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The nation's top recruit once had a list of six finalists, including Kansas, Arizona and UCLA. What if he had turned down the Blue Devils?

November 02, 2017

Last March, well before multiple outlets reported he intended to reclassify from 2018 to 2017, Marvin Bagley III released a list of six finalists: Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and USC. A few months later, after taking visits to three of those programs (Duke, UCLA and USC), Bagley announced on SportsCenter that he’d chosen to play for the Blue Devils.

The addition of Bagley, widely considered the top recruit in the class of 2017, was enough for Duke to receive 20 of 32 first place votes in the preseason Coaches Poll and 33 of 65 in the AP Poll. The newfound Blue Devils hype was well-founded: Bagley is a transcendent talent with the potential to tilt the ACC championship race in Duke’s favor and lead it to a national title.

Yet Bagley didn’t move the Blue Devils to the top of our projections. Instead, Duke jumped from sixth to third. Its upward mobility was limited by a defense we project to rank 46th in Division I. Even with Bagley swatting shots in the paint and vacuuming up opponents’ missed shots, our model is skeptical of Duke’s capacity to play elite D because of the number of freshmen in its rotation and Krzyzewski’s recent coaching track record on that end of the court.

The chart below shows how the Blue Devils’ rotation stacks up as is.

Bagley’s presence reduces both the offensive and playing time workloads of five-star recruits Wendell Carter Jr. and Marques Bolden, although both of them project to score at more efficient rates than would have been the case had Bagley headed elsewhere. Here’s what Duke’s rotation would have looked like without the Sierra Canyon (Calif.) High product around.

Of the five other programs on Bagley’s list of finalists, Kansas would have received the biggest boost had he picked it instead of Duke. The Jayhawks, which won’t have Memphis forward transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson eligible until next season, are thin in the front court—head coach Bill Self is going to have to roll with some smallball looks at times—and Bagley would have bolstered their interior defense, rebounded at high volume and provided efficient two-point scoring. With talented guards and Bagley in the fold as part of a beefed-up big man corps, Kansas would have risen from No. 7 to the top of our preseason rankings.

Bagley’s impact would have been the smallest at Arizona. The Wildcats are already stocked with quality contributors at the four and the five, including one player (DeAndre Ayton) who, like Bagley, should hear his name called near or at the top of the 2018 NBA draft. Arizona would have been a better team with Bagley than without him, but it leads our preseason projections anyway, on the assumption that none of its current players will be impacted by the FBI’s investigation into corruption across college basketball.

Here’s a closer look at how much Bagley’s signing improved Duke, and how much it would have improved the five other schools on his list.

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