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OFFSEASON FRANALYSIS: A LOOK AT BIG TEN BASKETBALL RECRUITING STARS - PART 2

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On average, how much more should we expect from a 4 star recruit than a 3 star recruit? Or a 3 star recruit than a 2 star recruit? Let's do some research.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Last time, I gave an overview of which Big Ten teams tend to recruit the best and which teams were the best at translating those stars into wins. This time around, I want to break down the various star rankings that Rivals gives to recruits entering college and see what the expectations should be for a player given that evaluation.

Before I break the stars into the five different categories, I want to show you a table.

Win Shares 0-1 1.01-2 2.01-3 3.01-4 4.01-5 5.01-6 6.01-7 7.01-8 8.01-9 9.01-10
0 Star 80.0% 12.0% 4.5% 1.5% 2.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
2 Star 44.0% 36.0% 8.0% 8.0% 4.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
3 Star 37.0% 24.0% 16.0% 10.5% 7.5% 3.5% 0.2% 1.0% 0.1% 0.1%
4 Star 21.0% 21.0% 18.0% 16.0% 11.0% 9.0% 3.0% 1.0% 0.0% 0.0%
5 Star 2.0% 2.0% 8.5% 24.0% 22.0% 20.0% 11.0% 8.5% 2.0% 0.0%

What this table represents is a breakdown of players of various star rankings and the odds that they will give their team a certain number of win shares during a season, based on eight seasons of data. Since we are no longer talking minutes played, this analysis will go back to the 2007-2008 season and not just the 2009-2010 one. This is still a somewhat small sample size when you start breaking the population down into five categories like this, but I think it's a pretty good representation of what we would see if we extended it back even further back to earlier seasons.

As you can see, though, the trend is that a player with a higher star ranking has better odds to total more win shares in a season than a person with a lower ranking. So, it would appear that Rivals is doing a pretty good job of evaluating players coming out of high school. At least when it comes to the recruits who enter the Big Ten conference.

With that in mind, let's get into a little more detail.

5 Star Recruits

This is the type of high school recruit that every coach wants to land. Unfortunately, for most coaches, they will rarely ever get one to sign on the dotted line of the letter of intent. That's because the number of 5 star recruits nationally is relatively small compared to the talent pool that college coaches are scouting from. These highly-rated kids are generally drawn to schools that have a history of competing for championships and putting multiple players in the NBA.

Within the Big Ten recently, the schools that tend to attract all the 5 star talent are Ohio State, Michigan State, and Indiana. Michigan and Wisconsin have a tendency to pick up a few here and there, but over the last eight seasons, those first three teams are far and away the leaders in this category. And this ability to land blue chip prospects has paid off in terms of wins. (For the most part. /Camera pans to Tom Crean)

As you can see from the table above, 5 star recruits clearly have a higher ceiling. Acknowledging that this is a bit of a small sample - only 47 Rivals' 5 star recruits have played in the Big Ten in the last eight years -- it's still appears pretty clear that 5 star guys are much safer bets to pay off in terms of helping your team's win total.

5 Star Players Off. Win Shares Def. Win Shares Win Shares
Freshman 2.6 1.6 4.3
Sophomore 3.0 2.0 5.0
Junior 3.0 1.8 4.8
Senior 2.2 2.6 4.8
Average 2.7 1.9 4.6

With an average win shares per season of 4.6, it's pretty easy to see why coaches go all out to land this caliber of recruit. Over the last eight Big Ten seasons, 5 star recruits have finished the season with a win share total of 3 or more 87% of the time.

5

That means a team with a 5 star player has been almost guaranteed to get at least the production of Gabe Olaseni's senior season. That's a lot of value. And, better yet, 64% of 5 star recruits in the Big Ten have had at least 4 win shares in a season over the last eight years. That's like being guaranteed to get at least the production of Trevor Mbakwe's final year 64% of the time. And, finally, 42% of the time 5 star guys have put up seasons of 5 win shares or more since 2009-2010. For an Iowa example, that's like being 42% likely to get at worst the junior season of Roy Devyn Marble. Or for an almost Iowa example, that's like being 42% likely to get the senior level production of Ben Brust.

But I think you get my point. 5 star guys are almost guaranteed to produce like high level seniors, no matter year of college they are in.

That brings me to my next point, 5 star recruits are usually one-and-done guys or they play two years, at most. That means if there were a rule that forced these recruits to play four years in college, then the totals in that table above would likely increase every year. Instead, with most of the really good 5 star recruits with NBA futures staying only two years at the most, that leaves us with 5 star juniors and seniors who either have had injury issues, have taken a little longer to develop, or who may not have huge NBA prospects and want to enjoy their college playing days for as long as possible.

