**Full disclosure, I think the "Minnesota Trois" is a weak nickname for the trio of top 50 players coming out of Minnesota next year. This is where the creative community here comes up with something better.
In Minnesota there is a really special group of basketball players who are still just competing in their junior seasons. There are two players within the state who are likely among the top 10 in the nation. With a third who any other year would be the top target for Gopher fans, but this year he is "just" a top 50 player. By ESPN's rankings the top PG, top SG and 5th best PF in the class of 2014 reside within minutes of The Barn. These kids are no secret and the rest of the college basketball world is pursuing Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis. But can Tubby Smith and his staff parlay their current success into landing the Minnesota Trois?
The basketball gods have really aligned this season absolutely perfectly for the Gophers. Tyus Jones has long been rumored to be favoring John Calipari and his model of play here-win a championship-move on to the NBA. Who wouldn't be enamored with this sales pitch when your local team consistently fights just to get on the NCAA bubble. But this year the roles are flipped.
Kentucky is dangerously close to not only being a bubble team, but not even making the NCAA Tournament. There is a lot of time left but UK plays in a weak conference, has played a weak schedule, their resume has few wins of value, their record vs. top 50 teams is 0-5 and currently they sit with an RPI around 67 (one spot behind Northwestern State!).
Coincidentally there are two very recent articles on the possibility of Kentucky, the reigning national champ, not making the NCAA Tournament. Yahoo!'s Pat Forde lays out what UK must do going forward.
The lousy start increases the pressure on Kentucky to capitalize on the few quality opponents it has left to face. Namely: two games with Florida, a home game against Missouri and road trips to Texas A&M and Mississippi. Everyone else is outside the RPI top 70 – several of them way outside. The average RPI of UK's 16 remaining opponents is 113.
If all else fails, John Calipari can try the tactic he once used while on the bubble at his previous place of employment: questioning the integrity of the RPI itself.
"We've got to get a Memphis guy putting the numbers into that computer," he said in 2005. "Or at least somebody who isn't against Memphis."
ESPN's Joe Lunardi finished his latest bracketology and now lays out several reasons why UK may end up missing the Big Dance entirely.
The Wildcats are 1-1 in early SEC play, and needed a disputed bucket to escape Vanderbilt before being outclassed at home by Texas A&M. With four of their next six games away from Rupp Arena, there's every chance the Wildcats will hit the halfway mark of their league schedule not much better than .500 in the SEC. In a fairly weak conference, they'll need to be well above that by March.
A week ago, UK was on my list of national "leaders" in so-called "fake wins." Of the Wildcats' 10 victories this season, just two -- Maryland (in Brooklyn) and at Vanderbilt -- have come over non-guarantee opponents. That means a 10-5 record for the Wildcats, which is already borderline, is more like a 2-5 record in the eyes of the selection committee. So there's a ton of work to do in a conference that suddenly presents more opportunities for "bad " losses than it does "good" wins.
The Texas A&M game referenced above? Jones was there to witness. Proving again that the basketball gods are doing their best to give little gifts to Gopher basketball.
In the wake of winning a national title it is really easy to assume that the Calipari model of loading up on one-and-done talent will equate to Final Fours year after year. But it doesn't always work. The Wildcats landed 3 of the top 15 players in the class of 2012, 4 of the top 40. But bringing in dynamic talent does not always immediately pay off. My hope is that Tyus is seeing Calipari's pitch doesn't always play out as promised.
Do we stand a chance with Tyus Jones? Odds are still long and favor the likes of UK and Duke, but a rocking atmosphere at The Barn, playing and winning meaningful games and potentially making a run in the NCAA Tournament will certainly help.
But the young Mr. Jones is not the only asset in this class, in fact were I Rashad Vaughn I'd be getting a little annoyed how much more attention Jones seems to be receiving. Kind of like how this post spent several hundred words before I even got to the #1 shooting guard in the class of 2014.
Message boards and some wishful thinking seem to say we are in pretty good standing with Mr. Vaughn. Finally winning this year, appears to be making a difference with Vaughn. Gopher Illustrated's Ryan James interviewed ($) one of Vaughn's high school coaches who had this to say.
