The men’s college basketball regular signing period kicks off on Wednesday. Arizona remains the No. 1 ranked recruiting class for 2012, but it is a shaky position at best. There seems to be three legitimate contenders that are in a position to overtake the Wildcats – that is, if the chips fall in the most favorable way possible for each respective team.
For the last three seasons, Kentucky has held a death grip at the top of the recruiting heap, and it is hard to bet against John Calipari, but several plausible scenarios exist where they may not finish in pole position. The opportunistic staffs at UCLA and NC State could pull an 11th hour shocker and move to No. 1, or Arizona could hold fast if the top prospects disperse to different suitors.
Here’s a look at the race for the top recruiting class:
The incumbent: Arizona Wildcats
Who they have: Grant Jerrett, 6-8, PF; Brandon Ashley, 6-9, PF; Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, C; Gabe York, 6-2, G; Matt Korchek, 6-9, PF.
Who they need: Arizona could land hotshot Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell, but isn’t considered a legitimate contender for any remaining blue chip players.
Outlook: If top-10 prospects Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett all pick different schools, Arizona has a legitimate chance at having the top class when all is said and done. Either way, this is an undeniable effort put in by coach Sean Miller and his staff. The frontline of Jerrett, Ashley and Tarczewski are all blue chippers, with the potential to develop into NBA players down the road.
Blazing the recruiting trail: Kentucky Wildcats
Who they have: Willie Cauley, 7-0, C; Archie Goodwin, 6-4, SG; Alex Poythress, 6-8, PF.
Who they need: Kentucky is on the list for three top-10 nationally ranked players in Noel, Muhammad and Bennett. Wildcats fans will have no problem comparing Noel’s defensive impact to Anthony Davis, while Muhammad’s exceptional effort and attitude immediate evokes comparison to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kentucky could have a shot at landing top-25 forward prospects Devonta Pollard and Amile Jefferson, and Calipari hasn’t been afraid to strike the JUCO trail on occasion, as well.
Outlook: Two McDonald’s All-Americans, Goodwin and Poythress would be considered a terrific haul at most places, but the basketball fervor in Lexington isn’t like most places. Last year’s recruiting class included three top-10 players in Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis and Marquis Teague, and Kentucky would have to land at least two top-10 players to combine with the three signees to equal that talent level. That said, a fourth consecutive top ranked recruiting class is possible.
Unexpected success: N.C. State Wolfpack
Who they have: Tyler Lewis, 5-10, PG; Rodney Purvis, 6-3, SG; TJ Warren, 6-7, SF.
Who they need: Top-50 shooting guard Torian Graham has already committed and backed off twice. Assuming home is where the heart is and his academics are in order, Graham would provide a talented boost. The last piece of the puzzle in the frontcourt, where Philly native Amile Jefferson has long been sought-after by the Wolfpack, but has yet make a decision.
Outlook: When Mark Gottfried was hired as coach, the reception was lukewarm at best. Now, the Wolfpack made an impressive NCAA tournament run, and could land the top class. The signed trio consists of three top-75 talents, with top-25 star Jefferson a strong possibility. If Jefferson and Graham both sign with NC State, they will have a strong argument to overtake Arizona’s top spot.
Traditional power: UCLA Bruins
Who they have: Kyle Anderson, 6-8, PG/SF; Jordan Adams, 6-5, SF.
Who they need: UCLA is on the short list for No. 2 Shabazz Muhammad, with Kentucky and Duke, and is a finalist for top-25 center Tony Parker of Georgia. Muhammad and Anderson would give the Bruins two of the top three players in the country, which would be extremely impressive given the tumultuous times in Westwood.
Outlook: UCLA seems more likely to land Muhammad then Parker at this point, but both are entirely possible. Anderson is a facilitator that nearly every prospect would love to play with, and Adams is a Georgia native that is familiar with Parker. He’s a knock-em-down outside shooter who could open up the interior for Parker. While coach Ben Howland has been embattled, there’s reason to believe this class may turn things around.
Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.