Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Big Ten Recruiting Commandment Number 1: Lock Down Thy States

The Big Ten’s junior class this year is amazing. It’s easily one of the best in the country. Taking a spin around the league, you find Evan Turner, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Manny Harris, Talor Battle, Demetri McCamey and John Leuer. That’s the short list. Credit the junior class for all of those high preseason expectations for the Big Ten. If you’re curious why they have come up a little short on those, you may want to look at the underclassmen. Neither the sophomore nor the freshmen class can boast that caliber of player. You could even politely describe the freshmen class as exceptionally underwhelming, especially since Maurice Creek went out with an injury. Creek or no Creek, however, the Big Ten has not recruited particularly well the past 3 years.

In the world of college football, the media has been attempting to convince us for a long time now that there is a talent gap between the Big Ten and the rest of the country. To get specific, in a broad and hazy sort of way, southern athletes are faster and more athletic than northern ones. This explains why the Big Ten has trouble competing against top tier SEC teams and Pac 10 teams. Just to be clear, by Pac 10 I mean USC. Whether you buy into this theory or not, it does not apply to college basketball.

If you look at the ESPNU top 100 for college basketball recruits since 2008, Big Ten states have been turning out more than their fair share of elite talent.* From the class of 2008 to 2010, 55 of the recruits on the ESPNU 100 have come from Big Ten territory. So while they only make up 16% of this great union of ours, these 8 states have produced almost 1 out of every 5 recruits on these lists. Knowing this the Big Ten should have no trouble turning out fantastic freshman classes year in, year out. And yet, they do.

It would appear that the Big Ten has trouble keeping their talent in the family. While their respective states turned out 55 of the top recruits the past three years, they’ve only managed to keep 25 of them in the conference. That’s less than half, in case you were reaching for a calculator. Most major conferences don’t keep the bulk of their high school talent in conference, but the Big Ten really should.

If you look at a conference like the ACC, the state of Florida turns out umpteen top recruits in any given year. It’s impossible to keep that much talent in the ACC, especially since Florida State and Miami compete with Florida in recruiting. Same logic can be applied to Georgia Tech. In the Big East, you have Louisville competing with Kentucky, Pitt competing with Penn State, Cincinnati competing with Ohio State and so on. The Big Ten is different. In most Big Ten states, the conference school is either the biggest university around, or they have the two biggest in the same state (see Michigan and Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern). They have less reason for letting these recruits slip away.

The fact that they aren’t very good at stealing talent from other states exacerbates the issue. In the past three years, only six of their top recruits have come from outside the Big Ten. To go back a little further, while they’re letting guys like Derrick Rose get away, they aren’t gaining ground elsewhere. That’s how you turn out sub-par freshman classes.

2010 is a prime example. This year is one of the best groups of Midwest recruits in a long time. 20 of the ESPNU 100 come from Big Ten States. Only 10 are committed to Big Ten schools right now. U of M and Michigan State are both still purportedly on Trey Ziegler’s list, the no. 30 prospect and one of the few uncommitted. It’s possible that number could jump to 11. But it isn’t likely.

Admittedly, Big Ten coaches have always been more about player development and program guys than landing the biggest recruits. Guys like Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan aren’t dependent on one and done players to accomplish their goals. Still, imagine how much better the conference could be if it kept just a few more recruits close to home.


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