Anyway, that's probably enough on 5 star recruits. They are good. This is not breaking news. Before moving on, though, here are the top 5 performances from this category of players over the past eight seasons.

Top 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 Jared Sullinger 2010-11 Freshman Ohio State 8.3 2
2 Jared Sullinger 2011-12 Sophomore Ohio State 7.9 2
3 D.J. White 2007-08 Senior Indiana 7.6 2
4 Cody Zeller 2012-13 Sophomore Indiana 7.4 1
5 Sam Dekker 2014-15 Junior Wisconsin 7 1

Note: For those unsure, standard deviation from the mean is a number that describes how good a player's performance was relative to the rest of the players in their population. A basic explanation: Being 1 standard deviation better than the mean of the population means that player was better than 68.27% of the other players in that population. Being 2 standard deviations above means the player's performance was better than 95.45% of the population. 3 standard deviations means better than 99.73%, while the even more rare 4 standard deviations is 99.994%.

Basically, leaving all the math speak behind, Jared Sullinger was pretty good at basketball.

And, lastly, I will also give you the bottom five because five star guys always tend to tally at least some win shares, unlike lesser-ranked peers.

Bottom 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 Adreian Payne 2010-11 Freshman Michigan State 0.7 -2
2 Zak Irvin 2013-14 Freshman Michigan 1.9 -1
3 Marquise Gray 2008-09 Senior Michigan State 2 -2
4 Marquise Gray 2007-08 Junior Michigan State 2.2 -2
5 William Buford 2008-09 Freshman Ohio State 2.5 -1

Note: For the bottom five listed here, you take the reverse of what I said for the top 5. 1 standard deviation less than the mean says the performance was worse than 68.27% of the population. And you do the same thing with 2,3, and 4 standard deviations less than the mean.

4 Star Recruits

Coaches have a better chance of landing 4 star recruits than they do 5 star guys, but these players still tend to be fewer in population than lesser-ranked recruits. And, like with 5 star guys, 4 star players tend to pick programs that have a history of winning. Again, not a surprise. However, it also appears that if you have a nice recruiting hotbed in your state and close to your school (i.e. Illinois and Purdue), you can also land 4 star guys at a nice rate without being considered an elite program.

But there are still plenty of Big Ten schools that struggle when it comes to landing 4 star recruits. Iowa and Minnesota haven't had much luck in recent years, while Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State have either been goose-egged when it comes to 4 star guys playing minutes for them or they have been awfully close to 0.

Now, the first thing to notice from the very first table I posted is that there is a pretty decent drop from the guaranteed production of a 5 star to the guaranteed production of a 4 star. The bust potential is higher and the ceiling is lower.

4

Instead of being almost guaranteed to get 4-5 win shares from a player, 4 star players over the last eight seasons have only eclipsed the 4 win share mark 24% of the time. A quarter of the time is still pretty decent odds, but it's not quite the two-thirds rate that 5 star recruits did it at. Anyway, that number goes up to 40% if we lower the threshold to at least 3 win shares, and that's still very valuable production. Remember, that's like getting at worst senior year Gabe Olaseni-level production 40% of the time.

But, unlike 5 star recruits, 4 stars tend to stick around the program a little bit longer. Sure, the best of the best leave early, but that's the same for any recruit. 4 star guys, though, generally stick around longer to gain some much needed development, and you can definitely see the improvement over the years.

4 Star Players Off. Win Shares Def. Win Shares Win Shares
Freshman 0.6 0.9 1.5
Sophomore 1.4 1.2 2.6
Junior 1.8 1.5 3.4
Senior 2.3 1.7 4.1
Average 1.4 1.2 2.6

As these types of recruits get older and wiser, they get a lot better. If you are able to keep a 4 star recruit until their senior year, there is a good chance that they are going to perform at a high level for your team. So while they are not quite as valuable as 5 star recruits, 4 star players are definitely very important for teams if they can get them to hang around in the program and develop.

Here are the top 5 seasons from 4 star players in the last eight years.

