We're in the heart of the college basketball recruiting season, when Division I head coaches are hard at work on what is arguably their most speculative and challenging activity. The art of evaluating how well teenagers play basketball has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years, but judging how well those teenagers will play basketball in one, two or even three years is just as difficult as ever. Simply put, projecting future performance is very hard to do.
Joe Lunardi's Bracket Odds
If the NCAA tournament began today, which teams have the best chance at a national title run?
So I've decided to mark recruiting season by retreating to the analytic safety of the recent past. Monday and Tuesday I'll look at how well Division I programs have recruited relative to how well they "should" have done. What do I mean by "should?"
Start with the following intentionally obvious premise: We would never judge how well the South Carolina Gamecocks recruit by comparing their incoming players to the ones the North Carolina Tar Heels sign. The Tar Heels have won 16 NCAA tournament games in the past five seasons, while the Gamecocks haven't won any. Maybe new coach Frank Martin will improve South Carolina's fortunes, but for now those two programs simply inhabit different recruiting orbits.
Mindful of this fact, I grouped major-conference programs by how well they've performed in the past five NCAA tournaments. For instance, the following 10 teams have won eight or more tournament games in the past five years: Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke, Connecticut, Louisville, Ohio State, Syracuse and Wisconsin. Call those programs "elite." The 41 teams that have won anywhere from one to seven tournament games in the past five seasons are "competitive." And the 24 major-conference programs that didn't win a tournament game in that time comprise what I've called the "outsiders."
Then I simply compared each team's success in recruiting (also in the past five years, including the freshmen who will arrive on campus this fall) against what the other programs in their peer group have done. "Success in recruiting" is defined here as signing prospects who are judged as top-100 players in their class when they begin their freshman season. I used Drew Cannon's invaluable multiyear data on recruiting rankings, as well as his scoring system. (Signing the No. 1-rated player in the nation is worth 10 points in Drew's system, and from there the values go down until landing the No. 100 player nets you one point.)
Here are the five biggest recruiting overachievers compared to their "peer" group.