The college basketball season rapidly approaching means something different in the recruiting world: The early signing period is just around the corner. We’re just over a month away from pen hitting paper and fax machines — do people still use fax machines? — buzzing with signed letters of intent.
While the days and weeks leading up to the signing period will undoubtedly bring shifts to the landscape, the 2023 recruiting cycle is already well advanced. Fifteen of the 21 five-star prospects in ESPN’s rankings have made their college decisions — an incredibly high number compared with past seasons. Around 70 players in the ESPN 100 are committed.
What stands out in the first iteration of our 2023 recruiting class rankings?
Duke and Kentucky battling for No. 1. Again.
The Duke-Kentucky duopoly at the top of the recruiting class rankings isn’t anything close to a surprise at this point. Sure, the likes of Memphis, Gonzaga and Michigan temporarily broke up their hegemony in recent years, but Duke and Kentucky have generally been several steps ahead of their competition on the recruiting trail. Either Duke or Kentucky had the top-ranked class every year but one from 2009 to 2018, while also garnering that honor in 2020 and 2022. And there’s an overwhelming likelihood one of them will end up at No. 1 in 2023.
Duke is comfortably on top right now, with four five-star commitments — Mackenzie Mgbako, Sean Stewart, Caleb Foster and Jared McCain — and another top-40 recruit in TJ Power. Kentucky has two top-10 recruits in Justin Edwards and Robert Dillingham, as well as a top-30 prospect in Reed Sheppard. And the Wildcats are strong contenders for top-ranked prospect DJ Wagner and No. 5 overall player Aaron Bradshaw, while also maintaining pursuit of No. 10 Ron Holland.
Pair of recruiting powers making a comeback
Michigan State and UConn have been two of the best college basketball programs in the country over the past 25 years, and for much of that quarter-decade, they have had the recruiting to match. Neither had a top-25 recruiting class last year, but both are back — in a big way. Michigan State slots in at No. 3 in the early rankings, while the Huskies are at No. 5.
Both Tom Izzo and Dan Hurley landed well-rounded classes with a mix of immediate-impact ability and high-ceiling potential. Michigan State has four ESPN 100 prospects in its four-man class, while UConn already landed five four-star commitments, including three in the top 100.
Neither Iowa State nor Ole Miss is a staple inside the national recruiting class rankings. In fact, since the ESPN recruiting database began in 2007, Ole Miss has never had a five-star commit. Iowa State was in that same category … until a couple of months ago, at least. But both programs sit inside the top 10 in the country right now, with impressive early work done by TJ Otzelberger and Kermit Davis.
Iowa State landed top-10 prospect Omaha Biliew, the aforementioned highest-ranked Cyclone commit in the modern recruiting era, while also getting a commitment from skilled forward Milan Momcilovic, himself ranked No. 31 in the class. Ole Miss, meanwhile, also had four commitments — three four-star prospects and two ESPN 100 recruits. Josh Hubbard and Rashaud Marshall are the headliners, with Hubbard particularly impactful given his status as the state’s No. 1 prospect and the fact the Rebels beat out Mississippi State for his commitment.
First-year head coaches making early statements
There are five new head coaches with classes ranked in the top 25: Jon Scheyer, Duke; Sean Miller, Xavier; Jerome Tang, Kansas State; Kevin Willard, Maryland; and Kenny Payne, Louisville. Perhaps none of the five should be considered a surprise.
Scheyer established himself as a high-level recruiter as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski, and the Duke brand is as good as it gets in recruiting. Miller had Arizona competing with the bluebloods of the sport for recruits, while Willard was an adept recruiter at Seton Hall. Tang was part of a Baylor staff that consistently landed ranked recruiting classes, and Payne was considered one of the best recruiters in the country as an assistant at Kentucky under John Calipari.
It’s imperative for a new coach to immediately establish recruiting momentum in their first full cycle, and those five have done just that.