Your School Landed a Top-10 Basketball Recruit? This Is How You Set Reasonable Expectations

On Monday, Atlanta-based five-star shooting guard Anthony Edwards committed to Georgia, making him the highest-ranked recruit to commit to the Bulldogs in school history. Edwards is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and some recruiting services rank him No. 1 nationally.

It was quite literally an unprecedented coup for Georgia Coach Tom Crean and the Bulldogs.

The Edwards-to-Georgia commitment isn’t the only one in this recruiting cycle that will result in a top-10 prospect attending a school that rarely gets players of that stature.

The only player ahead of Edwards in the 247Sports Composite rankings is 7-foot center James Wiseman, who committed to play for his hometown school, Memphis. The Tigers have a more recent and extensive history of landing top talent than Georgia but they haven’t enrolled a top-10 recruit since 2011.

Six-foot-nine center Isaiah Stewart, a native of Rochester, New York who attends La Lumiere School in Indiana, is the No. 6 overall prospect and he’s committed to Washington. The Huskies enrolled a similarly ranked recruit – former No. 1 NBA Draft pick Markelle Fultz – just three seasons ago but Fultz is the their only previous top-10 recruit this decade.

Fultz, who was selected first in the draft by the the Philadelphia 76ers one year after the Sixers drafted LSU product Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick in 2016, provided the second consecutive season in which the top talent in college basketball – at least according to the NBA – didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.

Not only did Simmons and Fultz not take part in March Madness but their teams won fewer games in the five-star players’ lone season in college than they did the season before the top-10 recruits were on campus.

The seasons that LSU had in 2016 and Washington in 2017 with Simmons and Fultz, respectively, combined with the recent commitments of Wiseman, Edwards, Stewart and numerous players in the years in between, beg the question of what kind of impact top-10 recruits can have at schools that rarely enroll that level of prospect.

The answer can be especially informative for fan bases that prepare for what is likely the one and only season of their school’s most decorated recruit in the last decade, if not their lifetime.

It’s one thing for a highly touted recruit to play for a school that signs top-10 recruits annually, like Kentucky and Duke, especially in recruiting classes like that Wildcats’ 2013 class that brought in five of the top 10 players nationally.

But what happens when an elite recruit is the only player of his caliber, at least in terms of his recruiting ranking, on his team’s roster?

We attempted to analyze and quantify the average, or expected, impact a top-10 recruit has during his freshman season after enrolling at a school that doesn’t typically enroll top-10 players. We did so by looking at recent recruiting rankings from the 247Sports Composite rankings, which take the average rankings of major recruiting services.

Since the players in the 2018 recruiting class are still in school, we started with the 2017 recruiting class.

In the 10 recruiting classes from 2008 to 2017, 35 different schools enrolled a top-10 recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

But seven schools – Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and UCLA – combined to enroll 57 of those players and all seven enrolled at least four top-10 recruits in that 10-year span, led by Kentucky with 21 top-10 prospects.

That leaves 28 other schools to combine for the rest of the top-10 recruits from that 10-year span.

Three top-10 recruits from this 10-year stretch didn’t enroll in college (Brandon Jennings in 2008, Emmanuel Mudiay in 2014 and Thon Maker in 2016) so they aren’t included in this study.

Two other top-10 recruits from the 2017 recruiting class (Michael Porter Jr. and Mitchell Robinson) enrolled at Missouri and Western Kentucky but their college careers were cut short by an injury and a decision to leave school early, respectively. Porter played just three games in college due to a back injury and Robinson left school in September 2017, before the start of what would’ve been his freshman season.

Since they were the only top-10 recruits for Missouri and Western Kentucky during the time period examined, both schools and players will not be counted moving forward in this story.

Therefore, the total sample size of players in this study is 95, not 100, and the total number of schools that enrolled a top-10 recruit from 2008 to 2017 – outside of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and UCLA – will be 26, not 28.

There’s no clean cut-off point in deciding which schools should be labeled “consistent” recruiters of top-10 prospects.

Kentucky and Duke have recruited at a higher level than the rest of the sport in the last five to 10 years but the Wildcats enrolled almost twice as many top-10 players than Duke (11) during that same stretch, so there are even varying levels of recruiting success among the schools that frequently land top-10 recruits.

Ultimately, we decided that schools that landed four or more top-10 recruits from 2008 to 2017 would be considered the upper echelon of programs when it comes to recruiting elite talent and we’ll then focus on schools that enrolled between one and three top-10 prospects during that 10-year period.

Here’s a look at those top seven schools, broken down by the 10 recruiting classes and how many top-10 recruits they enrolled in each.

School 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Total
Kentucky 2 3 3 2 5 1 2 2 1 21
Duke 1 1 1 2 1 2 3 11
Kansas 1 1 1 2 1 1 7
Arizona 2 1 1 1 5
North Carolina 1 1 1 1 1 5
Texas 2 1 1 4
UCLA 1 2 1 4

 

That leaves the 26 schools referenced earlier, which combined to enroll 38 top-10 recruits.

