Breaking down the Big East recruiting classes into three tiers (in groups of five – transfers not included).
Tier I – The Elite
Providence: Assuming Kris Dunn returns from offseason shoulder surgery and Ricardo Ledo is deemed eligible by the NCAA’s Clearinghouse, Ed Cooley may have the most impactful group of newcomers in the Big East this year. Both are top 25 talents according to nearly every national publication, with each potentially bringing a vastly different skill set to Smith Hill, with Ledo the big time scorer and Dunn the jack of all trades point guard. Ledo is capable of creating his own offense off the dribble and is equally adept at coming off of screens for catch and shoot opportunities, while Dunn’s game is predicated on speed, instincts and aggression. Virginia small forward Josh Fortune could provide Cooley with an additional shooter off of the bench, and could see early minutes if Ledo doesn’t qualify.
Pittsburgh: New Zealand center Steven Adams is a gifted 6’11 center who is more ready to play at the Big East level than Khem Birch was for the Panthers a season ago. He may be the most skilled center in the class of 2012, capable of finishing with both hands and an adept passer. Paired with top 50 point guard James Robinson, the two man Pittsburgh class is small, but should be impactful.
St. John’s: Another year, another monster class for Steve Lavin. The Storm loaded up on Friar targets, landing Jakarr Sampson after Cooley put on the full court press, while also signing Junior College power forward Orlando Sanchez and Long Island swatter Chris Obekpa – a defensive terror the Providence staff eyed last summer.
Darrick Wood was a name the Friars monitored – a slightly built scorer out of DC who prepped at Bridgton a season ago – while Obekpa’s high school teammate Felix Balamou is an athletic shooting guard. JUCO transfer Marco Bourgault was a teammate of Sanchez and gives Lavin the shooter that he’s long searched for.
Obekpa is the only top 100 talent per ESPNU, but Sampson is a clear top 50 player who was left out of the rankings after not qualifying with the class of 2011 (of which he was a top 40 player). There may not be a better athlete coming to the Big East next year.
This week the Johnnies added 6’7 small forward Christian Jones to the mix. A somewhat unheralded late signee.
Syracuse: DaJuan Coleman is a McDonald’s All American ranked in the top 20 by virtually every publication, while Jerami Grant is a high ceiling combo forward.
Villanova: One down season won’t be enough to keep Jay Wright from continuing to land highly ranked recruits, especially in-state where he pulled a pair of 60 prospects for the class of 2012. Ryan Arcidiacono is perhaps one of the top five point guard prospects in his class, while big man Daniel Ochefu is a power forward/center who ESPN ranks among the top 60 players in his class. Nova, Syracuse and Pitt each have terrific, yet small (two recruits) classes in 2012.
Could Sneak into Tier I by Season’s End
Connecticut: Omar Calhoun should carry a class that isn’t as loaded as UConn groups of the past. He’s a terrific scorer from New York that committed to Jim Calhoun early and stuck with him throughout the turmoil surrounding the program over the last year. Phillip Nolan is a big man project, the type Calhoun has had tremendous success with over the past decade. He’s a skilled lefty who will need to get stronger. German small forward Leon Tolksdorf will be the third player from Germany on Connecticut this season and is said to be a versatile performer who does a little bit of everything.
Louisville: As Terry Rozier heads to prep school next year, Rick Pitino is left with a one man class, but the one man has potential to come in and contribute at power forward immediately. Montrezl Harrell had been committed to Virginia Tech by way of Hargrave Military Academy, but with the coaching change this spring his recruitment opened up and Pitino scored. I’ve written about Harrell often in this space since March – he plays with a physical edge that should make him popular in Louisville. Tough kid.
Notre Dame: You can put the rankings aside when looking at a Mike Brey recruiting class. He’s had success developing under-recruited types in the past, but he’s got himself a top 75 player in small forward Cameron Biedshied and a borderline top 100 talent in New Hampton’s Zach Auguste – a long-time PC recruit. I’d been critical of Auguste heading into his final year of prep ball, as he seemed like an athletic big man who was unwilling to bang that struggled with confidence at times, but he really started to pull it together at New Hampton this year under the watchful eye of Pete Hutchins. With confidence came added aggression and he looked like a different player in 2011-12 (he also filled out more physically). 6’8 Austin Burgett sounds like a Brey-type – a face up power forward with range.
Georgetown: Perhaps the top group among the second tier, Georgetown brings in a pair of top 100 recruits in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and California product Stephen Domingo. Of course, John Thompson III made a big push for Nerlens Noel, and many thought he was Georgetown-bound in the days leading up to his announcement, but the lure of Kentucky was too much in the end. Still, this isn’t a class without size. 6’11 Florida native Bradley Hayes committed to the Hoyas over the likes of UConn and Florida, while 6’8 Brandon Bolden is said to be a bouncy shot blocker. Nice class.
Marquette: Rounding out the second tier is Marquette who welcomes top 100 small forward Steve Taylor (who the Friars looked into) and an under the radar Virginia prospect in Jamal Ferguson.
DePaul: The Devils welcome a pair of small forwards, the more highly rated being Jordan Price out of Chicago – a 6’7 shooter who struggles when putting the ball on the floor, while 6’6 DeJaun Marrero is a high energy defender out of Indiana. Durrell McDonald is an unheralded shooting guard who was all state in Las Vegas last year, despite not seeing much high major attention.
South Florida: USF won behind a massive frontcourt last year and Waverly Austin, a 6’11, 250 pound junior college transfer will look to beef up the frontcourt once again next year. He had interest from a variety of high majors and could see big minutes right away next year. The rest of the class is split with a JUCO shooting guard and a pair of high school forwards. Javontae Hawkins is an intriguing player and one of the more highly regarded prospects that USF has pulled in recent years. He’s a long, dead-eye shooter who had a very good season against good competition at Huntington Prep. Power forward Zach Leday adds depth at 6’7, 220 pounds and the class is rounded out with shooting guard Musa Abdul-Aleem who went to junior college after being home-schooled in high school. He was a 14 ppg scorer at the JUCO level.
Cincinnati: Losing out on Obekpa to St. John’s stung, as the Bearcats looked to be a favorite in his recruitment. Their only commitment for 2012 is 6’7 Junior College transfer Titus Rubles from Blinn College (of Cam Newton fame). Rubles is a bit of a tweener forward who projects to play the power 3 in college. He was a 15 and 9 guy this past season at the JUCO level.
Seton Hall: The Pirates should benefit from two impact transfers this season, but as far as recruiting goes 2012 was a bit barren. Their only commit is 6’8, 230 pound JUCO Raymon Austin who comes to Seton Hall after a bit of a “will he/won’t he” courtship dating back to last fall. He committed for good in April. Information on Austin is scarce at this point.
Rutgers: Like Seton Hall and Cincy, Rutgers welcomes just one player in 2012 – also a junior college prospect. Small forward Vincent Garrett is said to be an above average athlete who plays inside the three point arc at 6’5.
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