NCAA Basketball Recruiting: Big Programs Still Missing Pieces from 2014 Classes

Jake CurtisFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2013

NCAA Basketball Recruiting: Big Programs Still Missing Pieces from 2014 Classes

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    Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
    Michigan State coach Tom IzzoJamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Virtually every team could strengthen itself with the addition of a star recruit. However, several teams, such as Kentucky and Duke, are pretty well-fortified with the incoming players they signed and the players expected to return next season. They don't seem to have any missing pieces.

    Some of the other big basketball programs have some holes they would like to fill. Others could help themselves considerably by landing one of the remaining unsigned players. 

     

Gonzaga

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Gonzaga has remained a national power because of its succession of athletic, productive frontcourt players. Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Austin Daye, Robert Sacre and Ronny Turiaf are the only five former Gonzaga players currently in the NBA, and all five are big frontcourt players who can score and rebound. 

    Gonzaga is in desperate need of such a player for next season.

    The Bulldogs should be strong in the backcourt next season with the anticipated return of juniors Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos. Coach Mark Few signed three more guards in the fall signing period to add to that backcourt strength.

    Gonzaga did not sign any frontcourt players, however. Sam Dower, a 6'9" power forward and the team's most productive frontcourt player at the moment, is a senior, and redshirt sophomore Angel Nunez, a 6'8" transfer from Louisville who becomes eligible Dec. 20, may not be the answer.

    Przemek Karnowski, a 7'1" sophomore, will be a force in the middle, but the Bulldogs will still lack an athletic frontcourt scorer unless it lands someone in the spring. The Bulldogs have a habit of landing undervalued foreign players.

     

     

Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State is a key participant in the Myles Turner sweepstakes.

    Oklahoma State signed a junior college point guard (Jeff Newberry) and a shooting guard (Jared Terrell) to help minimize the loss of senior shooting guard Markel Brown and the expected departure of All-American point guard Marcus Smart to the pros.

    The Cowboys even signed a decent center in Mitch Solomon, one of the top high school players in Oklahoma.

    However, the losses will far outweigh the additions unless Travis Ford lands Turner, the No. 2-rated recruit according to Scout.com and ESPN.com, and the most coveted unsigned recruit for 2014.

    The Cowboys are among the eight finalists for the 6'11" Turner, but, unlike most of the other contenders for him, Oklahoma State cannot afford to miss on him. Landing Turner might keep the Cowboys at the current level that was facilitated by Smart. Failing to sign Turner may push them to the lower half of the Big 12.

    Oklahoma State is trying to line up a Dec. 6 campus visit for Turner, which indicates he is seriously considering the Cowboys.

     

     

     

North Carolina

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    North Carolina has the No. 4-rated class in the country, according to ESPN.com, and they added three quality perimeter players in point guard Joel Berry, small forward Justin Jackson and small forward Theo Pinson.

    But Roy Williams' system cries out for versatile wingmen who can shoot and score from anywhere on the floor. Harrison Barnes and Wayne Ellington were the prototypes of the kind of player that made the Tar Heels national title contenders.

    Williams would love to land Rashad Vaughn, a 6'5" guard from Findlay Prep who is rated the nation's No. 7 overall recruit by Rivals.com. Vaughn, who has yet to sign, nearly committed to North Carolina last spring, and still has the Tar Heels among his seven finalists. 

    Vaughn has visited Iowa State and UNLV, so they are definitely in the running. But Vaughn told SNY.tv he plans to visit North Carolina soon.

    The Tar Heels are likely to lose three frontcourt players: James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, who are potential first-round draft picks, and senior Leslie McDonald.

    But adding a player like Vaughn would solve some problems and provide the kind of player that fits Williams' system.

     

     

Kansas

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    Kansas coach Bill Self is in a tricky situation because he does not know exactly what his needs will be next season.  It's a good bet he will require backcourt help, and he hopes to land one of the two remaining elite guards during the spring.

    Freshman forward Andrew Wiggins is almost certain to enter the NBA draft, and freshman center Joel Embiid, another probable lottery pick, is likely to do the same.

    However, the Jayhawks will still be in pretty good shape in the frontcourt. Perry Ellis, an improving 6'8" sophomore, is expected to return next season, and Kansas will add the best high school power forward in the country in 6'8" Cliff Alexander, an immediate impact player who signed with the Jayhawks during the fall signing period. For good measure, the Jayhawks also signed 6'7" forward Kelly Oubre, rated the nation's No. 10 overall recruit by ESPN.com.

    The reason for concern is that freshman guard Wayne Selden also may leave for the NBA after this season. DraftExpress.com lists him as the No. 15 overall pick in its 2014 NBA mock draft, so he's a likely first-rounder.

    His departure would leave a scoring void in the backcourt. Point guard Naadir Tharpe has another year of eligibility after this season, but he is not a major scoring threat. Freshman guard Frank Mason scored 15 points in the victory over Duke, so he might provide some offense next season.

    More backcourt scoring will be needed if Selden leaves, though.

    Kansas is among the finalists for both elite guards who are still unsigned: Rashad Vaughn, rated the No. 7 overall recruit by Rivals.com and No. 13 by Scout.com, and JaQuan Lyle, the No. 22 recruit according to Scout.com and Rivals.com.

    The Jayhawks would seem to have the inside track on Lyle because he and Alexander are friends, and the pair would like to play together in college

     

Ohio State

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Like Kansas and North Carolina, Ohio State already has an outstanding recruiting class, but the Buckeyes have a chance to have a monster class that addresses all their needs if Thad Matta can lure one particular player to Columbus.

    The Buckeyes signed four players in the fall, including three ranked among ESPN.com's top 100 players. 

