Men's college basketball recruiting storylines to watch: The No. 1 question, surprising hot starts, more

As the July recruiting period begins, could Airious "Ace" Bailey (pictured) take over Dylan Harper as the No. 1 player in the 2024 class? Daniel Fritz

With rosters finally close to being settled for the 2023-24 men's college basketball season, coaches around the country are now able to turn their complete attention to the recruiting trail and the high school classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026. And while the July live period is not the all-important marathon month it was a decade ago, it's still the busiest recruiting period on the offseason calendar.

Beginning July 6, coaches will descend on North Augusta, South Carolina (Nike Peach Jam); Rock Hill, South Carolina (Adidas); and Cartersville, Georgia (Under Armour), for four days of shoe-company-sponsored events -- along with plenty of other cities for independent showcases and tournaments.

The first of three live periods will take place July 6-9, the second will be July 15-16 and the third will be July 24-27, for the NCAA College Basketball Academy in Memphis.

Since we just updated our rankings for each class and are now a week away from the start of the live period, here's a look at the biggest storylines to monitor over the next few weeks.

Who's No. 1?

In the 2023 class, D.J. Wagner held the No. 1 spot for most of his high school career, before several prospects ended up making a run at him for top billing by the end of their senior seasons. The 2024 class has been much more in flux. Naasir Cunningham was ranked at the top early, but he was passed last year. Tre Johnson had his time this spring, but he won't enter the summer atop the rankings.

Dylan Harper, the 6-foot-4 point guard from Don Bosco High School (New Jersey), has earned the No. 1 ranking at this point in the cycle. He was fantastic for the NY Rens on the EYBL circuit in the spring, averaging 18.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 5.3 APG, ranking in the top 15 in all three categories.

However, Johnson is still in the hunt for No. 1, as is Airious "Ace" Bailey, a Rutgers commit.

How good is the top of 2025?

While the recruiting focus will be on 2024, the two best players in high school basketball are in the 2025 class: Cameron Boozer and Cooper Flagg. Both were incredibly productive on the Nike EYBL 16s circuit, with Boozer averaging 24.9 PPG and 13.2 RPG and Flagg putting up 26.9 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 4.7 APG and 4.5 BPG. Boozer then went out and dominated at the FIBA U16 Americas on the way to an easy gold-medal win.

Who might suit up in college next season?

Once the transfer portal closes and all the current high school seniors are committed, one always turns toward the reclassification market. The summer of 2021 featured a pair of potential game-changers making late reclassification decisions, as Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren both played out their summer AAU season then opted to enroll at Memphis a year early. Last summer saw G.G. Jackson decommit from North Carolina, then reclassify and go to South Carolina. The 2024 class has already seen a few players make the decision to graduate early, with Elliot Cadeau going to North Carolina, Jarin Stevenson enrolling at Alabama in the next couple of weeks and Dedan Thomas reclassifying and going to UNLV.

Will there be anyone else? Speculation has surrounded No. 5-ranked prospect Ian Jackson for months, but he's continued to maintain he's staying till 2024. The same goes for elite big man Flory Bidunga, who has taken a slew of campus visits over the past year. Overtime Elite center Somto Cyril saw his reclassification buzz increase the last couple of months, but he committed to Kentucky on Wednesday and is unlikely to move up to play this season after the Wildcats landed West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell.

Will Duke or Kentucky return to the top of the rankings?

For most of the 2010s, you could find Duke or Kentucky with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. They were No. 1 and No. 2 in either order every year from 2014 to 2018, again in 2020 and then once again in the 2023 class. The Wildcats have had the top class seven times (including in 2023) since John Calipari took over in 2009, while Duke has done it five times since 2014 and has finished lower than No. 2 just once in that span.

So, will one of the two end up back at No. 1 in 2024? Duke has two commitments in the bag in five-star Isaiah Evans and ESPN 100 Darren Harris; Kentucky landed its first pledge of the cycle on Wednesday in ESPN 100 big man Cyril. Obviously, things are far from over. The Blue Devils are certainly in play for top-ranked Dylan Harper and just offered elite big man Flory Bidunga after he visited campus. Fast-rising five-star big man Pat Ngongba also recently picked up an offer from Duke, and ESPN 100 wings Tyler Betsey and Kon Knueppel are targets.

Calipari has a long list of targets in 2024. He's also in pursuit of Bidunga, although it remains to be seen how Cyril's commitment impacts the Wildcats' interest level. Kentucky made the final four schools for point guard Ahmad Nowell, and is one of two favorites for five-star forward Karter Knox, the younger brother of former Wildcat Kevin Knox. Tre Johnson took an official visit to Lexington in January, and Kentucky remains in the mix. Other five-star targets include Jalil Bethea, Billy Richmond and Johnuel "Boogie" Fland.

How are new coaches faring?

The most immediate success on the recruiting trail in the 2024 class looks to have come from Ed Cooley and Georgetown, which has reeled in three ESPN 100 recruits in Thomas Sorber, Kayvaun Mulready and Caleb Williams. (It's worth noting Mulready was committed to Cooley at Providence and followed him to Georgetown.) Syracuse and Adrian Autry have the highest-ranked commitment of any new coach in Donavan Freeman, a Washington, D.C., player ranked in the top 50.

Which schools are off to the hottest start for 2024?

There are several with multiple ESPN 100 commitments already, including some surprises. Arizona is the only program with two top-25 pledges -- Jamari Phillips (No. 16) and Carter Bryant (No. 22) -- but Rutgers, Baylor, Duke and Michigan State each have two ESPN 100 players in the fold. Iowa State and Georgetown each have three.

But the No. 1 recruiting class right now likely belongs to North Carolina, which has three ESPN 100 commitments, headlined by top-five guard Ian Jackson. Drake Powell (No. 27) and James Brown (No. 61) are also in the fold for Hubert Davis.

Wait, Rutgers?

Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights didn't have a great spring in the transfer portal, losing starting guards Cam Spencer and Paul Mulcahy after the portal closed. But for 2024, they've got the highest-ranked commitment in the class in Ace Bailey (No. 2), to go with fellow ESPN 100 big man Lathan Sommerville (No. 85) and three-star forward Bryce Dortch.

What makes Rutgers' 2024 endeavors even more interesting, though, is the fact the Scarlet Knights remain heavily in the mix for Dylan Harper, the current No. 1 prospect in the class. It helps that Harper is a New Jersey native and the younger brother of former Rutgers star Ron Harper Jr. When he announced his top five schools in the winter, Rutgers was right there alongside Duke, Indiana, Kansas and Auburn.

Why are so many prospects off the board already?

Five or 10 years ago, high-level recruits tended to wait until fall to take official visits and commit, or even wait until after the college basketball season ended the following spring to see how rosters were shaping up. At the very least, recruitments really didn't even heat up until August, after the July period.

But as we enter this July, nine of the top 27 players and 17 of the top 50 in the 2024 class are already committed to a college. Some of this stems from prospects being able to take visits earlier in their high school career, while some of it also has to do with committing to a school before the inevitable deluge of transfers changes situations at schools.