The world of college basketball recruiting never stops, but there are distinct delineations between classes that give us a chance to evaluate where things stand in an evolving landscape. With only one uncommitted prospect remaining in the top 100 of the 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2021 class, this is one of those moments.
This recruiting cycle was unique because it took place during a prolonged dead period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant there were no official visits for prospects for over a year. The cancelation of showcase events last summer also limited the opportunities for standouts to emerge from a class that many evaluators have considered relatively weak.
Considering those unique circumstances, tracking the 2021 college basketball recruiting class into the future should be interesting. Undervalued high school players always emerge once they get to college and prove they should have been more heavily recruited. Similarly, some players never live up to the hype they generated as prospects.
There figures be an ample supply of players in both those categories as this class takes its place in history. For now, though, here are five takeaways to digest as the 2021 college basketball recruiting cycle nears its end and players begin reporting to campus.
After landing the program’s highest-ranked prospect of the 247Sports era in the 2020 cycle in Jalen Suggs and benefitting greatly from the star guard’s skill set, Gonzaga is doubling down on top freshman talent in the 2021 class. With No. 1 overall prospect Chet Holmgren and fellow five-star guard Hunter Sallis committed along with four-star prospects Nolan Hickman and Kaden Perry, the Zags have the nation’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class.
The haul marks three straight recruiting cycles now in which the Bulldogs have pulled their highest-ranked class of the 247Sports era, and Holmgren has usurped Suggs as the program’s top-rated signee. That means the days of Gonzaga being a little engine that could are officially over. Suggs showed the program is a great place for top prospects to grow their games and their brands, and Holmgren and Sallis could be the program’s next one-and-done players to follow his lead.
However, it’s not as if Gonzaga’s newfound recruiting brilliance means veteran coach Mark Few is going all in on freshmen. There are limitations and risks to that approach — just ask Kentucky fans — and Few’s 2021-22 roster is shaping up to be a mix of veteran savvy and young talent, especially if star center Drew Timme returns as expected.
The rise of Gonzaga in recruiting along with Michigan coach Juwan Howard’s masterful work have created a shift at the top of the usually predictable class rankings.
Barring an unforeseen late change to the 247Sports team recruiting rankings, Michigan will have the best recruiting class in the nation.
The biggest surprise could be that Kentucky and Duke are both on track to finish outside the top-three of the final rankings. It would snap a seven-year run of consecutive top-three finishes for Duke and a 13-year run of top-three finishes for Kentucky.
Considering that both teams missed the NCAA Tournament this past season, it may be tempting to view that as an indictment of the overall direction of the programs. But a closer examination shows neither is hurting for talent. Duke is ranked No. 4 in the 247Sports team ranking and has three five-star signees, which is more than any other program in the cycle. Among them is Paolo Banchero, the No. 2 overall player in the class.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s three-man freshman class, consisting of two five-star prospects and a four-star prospect, is small by coach John Calipari’s standards. That’s because the Wildcats are leaning heavily on transfers to restock their roster after last year’s top-rated class proved to be a disappointment. Still, the Wildcats have the No. 6 ranked class in the nation.
Fewer early pros
Of the top 100 prospects in last year’s 247Sports player rankings, nine opted for professional routes or NBA Draft preparation over playing college basketball, including No. 2 overall prospect Jalen Green and No. 4 overall prospect Jonathan Kuminga. The collective popularity of professional options among Class of 2020 players brought renewed concern over college basketball’s ability to compete for top talent amid the increasing number of alternatives.
However, the Class of 2021 proved once again that college basketball remains a strong draw for the brightest young talent in the game. Just four of this year’s top 100 prospects are pursuing professional options, according to the 247Sports rankings, and both of this year’s top prospects are heading to the collegiate ranks with Holmgren committed to Gonzaga and Banchero signed to Duke.
With the Overtime Elite program launching to draw top high school players from future classes to a professional program that will render them ineligible by NCAA rules, college basketball’s fight for top talent is not over. But with rule changes dawning that will allow college players to benefit from their name, image and likeness, college basketball is in no danger of losing its place as an attractive option for players looking to bolster their professional aspirations.
SEC loading up on talent
If you’re looking for the conference best positioned to take a step forward in the 2021-22 season, the SEC looks like a good bet. After finishing fourth in our conference power rankings, the league is poised for a big season thanks to a flood of quality incoming players.
The league landed 13 of the top 50 high school prospects in the 247Sports rankings, beating out the Big Ten’s total of nine. SEC schools have also received commitments from 19 of CBS Sports’ top 50 committed transfers as of May 25, which is more than double the number of the next closest competitor.
Alabama’s Nate Oats and Arkansas’ Eric Musselman have injected new life into a league that sent six teams to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and that was without Auburn, Kentucky or Mississippi State in the Big Dance. Those three schools have restocked their rosters in an impressive way through recruiting and working the transfer portal.
Barring NCAA sanctions that reduce the league’s number of postseason-eligible teams, the SEC’s success in attracting new talent should position it to match its record number of eight NCAA Tournament teams in 2022.
Creighton lands its best class
Just days after publicly acknowledging his use of a racially insensitive “plantation” analogy late in the regular season, Creighton lost a commitment from five-star prospect TyTy Washington, who eventually signed with Kentucky. The 6-foot-3 guard was set to be the Bluejays’ highest-rated signee of the 247Sports era, and the timing of his decommitment suggested McDermott’s blunder could have a perilous impact on his ability to recruit.
Ultimately, the Bluejays rallied from the ordeal to make their first Sweet 16 since 1975, and it appears McDermott is still finding ways to connect with prospects. With three top 75 prospects in the fold from the Class of 2021, including two who committed after McDermott’s remark, Creighton’s No. 7 ranked recruiting class is the best in program history. The top three players in the class — Arthur Kaluma, Ryan Nembhard and Mason Miller — are the program’s three best-ranked commitments of the 247Sports era.
Creighton isn’t the only program to land its top-rated prospects of the 247Sports era in this class. Michigan did the same with Caleb Houston and Moussa Diabate, as did Gonzaga with Holmgren and Nebraska with five-star guard Bryce McGowens.