The Border Battle between Richard Pitino’s and Greg Gard’s basketball programs won’t happen on the court until February, but the fight between the Gophers and Badgers in recruiting Minnesota kids already played out this fall.
And that round went to Wisconsin.
In less than 24 hours, the Badgers plucked two four-star big men out of the Twin Cities with commitments from Eastview’s Steven Crowl on Tuesday and East Ridge’s Ben Carlson on Wednesday.
The Badgers’ 2020 recruiting class will be their fourth straight with players from Minnesota; current starters Nate Reuvers and Brad Davison came from the class of 2017. That doesn’t sit well with Gophers faithful just by itself.
But Wisconsin’s success locally adds to the overall growing concern that Pitino could strike out for the second straight year with in-state targets. This is one of the most talent-rich classes Minnesota has produced, with up to nine players expected to sign with Power Five conference schools.
Uncommitted local seniors Jalen Suggs, Dawson Garcia and Kerwin Walton have not scheduled official visits with the Gophers yet.
“Minnesota fans are frustrated not just that they’re losing local guys in recruiting for a couple of years, but they’re losing some of them to their No. 1 rival,” Prep Hoops national recruiting analyst Ryan James said. “So much of this is about momentum, and Minnesota needs to break momentum with Wisconsin grabbing guys, but also build some of their own — period. Last year, the Gophers missed out on five. This year they’ve missed out on four locals so far that they’ve offered.”
Carlson’s decision Wednesday afternoon caused Gophers fans to hit the panic button even more on social media since Pitino has zero commitments for the 2020 class. Things might not seem so bleak eventually if Pitino lands another top-30 recruiting class like last year. Four-star out-of-state seniors Gethro Muscadin, Ty Berry, Jamari Sibley and Jamal Mashburn Jr. are strongly considering the U.
“I think every time [fans] see a kid go elsewhere they think it’s an indictment on our program,” Pitino said recently, speaking generally. “Not saying it isn’t. Maybe sometimes it is. What’s important to know is we’re making the NCAA tournament. We beat Louisville last year. That’s progress.”
Of the seven players the Gophers offered in the 2020 class, Carlson is the fourth to commit elsewhere, joining Crowl, Park Center’s Dain Dainja (Baylor) and Rochester Mayo’s Gabe Madsen (Cincinnati).
The Badgers could have eight Minnesotans on the roster in 2020-21, including Davison, Reuvers, Tyler Wahl, Walt McGrory and Joe Hedstrom. The Gophers currently have five locals, including Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur, Jarvis Omersa and Michael Hurt on scholarship.
“Other kids are seeing that,” James said. “Minnesotans are seeing [Amir] Coffey, Oturu and Kalscheur have success with the Gophers. But kids they’re growing up playing with on their AAU teams after them are going somewhere else. That’s why right now, they don’t have much momentum with these [Minnesota] kids.”
Suggs, also a football standout, has talked about a good relationship with Pitino and the Gophers, but the state’s No. 1 senior has taken only one official visit, to Gonzaga.
Garcia is a five-star prospect who recently narrowed his list to seven, including Minnesota. But North Carolina and Kansas are looming.
Walton seems like a great fit for the Gophers, but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams offered him after visiting Tuesday night. Walton is working on an official visit to UNC and already has one set with Arizona.
There’s a difference between players the Gophers were recruiting hard from the start and ones they jumped on late. Making up for lost ground has been tough to overcome vs. the Badgers.
That happened with Davison in the 2017 class, Wahl in 2018 and now Crowl this year. Wisconsin wanted them first. That wasn’t the case with Carlson, who had been talking with the Gophers since his freshman year.
“They had been recruiting me for a while,” said Carlson, who also considered Xavier, Purdue, Iowa State and Stanford. “Minnesota’s a great school and have a great staff and great program. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t for me. I just think I fit better at Wisconsin.”