"So far this year the Gophers have been winning and the future looks bright with some of the recruits they have been getting. I know Rashad has been paying attention to that. I know his dad has been paying attention to that. If you ask me I think by them winning that will pry help Minnesota with Rashad but ultimately that's up to Rashad and his family. But knowing Rashad I know that winning does matter and helps their chances."
Vaughn would bring an immediate scoring threat to the Gophers. But the usual who's who of the college basketball elite have already offered and will make things difficult for Tubby and staff. Offers from Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Texas, Baylor and interest from North Carolina. From what I understand, Gopher assistant coach Vince Taylor has built a strong relationship with Vaughn and his family.
If when he lands here, much of the credit will belong to coach Taylor along with the resurgence of the program under Tubby.
Do we have a shot with Vaughn? I think we do, based on nothing more than reading message boards, interviews and trying to read the tea leaves. He come across as a really down to earth kid who would value some of what coach like Tubby Smith brings to the table. I'd actually say our chances are as good as anybody else's, but I'm just guessing. Rashad, when you are done reading this e-mail me about announcing your college decision here on TDG! You can then give a shout-out to us years from now when they retire your number to the rafters of The Barn!
The last piece of the puzzle, and this is an important piece, is Reid Travis. Again, he should not be undervalued here. Travis is ranked about the same place that Royce White was and a bit higher than Rodney Williams was. We fawned all over those two butt Travis is almost the forgotten man in this class. But his addition would also be incredibly valuable. In a lot of ways he is a similar player to Trevor Mbakwe. Big, strong kid who rebounds well and is explosive around the hoop. But he may also have a little bit of a mid-range jumper too!
Travis doesn't quite have the offer list that the other two have but he is being pursued by BCS schools from Boston College to USC and a bunch in between. The other recruiting battle to be fought with Travis is whether he plays football or basketball in college. The DeLaSalle quarterback has strong interest from Wisconsin, BC and an offer from Iowa. But getting this impact power forward would be a huge addition to the Gophers in 2 years. In recent action he scored 47 against Breck and then had 26 points, 11 boards against Moorehead. Reid Travis may not be getting the same national hype as Jones and Vaughn, but do not underestimate just how valuable he would be to this program.
Will we land Mr. Travis? This is an interesting recruitment with the football factor as well as a number of more academic schools also pursuing him. When a kid has an offer from Harvard, Northwestern, Lehigh,
Iowa St and Boston College you also have to worry that he will make his decision based on academic reputation. Minnesota is a fine academic institution but Ivy League it is not. I don't know exactly what will be determining factors for Travis, but he clearly will have a number of different factors at play here. With that said, I think we has as good a shot as anybody else.
I cannot understate just how important winning is this year and how much that impacts recruiting. Players who can play anywhere (and I mean anywhere) are going to go where they can make an impact on a good team that wins! They aren't usually interested in being the guy who tries to resurrect a program. We as fans may desire someone to be that program savior, but that isn't their responsibility. However, if the local program is already winning? That is a different story. Being the guy or part of the group that takes this from a top 15 team to a Final Four team? That makes them legends!
Each player individually would be a huge boost to the Gophers but collectively they seem to have a set of skills that would compliment each other quite well even if it were just for a year or two. Jones is a point guard who gets his team involved, a floor general. Vaughn is a scoring guard/wing who can get by people into the lane as well as knock down long jump-shots. And Travis is an explosive big man who will be a rebounding force in the Big Ten while also scoring in a variety of ways within 15 feet of the basket.
Landing two of this vaunted trio would make some national noise. Landing all three would likely make this the #1 recruiting class in the country and vault the Gophers to the Final Four conversation. I'd love to see all three of these guys in The Barn on Thursday to witness what will be the best atmosphere in that arena since the 96-97 season. The first top 10 match-up since the 77-78 season! And eventually they will be able to storm the floor after a huge Gopher win. Winning and dynamic support will make a difference in this recruiting cycle. Can the Gophers land the Minnesota Trois? All three would be a coup, but continued winning can only help.