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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Recruiting, Big Man Pipeline, Tourney Resume, More

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Brigham Young Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

As we near the end of January, BYU is 17-4 and in a comfortable position to make the NCAA Tournament. As long as BYU doesn’t drop a string of games versus Quad 3 and 4 opponents, BYU is pretty much playing for seeding the rest of the way.

The questions I got focused on BYU’s tournament resume, as well as BYU’s future big man and recruiting situation.

Who are the potential bigs in the pipeline?

Keba Keita: obviously huge upside. Does he have an offer yet? If not, why not— just lack of schollie spots?

I received quite a few questions about BYU’s future big man situation, specifically around Wasatch Academy forward Keba Keita. I’ll need to go into some background on BYU’s scholarship situation to get all the context for this.

Basketball teams are allotted 13 scholarships. This year is the one season teams can go over since returning seniors don’t count against the limit. Alex Barcello took advantage of that, so BYU has 14 scholarship players and 3 walk-ons on the roster.

Let’s look at next year’s roster. Lucas and Barcello are out of eligibility, so that’s 12 schollies accounted for. Gavin Baxter is done after another knee injury, so that’s 11. Richard Harward and Gideon George are both listed as seniors but still have a year left since last season didn’t count against eligibility. For the sake of this, let’s say Gideon returns and Richard leaves. That’s 3 open slots.

BYU has 3 returned missionaries from the 2020 signing class returning — Richie Saunders, Dallin Hall, and Tanner Toolson — meaning all 13 scholarship slots are accounted for. Each of those players are guards. I expect at least a couple players to transfer out to make room for at least one point guard and one big man. Scholarship guys like Hunter Erickson and Nate Hansen could decide to move on. Realistically, BYU probably only has 2-3 open scholarships to work with, maybe four max if Gideon and someone else moves on too.

Now to get back to Keba Keita — does BYU want to use one of those few scholarships on another young big man they need to develop? Maybe, but for the time being it doesn’t look like it.

Keba is certainly talented and BYU may end up offering him a scholarship the next couple months. He was just bumped up to a 4-Star recruit in 247’s composite ranking and a top 100 prospect. He is 6-foot-8 and is a rim protector with high-level athleticism. He has offers from Washington and Dixie State.

The problem is that Keba does a lot of the same stuff as Atiki Ally Atiki. If BYU adds Keba with one of the few scholarship spots, they would add another raw big man that would eat minutes from Atiki. If Keba was a couple inches taller and scholarships weren’t tight, I think BYU would have already offered him.

I expect BYU instead to add at least one or two bigs from the transfer portal, or possibly stand pat if Richard Harward returns. Wasatch Academy Alum Mady Sissoko is one I’m keeping an eye on. He’s in his second season at Michigan State and hasn’t got the playing time many expected. I think he’ll enter the transfer portal and BYU would be right at the top of his list. Mark Pope visited his family in Mali when BYU recruited him out of high school, and he’s good friends with guys like Caleb Lohner, Fousseyni Traore, Richie Saunders, and other players on BYU’s roster.

Sissoko is a similar player to Atiki, just more advanced in his development. I think BYU coaches would pause at bringing in the same type of player as Atiki to not stunt his development, but BYU coaches have a long-standing relationship with Sissoko and I think they would pull the trigger if Mady wanted to come back to Utah.

What BYU needs, in my opinion, is another skilled big that can make decisions on the perimeter in BYU’s pistol offense. BYU needs more frontcourt bodies, but I want a guy that can stretch the floor and provide some rim protection inside. That would pair nicely with Fouss and Atiki.

As far as other bigs in the pipeline, I’m keeping an eye on 2023 big man Bron Roberts and 2024 big man Malick Diallo. Roberts is a 4-Star big man in the 2023 class that plays at Timpanogos HS. BYU coaches have recruited him but have yet to offer him a scholarship. Utah and Clemson are two schools that have been on him the hardest. Roberts is a mission first guy, so he could be someone that BYU offers his senior year or looks at when he returns home from his mission in 2025.

