ESPN continued its Sales Pitch (ESPN +) series this week, examining the college basketball programs for men in the Big 12 that have the most and least advantages in recruiting and transferring to campus. After seeing the results of our poll, ESPN.com’s writing team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, and Joe Lunardi discussed some of the finer details within the Big 12 recruiting landscape, including how Baylor became Baylor, how Kansas came back Can Be Kansas, And What The New Faces In The Conference-Coaching Landscape Need To Do To Make Long-term Impact.
Follow this link to read what anonymous coaches said about recruiting in ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, AAC, and Big 12.
Name a critical part of the roster that led to Baylor’s first national championship in program history. Why do you think that made so good sense?
Medicinal calf: I think it makes sense to put the spotlight on the immediate contributions of the program-changing transfers that led Baylor to his first national title in school history. You won’t win this title without MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, and Adam Flagler. You could probably count Jared Butler too, since he was originally en route to Tuscaloosa.
But the most important addition to the program came in 2003 when the school convinced a young coach who had just won 20 games in Valparaiso, the school that his father had led to a miraculous moment in 1998, to leave his post and one of them to inherit the worst situations in college basketball history. Yes, it was Scott Drew’s great opportunity to coach a great program and he knew it was a great opportunity. But he wouldn’t have been the first young coach to say no to a higher salary when serious consequences were at stake – which in Baylor’s case was the murder of a player, the conviction of another player for that murder and a head coach who did it tried, included covering up the whole thing.
Drew’s program has long built on this current run, with two Elite Eight runs and two trips to the Sweet 16 before that, but Baylor was lucky when Drew said yes. None of this happens without this decision in 2003.
Boron china: It has to be transfers. Of the five players who saw 20 minutes or more in the national title game against Gonzaga, four started their careers elsewhere. Mitchell was a bank piece in Auburn; Drew dived into the Big South for both Teague and Flagler; and as Myron mentioned, Butler signed with Alabama before looking elsewhere a few months before the start of the 2018-19 season.
Drew changed his approach to recruiting after winning a number of five-star candidates a decade ago. While the talent in Waco was consistently at a high level, it did not always lead to success at the end of March. Instead, he started finding people who would buy in and fit what he wanted, while adding transfers to those players each off-season.
Drew also had success at redshining players; Much of this has to do with transfers, of course, but Mark Vital got a redshirt as a freshman too, and former players like Cory Jefferson and Johnathan Motley also spent a year at Waco redshirting. Here’s all the evidence you need on Drew’s change in recruiting: Baylor, who signed Kendall Brown last fall, was the Bears’ first five-star contender since 2012.
Gas path: It’s not college basketball unless you argue about whether veterans or lone fighters will get you the national title. Baylor didn’t do it with extreme youth, of course, but you can argue that continuity was even more important than age to the 2020-21 bears.
This was a rotation that only lost Freddie Gillespie and Devonte Bandoo from the previous season (although Tristan Clark saw limited action in 2019-20 before being sidelined due to a knee injury that also cost him the following year). This means that for two consecutive seasons, BU was defined by a backcourt made up of Butler, Mitchell and Teague, while Vital held the paint on either end of the floor. That was a winning combination two Years ago (at 26-4, Baylor was probably heading for # 1 in a 2020 tournament that never happened) and last season it was all but unbeatable.
“Get old and stay old” is the popular saying among coaches. Well, the Bears won everything in April with “only” two seniors (Teague and Vital), because who knows, maybe continuity is just as important as age. If you can build your roster to get top-notch college performance from returning veterans who just haven’t got enough interest from the NBA, you stand a chance at what Drew 2021 has put together.
Lunardi: Baylor was a perfect college team in the current era: older but not too old to be stale; skillful but not too skillful to lose people a year early; and balanced, but with a corresponding emphasis on the circumferential play at both ends of the floor. Without Baylor’s late-season pandemic problems, we might have had two undefeated teams in the national title game and an even more historic result. The most critical piece? Scott Drew, who took the job when everyone said it was a bad idea and then had the vision and persistence to make it happen. And the bears may not be done yet.