    Combo guard D'Angelo Russell, the nation's No. 12-ranked overall recruit, according to ESPN.com, is the highest rated of the Buckeyes' fall signees. He may be able to fill the sizable point guard void left when senior Aaron Craft departs after this season.

    However, there is one piece missing: a dominant post player who can rule the paint. Duke signed one in Jahlil Okafor, and Kentucky got one in Karl Towns Jr.

    Ohio State could solve that lone shortcoming if it lands 6'11" Myles Turner, the No. 2 overall recruit according to Scout.com and ESPN.com, and the most attractive unsigned player in the class of 2014.

    The Buckeyes clearly have a shot at Turner. Not only is Ohio State listed among Turner's seven finalists, but his first official visit was to Ohio State in October. That indicates the Buckeyes are among the front-runners for Turner.

    If Turner signs with Ohio State in the spring, Ohio State would have as complete a recruiting class as Kentucky and Duke.

     

Florida

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    Billy Donovan signed two guards in the fall, and they should serve the Gators well with the stable of backcourt talent returning. But the absence of a quality big man continues to haunt Florida.

    The Gators dominated college basketball when Al Horford and Joaquim Noah controlled the paint for several seasons. Donovan has not been quite as successful since.

    Signing 6'8" Devin Robinson in the fall should help next season, and a verbal commitment from 6'9" Kevarrius Hayes for the class of 2015 should pay dividends the following season. That assumes Hayes will not change his mind in the meantime.

    The Gators would like to find more frontcourt help for next season, but that may not be possible.

     

     

Indiana

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Australian sensation Dante Exum seems likely to skip college and enter the 2014 NBA draft, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford. Exum has that option as an international player who will turn 19 next year.

    In the unlikely event he decides to play a year of college ball in America, Indiana has as good a chance as anyone of landing him. Exum has taken only one college visit and it was to Indiana.  If he decides to play college ball, though, he figures to make additional visits in the coming weeks.

    Exum is a 6'6" combo guard, and ESPN.com rates him as the No. 4 NBA prospect. Any college team would greatly enhance its program for a year if it signs Exum.

    Nonetheless, his addition would not solve the Hoosiers' looming concern: a center to replace 6'10" freshman Noah Vonleh, a likely first-round NBA draft pick who may leave after one year.

    The Hoosiers signed three players in the fall, but two are guards, and the third is a 6'7" small forward. For the Hoosiers to regain the top-10 status they enjoyed last season, they need a big man like Cody Zeller.

    Indiana failed to land highly-touted center Goodluck Okonoboh, who signed with UNLV. But the Hoosiers are among the finalists for Jonah Bolden, a 6'8" power forward who has yet to sign. Acquiring Bolden, rated the nation's No. 30 recruit by Scout.com, could provide some of the inside strength they need.

    Of course, Exum would solve a lot of problems, but he remains a long shot.

     

Syracuse

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    With 6'8" C.J. Fair being a senior and 6'8" sophomore Jerami Grant possibly headed to the NBA after this season, Syracuse needs a scoring threat and rebounder in the frontcourt for next season.

    Jim Boeheim thought he had one when he received a commitment from 6'9" Chris McCullough, and he still might.

    McCullough is rated the nation's No. 15 recruit by Scout.com and No. 16 by ESPN.com. Just a few days before he signed with the Orange, however, McCullough was dismissed from Brewster Academy. As of Thanksgiving, he was still looking for a another school, and with no details available regarding the reason for his dismissal, it's difficult to determine how easy it will be for him to enroll elsewhere.

    Presumably, he will find a school and complete the academic requirements to be eligible to play for Syracuse next season. Until he is enrolled, though, the question of his freshman eligibility remains.

    If, for some reason, McCullough is not eligible next season, the Orange will have a significant void in the frontcourt.

     

     

Texas

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    Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

    Rick Barnes' future as Texas head coach may be hanging on Myles Turner's choice of a college.

    A regular member of the Top 25 in Barnes' first 13 seasons as the Longhorns coach, Texas failed to make it to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1998. The Longhorns are unranked so far this season, and if they miss the NCAA tournament again, Barnes may be gone.

    One thing that could save him is signing Turner, the highest rated unsigned player. Texas is one of the leading contenders for Turner, who is from Bedford, Texas.

    Texas' current center, 6'9" sophomore Cameron Ridley, is a serviceable player. But he does not compare with the 6'11" Turner, who is rated the nation's No. 2 recruit for 2014 by both ESPN.com and Scout.com.

    The Longhorns signed two 6'7" frontcourt players: junior college power forward Obinna Oleka, and small forward Jordan Barnett. They will not solve Barnes' problems. Turner might.

     

Michigan State

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite being ranked No. 1 in both polls as of Thanksgiving, Michigan State may have some problems next season if it does not sign some talent in the spring.

    The Spartans signed just two players in the fall: point guard Lourawls Nairn, and small forward Javon Bess. Neither is rated a top-100 recruit, and Michigan State may have a lot of needs next year. 

    Point guard Keith Appling and power forward Adreian Payne are both seniors, and shooting guard Gary Harris is a good bet to enter the NBA draft after this season.

    Nairn might be able to help with the loss of Appling at the point guard spot, but the Spartans need perimeter offense and more size in the frontcourt to continue their tradition of tough, physical defense and strong inside play.

    The Spartans missed out on center Jahlil Okafor, power forward Cliff Alexander and point guard Tyus Jones after recruiting all three rather hard.

    Coach Tom Izzo said he is not panicking and hopes to sign another player or two in the spring, according to MLive.com. However, Michigan State is not on the list of contenders for any of the top-100 recruits who have yet to sign.

    Somehow Izzo always makes something competitive out of the talent on hand. He faces a major challenge with the talent expected to be available next season.