It is summer and that means it is the offseason for major college sports. That also means I haven't really thought of the Hawkeyes since probably May. But the Prime Time League is going on right now, and I'm always interested in the videos that pop up from various outlets because it usually gives me a chance to see most of the incoming recruits in action for the very first time.
Andrew Fleming seems to be the big newcomer impressing in this year's PTL, which got me thinking about what we can expect from him (and the rest of the recruiting class) this year and over their career.
Because of this I started thinking about questions like:1) "How much better are 4 star recruits than 3 star recruits?"; 2) "How much does recruiting really matter when it comes to winning games?"; and 3) "Can perceived ‘bad recruiting' be overcome?"
Since I was interested and because I also haven't played with Excel and Tableau in a long while, I pulled data for every Big Ten player since the 2007-2008 season from sports reference and matched every player to their Rivals' recruiting ranking as an exercise in how much stars seem to matter in college basketball, or at least in the Big Ten.
The results are below.
First off, I figured I would calculate the percentage of players each team has put on the court that were rated a 0 star to a 5 star by Rivals, with the absence of 1 star recruits, because I didn't find any.
|Players (Since 2007-2008)||%5 Star||%4 Star||%3 Star||%2 Star||%0 Star|
Note: I left Maryland and Rutgers out of this analysis due to only being in the conference for one season.
I formatted the chart so that red indicates the type of recruit that each team has mostly put on the court in the last eight seasons, while white means they have had a decent amount of those recruits play since 2007-2008, and blue means hardly any of those recruits have seen the court for that team. Unsurprisingly, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Indiana have really dominated the 5 star recruits, while Wisconsin has gotten their share and Michigan has had a few too.
But just because a recruit saw game action, that doesn't mean they necessarily played a lot. Injuries, suspensions, and transfers happen. Additionally, there is always the chance that a recruit doesn't develop the way the coaching staff expected them to when they brought them aboard. Thus, I also broke down the percentage of minutes played by different recruits.
One thing to note before jumping to the table is that minutes played data is only consistently available since the 2009-2010 season (for whatever reason), so this chart is only for the last six seasons and not eight.
|Minutes (Since 2009-2010)||%5 Star||%4 Star||%3 Star||%2 Star||%0 Star|
Even looking at the percentage of minutes played, not much changes here. The top three stay the same, but Michigan and Wisconsin flip flop, while Purdue and Illinois change positions.
Now, none of this should surprise you at all. The teams that have dominated recruiting are largely the teams that have been at the top of the Big Ten, winning-wise, all these years. But, if we look at the win percentages over this time period, we see that there are a few interesting things to note.
|Team Wins Since 2009-2010||Wins||Losses||Wins Per Season||Win%|
*Nebraska only goes back to the 2011-2012 season when they first joined the conference.
First of all, Ohio State and Michigan State seem to be the best when it comes to translating recruiting stars into actual wins on the court. Second of all, we can see a clear overachiever and underachiever when it comes to making actual stars into wins. It should not come as any surprise to you when I say that the major overachiever is Bo Ryan. He does get his share of 4 and 5 star guys, but no other team with a winning percentage over .700 in the last six seasons has relied on more than 31% of their minutes coming from 3 star guys. The Badgers, on the other hand, have seen a whopping 57% of their minutes played come from guys who were given 3 star ratings coming out of high school. In other words, Bo Ryan is an evil damn wizard.
Next, our underachiever should also not surprise you. Tom Crean has gained a reputation for being a great recruiter but a terrible coach, and this analysis seems to have come to the same conclusion. Considering 49% of his team's minutes played since 2009-2010 have come via 4 and 5 star recruits, it is hard to believe that they are between Illinois and Iowa in win percentage during that same time period.
That being said, there is a pretty good explanation for that since Crean's first three seasons on campus were rebuilding periods. Minutes played only goes back to the 2009-2010 season, but because of bad 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 campaigns, Crean's win percentage has suffered from those first couple of seasons.
If we look at the minutes data in a little more granular fashion, though, we see that Crean actually performed in a manner consistent with the types of recruits that were getting the bulk of the playing time in the first two years in the table.
|% of 4 & 5 Star Minutes||2009-2010||2010-2011||2011-2012||2012-2013||2013-2014||2014-2015|
Once he pulled in Cody Zeller and Co. his win percentage took off for a few years.
But we can't totally absolve him from the bad coaching criticism because the percentage of minutes played by 4 and 5 star recruits over the last two years has not fallen off. Rather, it stayed stable in 2013-2014 and actually increased last year. But his winning percentages have been pretty mediocre lately for a team consisting of so many 4 and 5 stars.
If we stay in the state of Indiana, Purdue also looks as if they underachieved for a couple of seasons based on how many 4 star guys were given playing time. And, Illinois, another school with a nice recruiting bed in Chicago, hasn't really been able to do a whole lot with the number of 4 stars they have had recently. However, both of these cases are likely because neither team has had any 5 star recruits. 5 star recruits are less likely to be busts and tend to make a fairly major impact right away. 4 star recruits tend to be less likely to bust than lower-rated prospects, but they can also take a few years to develop and make a huge impact. But I will talk about that more next time.
