As top-seeded Gonzaga and fourth-seeded Arkansas prepare to compete against each other Thursday in the NCAA Tournament with their seasons on the line, another important battle persists between Mark Few’s Bulldogs and Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks.
Unlike the Sweet 16 matchup on Thursday evening, this battle won’t rely on made shots, turnovers and clutch-time plays, but the outcome may still leave one fanbase in a state of euphoria and the other in brief despair.
Gonzaga and Arkansas are thought to be the schools with the best chance of securing a signature from five-star prospect Anthony Black, widely considered to be the top uncommitted high school player in the recruiting class of 2023.
This week, it’s a secondary storyline to the main show that will take place between the Bulldogs (28-3) and Razorbacks (27-8) on Thursday at 4 p.m. in San Francisco – a matchup Black is certain to be following from his home in the Dallas suburbs.
The Texas native announced Tuesday on social media he’d be making his college decision on Monday, posting a teaser video from his Twitter account. In the video, Black opens a refrigerator that contains 10 Powerade bottles – each bottle label printed with the logo of a different school or the NBA G-League.
Based on the video, schools Black is considering include Gonzaga, Arkansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Duke, TCU, Iowa State, Auburn and Kansas.
Black’s most recent visit, an unofficial one, was to Arkansas on Feb. 19. Some recruiting analysts tabbed the Razorbacks as slight favorites to land the 6-foot-7, 185-pound prospect out of Texas’ Duncanville High School. One of those included Joe Tipton, who works for On3 recruiting and runs the popular @TiptonEdits Twitter account.
On Feb. 18, Tipton released an On3 article ranking the seven college contenders for Black. The list featured Arkansas at No. 1 and Gonzaga at No. 2, with TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Memphis and Georgia filling out the remaining slots.
What if Tipton released an updated version of the same list this week?
“In recent weeks, that’s kind of changed for me,” he told The Spokesman-Review on Monday. “If I had to take a guess as to where he’s going if he had to decide today, then I would say Gonzaga. It’s not based on anything he’s said to me. I haven’t had a conversation with the guy in two, three months.”
The G-League route had been considered an option for Black at one point, but while talking to the S-R, Tipton said “(G-League) is no longer in consideration” and described the player’s recruitment as “really just a battle between Gonzaga and Arkansas.”
A battle that may be tipping in Gonzaga’s favor.
On Friday, one day before the Bulldogs dispatched Memphis to set up the Sweet 16 showdown with Arkansas, Rivals.com recruiting analyst Travis Graf predicted Gonzaga as the new leader to land a commitment from Black. Another recruiting website, 247Sports.com, hasn’t linked Black to a college since late October, when it listed Oklahoma State as the front-runner.
Black would become the second member of Gonzaga’s 2022 recruiting class, joining four-star forward Braden Huff, a product from the Chicago area who signed a letter of intent with the Bulldogs on Sept. 27.
Black would also give Gonzaga a five-star prospect (per 247Sports) in a third consecutive recruiting class while checking in as the fourth-ranked recruit in school history, behind Chet Holmgren, Jalen Suggs and Hunter Sallis.
Arkansas is bringing in one of the nation’s top-ranked recruiting classes, which already features a pair of top-60 guards in five-star Nick Smith and four-star Derrian Ford.
“I just think Gonzaga’s ultimately the best fit for him,” Tipton said. “Arkansas is bringing in a lot of other guys as well and Gonzaga kind of prioritized Anthony from the jump.”
In some ways, Black’s recruitment has been as peculiar as his senior season at Duncanville, where he was initially deemed ineligible by the Texas University Interscholastic League after transferring from Coppell High during the offseason.
Black was able to play in certain pockets of the season, but not others, and was ultimately cleared to play in the Texas 6A playoffs, where the McDonald’s All-American helped Duncanville beat McKinney for the state championship while earning MVP honors after he scored 17 points in a 69-49 title game win.
A strong perimeter shooter and ball-handler for his size, Black, who’s been compared to Detroit Pistons rookie and No. 1 NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham, took his official visit to Gonzaga in October for Kraziness in the Kennel and spoke fondly of the three-day experience in Spokane.
“I just like the culture and the way they play,” Black told the S-R in October.
“They play through their guards a lot, and they just have a winning culture and they’re going to win every year and go deep in the tournament. They just win and play super hard.”
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