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Mizzou makes the top six for Caleb Love, so what’s next?

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The CBC point guard became the third high-priority target in the Class of 2020 to include the Tigers in their list of finalists.

Jon Lopez / Jon Lopez Creative

Cutdown time again!

This evening point guard Caleb Love pared his list of schools down to six, and Mizzou survived the cull. It’s a bit of reassurance to see a top target keep the Tigers in the mix as another — Vashon’s Cam’Ron Fletcher — is in the middle of an official visit to Kentucky.

If you’re asking me, the CBC product is tops the recruiting board. The reason: He fills a bigger position of need than snagging an elite wing such as Fletcher or Josh Christopher.

Since taking over MU in March 2017, coach Cuonzo Martin made it a priority to keep Love and Fletcher from jumping the state’s border. Increasingly, it feels like Fletcher will decide to bolt, whether it’s to Lexington or head north to Michigan State. However, Love’s deliberations have appeared more methodical — a process that’s left him open to staying home while also scrutinizing what a blue blood can truly put on the table.

So let’s get to the schools.

Arizona Wildcats

This is probably the most surprising school on the list, but the Wildcats have bonafides. They’re a premier program out west, while FBI and NCAA probes haven’t torpedoed coach Sean Miller’s recruiting. The Wildcats already locked up Dalen Terry, a top-40 talent, which came on the heels of a 2019 signing class with three top-40 prospects. Zona also bolstered its depth with three high-level transfers.

The Wildcats continue to reload in spite of the possibility that the NCAA might rap them on the knuckles. So if the escape any severe penalties, there’s little reason to think the program won’t contend for Pac-12 titles for the foreseeable future.

With that said, I find it hard to believe the Wildcats will be the ultimate landing spot for Love. In anything, the omission of Texas — a school Love said he wanted to visit — seems more notable. Miller’s track record shouldn’t discount the ‘Cats, but they might be in chase mode.

My estimation: 5% chance

Kansas Jayhawks

I can already read the comments below telling me I misspelled this team by capitalizing the state, and, well, you’re right.

However, it’s easy to understand why a combo guard like Love might find the program to be a solid landing spot. Coach Bill Self’s recent run of developing high-level point guards has altered perceptions. The Jayhawks still use portions of Self’s high-low, but it’s no longer a system reliant on recruiting an elite pair of big men. This season should also be interesting as KU returns a slew of good guards.

That comes with a downside, too: None of them — aside from Devon Dotson — and likely to bolt for a professional payday. The result could be a crowded backcourt for the next couple of seasons.

It’s easy to envision Love taking an official visit and entertaining Lawrence as a landing spot, but I’m willing to be it’s not his destination. Like Arizona, KU was late — at least relative to others on this list — getting in the mix, and that’s before you consider a logjam in the backcourt. The Jayhawks are also a potential landing spot for Bryce Thompson, assuming he decides to leave his native Oklahoma.

My estimation: 7% chance

Louisville Cardinals

Now here is where matters get dicey.

Coach Chris Mack is building quite a recruiting machine in Louisville. A program with the resources that Louisville possesses has a built-in advantage, printing money thanks to its terms of use of the KFC Yum Center. While the NCAA could take a pound of flesh after the Cards popped in the FBI’s pay-for-play probe, the administrative housecleaning carried out by the school might stave off the worst penalties. Mack’s contract accounts for that possibility, but the players he woos to campus might still miss out on postseason play.

Take away that risk, and Louisville might be considered the favorite.

Like Kansas and Arizona, Louisville loaded up on talent — they signed six players in 2019 — but there’s a fundamental difference. Only one — David Johnson — is at Love’s position. Veteran Darius Perry is also still around, but there’s not a truly serious impediment blocking Love’s path.

So there’s a balance to be struck between the unknown of what the NCAA might hand down and the possibility of making a dent early at a top-flight program. But the Cardinals are right in the thick of it.

My estimation: 19% chance

Indiana Hoosiers

Like Missouri, IU’s been courting Love since early in his recruitment. Starting with Romeo Langford and Trayce Jackson-Davis, coach Archie Miller has shown signs of keeping the state’s vaunted prospects home. Hoosiers fans are rabid. Despite a slightly underwhelming second season, the third-year coach still draws from a solid enough base of support for his regime in Bloomington.

The Hoosiers don’t lack roster space for Love, but they aren’t hedging their bets by taking the commitment of local guard Trey Galloway. (Granted, Galloway profiles more as a wing.) I’d never discount Indiana, and they’ve made a very good impression on Love. Still, it’s tight race, with the next team looming large.

My estimation: 20% chance

North Carolina Tar Heels

When people talk about blue bloods, the school on everyone’s tongue in any elite group is North Carolina. The Tar Heels style — uptempo and built-around secondary fastbreaks — is attractive to players, especially lead guards. Once the cloud of potential NCAA sanctions lifted several years ago, rival programs lost a hammer to whack at the program when recruiting five-star prospects. Now coach Roy Williams and his staff are back assembling elite classes.

One player Williams is likely pointing to every time he talks to Love is Coby White. White went from the No. 25 recruit to a lottery pick in one season. Fittingly, Love just so happens to be the 25th ranked recruit in the class of 2020. That’s a pretty good recruiting pitch.

Cole Anthony figures to stick around campus for a lone season, which could leave Love competing with would-be sophomores Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis for minutes. While Williams tends to lean on veterans, neither Harris nor Francis would have a clear-cut case.

When you account for the Heels’ system, need and circumstances surrounding the program’s future, there’s not many holes you can poke in UNC’s case.

My estimation: 28% chance

Missouri Tigers

Maybe this will surprise some people, but I feel pretty good about Missouri’s chances.

Love is one of the more intelligent and thoughtful recruits I’ve come across. When asked about the programs pursuing him, his answers reflect a deep level of understanding about how he fits a system and the developmental plan coaches have laid out. He can see through the glossier portions of a sales pitch.

The man who might be the least full of BS in the high-major coaching ranks is Cuonzo Martin. To me, this seems like a pretty good match of personalities, and Martin has been steadfast in his pursuit.

It isn’t to say I think Missouri lands Love. Far from it. The group of schools recruiting love is truly elite. It just wouldn’t be the upset many of the top recruiting analysts think it might be. MU seems like they’re towards the top of the list. I worry about Louisville, Indiana, and North Carolina the most, with the Tar Heels probably leading the charge.

My estimation: 21% chance

Where do we go from here?

Honestly, it’s a good question.

Love is likely to show patience and work his way through the process, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see this go on into late October or early November. As you can see from the percentages above, North Carolina is likely in the driver’s seat. They play an appealing style of hoops and have a track record of manufacturing lottery picks.

The question is where Love fits on the board. In recent days, D.J. Steward and Cade Cunningham trimmed their respective lists and kept the Heels in the mix. It will also be surprising if Bryce Thompson doesn’t include them in his pool of finalists. If Williams nabs one of those three, it might change their calculus in regards to Love.

Meanwhile, Mizzou is content to bide its time.

The other key here for the Tigers is a question of need. The Tigers aren’t going to abandon the pursuit of Christopher and Fletcher, but the Tigers are well-stocked on the wing. Sure, Love would be competing with a senior in Dru Smith and a junior in Xavier Pinson, but minutes open up in a big way as a sophomore.

As I said in the Christopher piece, the next three to four weeks could reveal a lot. If Fletcher becomes enamored with UK, which most national analysts seem to think is the case, MU might be looking to move on to another wing in a hurry. (Coincidentally, they offered Ronnie DeGray III the same day Fletcher began his visit to UK.) But I fully expect them to sit in their position on Love as long as needed and let him take his time.