Stars, in Fact, Do Matter: Analyzing the Final 4 Rosters Relative to Recruiting Rankings

With all of the Providence news transpiring this past week, I thought it may be refreshing to take a step away from Friartown and look at hoops from a national landscape. Below, I have analyzed the final 4 teams in college basketball and how they have shaped their respective rosters.

I warn those reading this that I am a huge advocate for “recruiting rankings matter”. See my two articles below discussing why I think landing these recruits are the primary reason a program succeeds or fails.

Looking Back on PC’s Recruiting Classes & Their College Output: https://theprovidencecrier.com/2021/01/06/why-stars-matter-a-look-back-on-recruiting-classes-showing-why-pc-must-continue-to-land-top-tier-national-recruits/

Providence’s Recruiting Classes Relative to the Rest of the Big East: https://theprovidencecrier.com/2021/01/15/providence-recruiting-a-comparative-analysis-to-the-rest-of-the-big-east/

It is my personal belief that the more players you land in the 4 and 5 star range, the more likely your team is to have success. Those arguing against this have openly said to me that culture and scheme fit matter more than star rankings. I agree, to an extent, but a lot of times this statement is made when your school lands an unheralded 3 star recruit. Fans naturally try to justify the recruit by leaning on the culture and scheme fit instead of simply stating we whiffed on our Plan A recruits. Rationalization is a curious thing. You rarely hear a fan talking about culture and scheme fit when a 4 or 5 star commits to a school, but I digress.

Additionally, if a 4 or 5 star doesn’t pan out on your team, fans claim that star rankings are broken because said player didn’t produce relative to their high school ranking. You can cherry pick examples like this all day long, but I’m of the belief that a squad filled with 4 and 5 stars is going to beat the squad with 3 stars nine out of ten times. There are more examples of 4/5 stars having success than there are of 4/5 stars completely flaming out.

In looking at the rosters of the final 4 teams, I’ve uncovered a few themes worth mentioning:

  1. The majority of the rosters, except for Houston, are comprised almost exclusively of 4 and 5 star talent. This isn’t a coincidence. People make a living evaluating high school and prep talent. While the star ranking system isn’t foolproof, it is generally a good barometer of a player’s talent and predictor for how they will perform in college.
  2. The contributors on these teams that aren’t 4 or 5 star recruits, for the most part, were diamonds in the rough discovered by a different coaching staff. They landed at a lower level school, significantly outproduced in their conference, and then transferred to a higher ranked school. While fans want to claim culture and scheme fit, a lot of these coaches state this after already seeing them produce in college. It is much easier to take a flier on a guy averaging 18 in a lower conference than throwing a scholarship to a high school player without any Power 5 offers.

Below, we will look at each roster, along with their corresponding rankings out of high school. It opened my eyes quite a bit. For transparency, the players are listed top down in descending order of minutes played this season.

Gonzaga

Corey Kispert F – 4 star, 106 overall

Joel Ayayi G – 4 star, International

Andrew Nembhard G – 5 star, 23 overall – transfer from Florida

Jalen Suggs G – 5 star, 11 overall

Drew Timme F – 4 star, 43 overall

Anton Watson F – 4 star, 48 overall

Aaron Cook G – Transfer from Southern Illinois

Takeaways: This one was pretty shocking to me. The narrative around the Gonzaga program has always been the plucky underdog who produces in their own conference, but ultimately doesn’t have the talent to match up with the bluebloods. In looking at their roster this year, this narrative couldn’t be further from the truth. Mark Few has one of the most talented rosters in all of America, which is obvious to every casual college basketball fan. What surprised me, at least, is that this roster was destined for success the moment they stepped on campus due to the litany of 4 and 5 stars on the roster. Specifically, I wasn’t aware that Timme was a consensus 4 star, top 50 recruit and Kispert was a 4 star as well.

While Few has done a fabulous job identifying talent and program fit, he bolstered the roster by landing a 5 star transfer in Nembhard. It is an ultimate recipe for success.

