NCAA Basketball Recruiting: Strengths and Weaknesses of the Top 2014 Classes
College basketball recruiting is an eagerly scrutinized facet of the game because, as a great philosopher once said, hope springs eternal.
Coaches hope that every touted recruit who signs to play for them exceeds even the loftiest billing. Fans think every 4- or 5-star prospect is a can't-miss NBA superstar.
However, when signing day arrives and a team's newest class is revealed in full, another consideration arises: How do the pieces fit together? Do the players have similar strengths and weaknesses, or are they all varied enough to form a solid, if unspectacular, all-around unit?
The 10 classes listed here are the top 10 in the 247 Sports Composite ranking, current as of December 5. Let's examine how each one stacks up as a whole.
Strength: Positional Balance
Coach Mike Krzyzewski landed what could form four-fifths of a starting lineup for most teams in America. Center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones are good friends who will be expected to forge instant chemistry on the court. Shooting guard Grayson Allen lives up to his position with a deadly jumper. Wing Justise Winslow can defend three positions, potentially four if he adds 10 pounds or so.
You or I could win an NCAA tournament game running with these four.
Weakness: Outside Shooting
Allen's a sniper par excellence, but the other three aren't supremely reliable shooters.
Okafor will make his living from the foul line in, so he can be forgiven. Jones and Winslow, however, will need to work on their jumpers to maximize their NBA potential.
At 171 pounds, Jones will struggle physically to get around bigger guards and finish at the rim, so a reliable outside shot will be essential. Winslow will have no such physical issues, but his work will need to be on technique. He needs a quicker release and greater arc on his shot.
Strength: Outside Shooting
Karl Towns Jr. is a seven-foot center with 25-foot range. That alone makes him a freakish prospect. Mississippi guard Devin Booker likewise has impressive range, along with the basketball intellect to know when a shot is a good one.
Point guard Tyler Ulis will struggle to finish at the rim, mostly owing to his 5'9", 150-pound frame, but his perimeter shot must be respected. Finally, power forward Trey Lyles will likely never be a three-point threat, but he is improving his jumper out to about 17 feet.
Weakness: Physical Strength
While Lyles and Towns are impressively built, both may struggle early in battles with more mature collegiate big men. Both should become strong rebounders as they acclimate to the college game.
Booker stands 6'5", but is not yet a great penetrator. He's much more of a shooter than a slasher at this point. Ulis' stature will always be an issue, but more muscle will at least help him get by bigger point guards (i.e. most of them).
3. North Carolina
The trio of forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry all have the ability to get up the floor in a heartbeat. Jackson is a bit wiry to be an effective finisher at the rim right now, but he will excel by beating opponents down the floor in transition.
Berry is a very strong player for his size (6'0", 185), while Pinson's physicality will be as much a factor on the defensive end as the offensive.
Weakness: Depth Chart Fit
Berry will enter a Tar Heel roster already stacked at the point. Marcus Paige will be a junior and Nate Britt a sophomore when the new Florida product arrives. Paige may continue this season's work at the 2, but at 6'1", he'd form a tiny backcourt with either the 5'11" Britt or the 6'0" Berry.
Jackson and Pinson are both listed as small forwards. While Jackson stands 6'8", he'd have to add an excessive amount of muscle to slide up to the 4. Coach Roy Williams' better option would be to give Jackson minutes at shooting guard, where the Heels are already missing the production of the suspended P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.
Forwards Stanley Johnson and Craig Victor will both do the dirty work needed to keep coach Sean Miller's Wildcats in the game. The powerfully built Johnson (6'6", 220) likes to wear his opponent down with physical drives, helping to make up for his lack of classic explosiveness. Victor is a lunch-pail rebounder and competitor who will surprise some opponents with his ability to score in the paint.
As for point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, he stands 5'8" and weighs 150 soaking wet. Becoming an elite basketball prospect at that size takes a whole different brand of toughness.
Weakness: Outside Shooting
As mentioned, Johnson and Victor will make most of their plays near the rim. Both can make mid-range shots when left alone, but Johnson in particular could truly dominate games if he develops a consistent jumper out to the arc.
Jackson-Cartwright will need weight room work, not only for finishing in traffic, but also to become stronger in getting his jumper off against tight pressure outside. A recruit who may help in the shooting department is junior college signee Kadeem Allen, a combo guard from Hutchinson (Kan.) CC.
5. Ohio State
Strength: Scoring Ability
Shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, from Louisville by way of Florida's Montverde Academy, is a threat to put up points from anywhere on the floor. A good penetrator and passer with a smooth perimeter stroke, Russell may be one of the most offensively versatile guards in the entire 2014 class.
Forwards Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop are both very hard to stop from the mid-range and in. Bates-Diop is long and springy enough to make his shots hard to contest. Tate will make his collegiate baskets by simply outhustling his opponents. He fights hard on every play, especially if an offensive rebound is up for grabs.
The Buckeyes are still actively pursuing Texas center Myles Turner, because juniors Amir Williams and Trey McDonald are the only true big men on the roster. While David Bell stands 6'9", he's also only 215 pounds. He's more mobile than muscular.
