ESPN is running an interesting series on the state of college basketball. With the announcement of DaJuan Coleman, a bunch of people here were talking about Syracuse's recruiting grounds/prowess. Here is a look at where the 'Cuse stacks up versus the rest of college basketball.
It's become commonly accepted that the stakes are rising in the pursuit of elite-level college basketball recruits. Nationwide we've seen coaches hire members of a recruit's family, or his AAU coach. Assistant coaches are prized for their ability to deliver top talent. One look at the findings of our study of recruiting's importance in college basketball and you'll see why.
Based on our findings, landing top-100 talent is absolutely paramount to building a national title contender.
This isn't to say that when your team misses on that top-10 big man, the program will be irrevocably damaged. And similarly there have always been the 2010 Butlers, 2003 Marquettes and 2002 Marylands -- teams who found NCAA tournament success disproportionate to their players' one-time recruiting buzz. All of those examples prove that it is possible to win without a collection of much-lauded recruits. Possible, but not likely.
Using ESPN senior college basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep's rankings for the classes of 2002 to 2011, here are the eight schools with the most top-100 signings:
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1. Duke (34)
2. North Carolina (30)
T-3. Kansas (27)
T-3. Kentucky (27)
T-5. Arizona (25)
T-5. Connecticut (25)
T-5. Florida (25)
T-5. Syracuse (25)
Over the nine-year span since the class of 2002 entered college, the eight best recruiting programs accounted for all nine national championships (Syracuse Orange in 2003,Connecticut Huskies in 2004 and 2011, North Carolina Tar Heels in 2005 and 2009, Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007, Kansas Jayhawks in 2008, Duke Blue Devils in 2010). That covers six of the eight schools from our list, and the other two have impressive postseason résumés of their own: the Kentucky Wildcatsmade it to a Final Four and four Elite Eights over that span, while the Arizona Wildcatsadvanced to three Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s in the period.
Now, let's expand our list to the top 21 teams in terms of landing top-100 recruits since 2002.
T-9. Louisville (24)
T-9. Texas (24)
T-9. UCLA (24)
T-12. Memphis (23)
T-12. Michigan State (23)
T-12. Ohio State (23)
T-15. Florida State (20)
T-15. Illinois (20)
17. Villanova (19)
18. Georgetown (18)
T-19. Alabama (17)
T-19. Georgia Tech (17)
T-19. Indiana (17)
Of these 21 teams, 17 made at least one Final Four between 2003 and 2011, and the group is responsible for 28 of the 36 Final Four slots in those years. Arbitrarily cutting the list off below Georgetown leaves Arizona and Florida State as the only top recruiting programs who haven't played recent April basketball. And you probably don't need to be reminded that both the Wildcats and Seminoles looked strong into the second weekend this past March.
There is an issue with the numbers we've presented thus far: It's unclear in which direction the causality moves. We've been writing as if signing top-100 recruits is the path to the Final Four, but it's just as possible that, in reality, the Final Four is the path to top-100 recruits.
So let's look at the actual championship teams themselves, and see what their players were ranked. The top eight in minutes for each team are listed, along with their Telep ranking.
DOES RECRUITING MATTER?
Using ESPN senior college basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep's past rankings, we've listed here the top eight players from each of the past nine national championship-winning teams, based on minutes played. Each player's top-100 ranking is listed in parenthesis, and players who weren't ranked in the top 100 are indicated with "NR."2003-2005 | 2006-2008 | 2009-2011
National championship winners, 2003-2005
|Syracuse 2003||Connecticut 2004||North Carolina 2005|
|C. Anthony (2)||B. Gordon (34)||R. Felton (3)|
|G. McNamara (38)||T. Brown (13)||S. May (10)|
|H. Warrick (74)||E. Okafor (77)||J. Williams (13)|
|K. Duany (NR)||D. Brown (32)||R. McCants (7)|
|J. McNeil (NR)||R. Anderson (28)||J. Manuel (27)|
|C. Forth (53)||J. Boone (NR)||M. Williams (7)|
|B. Edelin (39)||C. Villanueva (7)||D. Noel (NR)|
|J. Pace (NR)||H. Armstrong (NR)||M. Scott (41)|
Every single national champion in the sample had at least five rotation guys who were ranked in the top 100 coming out of high school. Considering the whole roster, national champions averaged 7.8 top-100 players and 3.0 top-25 prospects. Final Four teams averaged 6.1 from the top-100 lists and 1.8 from the top 25, and only five teams had fewer than four ranked players on the roster (George Mason 2006, Butler 2010 and Butler 2011 with zero, VCU 2011 with one and Oklahoma State 2004 with two).
Teams that get players usually win, and teams that win are usually made up of former highly regarded recruits. It's a bit of a cycle: If you recruit well, success and job security usually follow, two factors which happen to be attractive factors for recruits.
For those wondering about the flip side of the recruiting equation, there are just three BCS schools without at least one top-100 signing from the classes of 2002-2011: Northwestern, Colorado and Nebraska. Combined they boast one tournament appearance in those nine seasons.
Like the on-court dominance of the teams at the top of the recruiting world, that's not a coincidence.