For the first time in their history, the Syracuse basketball program and fan base are waiting anxiously for a nationally-televised, commitment decision from a blue-chip recruit. At approximately 8:45 p.m. on ESPNU, the nation's top recruit, Nerlens Noel, will announce to the college hoops world where he's going to play next season. The list of suitors is down to the Kentucky Wildcats, Syracuse Orange and Georgetown Hoyas.
For the last three-plus months, the trio of fan bases have tried their best to persuade the 6-foot-10, 215 pound shot-blocking sensation that their school is the best fit for him. Meanwhile, the programs themselves are each making these cases.
- At the moment, we are the nation's best college basketball program which just collected its eighth National Championship.
- Our coach John Calapri knows how to work the one-and-done system better than anybody.
- Did you see what we were able to do with freshman center Anthony Davis?
- We'll be the favorite to win another National Title if you commit to UK.
- We're Kentucky! You're suppose to come here if you want to go to the NBA early.
- We have an open spot in our patented 2-3 zone defense, which in two seasons turned sophomore center Fab Melo from a recruiting dud into an NBA Draft stud.
- We're one elite player away from, again, being a Final Four favorite.
- You would be able to play college hoops with high school friend Michael Carter-Williams.
- The proximity of our camps is the closest to your hometown of Everett, Ma.
- Hey, we were the first ones at your doorstep.
- If there's one coach who will know how to use your talents in our offense, it's John Thompson III.
- It seems like your mom really love us. You don't want to upset your mom do you?
- We're Georgetown, we took on the Chinese by ourselves.
Of course, some of these cases are obviously not the school's pitch, but all are basically why each school is in the running. All three programs have great track records with big men, stellar coaching staffs and immediately will make Noel a star. The best thing about being a top-tier prospect is you can't really make a bad decision -- and if you do, you're gone in one season to become an NBA lottery pick.
In my opinion, the best "basketball fit" for Noel is Kentucky. It seems that the Wildcats and coach Calipari know exactly what they're doing when it comes to one-and-done players. The fan base embraces these players better than any in the nation, and win-or-lose understand how college hoops and the new recruiting process works.
(I am not saying back-to-back championship will not be the expectation for UK next season, because it will. But win or lose the national title, as long as Calipari is at UK, the Wildcats will contend for a championship every season. In Lexington, KY there will almost ALWAYS be a next year. Programs like Syracuse and Georgetown do not have that comfort each season.)
Meanwhile, Georgetown has quickly become the No. 2 option for Noel, at least, that's what we've been told to assume -- I personally, don't think so, but I truly know nothing compared to the Scout.com or Rival.com reporters who do recruiting for a living.
The Hoyas have a solid history of being a tough, we-don't-take-nothing-for-anybody motto which could fit well with Noel, if that's his personality. Their head coach is as good as anybody when it comes to coaching basketball (as opposed to just being a good recruiter). Georgetown plays almost a flawless slow-down offense, which is predicated on great defense, and if executed by the right players is extremely tough to counter.
What John Thompson III has missed the past few seasons is elite talent and Noel would bring that right away.
As for Syracuse, Noel would immediately have extremely high expectations. Depending on Noel's personality, that could work both against or for the Orange.
In retrospect, Carmelo Anthony thrived on that pressure -- as did Gerry McNamara. However, some highly touted recruits have soft skin because for their whole lives they've been told how great they are. Melo' was told the same thing, but he wanted to show everyone how great he was. Over the course of his four years at Syracuse, McNamara earned his legendary status.
I do not know Noel personally or know his competitive spirit, but the only way for him to work in Syracuse is for him to have the competitive nature Melo' and McNamara had or Dion Waiters accumulated. People from blue-collar towns don't favor players who announce decisions on ESPNU and then play like prima donnas on the court.
That's why I believe a lot of Syracuse fans don't want Noel to commit to Syracuse, unless they're guaranteed that he's the next Anthony.
See, a large portion of Orange fans are an older and more conservative group, who don't want to deal with the drama that comes with a recruit like Noel. These SU fans want players to feel like they have to earn their place in Syracuse history, not like they are entitled to it because they picked their school.
For these fans, it was great getting Anthony, but if he didn't help Syracuse reach a Final Four, or help head coach Jim Boeheim collect his first National Championship, he would have been another young punk who used the program to make millions.
The bar that Anthony set for one-and-done players like Noel isn't fair, but that's the reality of the situation -- at least, when it comes to Syracuse.
If the Orange get Noel, but don't earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, at least, or win a National Championship, his legacy at Syracuse will be one of disappointment.
Meanwhile, I'll argue, the only group in this fan base that really wants Noel is the college student and 20-to-30-something-year-olds, who like the flash and glamor of being in the spotlight, even if it's just for a few hours. (You know, like the guy wearing the "platinum" jersey to the Carrier Dome.)
The rest of 'Cuse nation, when it comes to NBA-bound players, will be asking, "So, he thinks he's so good? Well, I will not believe it until he shows us, because that's what Melo' did."
In a blue-collar city, where college basketball is king, a player either buys in and flourishes in these type of situations or he crumbles.
The fact is, Orange fans don't want Nerlens Noel the highly-touted recruit, they want Nerlens Noel the player who can help them win a second National Championship.
And in the world of Syracuse, there's a big difference.