Coming off a third straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge win and now three teams ranked in the Top 5 of the preseason polls, the Big Ten is considered the premier college basketball conference in the land once again. And like the old chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, it can be hard to tell whether the league's improvement attacted better players or whether more talented recruits raised the Big Ten's level of play. Though I cannot offer a definitive answer, I can try to hit you over the head with a block of basketball recruiting data.
You could trace the Big Ten's recent resurgence back to a bumper crop of talent in the midwest starting back when the vaunted Class of 2007 were freshmen. The class brought in 22 of the top 150 prospects in the country, including six ranked in the Top 40 and two of the Top 25 according to Rivals.com. Those numbers dipped in '08 (3 and 3) and '09 (2 and 1) before the highly-touted 2010 class (7 and 3).
Five newcomers in the 2011 class were ranked among the top 40, including two in the Top 25 (Cody Zeller, Branden Dawson). In 2012, we've seen the "success rate" jump back up, with four of the Top 25 freshman in the country joining the conference: Glenn Robinson III, Sam Dekker, Yogi Ferrell and Gary Harris. A total of five ranked players from the Top 40 and eight from the Top 50 will be on Big Ten rosters.
Looking specifically at Wisconsin, the Badgers have rebounded from a shutout in 2010 to nab a Top 150 player in each of the past two classes.
Fig. 1 - Big Ten Recruits in the Rivals150
|Total ranked recruits||19*||18||20||19||16||22|
*Note: Ron Patterson is included in Indiana's totals since they effectively locked him away from other programs for two full years before cutting him loose.
Of these 19 ranked recruits, only one Michigan 's Nic Staukas) comes form outside the conference's nine-state footprint.
Along with Indiana and Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa have seen an uptick in rated prospects in their respective states, offsetting some below average numbers in other key states in 2012. It will be interesting to see how the state of Wisconsin fares when the 2013 class wraps up, as it appears to be one of the strongest ever in the state's prep history.
Fig. 2 - Regional Players in the Rivals150
|Total ranked players||35||32||29||27||30||41|
Fig. 2 note: Players who attended prep school hoop factories for only their senior season were counted for their "true" home state. Indiana's Hanner Perea attended La Lumiere Academy for his final two seasons and is included in the state's count. Likewise, Mitch McGary, A.J. Hammons, and DeMarquise Johnson all left midwestern towns to play two or more seasons out of state, so they will not count toward the conference total (ditto for Sir'Dominic Pointer in 2011). Jay Simpson, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Javontae Hawkins, Elijah Macon, Jakarr Sampson, Aaron Thomas and Jamari Traylor were all counted for Big Ten states for this analysis, although only one (Simpson) wound up signing with a league school.
In this second chart you can see how adding Nebraska has really no effect on the rise in talent within the Big Ten footprint. The region has simply been loaded. As a result, we are seeing a resurgence at traditional powers Indiana and Michigan.
Pairing the sets of data, two things immediately jump out:
- How totally inept Penn State is in their own backyard. The Nittany Lions are basically an invisible program in a state that is part of the Big Ten's clear upper tier in talent produced.
- How truly similar Wisconsin and Minnesota in terms of the states' (un)fertile recruiting grounds and the programs' ability to attract recruits. Which makes Bo Ryan's success compared to the Gophers' results over the last decade even more striking.
The Big Ten is trending upward toward producing more talent within its borders, though not quite to the level of the 2007 class that brought the conference back to prominence. Yet the league is grabbing a smaller percentage of that highly-rated crop.
On the surface, Ohio State and Illinois taking only one player apiece in their 2012 recruiting classes would seem to explain this as an anomaly. But keep in mind the large overall recruiting class sizes in 2010 and 2011 for those schools -- 11 for OSU, 9 for Illinois -- average each other out. We can't glorify the fat years if not also accepting criticism in the lean years. Those two schools are of course connected now that John Groce -- Thad Matta's recruiting ace at OSU -- is the head coach in Champaign.
Fig. 3 - Rivals150 Recruits by Power Conference
|Conference||Schools||2012 Recruits||Recruits/School Rate||2011 Rate||2010 Rate|
The Big Ten has settled into a groove the last four years or so with the percent of recruits it grabs from the Top 150. The conference annually ranks either third or fourth among the six power conferences in number of Rivals150 signees per league member, almost always behind the SEC and ACC (which are based in more talent-rich areas).
Much of the conference realignment occurred before the 2011 season, while the SEC additions take place this year. It doesn't take a math wizard to know that Texas A&M and Missouri were not hauling in top recruits on the regular, but these numbers confirm that the schools' move helped their former conference (Big XII) and actually dragged down their new league (SEC) in the first year. We covered Nebraska having a marginal negative effect on the Big Ten numbers, which also seems to be the case in a positive direction for the Pac-12's new schools. But that bump is more from Arizona and UCLA reawakening than anything Utah or Colorado brings to the table. The ACC is consistently the best gatherer of Top 150 talent, while the Big East's fall from grace has already begun.
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