Moving away from underachieving, though, I still find myself amazed with Bo Ryan. I don't like complimenting the man, but it's pretty incredible that last year's Wisconsin team had the second highest winning percentage of any Big Ten team in the last six seasons, but only had 30% of their minutes come from 4 and 5 star guys. The 2010-2011 Ohio State team who won almost 92% of their games did so with 75% of their minutes coming from 4 and 5 star guys. Other than the 2009-2010 Wisconsin team, Bo Ryan has pretty consistently won with teams that are made up mainly of three star recruits. And out of the three big stars on the 2014-2015 Wisconsin team, only Sam Dekker was considered a 5 star recruit by Rivals coming out of high school. Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes were 3 stars. That is pretty damn impressive.
Finally, I want to wrap this up by going over what this means for Iowa because, after all, this is a blog about the Iowa Hawkeyes.
What probably pops out to you immediately is the fact that Iowa's percentage of 4 and 5 star recruits is near the bottom of the conference. In the last six seasons they have only beaten Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State for percentage of 4 and 5 star guys who have played in a basketball game for them. That is not great company. But there has been clear improvement in terms of 4 star minutes and win percentage during the transition from Lickliter to McCaffery. The number of 4 star recruits still has not increased greatly under McCaffery, considering that Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury are the only two four star recruits that he has landed and they were pretty much in-state guys - although, Gesell was technically on the other side of the border - who came as a bit of a package deal in the same class. Both guys have been starters since day one and both have been a big part of the turnaround project. However, both players are seniors next year and the Iowa will likely be back to having a team with no 4 star recruits on it when they leave, assuming they don't find someone before the 2016-2017 season (which, they still could). Fran will likely have a team whose minutes are dominated by 3 star players, with a smattering of garbage time minutes from 0 star walk-on recruits. And that could be interesting, to say the least.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. First of all, despite being in the blue when it comes to 4 and 5 star recruits, Iowa has actually been in the red when it comes to winning games over the last three seasons. So it would seem like Fran is doing a good job with the players that he brings in. Keep in mind that he has now taken multiple 3 star guys and developed them into top tier Big Ten players by the time they were done. I'm talking Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, who were both NBA draft picks and dominant Big Ten players. Meanwhile, Jarrod Uthoff has the potential to be the third straight 3 star recruit that Fran has helped mold into an NBA player, and I think he has the talent to be the best of the trio if he can put it all together as a senior.
Fran's ability to find talent (in the case of Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni) and develop it (in the case of the former two plus Roy Devyn Marble and Jarrod Uthoff) has been a boon for the Iowa basketball program. And it should also inspire some confidence when it comes to believing in his ability to further develop underrated 3 star players in the future. Add that to the fact that he is pulling in the top talent in the state of Iowa, and it looks like there could be a core of good players flowing in and out of the program for years to come. Current commits Cordell Pemsl and Connor McCaffery are three star recruits by Rivals (ESPN actually grades McCaffery a 4 star), but Joe Wieskamp and Fran's other son Patrick could possibly be four star recruits or higher by the time all is said and done. Wieskamp is already there, at least by ESPN standards, where he is currently ranked 16th in the country and has been rated a 5 star with a scouts grade of 90 out of 100. Rivals has not given him a rating yet, however. The younger McCaffery also isn't rated yet, but he is already almost 6'5" and dunking and he hasn't even taken a high school class. The future would seem promising.
But those potential 4/5 star recruits are still a ways out, and that would leave Iowa with no players rated higher than 3 stars for the next couple of years after this upcoming season. And while I'll talk more about this next time, 3 star players have an average ceiling fairly lower than 4 star players. There are always going to be break out guys like Marble, White, and Uthoff, but those are far and fewer between than 4 and 5 star guys who turn into stars. So while McCaffery has shown the ability to develop 3 star players into NBA talent, the bust potential is ultimately higher and the win ceiling is ultimately lower. There may be a season in which they eclipse a .700 win percentage, but it would appear very difficult and less likely to happen without an uptick in recruiting. But again, that could be coming with McCaffery's sons and Joe Wieskamp.
Basically, my point here is that recruiting clearly matters. It can be overcome with good coaching and player development and McCaffery appears to have done that to this point. But will it continue? That's the question.
Kirk Ferentz used to take lightly recruited guys and turn them into "Bullies of the Big Ten", but we've seen that fall off in recent years. Unlike Kirk, though, McCaffery seems to welcome change and appears able to adapt to the dynamic landscape of college basketball. I mean, after next year, the team is looking like a roster of 6'4" or taller athletes that can do a little bit of everything. With the move toward positionless basketball (or as close as we can ever come to that), Fran appears to be welcoming it rather than hiding from it in a state of denial. My hope is that he can bring that uptick in recruiting in order to move Iowa to that next level. I believe in his developmental abilities and I'm excited about the recruits he has locked up now. Infusing the program with at least a few more four stars, though, should only keep it progressing.
Next time, I'll answer more closely the first question I asked in this post. I will discuss the potential outcomes of recruits depending on their stars and their positions, and hopefully give us an idea of what to expect from recruits in the future.