College basketball recruiting: Three storylines to watch as 2020 late signing period begins

The college basketball signing period that begins Wednesday and continues through Aug. 1 is technically referred to as the “regular” signing period. But given that most of the country’s top players signed in November and most of those who didn’t have since made commitments, the coming months are more of a “late” signing period. Still, there will be some intrigue as a handful of the country’s top prep players have yet to make their decisions, including a pair of top-10 players. 

Here are the top storylines to watch as college basketball’s second and final signing period for Class of 2020 prospects gets underway:

Can Penny Hardaway make another splash?: A year after assembling a seven-man class which ranked No. 1 nationally that included top-ranked prospect James Wiseman, Memphis enters the late signing period without a single commitment from the 2020 class. The Tigers do have a pledge from lanky junior college shot-blocker Ahmad Rand, but what happened to Hardaway’s luster that helped him land seven players from last year’s top 115? 

Don’t dismiss him just yet. For starters, Hardaway is doing a nice job of retaining the talent he’s brought in so far as Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa are expected to be the only departures from last year’s touted class. That means Memphis is likely to have just two open scholarships, which would explain why the Tigers have been selective with this year’s class. Now is the moment of truth, though. Memphis is in the running for No. 3 overall prospect Jalen Green and No. 9 overall prospect Greg Brown. Landing either would be a welcome jolt for the Memphis class while landing both would be an unbelievable coup. 

Landing neither would be a disappointment, obviously, and a potential sign that prospects are cooling on the Tigers as the program becomes the first to have an infractions case adjudicated by the NCAA’s new Independent Accountability Resolution Process amid the fallout from Wiseman’s short time with the program.

Will Shaka Smart land the hometown prodigy?: Memphis’ top competition for Brown may be Texas, although Auburn, Kentucky and Michigan are also in his top five. It makes sense that the Longhorns are a strong candidate to land the 6-foot-9 forward, though, considering he played at Vandergrift High School just 13 miles from the UT campus in Austin.  

Brown’s status as a homegrown prospect would make a miss especially painful for Texas coach Shaka Smart, who survived his fifth season while on the hot seat partially because of the team’s outlook for next season. The Longhorns are expected to return all five starters from last season’s 19-12 squad that was on the NCAA Tournament bubble before the season was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

If Texas is finally going to make the jump from mediocre to good in Smart’s sixth season, a player of Brown’s caliber might be a necessity. He would be the second-highest rated player to sign with the Longhorns under Smart behind Mo Bamba, who played one season for Texas and went on to become the sixth overall draft pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Will this class be enough to help the SEC rebound?: With five of the top eight recruiting classes and eight of the top 30, according to 247Sports, the SEC appears to be restocking its talent base through freshmen better than any other league. It will be a welcome influx of talent for a conference that struggled in the 2019-20 season. A year after getting seven teams into the NCAA Tournament and seeing four advance to the Sweet 16, not a single SEC team finished the abbreviated 2019-20 season in the top 20 of the NET ranking. Just four (Kentucky, Auburn, LSU and Florida) finished in the top 40.

But with 22 of the top 100 prospects in the Class of 2020 committed to SEC schools and three more still considering, the league could return to prominence in the upcoming season. Of course, Kentucky’s class is ranked No. 1 nationally entering the late signing period. With a pair of five-star commits, however, Tennessee is on track to welcome one of its best classes in school history while LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn are each sitting in the top 10 as well. Auburn’s standing could still rise if it lands Green or Brown, both of whom have the Tigers among their finalists. 

Perhaps most impressive is the job that Eric Musselman has done in his first full recruiting cycle at Arkansas. The former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings head coach who was the coach at Nevada before landing in the SEC already has four top-100 players committed to the Razorbacks. He could land a fifth if four-star small forward Kyle Walker chooses Arkansas. The No. 35 player in the 2020 class is also considering Kansas, but if he goes with Arkansas, Walker would put the finishing touches on a banner recruiting class for the Razorbacks that would elevate the league as a whole. 

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