The Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes
What UNC, Kentucky, Kansas and FSU could gain from landing the top recruit
Andrew Wiggins is really good at basketball.
If you are one of the naysayers -- the few bold contrarians arguing that because Harrison Barnes didn't destroy college basketball as a freshman preseason All-American, no other highly touted freshman ever will -- I urge to gird. Wiggins is good. This is a fundamental truth you should make yourself comfortable with, a Zen koan you should repeat as needed, because after a few short (OK, interminable) offseason months, Wiggins will step front and center on collegiate courts across the country.
While there's a small chance he might not dominate, pretty much every piece of evidence we have -- everything from the he's good at everything and he'll get doubled a lot, so he will have to be a good passer scouting reports to the treasure trove of YouTube footage -- suggests that he will.
Everyone (including yours truly) casually assumes he's going to be a first-team All-American. Take that for what it's worth.
Yet 95 percent of the intrigue isn't in how Wiggins will play, but which set of colors he will wear while doing so. It's May 8, and the kid still hasn't picked a school. This is unusual, almost as unusual as how little consensus there is on where Wiggins will go. The answer seems to vary on the day, whom you ask, where you ask them, what they had for lunch that day, and sometimes all of those factors. Some will say Kentucky. Some think it's always been Florida State. Many think North Carolina and Kansas are the leaders in the clubhouse. Nobody seems to know anything.
We should know more soon. In the meantime, there's not much else to do in terms of analyzing Wiggins' potential impact than to examine what his presence would mean to all four of his possible destinations.
First things first: Wiggins will make whichever team he chooses better. That is not up for debate. But there is plenty of nuance here. Kentucky will still be really good. Bill Self hasn't finished lower than tied for first in the Big 12 in a decade. Florida State is a blank slate coming off an 18-16 season. All sorts of varying outcomes are possible. Everyone's roster is different.
Of all four teams, North Carolina would see the most meaningful spike in its potential ceiling with Wiggins. Right now, UNC looks like a typically talented Roy Williams squad with some run-of-the-mill issues and an intriguing young point guard (Marcus Paige) who needs more confidence and fewer turnovers. The underrated P.J. Hairston and the overrated James Michael McAdoo (who would have been a lottery pick last summer before he posted a 91.3 offensive rating as a sophomore) are back, as are rising sophomore reserves Brice Johnson and Joel James. Carolina has the No. 8-ranked power forward (Isaiah Hicks) and the No. 6-ranked center (Kennedy Meeks) in its incoming class. The only underclassman to leave for the NBA was 6-foot-7 junior small forward Reggie Bullock.
The nice thing about Wiggins is that, unlike most prospects, he's not good at only one area of the game. By all accounts, he can play the 2, 3 or 4 on the collegiate level; he's good enough to get his own shot in the half court; and he's absolutely devastating on the break. In one fell swoop, Wiggins would negate the positional woes Williams faced last season, when he was forced to switch to a smaller lineup late in the season. Want to play small and fast and spread? Put McAdoo at the 5, Hairston at the 4, Wiggins at the 3. Want to play big? Put Wiggins at the 2. That sound you hear is UNC fans collectively recreating this GIF.
Whether or not Chapel Hill is the best fit for Wiggins -- it may be, but I'm not giving any advice to this effect -- it feels like the best fit from any team's side of things. With Wiggins, the Heels go from possible Final Four contender to immediate national title contender. Everything would click right into place.
Here's the thing about Kansas: No matter what, you do not doubt Bill Self.
We learned our lesson in 2010-11, when KU lost a load of talent in the summer and a Jacob Pullen-led Kansas State was picked to break the Jayhawks' streak of consecutive league titles, and Frank Martin stood at Big 12 media day and reminded everyone (incidentally) of Ric Flair's catchphrase. And a few months later, he was right: Kansas won. A year later, Martin was right again. Nothing changes in the Big 12. Whether KaU brings stars back or loses a seemingly insurmountable amount of talent to graduation and the draft, Self finds a way to win 30 games and a Big 12 ring. Including 2012-13, the Jayhawks have won or shared nine titles in the past nine years. It's the easiest bet in the sport.
And having said all that … this year might be Self's greatest challenge yet. The Jayhawks are losing, well, everybody: Senior center Jeff Withey, senior guard Elijah Johnson, senior forward Kevin Young, senior guard Travis Releford and freshman Ben McLemore, all five starters in 2012-13, are all gone. In their wake will be talented but still developing sophomores Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor and junior guard Naadir Tharpe and … actually, that's it. Those are the only remaining contributors. Three guys.
Right on cue, Kansas has a very good recruiting class coming in -- ranked No. 2 by our ESPN gurus. It stars five-star small forward Wayne Selden, top-10 center Joel Embiid, a lights-out shooter in shooting guard Brannen Greene and an interesting point guard out of Wichita, Conner Frankamp. Several of these players will start; Selden and Embiid are practically locks. This might be Self's youngest team ever.