Top 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 JaJuan Johnson 2010-11 Senior Purdue 7.2 2
2 JaJuan Johnson 2008-09 Sophomore Purdue 7.1 3
3 Evan Turner 2009-10 Junior Ohio State 6.8 2
4 Jon Diebler 2010-11 Senior Ohio State 6.8 2
5 Jon Leuer 2010-11 Senior Wisconsin 6.3 1

3 Star Recruits

Here is where we get into the bread and butter of most teams. If you remember the table from the first post, 3 star recruits make up the majority of most teams' minutes in the conference. 3 star recruits are very likely to stay in college until their senior year due to either not having much of a future in professional basketball or due to needing years of development before they are ready for some level of professional basketball. And 3 star recruits also, on average, tend to produce less than 4 and 5 star recruits at the college level.

3

As you can see, the odds of a 3 star recruit only producing a win share or less in the last eight Big Ten seasons is a little over a third of the time. Guys like Aaron White, Trey Burke, and Frank Kaminsky do happen, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. Instead, the odds of a 3 star playing putting up a season of more than 2 win shares is only 39%. 2 win shares is still fairly valuable to a team, but an example of that level of production would be like being guaranteed the sophomore version of Adam Woodbury. That's good production, but it's not great. And the likelihood of a 3 star player putting up a season of at least 3 wins is just 23%. That's also not terrible, of course, because that means if a 3 star recruit stays in the program for four years, they are likely going to have at least one season in which they give you 3 win shares. On the other hand, that's still not as reliable as the 40% of the time that 4 star players will produce 3 win shares or the 87% of the time 5 star players will.

Nonetheless, 3 star players are still a big part of every team in the conference. They tend to be important role players, who have the chance to be team leaders by the time their careers are over.

3 Star Players Off. Win Shares Def. Win Shares Win Shares
Freshman 0.5 0.5 1.0
Sophomore 0.9 0.8 1.8
Junior 1.3 1.1 2.3
Senior 1.5 1.1 2.6
Average 1.0 0.9 1.9

As you can see, the average win shares for a 3 star freshman goes all the way from 1 to about 3ish by the time they are in their final year. But you can also see with all this data that the ceiling on these players is quite a bit lower than the 4 and 5 star recruits. This is why I expressed a little concern in the last post (emphasis on little) with Iowa not landing many of the 4 star recruits that McCaffery has targeted early in his tenure. The reliance on 3 star recruits has worked so far, as he has found and developed guys like Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, and Gabe Olaseni. These guys have helped pull Iowa out of the nuclear wasteland it was in before McCaffery arrived in Iowa City. But, unless Fran is a Bo Ryan-like scouting/developmental wizard, being over-reliant on 3 star guys could be a recipe for the Iowa basketball program to plateau prematurely, as these players have lower development ceilings, on average.

But that horse is now dead. I'm sure you all understand that 3 star guys are less likely to be program-saving superstars than 4 and 5 star recruits are. For every Aaron White there are something like 20 role players like a Jarryd Cole. Those guys are valuable, but they aren't going to win you many Big Ten championships on their own.

Lastly, I present to you the top five three star performances from the last eight seasons.

Top 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 Frank Kaminsky 2014-15 Senior Wisconsin 9.8 4
2 Trey Burke 2012-13 Sophomore Michigan 8.7 4
3 Jordan Taylor 2010-11 Junior Wisconsin 7.8 3
4 Aaron White 2014-15 Senior Iowa 7.2 3
5 Nigel Hayes 2014-15 Sophomore Wisconsin 7.1 3

From a standard deviation perspective, we can see that Aaron White's senior year was truly something special for a 3 star senior. However, Frank Kaminsky's was just flat out insane, and Trey Burke's sophomore year is something we may not see again for a long, long time from a 3 star sophomore.

2 Star Recruits

Moving on to the 2 star recruits, our population thins out again. While there were 555 players in our 3 star sample, there are only 50 in our 2 star sample. That is because the Big Ten is a power conference in college basketball and most teams are able to land at least 3 star or higher recruits. However, there are exceptions with teams at the bottom of the conference. No offense to Northwestern and Penn State, but they make up 50% of this list. The fact that they have historically had trouble winning basketball games means their recruiting has really suffered. And, if it makes Northwestern and Penn State fans happy, Iowa has a decent amount of 2 star seasons on that list thanks to Todd Lickliter.

With teams at the bottom of the conference, these 2 star recruits tend to be way under-the-radar guys that they are hoping have just been overlooked or can develop into legitimate Big Ten talent after four seasons on campus. However, there is the occasional 2 star guy who played a few years at a smaller school and then transferred to a Big Ten school after developing. In this instance, Michigan State's Bryn Forbes makes the list. Of course, he's the exception to the rule and 2 star guys coming out of high tend school have extremely low career ceilings in the Big Ten.