Kansas looks like a team with Final Four potential in 2021-22. What is one thing about this list that you like and one thing that worries you?
Boron china: The biggest problem for Kansas last season was the lack of a constant goalscorer who could pick up a bucket when needed. Devon Dotson took on that role a few years ago, and Bill Self has apparently always had a guardian for that role. Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, even Tyshawn Taylor as a senior in 2012. And this off-season it looked like it might be a problem again – but even remy Martin probably solved that problem with the landing of the Arizona State Transfer, arguably the best transfer in the country. Martin was a two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection player and one of the top scorers in the country.
With this resolved, I don’t have too many concerns – but Kansas wasn’t a very good 3-point shooting team last season (32.7% in Big 12 games) and Ochai Agbaji, the team’s leading 3-point scorer , might choose to keep his name in the NBA draft. Agbaji created matchup problems for opponents due to his physicality and shooting skills, and while Self brings in a number of talented transfers and newbies, they need to improve the team’s perimeter shooting.
Gas path: I like the defense with this lineup. The Big 12 made less than 45% of their 2s against these guys last year, and the return of David McCormack should help keep that number down for the season ahead. Self’s best teams have almost always forced misses in color and it appears the box is ticked for 2021-22.
What I don’t like diametrically so much is the KU attack. I love Remy Martin’s game, and Kansas fans with long memories can still remember what Martin and his Arizona state teammates achieved in the Sun Devils win at Allen Fieldhouse in December 2018. Still, Martin is going to need help, and this last season – from 2 and 3 point accuracy to shot volume, to say the least – Jayhawk’s offensive was average across the board in conference play.
Medicinal calf: I love McCormack’s jump from his second season to junior season. He had a few failures throughout the year, but Kansas was a challenge for any team in America as he played his best basketball. That double-digit win over Baylor that made many of us (or maybe just me) question the Bears’ national title aspirations? Sure, fatigue after Baylor’s COVID-19 break was a factor, but McCormack’s 20 points and three blocks changed the game. This guy is a potential All-American in 2021-22, and Bill Self’s best teams have always included dependable bigs – when you pair him with Martin, the Jayhawks will have one of the best inside-outside combinations in the nation.
What worries me is that no one in America seems to have any idea of the next steps in this independent review process that involves Kansas and other schools linked to the FBI scandal. What is the next step? Will we get any news before this season? During the season? And if there is a severe penalty (schools cannot appeal the decisions of the independent examination board) what does that mean? Kansas is still in a season of unknowns with its breach case.
Lunardi: Most know that I’m a student of NCAA tournament history. When a program has a top four seed for. is 18 consecutive seasons – and a No. 1 seed in Fully half these years – the success goes beyond individual roster changes. The program is obviously positioned and managed so that failure is never an option. This is Kansas, first captured by Baylor and perhaps next threatened in the Texas Big 12, but unmatched for stamina and consistency. What I like most about the Jayhawks for next season is simply that they are both returning to the top of the conference and standing up for a long tournament run.
Texas new coach Chris Beard will be among the most vetted coaches in the country from 2021-22 (and beyond). Do you expect his recruiting philosophy to change? What are your long-term expectations for the Texas program?
Medicinal calf: I don’t think Chris Beard is going to change. He’s always after the best talent available. Now he is tied to one of the most recognizable brands in college basketball and will have more access to these elite prospects. He will always fight high performing talent programs in the Dallas and Houston rich pools, but I think Beard will get a number of the best prospects and make Texas an eternal threat in the Big 12.
But we’ve said this a couple of times for Texas as well. Rick Barnes reached the Final Four but couldn’t find that magic again. Shaka Smart had more excitement than any other young coach in the country but kept bumping into a wall in the postseason. Maybe Bart will be different. Texas has the potential (a new arena will open in 2022) to become a force in college basketball in the long run. But with Baylor and Houston around, Texas must first become the best program in its own state before it can consider those ambitions.
