Rivals Roundtable: Emerging stars; McDonald's game; shooters
This weekend in the Rivals' Roundtable, analysts Eric Bossi, Corey Evans and Dan McDonald are back to talk recruiting and college hoops. Whose emergence during conference play has a been a pleasant surprise? Which player could have added the most to the McDonald's game and who are the best available shooters in the senior class?
1. Which player who has emerged during conference season has been most impressive?
Bossi: Now in his junior year, former five-star Nick Richards has really started to blossom for Kentucky. He’s having his best year by far averaging 13.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. However, he’s reached an entirely new level during SEC play where he’s averaged 17.2, nine and three. His emergence as a reliable force in the middle completely changes things for the Wildcats. His presence opens up space for shooters on offense and defensively, they can be more aggressive on the perimeter because he’s there to clean up mistakes at the rim.
Evans: Really, he has done it all season long but let’s give some love to Luka Garza. I was a fan of his in high school but the physical transformation that he has put his body through since stepping foot onto the Iowa campus, to go along with continued progress with his all-around skill set, have made for arguably the most productive frontline player in the college game.
During a four-game winning streak that includes Maryland, Michigan and Rutgers, Garza has been nothing short of dominant. Over his past six games, Garza has averaged 26.5 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, while making over 61-percent of his field goal attempts. Why aren’t we talking about him as the national player of the year? That conversation must begin now!
McDonald:I’ve happened to catch the last couple Syracuse games and have been really impressed with Buddy Boeheim’s play. He was really good in the win over Virginia Tech as he went for 26 points. He has 22 points in a blowout win over Boston College before that. If my math is correct in a quick glance at game log, he’s averaging 15.9 points per game for the year but he’s up at 17.3 in ACC play.
2. What prospect who's not going to the McDonald's game could have added the most to the event?
Bossi: The class of 2020 is guard and wing heavy, so I was glad to see the makeup of players for the game reflect that. Still, a few more guys that could play at the four or five could be used to balance things out a bit and that’s why I feel Isaiah Jackson could really add to the game. He’s an electric athlete who doesn’t require a lot of touches to make things happen and another rim protector to make things difficult on all of those guards attacking the rim would have been fun to see. Kentucky fans will have to get a glimpse at their future big man elsewhere, but he would have added to the McDonald’s game.
Evans: He wasn’t eligible because he didn’t play the required amount of games to be invited, but I would love to see Tennessee signee Keon Johnson on the grand stage in Houston. There are dynamic athletes and then there is Johnson. One of the top breakthrough performers from the summer of 2019, Johnson would have made Greg Brown and Jalen Green sweat for dunk contest honors and also given a glimpse of what Tennessee may have in its pocket before he enrolls in Knoxville. Hopefully he gets a clean bill of health before his college career because Johnson has the chance to be special and arguably has one of the top-five ceilings of any prospect that might be found at the event in March.
McDonald: I would have put LSU-bound shooting guard Cameron Thomas in the game. He’s one of the best scorers in the class and is fun to watch. He’s definitely the type of player that could get it rolling from deep and start chucking up heat check shots during the game.
3. If you need a freshman next year to come in and knock down shots, what available senior are you focused on?
Bossi: In my mind, Kerwin Walton is the best shooter left on the board. I know there are higher ranked guys available, but Walton is a big-time jump shooter. Not only can the 6-foot-5 wing from Minnesota really shoot it, but he is a crafty defender who has some toughness to him.
Walton saw Arizona and North Carolina officially during the fall and both were in to see him in the last week. Recently, he’s made a couple of trips to Minnesota for unofficial visits and Arkansas and Oklahoma have been in. If I had to handicap it, I’d give Arizona the lead but Walton isn’t giving out many hints just yet.
Evans: Jalen Green and I am not thinking twice. While Green was never seen as a major perimeter threat in the past as he made just south of 30-percent of his 3-point tries during Nike EYBL play last summer, the progress that he has made in the skill and shot-making departments has been promising to say the least. Not only has Green become an even better playmaker but his shot-creating skills are some of the best that can be found within the high school game. Whether it is running of a variety of screens, shooting off of the one-dribble pull-up or rising up over the defense with practically no room between him and his man, Green has displayed this winter that he has the confidence, clutch-factor and abilities to knock down shots whenever they matter most.
Where he goes to college is up for debate. While I still side on him choosing Memphis, don’t underestimate Auburn’s chances, while Fresno State, Oregon and USC are also involved, too. By the way, while Green attempted to shut down professional talk last week at the Hoophall classic, I also am not entirely sold that, if the right offer and opportunity is allotted, that he wouldn’t choose that route over college.
McDonald: I’ll take the easy way out here and roll with Ziaire Williams. Not only is he a really good shooter, but he’s 6-foot-8 so getting his shot off won’t be an issue in college. Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC are the schools involved for the five-star small forward. Arizona, Stanford and USC have been the ones I’ve heard the most about, but he’s been pretty tight-lipped about giving away too much about his recruitment.