2

Over the last eight seasons, only 20% of 2 star guys have put up a season of more than 2 win shares. The odds of getting at least a senior season Gabe Olaseni-type of performance (about 3 win shares) is only 12%. Rather, the likelihood that a 2 star recruit will give their team 1 or fewer win shares is 44%. That means if we took two 2 star players and let them play out a season in the Big Ten, one of them would likely produce 1 or less win shares for their team, while the other would likely fall between 1-2 win shares, with a small chance they might be more valuable to their school. In other words, these guys don't pan out very often.

But, like the rest of their peers, 2 star guys do tend to get better with more developmental time.

2 Star Players Off. Win Shares Def. Win Shares Win Shares
Freshman 0.2 0.4 0.6
Sophomore 0.6 0.6 1.2
Junior 0.6 0.8 1.4
Senior 0.8 1.1 1.9
Average 0.6 0.8 1.4

The only issue is that they tend to take four years in order to develop into a 2 win player, or a sophomore version of Adam Woodbury, but as a senior. This is why Penn State and Northwestern have not been extremely successful in basketball. Sorry to keep piling it on, guys.

I won't belabor the point, though. Here are the top five 2 star seasons since 2009-2010.

Top 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 Stanley Pringle 2008-09 Senior Penn State 4.9 2
2 Ryan Evans 2011-12 Junior Wisconsin 4.7 3
3 Chester Frazier 2008-09 Senior Illinois 3.9 1
4 Andrew Jones 2008-09 Sophomore Penn State 3.8 2
5 Brandon Wood 2011-12 Senior Michigan State 3.8 1

Some good news for Penn State comes from this table, though, as we can see that the Senior version of Stanley Pringle and the sophomore version of Andrew Jones significantly out-performed the rest of their 2 star peers. But that leaves me with the question: What the hell happened to Andrew Jones after his sophomore year?

0 Star Recruits

We skip 1 star recruits because, if Rivals actually does give out 1 star ratings, they somehow never seem to land at a Big Ten school. That being said, our last category of recruits is overwhelmingly made up of walk-ons, extremely lightly-recruited guys, and the occasional transfer from a smaller school (Jon Octeus, in this case). It ranges from the season in which John Lickliter played 21 games for the Hawkeyes (because we all needed a reminder that this happened) to Rayvonte Rice's junior and senior years (because Rice was a 0 Star, according to Rivals).

Needless to say, consisting mainly of lightly-recruited players and walk-ons, the overall performance of these guys is usually not very good.

0

I mean, with an 80% chance of putting up 1 or less win shares in a season, the upside on 0 star recruits is not very good. That means only something like 1 in 5 will have a season in which they total more than 1 win share.

Again, though, they do tend to get better with more years of development.

0 Star Players Off. Win Shares Def. Win Shares Win Shares
Freshman 0.0 0.1 0.2
Sophomore 0.1 0.2 0.4
Junior 0.4 0.3 0.7
Senior 0.4 0.3 0.7
Average 0.3 0.3 0.5

But an average of 0.7 win shares as a senior really isn't much value from a scholarship player. Walk-ons would be a different story, as long as they weren't playing 2009-2010 John Lickliter minutes.

Finally, here are the top five 0 star seasons, according to win shares:

Top 5 Player Season Class School WS St. Dev. from Mean
1 Rayvonte Rice 2013-14 Junior Illinois 4.9 4
2 Craig Moore 2008-09 Senior Northwestern 4.5 4
3 Rayvonte Rice 2014-15 Senior Illinois 4.5 4
4 Jonathan Octeus 2014-15 Junior Purdue 4 3
5 DJ Jackson 2009-2010 Junior Penn State 3.1 2

Rayvonte Rice is the king of the 0 stars.

So the conclusion to all of this is that the recruiting rankings do seem to get quite a bit right. Yes, kids can be overlooked and underrated or be late bloomers, but their ultimate production can be estimated fairly well by the number of stars that come attached to them. Based on an admittedly small sample, it would appear that the number of stars a player has is likely the number of win shares we should expect from them near the peak of their career. For a 5 star recruit, we should likely expect them to be able to put up a 5 win season in one of their first two years before they bolt for the NBA. For a 4 star recruit, we should probably expect something like a 4 win season after a couple years of development. And for a 0-3 star recruit, we should expect a similar value in win shares after multiple years of development.

Next time, in what I think is the final piece of this series, I will look at which teams have gotten the most out of their players in the last eight seasons and which have gotten the least. In other words, now that we know the average win shares for each star level, which teams have had players outperform that level on a consistent basis and which have had the most underperform.