Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Juniors Lead the Way

Last week I looked at the 2003 recruiting classes and discovered the complete lack of highly recruited seniors among the remaining NCAA tournament teams. That should not have come as a big surprise since the most talented players leave for the NBA. But, it does lead me to look back at the 2004 recruiting classes today instead. Again, I’m going to focus on the rivals article found here. There are more accurate final ratings available, but you have to be careful. A lot of players shoot up the ratings after they sign with a name school. (You know, that kid who nobody talked about signs with Arizona and suddenly he is one of the top 100 players in the country.)

The problem of course is that these early ratings include a lot of players, (like Josh Smith who had committed to Indiana), who went straight to the NBA. In fact, a record 8 high school players were selected in the first 19 picks of the 2004 NBA draft. I kind of like using these ratings anyhow since some of the NBA defections were surprises to the NCAA coaches.

1. Indiana – Still Waiting
DJ White was a star this year and AJ Ratliff was solid. But Josh Smith never matriculated and Robert Vaden followed Mike Davis to UAB. I remember Dick Vitale talking this recruiting class up in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. I believe the quote was “Don’t worry Indiana fans, Help is on the Way!” This class has produced 2 NCAA wins.

2. Texas – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight before moving on to the NBA. Mike Williams transferred to Cincinnati.

3. Arkansas – Still Waiting
Al Jefferson never matriculated. Charles Thomas might be the reason the Razorbacks made the NCAA this year as he had a huge game against Mississippi St. in the SEC semifinals. But despite two NCAA tournament appearances, this class has produced zero NCAA tournament wins.

4. Louisville – Lost in the Mail
Sebastian Telfair went straight to the NBA and Brian Johnson transferred to Mississippi St.

5. North Carolina – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
When you win the national title, you get a positive rating even if only Marvin Williams lived up to the hype. Meanwhile J.R. Smith went straight to the NBA. JamesOn Curry changed his mind and ended up at Oklahoma St. and Quentin Thomas plays sparingly as a Junior.

6. Duke – Lost in the Mail
Shaun Livingston never matriculated. (And you thought most Duke recruits stayed four years.) DeMarcus Nelson is very solid, but not quite in the star category. David McLure had a red-shirt year, but hasn’t given Duke much besides rebounding.

7. Kansas – Still Waiting
The junior class has Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson who were all key players in the Elite Eight run. But the sophomores were the stars this year, and all these players should be back for one more try at the Final Four.

8. UConn – Still Waiting
I’m tempted to label this class a disappointment based solely on last year’s tournament failure, but Rudy Gay was a star the rest of the year. Red-shirted AJ Price was a key player this year, but needs to player better if this team is going to return to glory.

9. Memphis – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
A one seed last year, a two seed this year, this class has done everything but reach the Final Four. Last year it was Williams and Washington. But even after those players left, this class still had Anderson, Dozier, and Dorsey who were vital this season.

10. Alabama - Still Waiting
Ronald Steele played so well last year that I can’t label this class a disappointment. But 2007 was clearly a big disappointment, perhaps because the other players in the class never panned out.

11. UCLA - Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Farmar, Afflalo, Shipp, Mata! Are you kidding me? These are the stars of two Final Four teams. How can this class possibly have ranked 11th?

12. USC – Still Waiting
Robert Swift went to the NBA and never matriculated. Honestly, Robert Swift?! Does anybody remember this guy? He played two years for the Supersonics before tearing his ACL. Pruitt and Young were key players on a team that built a 19 point lead on North Carolina in this year’s Sweet Sixteen. Assuming everyone sticks around, you should hear a lot more about these guys next year after OJ Mayo matriculates.

13. Missouri – Lost in the Mail
Quin Snyder knew how to recruit. Too bad he had no clue how to coach. Oh wait a minute, maybe he lost his recruiting touch too. Not even new coach Mike Anderson could get much out of these juniors.

14. Georgia Tech – Still Waiting
Jeremis Smith, Ra’sean Dickey, and Anthony Morrow were all important players last year, but until the team added the freshman McDonald’s All-American point guard this year, the team didn’t know how to win. Now that these three players are complimentary pieces, the team improved from 4-12 a year ago to 8-8 this year in the ACC, and had wins over Duke, North Carolina, and Memphis this year. Morrow’s PPG fell this year which lowered his ACC “scare” factor, but he was one of the most efficient players in the country with an offensive rating of 125.5.

15. Florida – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Here’s proof that you don’t need five McDonald’s All-Americans to have a great team. This was hardly considered to be one of Billy Donovan’s best recruiting classes. Perhaps the best thing you could say about Brewer, Green, Horford, and Noah is that they came from good pedigrees. Brewer was the only highly rated player in the bunch, but today we can tell that this was the best recruiting class of the year.

16. Michigan St. – Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
I almost want to downgrade this class because Marquise Gray did not live up to his billing as the 15th best high school player in the country. But that is not fair. He’s been a solid player, and less recruited Goran Sutton has always hit a few key shots for the team, even as a freshman. Then you have Neitzel who was a key part of the 2005 Final Four run and I’ve got to give this team a positive rating.

17. Oregon - Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
What a difference a year makes. A year ago, this group was labeled a bust, this year they were Pac 10 tournament champs and an elite eight team thanks in large part to Hairston, Leunen, Taylor, and too a lesser extent Oguchi. At the time the article was written Hairston had yet to sign, otherwise the class would have been ranked higher.

18, 19, 20. Florida St., NC State, Mississippi St. Some good players on NIT teams here.

So what did we learn from all of this? In 2003, the best players all went to the NBA, so it was hard to truly evaluate the best recruiting classes.
Florida was 15.
Ohio St. had a losing Big Ten record and no Matta at this time.
UCLA was 11.
Georgetown had a losing Big East record and no JT3 at this time.
North Carolina was rated 5, but that had nothing to do with this year’s success.
Kansas was 7.
Memphis was 9.
Oregon was 17, but was later rated higher after Hairston.

It certainly helps to have some talented upper-classman to win NCAA tournament games, but you don’t necessarily have to have the top rated class. Of course, the NBA limit may be changing that, but for now, juniors still dominate all the Final Four team except Ohio St.

Correction: Yesterday I said that Purdue’s women’s team is traditionally an NCAA failure. I forgot that the team did win the National Championship in 1999, but there have still been a lot of disappointments since then. I need to hire better fact checkers. Or stop writing about the women’s tournament.