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Top Storylines Headed Into the NCAA Basketball Early Signing Period

Can Kentucky knock off Duke for the top recruiting class? And make no mistake, Michigan State is back.

From Duke trying to hold on to the top spot in the SI All-American recruiting team rankings to whether two alpha point guards can coexist in a potential scenario for a blue blood, storylines abound with just 24 hours to go before the commencement of the NCAA Basketball Early Signing Period (Nov. 9-16).

Here are a handful of things to watch for:

Can Duke hold serve at No. 1?

We may not know just yet how Jon Scheyer will fare as a head coach long term, but what we do know is that he’ll have landed the talent to compete. After reeling in the country’s No. 1 recruiting class in year one as Coach K’s successor, Scheyer managed to repeat with the 2023 class.

Scheyer’s talented group has an exceptional blend of length, athleticism and playmaking ability, and doubles as versatile defenders all over the floor.

Mackenzie Mgbako is a 6’9”, brute all-everything forward who scores in virtually every way imaginable and boasts an unrelenting motor on both ends of the floor.

Makes sense that he went No. 1 overall in Sports Illustrated’s all-high school NBA Mock Draft in June.

Scheyer’s backcourt trio of Caleb Foster, Jared McCain and TJ Power is an offensively diverse and lethal combination of scorers, and forward Sean Stewart is a freak athlete with a diverse skill set.

Still, as loaded as the roster promises to be again in Durham, N.C. next season, Scheyer’s crew has a formidably familiar foe on their heels in the rankings.

Kentucky’s quartet of Robert Dillingham, Justin Edwards, Reed Sheppard and Aaron Bradshaw is deep and uber-talented, and DJ Wagner would likely solidify John Calipari's takeover at the top if he can reel in the elite point guard.

As it stands, Calipari seems to be in the driver’s seat for Wagner, but the 11th hour tends to be the most unpredictable in recruiting.

Michigan State is Back.

After missing out on the SI All-American recruiting team rankings for 2022, Tom Izzo is back with a vengeance with what will be a top-three class in 2023 when Sports Illustrated releases its team rankings Wednesday. 

The prize of Izzo’s current haul is undoubtedly 6’11” center Xavier Booker, who has had a meteoric rise this summer from underrated to being in the conversation for No. 1 in the SI99 basketball rankings. 

Booker boasts a 7’4” wingspan with unmatched quickness, agility and ball-handling ability at his position. He’s also a capable perimeter shooter and elite rim protector, and as such went No. 2 overall in SI’s all-high school NBA Mock Draft in June

The rest of the prospects in the class —Jeremy Fears, Gehrig Normand and Coen Carr—have next-level star potential in their own right, but the title hunt whispers next season are centered around Booker being in East Lansing.

D.J. Wagner

DJ Wagner could potentially team up with Robert Dillingham at Kentucky.

Can DJ Wagner and Robert Dillingham Co-Exist?

I know, I know, you think we’re jumping the gun, and Kentucky fans may think we have just jinxed landing what could realistically be the most lethal backcourt in college basketball next season, but here we are. 

From Wagner’s Nike ads to John Calipari’s Freudian slips, all signs seem to point to Wagner ending up in Lexington. 

The question is, with Robert Dillingham already in the fold for 2023, can the two ball-dominant guards naturally gel to help the team reach its peak potential? 

The short answer is, yes. 

Both players double as high IQ floor generals who see the game two plays ahead but can also slide over to the scoring guard spot and drop 30-plus points on any given night. 

Given that both are efficient from the perimeter, Dillingham is more of a marksman and thrives in making Steph Curry-like NBA-range threes after leaving an opposing defender on skates. For that reason, it’s more likely that Calipari would play him more off the ball and let Wagner run the show. 

That said, the most probable scenario is that whoever gets the rebound or the outlet pass on that possession is the point guard while the other guy fans out on the wing to create. 

The best part is that Dillingham already has a great rapport with Wagner and their both aware that while individually they could be stars, together they could be legends…

You know, if, he comes there.

SI99’s Top Spot Looms.

The debate for the top spot in the SI99 basketball recruiting rankings for 2023 rages on with a handful of deserving names consistently floating around for the appointment. 

Elite point guard Isaiah Collier kicked off the spring circuit season with two dominant performances in the Nike EYBL, leading the league in assists and checking into the top five in scoring before being forced to sit for multiple months after suffering an injury at USA Basketball tryouts.

He returned in August and took home back-to-back MVP awards at the Steph Curry Camp and then the Under Armour Elite 24, two of the most prominent events of the summer. 

DJ Wagner turned in a big summer, pumping in 15.7 points, 3.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.2 steals a game for the NJ Scholars at the Nike Peach Jam in July. He also helped USA Basketball’s U17 squad take home gold in Málaga, Spain, averaging nine points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals in 19.8 minutes per game. 

Wagner’s teammate with the Scholars, Mackenzie Mgbako made All-Nike Peach Jam First Team after a dominant summer, Xavier Booker dominated all comers all summer, as did Justin Edwards and Aaron Bradshaw.

A key theme for contenders at the top is consistency against fellow elite stars, criteria that won’t make the ultimate appointment any less difficult.

Duke’s Dereck Lively (2022) and Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren (2021) were the last two prospects to finish their senior seasons at the top of the SI99 rankings, which will be unveiled in early December.  

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