Basketball recruiting: Breaking down the Big Ten’s early signing period classes

College basketball’s early signing period usually has much more buzz, more suspense.

And more drama.

But this year, without Division I coaches at the spring and summer live periods and no official visits due to the COVID-19-caused dead recruiting period, this Nov. 11-18 early signing period feels tame. With many elite prospects already committed, the Big Ten's power structure in the 2021 recruiting class is pretty clear.

Here’s USA TODAY Sports’ breakdown of the early signing period efforts in the Big Ten:

Juwan Howard has nation's top class

This is one of the main reasons Michigan hired the Fab Five star in May 2019. It was thought Howard could be an excellent recruiter, bringing the Wolverines the type of talent they had rarely seen since his playing days. And, in just his second season, he’s done it. Howard has landed six recruits — two five-stars, three four-stars, one three-star — and Michigan has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard during action against Michigan State on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Can Fred Hoiberg land his program-altering target?

Things haven’t exactly gone swimmingly on the court since Fred Hoiberg took over in Lincoln, but that will all be forgotten if he can land his top remaining target: Five-star wing Bryce McGowens. The former Florida State recruit re-opened his recruitment in early October, and now he’s down to a final two of Nebraska and Georgia. The Huskers may have the edge because Bryce’s older brother, Trey McGowens, is on Hoiberg’s roster.

What is the Pat Chambers fallout at Penn State?

With a couple of 2021 spots left and a recently axed head coach, Penn State is in an unenviable position during this early signing period. The Nittany Lions aren’t thought to be close with any of their remaining high school offers. Their class is already at the bottom of the conference, and dealing with the fallout of a head coach who resigned amid allegations of racially inappropriate conduct won’t help things.

Can Illinois capitalize on its return to glory?

So … can we say it? Yeah? OK: Illinois basketball is back. The Illini are the preseason No. 8 team in the AP Top 25 and are expected to compete for the Big Ten title. Can Brad Underwood capitalize on that success and bring in a 2021 class that’s even better than his 2020 group? He has one recruit in four-star Indiana wing Luke Goode. He has Illinois in play for four-star point guard Tyty Washington, who will announce his choice this week, and four-star forward Mac Etienne, who will not announce during the early signing period.

Fort Wayne's Caleb Furst figures to become Matt Painter's latest standout big man at Purdue. (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

Big Ten's top early signing classes

Howard has his Wolverines on top. But Michigan State brought in yet another stellar recruiting class, so Tom Izzo isn’t far behind.

1. Michigan: Five-star forwards Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate headline the country’s No. 1 recruiting class in the early signing period. 

2. Michigan State: Five-star guard Max Christie is one of the true gems of the class. Izzo continues to excel in-state, too, landing a pair of four-star Michigan products in Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks.

3. Purdue: The Boilermakers have two top-40, four-star forwards in Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman. The best part for Purdue fans? They beat Indiana for both.

4. Maryland: Mark Turgeon got one of the country’s fastest-rising wings in Milwaukee’s James Graham, and he’s surrounded with a pair of four-star recruits.

St. Vincent-St. Mary's Malaki Branham is headed to Ohio State next season. (Photo: Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal)

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes landed a potential star from LeBron James’ alma mater in St. Vincent-St. Mary four-star guard Malaki Branham, a top-30 talent. They also landed the state’s second-best player in four-star forward Kaden Etzler.

6. Northwestern: A flurry of commitments in May and June gives Northwestern the No. 6 spot. Four-star guard Casey Simmons is the headliner.

7. Wisconsin: You may have forgotten about the Badgers’ three recruits, because they landed them all in August and September 2019. All three are top-150 additions.

8. Nebraska: Even if he doesn’t get McGowens, Hoiberg will have a quality pair of early signees in four-star, top-100 prospect Wilhelm Breidenbach and junior college guard Keisei Tominaga, one of Japan’s best young talents.

9. Minnesota: Richard Pitino landed top-130 big man Treyton Thompson back in November, and he looks like a quality Big Ten post. Pitino added another post in Sunrise Christian’s Kenny Pohto in early October.

10. Illinois: Goode, the Illini’s current lone recruit, is a solid get. And it’s looking like Illinois has a chance to get Washington this week, too. 

11. Rutgers: Three-star St. Louis wing Jaden Jones was a key pick-up who has interest and offers from some major players. Rutgers also just added a local product in Washington, D.C. three-star point guard Jalen Miller.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers have one 2021 recruit so far in Ohio four-star post Logan Duncomb, who also held Big Ten offers from Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa.

13. Iowa: While the Hawkeyes have only one 2021 recruit, three-star in-state wing Payton Sandfort, and might be done in the class, it means something to land your top guy — and Sandfort was one of Fran McCaffery’s biggest targets.

14. Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ lone 2021 recruit, three-star center Elijah Hutchins-Everett, is a quality get. But what happens with the rest of the class after Chambers’ resignation?

Top-20 guard Max Christie will play for Tom Izzo at Michigan State. (Photo: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports)

Top expected early signing period signings in the Big Ten:

1. Caleb Houstan (247Sports Composite: No. 8): Houstan is a versatile, 6-8 forward out of powerhouse prep school Montverde Academy. College choice: Michigan

2. Max Christie (247Sports Composite: No. 15): A long, 6-6 athlete with guard skills, Christie can play just about anywhere on the perimeter. College choice: Michigan State

3. Moussa Diabate (247Sports Composite: No. 20): Diabate is strong and powerful at 6-10 and 215 pounds, but he’s got plenty of skill, too. College choice: Michigan

4. Malaki Branham (247Sports Composite: No. 28): A physical, 6-4 guard, Branham is a defense’s nightmare with his athleticism and scoring versatility. College choice: Ohio State

5. Caleb Furst (247Sports Composite: No. 34): One of the Big Ten’s earliest recruits, Furst is a deceptively athletic, 6-8 forward who will make an immediate impact. College choice: Purdue

Source: Read Full Article