- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Until we know exactly where Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-10 power forward from The Tilton School in New Hampshire by way of Everett, Mass., and Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-6 wing from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, will play college basketball, it's impossible to lock in a preseason Top 25 list.
The two top recruits in the class of 2012, per ESPN.com, will make a monstrous impact on the programs they choose. There's a chance that the duo will pick Kentucky. That would make John Calipari's Wildcats definite threats to repeat as national champions.
Duke and UCLA are also finalists for Muhammad's services.
Noel recently tweeted that he intends to "shock the world." Syracuse and Georgetown, the two other schools on his list, hope that suggests he won't pick Kentucky.
We'll find out soon because both players are scheduled to announce their decisions at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU and WatchESPN.com.
Here's what each school could gain by adding Noel and/or Muhammad.
How Nerlens Noel will help
Kentucky: See Anthony Davis. Yes, freshmen can win national titles in the one-and-done era. Davis & Co. proved it when they led the Wildcats to their eighth national title a few weeks ago. With Noel, Kentucky would replace Davis with a prospect who is considered by many to be a more advanced shot-blocker than Davis. I'd never witnessed a shot-blocker control a college game the way Davis did during the Final Four. And I'd never witnessed a high school player dominate a contest the way Noel did during last summer's Peach Jam summer tournament. Talented teams with high-level Division I prospects couldn't score against him. He's that good. If Calipari gets Noel and Muhammad, the Wildcats could be the top-ranked team in the country entering next season. Even adding Noel to one of the top recruiting classes in the country would make the Wildcats contenders to repeat.
Georgetown: John Thompson III's program needs Noel more than the other schools on his list. Thompson has lost Jason Clark, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson (who is forgoing his senior season to enter the NBA draft). Adding Noel would make the Hoyas Big East contenders again. Young forward Otto Porter and Noel would anchor one of the top frontcourts in the country. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is a talented four-star guard who will help the Hoyas fill in behind Clark and Thompson. Georgetown's history of producing dominant shot-blockers is undeniable. Thompson has also helped previous Hoya bigs such as Sims, Greg Monroe and Roy Hibbert develop offensively, too. Noel will develop on that end of the floor under JT3's tutelage. But Thompson had one of the best defensive units in America last season. And Noel would help Georgetown become a defensive giant again.
Syracuse: Without Noel, Syracuse will still be one of the best teams in the Big East, and perhaps nationally. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche are back. With Rakeem Christmas and C.J. Fair returning, the Orange will have one of most talented frontcourts in the country. And five-star center DaJuan Coleman joins the program. That's a crowded lane. But Jim Boeheim would make room for one of the country's top athletes. Plus, Noel is on a different level. He'd make that zone impenetrable. Syracuse might have won a national title with Fab Melo. They were a different team without him. Noel's presence would affect Syracuse's national title hopes for the 2012-13 season, too. A top-15 Syracuse team as it's presently constructed is easily top-10 with Noel in the mix.
How Shabazz Muhammad will help
Duke: Mason Plumlee will return for his senior season. He joins Ryan Kelly, Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Marshall Plumlee, who should help Duke contend for the ACC crown again. Last season, Austin Rivers was Duke's "We need a bucket now" scorer. Rivers could penetrate and get to the rim when Duke needed him to. But he's off to the NBA now. Enter Muhammad possibly. Muhammad has been toying with his high school colleagues for years. He's a strong young player who's aggressive whenever he has the ball. He could be the missing piece to another Duke run to the ACC title and the Final Four. Rasheed Sulaimon is a talented five-star wing who will also help the Blue Devils in his first year. They're the high-caliber athletes Duke will need to keep up with a stacked North Carolina State squad next season. This team is dangerous without Muhammad. But it's a national title threat with him, especially with Mike Krzyzewski's ability to mold him into a defensive stopper.
UCLA: It's tough to get excited about UCLA basketball after what transpired this season. The Bruins were a nationally ranked crew during the preseason, and then they did everything possible to ruin those projections. But it would be hard to keep UCLA out of the preseason Top 25 if it managed to add Muhammad. Kyle Anderson is a five-star guard who has already signed with the Bruins. Muhammad and Anderson together? Potent. The Wear twins return. Josh Smith could be back, too. Yes, UCLA will have the tools to win the Pac-12 and return to the NCAA tournament with Muhammad. With this program, you never know how everyone would mesh. But they'll certainly possess the necessary tools to put this season's embarrassment behind them.
Kentucky: Muhammad would be the new Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the Wildcats. He's a versatile player who's comfortable in all situations, on both ends of the floor. Once the smoke clears from the national title celebration, college basketball fans will be able to see the talented cast that's on its way to Lexington. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are five-star athletes who will make the Wildcats SEC and national title contenders again. Muhammad would just add to the riches of a program that's already top-10 without Muhammad or Noel. If Calipari gets either, the Wildcats could start the season as the No. 1 team in the country. If he gets both, that's closer to a guarantee. While Muhammad's offensive capabilities have earned the bulk of the praise, he's a talented defender, too. And he plays Calipari basketball. Kentucky's players benefit from the offensive freedom they're granted. And an impressive open-floor skill set is what has elevated Muhammad to his current slot as arguably America's top prep player.
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