With the latest coaching change in Winston Salem, nothing is for sure, but this latest recruiting class for Wake Forest could help return them to national prominence. In the offseason, the Demon Deacons lost their head coach Dino Gaudio, their leading scorer and rebounder Al-Farouq Aminu and a few seasoned veterans. But there are certainly building blocks in the program with freshmen wings C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart. Add in shooting guard J.T. Terrell and you have three players who will average double-figures next year. Terrell is an exceptional athlete who can shoot as well as anyone in the country when he is on, but tends to be too one-dimensional as a perimeter shooter. If he can polish his handle and add strength to finish in the lane, Terrell could be amongst the ACC's best young players. Another wing, Travis McKie, is a high energy player who loves to dig in on both sides of the both, especially on the defensive end where he is one of the better defenders in the incoming class. Offensively, he is the slashing type, but is steadily improving his perimeter game. He might not make an immediate impact, but look for him down the road. In the frontcourt, Carson Desrosiers, a 6'10" center, dominated his high school competition, but his slight 210-pound frame will mean he is at least a year away. Joining him at Wake Forest will be Melvin Tabb, a 6'8" power forward with an adept face up game and putting the ball on the floor.
9. Michigan State Spartans
In addition to a stellar returning team, the Spartans, fresh off of their second consecutive Final Four, bring in one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Coach Izzo returns two-time 1st Team All-Big Ten selection Kalin Lucas to lead the team, with excellent role playing pieces in Draymond Green, Chris Allen, Delvon Roe, and Korie Lucious. Now, they add five-star power forward/center Adreian Payne, four-star combo guard Keith Appling and four-star wing Russell Byrd. Payne is a long, athletic 6'10" big who should garner playing time right away with his defensive abilities and Michigan State's lack of a true center. The heir to Kalin Lucas' throne will most likely be the 6'1" guard, Appling from Detroit, Michigan. He is an aggressive scorer who thrives in the mid-range with his variety of pull-up jumpers or slashing into the lane. In the state championship game, he dropped 49 points, wowing college coaches all across the nation, but decided to stay close to home and suit up for coach Izzo. He is thought to be the top incoming guard in the potent Big Ten Conference. With the loss to Raymar Morgan up front, look for swingman Russell Byrd to see some immediate time; he is a very good shooter, standing at 6'7", and is still improving in most facets of his game. A prospect that has slid under the radar has been forward Alex Gauna. He is a late bloomer in terms of developing his game and his body, still growing and just starting to really focus on adding strength and weight. His best basketball appears to be ahead of him.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini
Coach Bruce Weber has an incoming class of three, all of which are in-state prospects; the best of the bunch is Jereme Richmond, one of the best swingmen in the country. He is long and extremely athletic, finishing several plays in high school showcases with elevating, punishing dunks above the rim. Not only does he possess an excellent mid-range game, knocking down contested shots or going either left or right to the rim, he has shown an increasing ability to hit the 3-point shot. Crandall Head, another uber-athletic prospect will likely come off the bench this season for the Illini. He is quick, utilizing his speed to blow by defenders off of the dribble and spot-up to hit an open jump shot. With Weber's motion offense philosophies and pressure defense, Head should thrive. The lone frontcourt player in this year's class is Meyers Leonard, a 6'10"-6'11" center. He is very athletic for a player of his size, and even handles the ball well. He has demonstrated a nice ability to hit mid-range shots and play the high post with his passing abilities, but as talented as he is, he is still 215-pounds and will need to add strength to deal with Big Ten play.