Malick Diallo is one I think comes to BYU in 2024. He preps at Juan Diego (Draper, UT) and is a native of Mali, the same country as Fouss. Diallo is good friends with Fouss and has attended multiple BYU games already. BYU’s coaching staff is high the 6-foot-9 big man due to his size and athleticism. If I was doing 247’s Crystal Ball, I would put one in for BYU. Diallo is more than just an athletic guy, too. Check out this step back three.

I believe BYU has also started to kick the tires on 2022 big man Lual Manyang, but I would be surprised if BYU offered him a scholarship. Manyang is a 3-star prospect that has fallen off the radar this year after tearing his ACL last year. The 6-foot-11 big man that preps in New Jersey just returned to live action. He has offers from Seton Hall and others, but if BYU doesn’t offer Keita I don’t think they’d offer Manyang.

Fouss and Atiki have made great strides already this season, so the big man position doesn’t seem nearly as dire as it did even one month ago. That being said, I expect BYU to add one or two more big men to next season’s roster to pair with Fouss and Atiki.

What’s the plan at guard for next year with AB and Lucas gone?

BYU will go after a high-level transfer point guard. Spencer Johnson can play point guard as can incoming RM Dallin Hall, but BYU will swing for the fences to get the most talented guy they can. One guy they are on is JUCO guard Sean East. East is a 6-foot-3 point guard that is the #2 rated JUCO player in the country. For context, the #4 rated guy is committed to Alabama and the #7 player to Oregon.

East was a member of the 2019 recruiting class and played his freshman season and UMass and sophomore year at Bradley where he averaged 9 points both years. He’s blown up this year at the JUCO level, where he’s averaging 21.6 ppg on 55% shooting from the floor and 40% from three to go along with 4.7 assists. East is elite with the ball in his hands on ball screens and would be an high-level contributor for BYU. BYU coaches have already watched him in person, but they’ll have to contend with schools such as Oregon, Texas A&M, Louisville, Xavier, and a host of others on him.

I talked to Sean’s dad last week and he told me Shaun has been talking about BYU to him for a few weeks now.

If BYU doesn’t get East, they’ll swing for the fences. BYU has a great pitch with Big 12 play starting in 2023 and a chance to start a point guard for a team that has made the tourney every year under Pope. Alex Barcello, Brandon Averette, and Te’Jon Lucas are all transfer point guards that have excelled under Pope. I don’t know who BYU will get to backfill Barcello and Lucas, but I have no doubt he will be a talented player.

Has Harward mentioned if he will be back next year?

Harward hasn’t mentioned anything on his future other than that he will miss the rest of this season. Last I heard, he is still mulling on whether if he will return for one more year. If he’s healthy, I can see him coming back. He would be a sixth-year senior and he already took two years off for a mission, so he could decide to just move on with his life.

What would be best case, worst case and most likely case for seeding for the tournament?

I think the ceiling is a 5 and the floor is 11-12 if the wheels start to fall off. BYU has a very good resume as we near the end of January. BYU has 3 Quad One wins and 5 Quad two wins, which are among the best nationally. The UVU loss didn’t feel good, but it’s only a Quad Two loss, which means it’s not a “bad” loss. BYU has two games max versus Gonzaga remaining. If BYU were to split those and win the rest, I think BYU would be a 5 or 6 seed.

BYU has enough in its resume that they likely won’t fall out of the tourney picture with a string of losses, but if they lost a few to say Pacific, Pepperdine or LMU, then I think they would be on the bubble and around a 11 or 12 seed.

My guess is that BYU ends up between a 7-9 seed. I think they’ll win the games they’re supposed to, but lose one or two to Gonzaga and split the two remaining Saint Mary’s and USF games. A lot will depend on how teams like SDSU, Oregon, and Missouri State and if they can boost BYU’s resume, but that’s what I see as the most likely scenario.