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Monday, June 17, 2013
Five falling behind heading into 2014

By Adam Finkelstein

Momentum is a powerful thing in the world of college basketball recruiting. While it tends to be a constant for a select few national powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas, virtually all other programs in the country are constantly competing for any edge that can push them to that next level.

In the wake of our initial 2014 ESPN 100 player rankings release last week and as we start a team-by-team breakdown of 2014 recruiting targets by conference over the next two weeks, here’s a look at five college hoops programs that are trending in the wrong direction on the momentum meter heading into the 2014 recruiting class.

1. UCLA
It was just one year ago that UCLA head coach Ben Howland appeared to save his job with a top-ranked 2012 recruiting class that included Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Twelve months later, after a continuous run of negative publicity both on and off the court, Muhammad has opted for the NBA draft only to see his stock plummet, Howland has been fired, and new head coach Steve Alford has taken over a program that has been undeniably tarnished by a constant string of negatively. It’s also taken its toll on recruiting, as only one of Alford’s four incoming 2013 prospects is an ESPN 100 player. The fact is that Alford isn’t just charged with rebuilding UCLA on the floor, he also must rebuild the Bruins’ image before they’re able to return to the upper echelons of college basketball recruiting.

Rick Barnes
Rick Barnes and Texas need a bounceback year both on the court and in recruiting.
2. Texas
The upcoming season is a big one for Rick Barnes and Texas. There is no denying that. This past season, the Longhorns missed the NCAA tournament and finished below .500 for the first time in Barnes’ 15 seasons on the job while also failing to deliver the type of star-studded recruiting class that inspires confidence for an immediate turnaround. Texas needs to reverse course next season, both by getting back to playing the type of basketball Barnes’ teams have been known for over the years and also getting back to recruiting the type of McDonald’s All Americans who have led the Longhorns to success in the past.

3. Seton Hall
Between an injury-plagued 2012-13 season, legal problems for two incoming recruits, a series of players transferring out of the program and even the departure of two members of his coaching staff, it’s been a tough year for Kevin Willard. As a result, his fourth season at the helm of the Seton Hall program will be a pivotal one, both on the floor and in recruiting. But it hasn’t been all bad news of late: The addition of former Northwestern assistant and Rutgers head coach Fred Hill was met with local enthusiasm, as was the late commitment of 2013 ESPN 100 point guard Jaren Sina. The Pirates will need to build off those positive headlines in order to convince recruits and their families and coaches alike that things are moving in the right direction once again at Seton Hall.

4. USC
Alford isn’t the only first-year coach with a tall task in Los Angeles. Andy Enfield rode the wave of momentum that came from Florida Gulf Coast’s Cinderella NCAA tournament run into a job with the Trojans. The bottom line is that while he may now be a Pac-12 head coach at a beautiful campus in the heart of Los Angeles, the “dunk city” brand he built during his NCAA tournament run is still his top selling point because USC’s inability to be anything better than mediocre in a city full of other entertainment options has left the Trojans little more than an afterthought in hoops for a while now.

5. Wake Forest
Jeff Bzdelik has used his first three years at Wake Forest to totally remake his roster, including a massive seven-player recruiting class in 2012. That type of makeover inevitably requires some patience. But with the Demon Deacons fan base getting anxious for a return to their glory days of old, the 2013-14 season will be the first time Bzdelik has a roster completely of his own making. The hope is that will spark a major turnaround in the win/loss category that will then extend into recruiting. The head coach has the unquestioned support of his athletic director, which is half the battle, but this is a program that needs to show improvement both on the court and on the recruiting front this year.