At 6'5" and 190, Tate is a power forward in a shooting guard's body. With a 6'10" father—former Buckeye big man Jermaine Tate—there's still hope for one last bit of growth. Bates-Diop has good length for the wing, but he could stand to add 20 or so pounds to his 190-pound frame.
Memphis point guard Chris Chiozza may be the 2014 version of Arizona State's Jahii Carson, or perhaps former Miami star Shane Larkin. A lightning-quick playmaker with or without the ball, Chiozza will allow coach Billy Donovan to exert pressure on opponents at either end.
Jacksonville (Fla.) guard Brandone Francis is a fearless penetrator who will beat opponents to the basket simply by taking the shortest path—a straight line. He'll draw enough fouls to take out a lease on the charity stripes at UF's O'Connell Center.
Virginia forward Devin Robinson will be a terror on the break, as long as he's not trying to bring the ball up. His ball-handling may be his greatest flaw at the moment.
Francis can score from nearly anywhere, and can occasionally get himself and his team in trouble by trying to prove it. If he tightens up his shot selection, he could lead the SEC in scoring sometime during his career at UF.
Chiozza suffers from similar bouts of overconfidence, resulting in facepalm-worthy turnovers. If Kasey Hill returns to Gainesville as a sophomore, it may be a blessing in disguise for Chiozza, who could use the testing in practice.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino continues to add raw big men with tremendous upside to the Louisville program. Power forward Jaylen Johnson and center Chinanu Onuaku are both better defenders than scorers at this stage, and both have room to expand their already lengthy frames (6'9" and 6'10", respectively).
Norwegian Matz Stockman (7'2", 230) is the opposite, currently projecting as a better rim attacker than protector. He may not thrive immediately, but he could become a prominent name as a junior or senior.
Weakness: Physical Strength
Aside from Stockman, the rest of the Cardinals recruits will need to spend a lot of time behind weight room doors. Wing Shaqquan Aaron (6'6", 175) and point guard Quentin Snider (6'1", 160) have to add muscle to help them score in traffic.
Johnson and Onuaku will both get pushed around by bigger college post players until they add some more meat to their bones, too. Johnson is currently around 215 pounds, while Onuaku is proactively bulking up to the 230 range. If he gets to 240, he could be very hard to dislodge.
Strength: Outside Shooting
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon knew his team needed scoring. It also needed to throw a wall up around the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) region and keep prospects out of the hands of ACC rivals. Both missions were accomplished when Turgeon landed Oxon Hill (Md.) guard Dion Wiley and Arlington (Va.) combo guard Melo Trimble.
Both Wiley and Trimble can score from well beyond the arc. For good measure, Turgeon also added Pennsylvania swingman Jared Nickens, a skilled catch-and-shoot man. One small downside: Trimble may be the only one out of the bunch who can threaten opponents with his jumper off the dribble.
Weakness: Physical Strength
The most obvious quibble here is with 7'1", 215-pound center Trayvon Reed. He can become a dominant rebounder and rim protector if he can pack on about 30 pounds of muscle to win the battles under the basket.
For Trimble, added strength will help him fight through screens and contest shots from opposing point guards. The 6'6" Nickens could threaten smaller guards with a post-up game if he can add to his current 180 pounds.
9. Seton Hall
Huntington (W.Va.) Prep forward Angel Delgado may be the fiercest glass-eater in the entire 2014 class. He's deceptively strong, possesses quick feet and has a good eye for a missed shot's bounce.
The captain of Pirates coach Kevin Willard's 2014 ship will be Brooklyn guard Isaiah Whitehead, who's no slouch on the glass himself. At 6'4" and 195, Whitehead isn't going to be pushed around on the long caroms. Unheralded small forward Ismael Sanogo also has a great rebounding mentality, although he could use more muscle to truly fight among the trees.
Weakness: Team Mentality
Whitehead may be the class of 2014's most dangerous scoring guard, and he knows it. He'll force up tough shots and occasionally take a defensive possession off as he looks ahead to his next scoring chance.
Another Brooklyn product, southpaw Khadeen Carrington, could be described as a poor man's Whitehead in both talent and attitude. The two gunners could be made to co-exist if Carrington makes a quick transition to a point guard role, but it's more likely that Carrington will wait behind Whitehead and replace him at the 2 when Whitehead leaves for the NBA.
Hoyas coach John Thompson III landed a class that could provide some good lineup flexibility. North Carolina native Isaac Copeland is listed as a power forward by most services, but he has a wing's build (6'8", 200) and a guard's jump-shooting mentality. L.J. Peak (Gaffney, S.C.) is a high school forward who could transition to the 2 in college if he improves his handle.
Chicago forward Paul White, the Robin to Jahlil Okafor's Batman at Whitney Young HS, could grow into a power forward's frame with small forward ball skills.
The only single-position player in this class is D.C. point guard Tre Campbell, but don't tell him that. The 6'2" slasher can occasionally hunt his own points.
Copeland can find himself in a rut, standing outside and shooting jumpers. He doesn't appear terribly interested in doing the grunt work on defense or the glass. Peak can lose focus on defense, as well. He's got all the athletic skill in the world to be an elite defender, but the will is sometimes weak. White could be a force on the glass if he threw himself into it with abandon.
Thompson will be on these kids from Day 1, attempting to harden them into college players.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.
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