7. Duke Blue Devils
Coming off of a national championship, Duke clearly loses a few key pieces to their team with the graduation of three starters- Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek. However, their remaining talent and incoming freshman class cannot be overlooked. They have a transfer, Seth Curry, the brother of the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, a sharpshooter expected to come off the bench and give them some productive minutes. Word out of the Blue Devils camp is that Curry has been looking extremely good in practices and intra-squad scrimmages thus far. The real gem addition is top recruit, Kyrie Irving from national powerhouse, St. Patrick's in New Jersey. Irving is the highest rated guard prospect to play in Durham since Jay Williams dressed for Duke. He should start right away for the Blue Devils backcourt with Nolan Smith and lead the team with his precision passing and natural scoring ability. Getting some minutes in the crowded Duke backcourt could be fellow incoming freshman, Tyler Thornton, a four-star recruit. A key addition to the frontcourt is 6'9" Josh Hairston, a face-up forward. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time and possesses good athletic abilities to control the glass. He should play a similar role to that of Lance Thomas, but will look to score more in the mid-range game.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Bruce Pearl has added the best frontcourt prospect in recent memory to Tennesse's team this year, a top ten recruit, 6'9" Tobias Harris. Over his last two years or so of high school, Harris trimmed down in weight, adding muscle, and getting quicker and now has scouts drooling over his pro potential; he will likely play the point-forward for the Volunteers with his versatility, scoring touch and rebounding ability. At the guard spots, the Vols add a duo of athletes, led by one of the top shooting guards in the class, Jordan McRae. With his improved outside touch and his quickness and slashing ability, he can create for himself as well as others. McRae and rising-junior Scotty Hopson should play well off of each other next year. The second backcourt recruit is Trae Golden, just 6'1", but a big-time shooter from the outside. He struggles with his ballhandling and isn't much of a creator, but there are few better options as a spot-up shooter than Golden in this year's class. It should also be noted that the Volunteers are still in the running for the nation's top remaining unsigned player, C.J. Leslie.
5. Syracuse Orange
After almost a surprising season, the Orange have to replace Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, and Arinze Onuaku- three starters who combined for 40 points and 17 boards a night. To replace Onuaku in the frontcourt, Jim Boeheim brings in the top national recruit at the center position, Fabricio Melo, a true 7-footer. There has been no bigger riser amongst high school prospects over the past year or so than Melo. He runs the floor well, scoring with jump hooks around the basket, but also possessing the ability to knock down short-mid-range jumpers if he is left open. His strength and conditioning have looked weak, but he may be the perfect fit to anchor Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Joining Melo will be four-star guard, Dion Waiters, a 6'2" scorer on the wing. His aggressiveness on the offensive end will help replace some of the scoring lost by Johnson and Rautins from the 'Cuse backcourt. He is well-built, possessing a quick first step, and takes the ball hard to the rim. Also at the wing, is C.J. Fair, a 6'7" combo forward from Maryland. As a long, athletic wing, he can become a defensive presence off the bench as a freshman. He crashes the boards hard, but also possesses the mobility and quickness to play the bottom wings of the 2-3 zone, closing out on shooters and getting into rebounding position. Offensively, he is capable of stepping out to the mid-range and behind the arc and knocking down shots, but he needs to continue working to develop a more consistent result.
4. Memphis Tigers
Memphis missed the NCAA Tournament last season, ending the season early, in just the second-round of the National Invitation Tournament against Ole' Miss. The team's best player, Elliot Williams, has left the team after entering the NBA Draft and signing with an agent. Fellow-guards Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp have expired their eligibility and will be graduating this spring. That leaves versatile guard-forward Wesley Witherspoon, a player who had a few tremendous outbursts over the second-half of the season, posting 29 points against UAB and 26 versus Gonzaga; he scored in double-figures 11 of the team's final 13 games. Angel Garcia, a 6'11" sophomore forward who missed over half the season last year, but produced when he returned to the lineup. Enter Will Barton: the nation's top incoming shooting guard. Barton is a 6'6" wing with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble or take smaller defenders into the post and score off of the mismatch. He should have a similar impact to that of Elliot Williams for this depleted Tiger team. In addition to Witherspoon, Memphis has added more versatility in the frontcourt with five-star recruit, Jelan Kendrick, a 6'6" point-forward, who possesses unique talent and upside. He has great size, vision and passing skills, but just needs to tighten up his ball-handling abilities and spend some time in the weight room, but should step in to contribute right away. Coach Josh Pastner has also added five-star in-state point guard, Joe Jackson. He is more of an undersized shooting guard, but is very comfortable scoring the basketball in a variety of manners. As a freshman, he will have an immediate impact with his elite speed and ability to pressure full court in the defensive setting. In addition to these guards, Memphis added a 6'8", 230-pound power forward, Tarik Black. Black is a true post player, who attacks the rim offensively and cleans the glass defensively. He is raw and lacking go-to moves offensively, but will contribute right away with his athleticism, aggressiveness and rebounding abilities.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