Baylor

Davion Mitchell G – 4 star, 59 overall

MaCio Teague G – NR – Transfer from UNC Asheville

Jared Butler G – 4 star, 97 overall

Mark Vital G – 4 star, 89 overall

Adam Flagler G – NR – Transfer from Presbyterian

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua F – International, NR – Transfer from UNLV

Matthew Mayer G – 4 star, 93 overall

Flo Thamba F – 3 star, 243 overall

L.J. Cryer G – 4 star, 98 overall

Takeaways: Scott Drew has done a fantastic job of landing highly ranked talent coming out of high school and pairing these players with underrecruited transfer players who were stars in a lower ranked conference. When looking at the players who signed with Baylor out of high school, they are almost exclusively 4 star, top 100 talent.

What Baylor has done to solidify the roster is identify players in the lower levels of college basketball who fit within their program (and have produced already at the college level). Those who are vehemently opposed to the “star rankings matter” will point to Teague and Flagler and state that they are living proof that rankings aren’t gospel. Sure, I agree with the premise that you cannot solely rely on rankings, but it is not as if Drew identified them out of high school and offered them a Baylor scholarship. They landed at UNC-Asheville and Presbyterian, respectively. Once they became stars at these schools and decided to transfer to more marquee programs, it was easier to justify Baylor offering a scholarship to them.

UCLA

Jaime Jaquez Jr. G – 4 star 87 overall

Tyger Campbell G – 4 star 91 overall

Johnny Juzang G – 4 star 33 overall – Transfer from Kentucky

Jules Bernard G – 4 star 55 overall

Chris Smith G – 3 star 141 overall

Cody Riley F – 4 star 48 overall

Jalen Hill F – 4 star 65 overall

David Singleton G – 4 star 85 overall

Mac Etienne F – 4 star 50 overall

Takeaways: Maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised with this UCLA run? Look at this roster. It is arguably more talented than Baylor from a ranking perspective and certainly more talented than Houston. Cronin has a roster flush with blue-chip talent and maybe the missing piece to this team was a head coach and staff who knew how to coach these players to their potential.

Let’s also not forget that Johnny Juzang, one of the foundational pieces on this team, transferred home to UCLA after playing his freshman year at Kentucky. He always had the talent and skill, but now he is channeling that potential into production.

Houston

Quentin Grimes G – 5 star, 10 overall – Transfer from Kansas

Marcus Sasser G – 3 star, 399 overal

DeJon Jarreau G – 4 star, 64th overall – Transfer from UMASS

Justin Gorham F – 3 star

Tramon Mark G – 4 star, 85 overall

Brison Gresham F – Transfer from UMASS

Fabian White Jr. F – 3 star, 272 overall

Reggie Chaney F – 3 star – Transfer from Arkansas

J’Wan Roberts F – 3 star, 147 overall

Cameron Tyson G – 3 star

Jamal Shead G – 3 star, 217

Takeaways: For those who hate recruiting rankings, this roster is your formula to bash it. I readily admit this roster doesn’t fit the narrative of this article; however, I will point out 3 of the top 5 players from an average minutes played were 4 or 5 star players. Thus, there is still some merit to the premise that Houston’s success is heavily reliant on blue-chip players coming out of high school.

Houston head coach Sampson has primarily built this roster by identifying talent on the college level and getting these players to transfer to Houston. This is another means to build a strong roster. Houston is somewhat of the outlier here, but it is not as if all of the players on this squad were underrecruited 3 stars. Grimes, Jarreau, and Mark were all nationally ranked players who are finally coming into their own for a variety of reasons and balling out on a national stage. There is more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.

Conclusion

The debate of recruiting rankings and the merit of them will never go away, and that is perfectly fine by me. I think when analyzing these rosters, you can objectively state that the more higher ranked players you have, the more likely your team is to have success. That isn’t the singular determination for success, however. In today’s NCAA, specifically, your staff needs to be consistently monitoring the transfer market, as transfer players are often that missing piece to making a Final 4 type run. Lastly, you can land all the talent in the world, but you need a coach and assistant coaching staff who knows what to do with said talent.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this read. This analysis demystified for me why a few of these schools are having so much success and that maybe these surprise runs aren’t really surprises after all.

-BOC

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