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July 27, 2010

Five teams high on their '10 classes

If recruiting is the lifeblood of any college team, that's good news for five teams we will examine here.

Think of these incoming classes as a lifeline. While these teams aren't quite on life support, they're certainly in need of a shock to the system.

Here are five teams that did not make the NCAA tournament, yet signed top-25 classes. The impact of each freshman class will be varied. A couple feature individual players who must make an immediate impact. Other classes are reinforcing depth or building a foundation.

In any event, all five schools hope the 2010 signing class will help them return to the NCAA tournament sooner rather than later. Although Memphis, UCLA and Connecticut snagged top-25 classes despite missing the tournament, we left them out of this list since the Tigers, Bruins and Huskies routinely appear near the top of the recruiting rankings.

The five programs on our list have something else in common: All were signed by coaches who have spent four seasons or fewer at their jobs. Four have been at their current jobs either one or two seasons.

2009-10 record: 20-16 overall, 5-11 ACC
2010 signing class rank: Fifth nationally, second in the ACC
Signees: 6-7 F C.J. Leslie (ranked 14th), 6-0 G Ryan Harrow (19th), 6-4 G Lorenzo Brown (36th)
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer's comment: "This is a tremendous class. I wouldn't be surprised if all three of these players start as freshmen. This will be a dynamic backcourt with Harrow and Brown. They complement each other. Brown is a physical point guard and a strong all-around player. Harrow is a unique offensive talent. He has a little Brandon Jennings to his game -- quick and slippery."
The buzz: No coach on this list needed good news more than Sidney Lowe, and none had to wait on pins and needles like Lowe, either. The Wolfpack signed guards Harrow and Brown -- both Atlanta-area natives -- in the early signing period, but they didn't land Leslie until late April. Leslie, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Raleigh, N.C., committed to NC State as sophomore, but Leslie -- a high school teammate of John Wall -- backed off from the Wolfpack to consider Kentucky. Lowe kept on Leslie and eventually added the final piece to a top-five class. The signing class will team with All-ACC second-team forward Tracy Smith to give Lowe (20-44 in the ACC) his best chance to reach the NCAA tournament since he arrived in Raleigh. If Lowe can't lead NC State to the tournament with this crew, his days at his alma mater are numbered.
2009-10 record: 14-18 overall, 7-11 Pac-10
2010 signing class rank: 16th nationally, first in the Pac-10
Signees: 6-9 F Dwight Powell (ranked 25th), 6-6 G Anthony Brown (65th), 5-10 G Aaron Bright, 6-10 F John Gage, 6-7 F Josh Huestis, 6-9 F Stefan Nastic
Meyer's comment: "The big get is Powell, especially since Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins had to go across the country [to Bradenton, Fla.] to get him. Powell really blossomed over the summer. He's a mobile big man who plays with energy and blocks shots. He has the potential to be a big scorer in the Pac-10. This class gives the Cardinal a jump-start in positioning themselves at the top of a conference that is struggling right now."
The buzz: Stanford's class is an indicator of the sad state of the Pac-10 right now. The top class in the conference couldn't even crack the national top 15. Stanford won't complain, though. The Cardinal are in need of an influx of talent after losing star forward Landry Fields, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. Brown, a shooting guard, and Powell, a power forward who moved from Toronto to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, should step in immediately. The remainder of the class has plenty of potential. Huestis didn't get much exposure, but he's a rangy, athletic forward. Bright gives Stanford a true point guard, while Nastic signed in the spring and gives the Cardinal some size.
2009-10 record: 15-16 overall, 5-11 ACC
2010 signing class rank: 20th nationally, fifth in the ACC
Signees: 6-4 G K.T. Harrell (30th), 6-9 F James Johnson (108th), 6-5 G Joe Harris (119th), 6-8 F Will Regan (148th), 6-7 F Akil Mitchell, 6-2 G Billy Baron
Meyer's comment: "Tony Bennett does a good job wherever he is. I don't think anyone is surprised to see Bennett bring in a top class. Virginia is going through some transitional pains, but this is a class that has the right pieces for Bennett's puzzle."
The buzz: Bennett's second signing class will be that much more important with the departure of sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg, who left the team in March and then declared for the draft; he was not drafted and has signed with an Israeli pro team. Harrell is a good perimeter shooter to come off screens. Harris also is a top-notch shooter. Bennett also added two prototypical big guys for his system in Johnson and Regan to set screens for the shooters. Virginia also picked up a late addition to the class in Baron, whose dad, Jim, is the coach at Rhode Island. Mitchell, a versatile athletic forward from Charlotte, could be the wild card in the class. Two of the signees are from the West Coast -- Harris is from Washington and Johnson is from California.
2009-10 record: 15-16 overall, 6-10 SEC
2010 signing class rank: 22nd nationally, fourth in the SEC
Signees: 6-9 F Damontre Harris (64th), 5-10 G Bruce Ellington (96th), 6-7 F R.J. Slawson (117th), 6-10 C Carlton Geathers, 6-4 G Brian Richardson, 6-0 G Eric Smith
Meyer's comment: "This class does not have a big-time scorer, but I like this class because it fits the Gamecocks' style of playing fast, athletic basketball. Ellington will speed the tempo for these guys. Harris and Slawson are athletic and give South Carolina better length than it has had. They're thin, but they're long and athletic."
The buzz: If any program needs to build a stronger foundation and depth, it's South Carolina. Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes played a combined 11 games last season, leaving Devan Downey to carry the team. South Carolina must have more balance, and this signing class is a testament that coach Darrin Horn knows that. It's a well-rounded group that could develop over time. Harris and Slawson have plenty of potential in the frontcourt, while Ellington, a former football player, should be able to run Horn's up-and-down system. "This is a foundational class in terms of size as we move forward with our program," Horn said. "We have a lot of expectations for them, not necessarily coming in and being a star, but just contributing right away." There are three in-state players (Ellington, Geathers and Slawson), with two from the Charleston area; the other three are from North Carolina.
2009-10 record: 11-20 overall, 2-14 SEC
2010 signing class rank: 24th nationally, fifth in the SEC
Signees: 6-6 F Matt Derenbecker (77th), 5-9 G Andre Stringer (107th), 6-5 F Ralston Turner (142nd), 6-0 G K.C. Ross-Miller, 6-7 F Jalen Courtney
Meyer's comment: "Like South Carolina, this is a class that can set a foundation, but they won't transform a program. If they insert a difference-maker to this foundation, that could transform a program. Derenbecker is sort of in the mold of Robbie Hummel and Kyle Singler, but not as physical as those guys. He has a high IQ and can shoot the ball. Stringer scored a bunch of points in high school in Jackson, Miss. He can really shoot the ball with range off the dribble."
The buzz: After going 2-14 in the SEC last season, LSU needs help in many areas. The Tigers are most in need of shooters after they shot just 40 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from 3-point range. Both marks were the worst in the SEC. Derenbecker, from the New Orleans area, and Turner are wing players who can shoot. Turner was once considered one of the top prospects in the country before his stock slid during his senior season at Muscle Shoals (Ala.) High. Stringer, a point guard who is one of two players in the class from Jackson, Miss. (Courtney is the other), could be one of the most important signees. Bo Spencer, LSU's top returning player and starting point guard, has been suspended for academic issues. Ross-Miller, a point guard from Dallas, is being held up by NCAA Clearinghouse issues. "Each one of these kids brings something we didn't have last year in terms of perimeter shooting and skill level," coach Trent Johnson said.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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