Here are some quick takeaways from those 38 players:

  • Only 63 percent of players (24 of 38) played on a team that made the NCAA Tournament during their freshman seasons. That means fans of a school that enrolls a top-10 recruit should expect an NCAA Tournament appearance but it’s far from a certainty.
  • Just 37 percent (14 of 38) of the top-10 recruits that landed at “nontraditional” destinations advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament and only 24 percent (nine of 38) advanced past the first weekend.
  • Only Florida’s pair of top-10 recruits Chris Walker and Kasey Hill made the Final Four as freshmen. Along with Cal in 2015, Florida was one of two teams other than Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Arizona, Texas and UCLA that enrolled two top-10 recruits in the same recruiting class between 2008 and ’17 – an incredibly impressive and rare recruiting haul that we’ll expand upon later.
  • Half of the 38 players joined teams that made the previous NCAA Tournament and half joined teams that missed the previous NCAA Tournament.
  • 68 percent of players (13 of 19) who joined a team that made the previous NCAA Tournament also made the NCAA Tournament as freshmen. This suggests that a top-10 recruit joining a team that made the tournament will have a supporting cast around him.
  • 42 percent of players (8 of 19) who joined a team that missed the previous NCAA Tournament also missed the NCAA Tournament as freshmen. This suggests that adding a top-10 recruit to a team that failed to make the NCAA Tournament doesn’t automatically make that team a tournament team the next season.

 

Another notable takeaway is that the 26 teams that enrolled the 38 top-10 recruits collectively won just three more games with their top-10 freshmen compared to their previous seasons.

Obviously, there are numerous factors at play in determining how teams perform year to year. Players from the previous year’s team might graduate or declare for the NBA draft. Others might transfer or suffer an injury. There could even be a coaching change in the offseason. A top-10 recruit could be one of two or three five-star prospects in his school’s freshman class or he might be the only freshman who plays a significant role on his team.

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But those statistics mentioned above – that only 63 percent of the 38 top-10 recruits highlighted played in the NCAA Tournament as freshmen and that their teams collectively won just three more games than the previous seasons – should dispel any notion that adding a top-10 recruit automatically makes a team better or guarantees a baseline performance the next season.

Here’s a deeper dive about top-10 recruits who joined a team that missed the previous NCAA Tournament, those who joined a team that made the previous NCAA Tournament, schools that enroll multiple top-10 recruits in the same recruiting class and what a reasonable expectation should be for a school that lands a top-10 prospect.

 

Top-10 recruits that joined a team that missed the NCAA Tournament

Exactly half (19) of the 38 top-10 recruits we examined joined a school that failed to make the NCAA Tournament the season before they enrolled.

Eight of those 19 players whose teams missed the NCAA Tournament the previous season also missed the tournament during their freshman season. That means adding a top-10 recruit, especially to a team that failed to make the tournament, doesn’t guarantee team success, let alone a tournament appearance.

Those eight players are listed below. “Record With Top-10 Recruit” is the school’s record during the player’s freshman season and “Draft Position” indicates with which pick the player was selected in the NBA Draft whenever he declared for the NBA.

School Player Recruiting Ranking Recruiting Class Record The Season Prior Record With Top-10 Recruit Draft Position
Washington Markelle Fultz No. 5 2016 19-15 9-22 No. 1
NC State Dennis Smith Jr. No. 7 2016 16-17 15-17 No. 9
Mississippi State Malik Newman No. 8 2015 13-19 14-17 Undrafted
Marquette Henry Ellenson No. 9 2015 13-19 20-13 No. 18
UNLV Rashad Vaughn No. 10 2015 18-15 18-15 No. 17
Oklahoma State LeBryan Nash No. 8 2011 20-14 15-18 Undrafted
NC State C.J. Leslie No. 10 2010 20-16 15-16 Undrafted
Cincinnati Lance Stephenson No. 9 2009 18-14 19-16 No. 40

 

Collectively, the teams listed above won 12 fewer games with their respective top-10 recruits, compared to the seasons prior to their enrollment. Only one team, Marquette in 2016, won 20 games.

Eleven players joined a program that failed to make the NCAA Tournament the previous season but they helped spark a turnaround that allowed them to play in the NCAA Tournament during their freshman seasons. They’re listed below.

“NCAA Tournament Wins” lists the number of games the school won in the tournament during the player’s freshman season.

School Player Recruiting Ranking Recruiting Class Record The Season Prior Record With Top-10 Recruit NCAA Tournament Wins Draft Position
Alabama Collin Sexton No. 5 2017 19-15 20-16 1 No. 8
Florida State Jonathan Isaac No. 8 2016 20-14 26-9 1 No. 6
California Jaylen Brown No. 4 2015 18-15 23-11 0 No. 3
California Ivan Rabb No. 7 2015 18-15 23-11 0 No. 35
Pittsburgh Steven Adams No. 5 2012 22-17 24-9 0 No. 12
Oklahoma State Marcus Smart No. 10 2012 15-18 24-9 0 No. 6
Baylor Quincy Miller No. 5 2011 18-13 30-8 3 No. 38
Indiana Cody Zeller No. 10 2011 12-20 27-9 2 No. 4
Georgia Tech Derrick Favors No. 1 2009 12-19 23-13 1 No. 3
Ohio State Byron Mullens No. 2 2008 24-13 22-11 0 No. 24
Wake Forest Al-Farouq Aminu No. 9 2008 17-13 24-7 0 No. 8

Top-10 recruits that joined a team that made the previous NCAA Tournament

Six of the 38 players joined a team that made the previous NCAA Tournament but they failed to play in the NCAA Tournament during their freshman seasons, most notably Simmons.