The addition of Wiggins wouldn't change that. But for as good as Selden and Embiid are, and for as much as we have to bank Kansas for a Big 12 title until proven otherwise, without Wiggins it looks like a team that might still be a year away from its full potential. Wiggins could immediately accelerate that whole process. He's talented enough to shake off whatever youthful frustrations Self might have with a team that might not defend at his required levels right away, and as stated above, he's versatile enough to play a number of roles in Self's secondary break and side-to-side high-low motion offense.
Right now, Kansas finds itself in an unusual place. It has less developed talent returning than at any time in recent memory; it will be relying on freshmen much more than Self would prefer. But if Wiggins is part of the equation, who cares?
Back in March, when the No. 3 player in the class of 2013, forward Julius Randle, announced his intention to attend Kentucky, ESPN.com senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep laid down his case for why Kentucky's 2013 class wasn't just the best of the year (duh) but … wait for it … the best of all time. In recruitingese, that's another way of saying "better than the Fab Five," and as Dave unloaded his case -- six McDonald's All Americans and four top-rated players at their positions, the Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and 18 players in the ESPN 100 -- he actually wrote this:
"Honestly, even before Wednesday's commitment of No. 1 power forward and No. 3 overall senior Julius Randle I could have made an argument that UK's 2013 class was better than Steve Fisher's Michigan bunch."
Let's try to wrap our heads around that: Kentucky would have arguably had the best recruiting class of all time before the No. 3 player in the country signed. And now let's take another deep breath and think about what that means in a world in which Wiggins is still (A) undecided and (B) strongly considering Kentucky.
It doesn't compute. It can't compute, which is probably why, as each and every new Wildcat has lined up to play for John Calipari in the past 12 months, we've heard so many people so confidently state that Wiggins can't possibly attend UK. Too many guys. Not enough minutes. It can't work. My brain hurts. Make this stop. And so on.
There are plenty of reasons why it would work, of course, namely Calipari. Save last season, a rare aberration in which the UK coach couldn't get a group of talented young guys to put it together on the defensive end, Calipari's defenses have finished in the top 15 in adjusted efficiency every year since 2006 and in the top 10 in all but two of those seasons. His 2012 national title team wasn't his best defensively, but it was the most emblematic of his ideal squad in that it combined real NBA stars into the most balanced and prolific team we've seen in a long time. That was a special group, but so is this one; there's no reason to expect 2011-12 can't or won't happen again in Lexington this season -- why Calipari can't convince his star player his way works. Because it does.
The funny thing is, that's probably going to be the case whether Wiggins goes to UK or not. If Wiggins goes elsewhere, Kentucky will still be the SEC favorite and a national title contender, if not the favorite. If Wiggins does choose to join up -- if he agrees to top billing in the "Kentucky signed the Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and 18 players in the class of 2013" phrase you'd read a lot between now and November -- then we have to recalibrate our expectations much, much higher.
Laying claim to the Iron Throne is a good place to start. Galactic domination isn't out of the question. A genuine discussion of the Accomplishment That Shall Not Be Named (hint: it starts with "u" and rhymes with "superheated") is somewhere on that list. Rest assured, Calipari is interested in all three.
With all due respect to the rest of these schools, this is by far the most interesting place Wiggins could end up. With all due respect to Florida State, that's not really a compliment.
It's no secret Wiggins' parents were both athletes at FSU and are both still very interested in seeing him follow in their footsteps in Tallahassee. It is not a stretch to argue that's why the Seminoles are not only on this list but a serious contender for Wiggins' services. It certainly isn't because Florida State can offer Wiggins the best chance of winning a national title. Again, all due respect, but facts are facts: After an extended period of defensive excellence under Leonard Hamilton (and a 2012 ACC title), the Noles finished 18-16 in 2012-13, fell from 15th to 165th in adjusted defensive efficiency and lost their best player, senior Michael Snaer, to the sands of eligibility time.
Which is not to say there aren't good players here -- there are. Senior forward Okaro White is a stalwart at this point. Sophomore guard Devon Bookert posted a really promising freshman season, including a 22.7 percent assist rate and 52.5 percent shooting from 3. Incoming freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes is the No. 8 shooting guard in the class and the 44th-ranked player overall.
So what makes FSU Wiggins' most interesting potential destination? All of the above! If you are willing to accept the premise that an 18-16 team ranked No. 124 in the Pomeroy rankings is essentially a blank slate, what better chance to measure Wiggins' talent, to see how much better he can individually make a team, than at Florida State?
It could be our second chance at Kevin Durant's insane one-year stop at Texas, or a facsimile of all those hypothetical LeBron James fantasy arguments we seem to have every March. (What if his 21-6-6 rookie season had been in college instead? If we put 2012-13 LeBron on 2012-13 Grambling, could it win 25 games? The national title? I spend too much time thinking about this.)
Predicting Wiggins' impact on Florida State is roughly the same as asking us to predict precisely how good he is in the first place. If Wiggins is your standard very good lottery pick freshman, the Seminoles are probably good enough to compete for an ACC title.
We know he'll be good. But what if he's transcendent? What then?
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