Boron china: Beard began changing his recruiting philosophy in his final seasons at Texas Tech after the Red Raiders had consistent success on the pitch. He signed Texas Tech’s first ESPN 100 candidate since 2007 in 2018 and then the program’s top-ranked recruit in 2019 – a record that lasted just a year before becoming the program’s first five-star recruit in ESPN recruiting Era. So he had clearly moved away from the grimmer, under-the-radar perspectives with which he began his tenure in Lubbock.
I expect Beard to continue recruiting in the five-star waters now that he’s in Texas, and the Longhorns have had several five-star candidates on campus since arriving in Austin. He will also clearly hit the transfer portal; He’s already signed five major transfers and is strong in the mix for UMass transfer Tre Mitchell, the top ranked transfer available. With Beard’s talent, along with his coaching skills and assistant recruiting skills, Texas should regularly compete for conference titles and final fours.
Gas path: I expect Beard to make blue chip recruits play excellent defense. Of course, he won’t be the first coach. Self and John Calipari, to name two mainstays, have quite a long track record in this field and let’s not forget that Ben Howland had a rather spectacular, if fleeting moment in this field at UCLA about 15 years ago. Now it’s Bart’s turn.
The Texas program was a revolving door for NBA talent even before the ex-Texas tech coach arrived. This level of recruitment is likely to continue while the defenses in all likelihood will need to be upgraded.
Lunardi: It’s US Open Week, so let’s use a golf analogy: the best player never wins a major? In college basketball, the corresponding question is, what is the best program to win a national championship? Given what has happened in the current off-season, I think a legitimate argument could be made for the Texas Longhorns. You have all the resources in the world, many top players in the state, and now a world class jockey. I don’t know what the chances are of Texas winning a title in the next five years, but I’m counting on that action.
In addition to Beard, there are three other new coaches in the league: Porter Moser (Oklahoma), Mark Adams (Texas Tech) and T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa state. Pick one of these three and offer them a blueprint for success in this difficult league.
Gas path: Porter Moser could do worse than take a page from Lon Kruger’s book in Oklahoma. The previous coach at Norman reached seven of the last eight NCAA tournaments played, and he did so for the most part with recruits who were more blue-chip workers. Of course, a guy named Trae Young played for Kruger, and last year Buddy Hield wasn’t a slacker either. Even so, each season with a young or a hield there were two or three others with a closed group of veterans who took exceptional care of the ball and played a strong defensive role. Which, when you think about it, sounds a bit like Loyola Chicago last season. Moser should feel at home.
Lunardi: I’m in the Moser camp too, not just because of the track record, but because, top down, Oklahoma has the most to offer. Sporting director Joe Castiglione is at the forefront of the profession and the Sooners don’t lack for anything in any sport. Who dominated the Big 12 positions in the college football playoff? Who Made the Women’s College World Series a Personal Playground? Who always seems to be one step ahead when it comes to hiring the next great coach? If any of the league’s “next players” can keep up with Kansas, Baylor and Texas for the next several years, it would be Oklahoma.
Boron china: I think T. J. Otzelberger will have to rebuild Iowa State the same way Fred Hoiberg did during his time in Ames. Fortunately for Cyclones fans, Otzelberger has a lot of experience in this department – he was an assistant in the state of Iowa for eight years, four of them under Hoiberg.
Iowa State is not a place where you can consistently rely on high school talent to keep your afloat. you have to get creative. Hoiberg took part in four NCAA tournaments in a row, whose roster was mainly built on transfers, along with Canadian prospects and some prep students from New England and the Northeast. Otzelberger has strong ties to the Midwest and will be able to dive into Wisconsin and other neighboring states for high school prospects, but he has to work hard on the transfer portal.
Medicinal calf: Otzelberger already knows what to do as Jeff says and will identify top players and foster the rowdy atmosphere in the team’s home stadium and its great facilities. Most importantly, however, he should mention to those interested that Monte ‘Morris, Tyrese Haliburton, Georges Niang, and other Iowa State products are currently on the NBA lists. I think it has to sell ISU not only as a program with a chance to make a name for yourself in the NCAA tournament, but also as a place to grow and eventually get paid at the next level.