School Player Recruiting Ranking Recruiting Class Record The Season Prior Record With Top-10 Recruit Draft Position
LSU Ben Simmons No. 1 2015 22-11 19-14 No. 1
Baylor Isaiah Austin No. 4 2012 30-8 23-14 Undrafted (medical)
Baylor Perry Jones No. 7 2010 28-8 18-13 No. 28
Mississippi State Renardo Sidney No. 8 2009 23-13 24-12 Undrafted
Oklahoma Keith Gallon No. 10 2009 30-6 13-18 No. 47
Georgetown Greg Monroe No. 8 2008 28-6 16-15 No. 7

 

That leaves 13 players who joined a school that made the previous NCAA Tournament and they also made the tournament during their freshman season. They’re listed below.

This group of players includes those who made the deepest runs in the NCAA Tournament during their freshman seasons, suggesting the most productive situations for top-10 recruits are ones where they can be a complementary piece on an established team or a primary option that takes such a team to the next level.

School Player Recruiting Ranking Recruiting Class Record The Season Prior Record With Top-10 Recruit NCAA Tournament Wins Draft Position
Michigan State Jaren Jackson Jr. No. 8 2017 20-15 30-5 1 No. 4
Maryland Diamond Stone No. 6 2015 28-7 27-9 2 No. 40
Florida Chris Walker No. 7 2013 29-8 36-3 4 Undrafted
Florida Kasey Hill No. 8 2013 29-8 36-3 4 Undrafted
UNLV Anthony Bennett No. 6 2012 26-9 25-10 0 No. 1
Florida Bradley Beal No. 4 2011 29-8 26-11 3 No. 3
Memphis Adonis Thomas No. 9 2011 25-10 26-9 0 Undrafted
Ohio State Jared Sullinger No. 4 2010 29-8 34-3 2 No. 21
Tennessee Tobias Harris No. 6 2010 28-9 19-15 0 No. 19
Louisville Samardo Samuels No. 4 2008 27-9 31-6 3 Undrafted
Memphis Tyreke Evans No. 5 2008 38-2 33-4 2 No. 4
USC DeMar DeRozan No. 6 2008 21-12 22-13 1 No. 9
Tennessee Scotty Hopson No. 7 2008 31-5 21-13 0 Undrafted

Two top-10 recruits in the same recruiting class

As referenced earlier, Florida’s 2013 recruiting class and Cal’s 2015 recruiting class were extremely rare.

Both schools, uncharacteristically, enrolled two top-10 recruits in the same class.

Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb were the only top-10 recruits the Bears landed from 2008 to ’17.

Chris Walker and Kasey Hill were two of the three top-10 recruits the Gators enrolled in that 10-year stretch.

California saw a five-win increase and made the 2016 NCAA Tournament after missing it in ’15.

With Walker and Hill, Florida won 36 games – seven more than the previous season – and made the Final Four.

It’s a safe assumption that if a school that rarely, if ever, receives commitments from top-10 recruits manages to land two elite players in the same recruiting class, the school will see a notable increase in wins and an increased potential in a deep tournament run.

 

What’s a reasonable expectation if your school gets a top-10 recruit?

If we take the average of the freshman seasons for the 38 top-10 recruits who committed to a “nontraditional” destination for a top-10 recruit, for lack of a better phrase, the average win total is 22.5 wins, including postseason play.

As mentioned earlier, 24 of the 38 players made the NCAA Tournament as freshmen, so the “average” season includes an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Those 38 players combined for 26 NCAA Tournament wins as freshmen – if we count Chris Walker and Kasey Hill’s Final Four run with Florida as a combined four wins, not eight. That means the 24 former top-10 recruits who made the NCAA Tournament as freshmen averaged roughly one tournament win per player.

So, add those components together and what do you get?

A 23-win season with an NCAA Tournament and a win in the tournament.

That’s not the sexiest season but it’s probably a safe, baseline expectation for a school that received a commitment from a top-10 recruit for the first time in a notable period of time.

Just look at the three top-10 recruits from the 2018 recruiting class that didn’t go to Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky or Kansas: Oregon’s Bol Bol, Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey and Indiana’s Romeo Langford.

Bol only played nine games before suffering a season-ending foot injury and Oregon is just 15-9 on the season as the Ducks have gone just 9-6 without the 7-2 center.

Western Kentucky is 15-10 and tied for third in Conference USA entering Wednesday.

Indiana is 13-11 following a 12-2 start.

While 23 wins and an NCAA Tournament bid might be off the table – or at least unlikely – for those schools, those were probably reasonable expectations, in hindsight, if the season broke the right way for each team, while acknowledging the large variance shown by recent top-10 recruits.

Take note, Memphis, Georgia and Washington fans.

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