Unlike two years ago, the Tar Heels were not decimated by the offseason; Coach Roy Williams will lose its two leading scorers and rebounders to graduation (Deon Thompson) and the Draft (Ed Davis) as well as its best perimeter defender (Marcus Ginyard), but a highly ranked recruiting class as well as an entire offseason to get its present players healthy should have UNC back into the national picture next year. Immediate contributions will circle around the nation's top recruit, 6'8" small forward, Harrison Barnes; he is a tremendous athlete who is a potent offensive force. He offers a smooth perimeter game, complemented by his ability to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers and get to the rim with ease. He is a strong rebounder which should help compensate for the losses of Thompson and Davis. Another wing will join Barnes- 6'6" Reggie Bullock, a player who is not only still growing, but still improving. Bullock was already one of the top players in the nation and he continues to make strides in terms of his development. He is a perimeter threat with deep range. In one of North Carolina's weakest areas, they bring in one of the nation's top freshman, point guard, Kendall Marshall. He has good size, standing at 6'3", but is arguably the best incoming recruit at passing the ball, setting up teammates with his elite court vision. He doesn't have much of a perimeter shot, but he uses his quickness to get into the lane, almost at will.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The loss of the reigning National Player of the Year, no matter what team, always hurts, however, the Buckeyes have this year's top incoming freshmen class, but also a more than capable returning group of veterans. Coach Thad Matta brings in the country's top big man, Jared Sullinger, a 6'8" power forward is an aggressive low post scorer with a soft touch around the rim. Sullinger will immediately enter the starting five for OSU, a team that started Dallas Lauderdale at the forward/center position and received little contribution from that spot. Lauderdale is best suited coming off the bench to spell the five-star recruit. Most likely replacing Evan Turner in the lineup will be 6'7" Deshaun Thomas, a small forward-power forward from the state of Indiana. He is a big-time scorer- a lefty that is a tremendous inside-out threat on offense. Thomas' play and versatility should complement Sullinger extremely well. Joining Sullinger and Thomas in the frontcourt is Sullinger's high school teammate, J.D. Weatherspoon. As one of the youngest players in this year's class, Weatherspoon needs to spend most of his summer in the weight room on campus to develop his body. He has the athleticism and natural skills to become a 3-man, but right now, he is a natural power forward. In the backcourt, the Buckeyes have signed several highly recruited guards, including shooting guard Jordan Sibert, and points guards Lenzelle Smith, as well as in-state point guard Aaron Craft. Sibert will be an immediate contributor, though, likely off the bench for a Buckeyes team that will feature Willie Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty in the backcourt. Replacing Turner's ball-handling and setting up the offense will be left to Buford, Diebler and Lighty, but some of the responsibilities will fall on Smith and Craft. Smith is a big-bodied guard, whose game revolves around his pass-first mentality. He uses his size and strength well to get into the passing alleys and find the open man. Craft is a bit higher rated than Smith, but is transitioning from full-time football recruit to full-time basketball player. With his quickness, he is widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the class, but struggles offensively, especially shooting the ball.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats must likely replace five rotational players, including four starters that produced nearly 60 points and two dozen rebounds a game…Kentucky takes over the top spot in our rankings after a few impressive signings, including bringing Brandon Knight, one of the top two guards in this year's recruiting class to replace John Wall at the point. Knight was considered the best prospect in the class by some scouting services with his size, (6'3"), and scoring abilities. Although he isn't a true point guard and won't post assist totals like Wall, Knight is ready to step in and lead the Wildcats from Day 1. Stepping into the guard spot opposite Knight will be Doron Lamb, a 6'4" wing, who can flat-out score. Playing at powerhouse, Oak Hill Academy, should have given Lamb enough experience playing against top-level competition to come in right away and help Kentucky fans forget about the losses of Wall and Eric Bledsoe to the NBA Draft. Stacey Poole, a 6'5" guard-forward, was Coach Calipari's first recruit for the 2011 college basketball season, a four-star player from Florida. He is somewhat of a late-bloomer in the recruiting process, but is a potent scorer, who got the attention of Calipari's Wildcat staff with his natural ability to score the ball. In the frontcourt, Kentucky boasts a big man, originally hailing from Switzerland, and the former-MVP of the Under-18 European Championships, Enes Kanter; he stands at about 6'9", 240-pounds, and purely dominated the Nike Hoops Summit recently, against the top players of his class. He finished the game with 34 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, as his world team fell to the US squad. He has displayed great footwork in the post, and knocked down several 12-15 foot jumpers. His recent impressive performance has him as one of the talks to have a similar impact to that of former-UK big, DeMarcus Cousins, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last season… The Wildcats are still considered in the running for several prospects including five-star forward C.J. Leslie, Terrence Jones, another five-star forward, and Terrence Ross, a four-star swingman.