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Analyzing the elite coaches and the elite recruiters in college basketball

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Let's take a 4-year look at who's doing what well in the world of college basketball.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

(Look at young Jay, so handsome!)

As a sort-of sequel to my look at pre and post-conference realignment recruiting, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the top-tier programs in college basketball as it pertained recruiting, quality of play, and on-court success. Most people will tell you a college coaches' job is two-fold: recruit well and win. Obviously there's more to it, but those are the two biggest things boosters and alumni will care about.

And I'm relatively certain the two are connected, and the string that connects the two is how well your coach can, you know, coach. Winning on the court is still the most important aspect, but I'm reasonably certain that you probably need to win the recruiting game to expect to put forth a good team, which over time should equaled sustained success if you've got a good coach. For the purpose of this research, I've defined success as how far a team goes in March.

I personally believe conference championships indicate success too, but there's a nasty relativity debate trying to figure out what winning the MVC means in comparison to say the ACC - sorry Gregg Marshall!

For your viewing pleasure, I created a sortable table (just click on the column headers to sort) that will show you the average recruiting class over the past four years vs. KenPom Pythagorean Rating (i.e. quality) vs. success in March. Arbitrary for sure, but again it's the typical matriculation cycle which evens the playing field a bit in terms of recruiting strategy (one-and-done vs. development).

Note: For the March Results column, I awarded 1 point for making the Sweet 16, 2 points for the Elite 8, 3 points for the Final Four, 4 points for making the title game, and 5 for winning it all. Stating the obvious, but this only includes teams who have made the Sweet 16 in the last four years, but it's a pretty strong list with no obvious omissions (to me, at least).

Program Avg. Recruiting Class KenPom Pyth Rating March Results
Villanova 39.25 0.90340525 5
Kansas 9 0.91910775 3
Oregon 27 0.8560625 3
Oklahoma 51.25 0.862488 4
North Carolina 26.5 0.89256175 5
Notre Dame 38 0.80929125 6
Virginia 40.75 0.91762525 3
Syracuse 20.5 0.85834625 5
Kentucky 1.25 0.8847165 7
Arizona 5 0.8947055 5
Duke 2.8 0.9165315 8
Wisconsin 74.5 0.90548725 8
Louisville 25 0.929542 8
Michigan St. 38.25 0.91273725 6
Gonzaga 73.25 0.90695675 3
Florida 30.5 0.8759235 5
Dayton 92.5 0.7785905 2
Connecticut 32 0.821467 5
Michigan 44 0.8279785 6
Wichita St. 73.5 0.9117915 4
Ohio St. 24 0.845921 2
Marquette 32.25 0.7194675 2
Maryland 31.5 0.81863475 1
Miami FL 37.25 0.827929 2
Texas A&M 33.75 0.7131035 1
Indiana 18.25 0.83659625 2
Iowa St. 64.75 0.8778865 2
West Virginia 50.25 0.7656605 1
Xavier 54.75 0.80692475 1
North Carolina St. 42.75 0.78642625 1
UCLA 12.25 0.80514775 2
Utah 63.5 0.79379925 1
Stanford 39.5 0.76575775 1
San Diego St. 52.75 0.84193925 1
Baylor 38 0.86702875 1
Tennessee 45.5 0.7267175 1
La Salle 213.25 0.5822925 1
Florida Gulf Coast 211 0.5119215 1

A couple quick thoughts:

  • Having success in March definitely requires some luck, as we know all too well. But there is a pretty strong correlation between the consistently good teams with the teams doing well in March. So there's that.
  • As Will detailed over at Nylon Calculus (please read this if you haven't - excellent stuff), building a program through solid recruiting classes and being able to coach/develop that talent is definitely one way to find sustained success. Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino and Jay Wright are good examples of this strategy.
  • The combination of bringing in one-and-done talent (i.e. the great recruiting classes) AND being able to coach is lethal. John Calipari and Coach K have proved that much.
  • If you're putting out good teams without March success, you're probably just unlucky (hi Bill Self and Tony Bennett!)
  • Losing in March can somewhat be traced to bad luck, but if you aren't putting out good teams with top-tier talent, that's a red flag (sorry Tom Crean and Steve Alford!).
  • There's a reason why coaches like Gregg Marshall and Mark Few are held in such high esteem. Their ability to recruit is limited by their school's standing in the world of collegiate athletics, but the on-court product can't be argued with.
  • It will be interesting to see what happens to Florida and Wisconsin. Much of the latter's success came under the since-retired Bo Ryan, while all of the former's came under the since-departed-to-the-NBA Billy Donovan.
  • So disappointed Buzz Williams crashed this party (pre-Wojo Marquette).

To wrap it up, this should give you a good idea of who's doing what well (or in some cases, doing it all well). It's not a be-all end-all for success. But I think the phrase "get you a man who can do both" applies here. You need a good basketball coach, that much is clear. You can't just recruit well and expect that to translate to results (hi Johnny Jones!). If you give a good coach quality talent, he's going to do something with it.

Personally, I'm a fan of the way Jay Wright is running things at Villanova, and the way things are trending. Build a consistently strong team with talented players who will invest in the program, and litter in some elite talent. This isn't unlike what's been happening at places like North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville over the past decade with plenty of success.

On the surface Villanova appears to be offering more 5-star caliber talent than usual. That might throw some caution to fans after what happened post-2009. I get it. But the program's strategy has been set, and Wright is likely merely looking to enhance his roster with as much talent as possible while sticking to the core values. Contending on a yearly basis is the goal going forward.