As they say, this is a blue-blood’s world and we just live in it. And it can’t be truer.
To my eyes, the college-hoops scene has always been painted in the same colors. Blue and white, those are. It is not that there have not been multiple schools getting the championship home for the past several years. Actually, since the turn of the century, up to 12 schools have lifted the D-I chip. Not bad for a period of 19 years.
I have not followed college basketball closely for that long though. I wasn’t even 10 years old when we entered year-2K. My interest was far from the collegiate ranks and I was only interested in flipping through the pages of the few NBA magazines that reached my home from time to time.
By the time I started somewhat paying a little bit of attention to amateur basketball, it was Melo and ‘Cuse who were ruling the nation. And I only paid attention because he was often mentioned along LeBron James as the most coveted prospect of the upcoming draft. It wasn’t until five or so years after that, around the days of Kevin Durant in Texas and Evan Turner in Ohio State that I really invested in the sport at that level.
Do you know what kicked in also by that time? Duke and Kentucky making recruiting exciting, engaging in battles to see who could get the most heralded prospects, guys bound to be one-and-done’s from day one.
Sadly, it was fun and exciting until it wasn’t. Recruiting stopped being fun and exciting and became predictable. What were recruiting battles, choosing between Duke or Kentucky has become the only potential decision for top-tier recruits around the USA.
I have been gathering data about college recruiting players for a while. I have now turned to team rankings and classes. Using the 247Sports database, I was able to access those rankings from 2003 on up until this season. We all know what has been happening during the past few years but, given that I was not very well versed about the details of the past, I just wanted to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me.
Nowadays, most people consider Duke and Kentucky the one-two giants sitting at the reserved recruiting table. They’re not wrong. If we look at the No. 1 and No. 2 classes from 2003 to 2019 (the current ones, which are still to be closed with some decisions hanging in the wair), either Duke or Kentucky appear on the list as the best or second-best team in the nation in 13 of the 17 years.
Can’t be worse, you say? Well, of those 13 years, in six we saw both Duke and Kentucky in the Top 2. Cold world, rest-of-the-field.
Since 2014 (included) both Duke and Kentucky have been one-two in one or the other order until Arizona broke the streak this year (but wait, because we’re not done yet and Duke can always strike another late home run). They also achieved the partnership in 2011.
Of the 34-team field of No. 1 and No. 2 classes since 2003, Duke and Kentucky have gotten the greatest amount of recruits. The Blue Devils snatched 38 and the Wildcats 73, almost doubling Duke! That accounts for 111 out of a total of 190 recruits belonging to those 34 classes.
Quick takeaway: Not only have Duke and Kentucky boasted top-tier classes on a yearly basis, but they have also gotten the best prospects and the most while maintaining the average of their classes as high as it can be, which is ridiculous. If a college gets a couple of five-star prospects, its class is going to be highly ranked and have a great average (those two kids would probably be ranked really high nationally). To do that while getting tons of players is just on another level.
Talking about high averages and the players themselves, since 2003 the No. 1 and No. 2 classes have boasted 2.9 five-stars, 1.7 four-stars, and 0.76 three-stars recruits on average. Here is how Duke and Kentucky compare to the average class without their numbers factored in:
- Average No. 1/2 class: 2.00
- Duke classes: 3.14
- Kentucky classes: 3.69
- Average No. 1/2 class: 2.14
- Duke classes: 1.71
- Kentucky classes: 1.15
- Average No. 1/2 class: 0.92
- Duke classes: 0.57
- Kentucky classes: 0.69
Again, there you have two colleges not only getting the best groups of players but also getting the best of them and not caring at all about drilling down the rankings to find gems. Why bother? Just go for the five-star kids and leave the leftovers for the rest of the field for the picking while you feast on the roast goose!
We’re about to enter a new era sooner rather than later with the NBA bringing back the prep-to-pros path to the scene. While it is probable that both Duke and Kentucky will keep getting the best kids around, those that now are ranked at the top of their classes may opt to jump straight to the draft instead of playing college ball.
Removing those names from the board opens chances to lesser colleges (not that Kansas, North Carolina, etc. need much help, but still) to land better or at least not much-worse recruits to create a more balanced set of classes.
It is possible that RJ Barrett would have a season on his pro-career belt already. Same goes for the Cousins, Kyries, Ingrams or Tatums of yesteryear when they became one-year-wonders at college to then went to play in the NBA. They could have perfectly ditched those two blue-bloods and just moved on, improving other colleges chances of competing with Duke and Kentucky for top-tier prospects.
I’m not convinced things will change a lot, and 2022 looks like the earliest season we’ll see the new rules in place, so we still have some arduous path to walk. What I’m sure about, though, is that even the smallest of changes to the process can only improve how recruiting works nowadays, make it more unpredictable and help us enjoy commitments and top-school lists from kids more than we have during the past ten to twenty years.
Here’s to hope.