class rankings again this year, there were a handful of non-traditional hoops schools that secured top classes. Here’s an early look at four schools which aren’t typically among the hoops elite, but may be set up to make some noise during the 2016-17 college basketball season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
When Ben Howland landed at Mississippi State, I immediately thought it was a great hire for the school, and a chance for a solid coach to revive his career. Going into his first season, Howland was able to secure one of the top recruits in the nation when he landed Malik Newman. Although year one wasn’t a huge success, finishing 14-17, 7-11 in the SEC, Howland has shown in his previous stints at Pittsburgh and UCLA, that he knows how to craft a team.
This year, Coach Howland was able to secure the seventh ranked recruiting class. The Bulldogs landed four players ranked in the top 100, headlined by big-man Schnider Herard, and combo forward Mario Kegler. Herard is positioned nicely to have an immediate impact replacing Gavin Ware on the interior, while Kegler can provide the inside-outside versatility which is key to today’s game.
MSU will return one of its leading scorers in 6’4″ sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon; and most importantly, could see Newman return for at least one more year. Although he put his name into the pool for early NBA Draft entry, currently Newman is projected as a mid-second round pick, so it may be in his best interest to return to school. If Newman returns and has the breakout initially expected of him, Mississippi State could improve by leaps and bounds.
Sure, the Hurricanes made it to the Elite Eight this past season, but Miami isn’t consistently able to keep itself among the nation’s top programs. Perhaps this will be the beginning, as Jim Larranaga has picked up the #10 recruiting class this year, and can build on last season’s success.
Now, the Canes are losing a ton with the departures of seniors Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, and Tonye Jekiri. However, Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton will be back in the fold. Reed and Newton averaged 11 and 10 points per game respectively. In addition to the returnees, Miami has two top 40 kids coming on board in Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown.
Huell should bring a ton of skill and athleticism to the Hurricanes’ frontcourt. He’ll also have an immediate impact on the defensive end, an aspect of the game which usually keeps freshman off the floor. That shouldn’t be an issue for Huell. Brown is known for his aggression and confidence on both ends of the floor. That mentality will serve him well in the uber-competitive ACC. It’s always difficult to remain at the top of the conference in the ACC, but Larranaga should have Miami right in the mix to continue their winning ways with this group.
Florida State Seminoles
Undoubtedly, most of the folks in Tallahassee are focusing on what the Noles will be doing on the gridiron this fall, but they may be in for a treat come winter time as well. In 2015, Leonard Hamilton’s crew was a bit up and down, missing the NCAA Tournament, and getting ousted in the second round of the NIT. Looking forward to the 2016-17 season, FSU has already gotten some good news.
After initially testing the waters for the NBA Draft, last year’s top recruit and leading scorer Dwayne Bacon has decided to return. The 6’7″ Bacon averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game last year, and could be poised for an even bigger sophomore season. Along with Bacon, junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announced he would be heading back to school as well. His return bodes well for the Seminoles’ backcourt for the upcoming season.
Probably the best news this offseason came when top 15 recruit Jonathan Isaac decided to stick with Florida State, rather than try his luck in the NBA Draft. Isaac is a skilled and athletic big man, but is a bit of a beanpole at 6’10”, 205 lbs. With Bacon and Rathan-Mayes back, along with a number of guys who saw important minutes last season, Isaac will have a chance to develop, without all of the pressure being heaped on him. There’s also still a chance that Hamilton gets one more helping of good news, if freshman Malik Beasley decides to come back. As of now he’s projected as a late first round pick, but if Beasley returns, Florida State could have a big year.
Unlike Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Shaka Smart’s second installment at Texas took a bit of a hit this offseason. After leading the Longhorns in scoring as a freshman, Isaiah Taylor made the decision to not only enter the NBA Draft, but to immediately hire an agent. That closed the book on the 6’1″ Taylor’s career at Texas.
Don’t feel too bad for Coach Smart though. Even though his first season ended on a brutal buzzer beater to Northern Iowa, Shaka overachieved a bit getting his squad to the NCAA Tournament. Now with a top 15 recruiting class, he’s well on his way to getting the Longhorns back in the national picture.
Shaka can look forward to increase contributions from three returnees from last year’s freshman class. Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., and Tevin Mack all played significant minutes in 2015-16, and should make further progress this year under Smart’s tutelage. Senior Shaquille Cleare will be the only big man returning who played double figure minutes.
All of the departures should pave the way for what is tabbed as the 15th rated recruiting class in the nation. At the top of the list for Texas is versatile guard Andrew Jones. At 6’4″, Jones can play both guard spots, can create for others, and attack the basket. The backcourt will get additional help from Jacob Young, a 6-foot point guard prospect who was ranked near the top 100. Given the lack of frontcourt depth, James Banks will have an excellent opportunity to play right away, and an instant impact will be needed. Banks is the kind of big man Shaka Smart likes, as he has the athleticism to run the floor, and should be a contributor on defense right away. If Coach Smart continues to grab recruiting classes like this, it’s not going to take long for havoc to take hold at Texas.
Year in and year out, we have a good idea of what the Kentuckys, Dukes and Michigan States of the world will do not only in recruiting, but during the college basketball season as well. Keep an eye out as the 2016-17 season gets into full swing, as these historical football powers put their stamp on the hardwood.
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Photo via Flickr/Kenneth Banks