McDonald's Nuggets: Why Baylor, FSU are on a roll; top commits
2022 Rankings: Top 75
WHAT’S ON MY MIND: Why are Baylor and Florida State succeeding?
This past season, I really felt like there were two teams in particular poised for a breakthrough run to the Final Four had the NCAA Tournament not been canceled: Baylor and Florida State. Both ranked in the top 10 for a good chunk of the season, and Baylor even held the No. 1 spot for some time. In recent weeks, both have been really hot on the recruiting trail as they secured highly ranked commitments.
Why are these two non-traditional powers experiencing so much success right now? I believe they have a lot of traits in common.
Let’s start with the recruiting part of it, because that’s where the foundation is built. In recent years, the two programs have differed a little in their approach to recruiting, as Florida State has attracted higher-ranked players while Baylor has prospered with transfers like MaCio Teague. But what both programs have done at a really high level is identify players that fit their program and both have strong recruiters on their staff that can seal the deal. These two programs share a similarity in that both have used a strong 2019-2020 season to secure really strong 2021 classes. Florida State currently holds the No. 2 class. Baylor is right behind the Seminoles at No. 3 after landing five-star Kendall Brown along with a pair of four-star prospects between July 15 and July 20.
The next trait is these two programs share in common is really strong player development. Sure, some of Florida State’s NBA players were highly ranked coming into the program, players like Jonathan Isaac and Malik Beasley. However, this year Devin Vassell is expected to become a first-round pick with a shot at going inside the lottery after coming in as an unranked three-star prospect. Similarly, Baylor has produced several NBA players under Scott Drew that weren’t highly regarded prospects coming to Waco. Taurean Prince is the best example here for the Bears as he originally signed with LIU-Brooklyn and switched his pledge to Baylor after a coaching change. He steadily improved during his career and became the 12th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and has enjoyed a pretty successful NBA career.
A really underrated trait in sports, particularly college sports, is something both of these programs have in common (from everything I’ve heard): really good morale in the program. Leonard Hamilton has been the head coach at Florida State for 18 years, and Drew has run Baylor’s program for 17. In that time, both coaches have had very little turnover on their staffs. That’s in large because there is really good chemistry on the coaching staff. That filters down to the players. Everyone in each program is aligned as much as you can be within a team, and a lot of this goes back to recruiting and identifying fits for their program.
Lastly, both Hamilton and Drew have shown a willingness to adjust to the talent on their rosters. For many years, it seemed like Florida State wanted to beat you in a 58-53 defensive struggle while their length swallowed up your offense. But then go back to when the Seminoles had Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley in their backcourt and it seemed like all of a sudden they couldn’t get up the court and score quick enough. At Baylor, the Bears were known for many years for the 2-3 zone defense that was really successful. But in recent years, that hasn’t always been as much of a staple. This is a really important trait for a successful program.
2020 COMMIT OF THE MONTH: Moussa Cisse to Memphis
Cisse was a pretty easy choice as the most impactful commitment of the month in the 2020 class. The 2020 class didn’t pan out exactly the way Memphis had hoped, but Cisse’s commitment certainly helped Tigers fans feel better about the upcoming season. The 6-foot-10 big man possesses really good mobility and he’ll likely be one of the best interior defenders from the minute the season starts this year. His offense needs to catch up, but it’s come a long way in the past year. This was a huge recruiting win for Penny Hardaway as he kept him away from Florida State, Georgia and LSU.
2021 COMMIT OF THE MONTH: Max Christie to Michigan State
I had always thought Christie would end up at Duke, but he ended up choosing the Spartans on July 7, and I think this is going to work out really well for both sides. Christie is a really skilled scorer with good length and athleticism in the backcourt. He’s a pretty instinctive basketball player as well, which should help him earn Tom Izzo’s trust early on in his time in East Lansing.
TRANSFER OF THE MONTH: Adam Kunkel to Xavier
It’s not often players that averaged 16.5 points per game as a sophomore to decide to transfer in July, but that’s what exactly what happened recently with Adam Kunkel at Belmont. After hearing from schools all over the country, the Hebron, Ky., native decided to come back home and finish his college career on the other side of the Ohio River at Xavier. He’ll sit out this year as a redshirt, but he will be a huge boost for Travis Steele’s Musketeers in the 2021-22 season. The 6-foot-3 guard shot 39% from three-point range this year, and should fit in well playing with incoming freshman guard Dwon Odom.