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Exploring college basketball’s blue-chip ratio

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‘Crootin matters.

NCAA Basketball: Pennsylvania at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of very fun a (Georgia-Oklahoma) and a not-so-fun (Alabama-Clemson) College Football Playoff Semi-final day, I noticed our colleague Bud Elliott bumping an article and metric he circulated during the preseason.

In his 2017 season preview, he boldy predicted that the National Champion would be one of ten teams — and he will be right. Bud’s the head of recruiting for SB Nation (Ricky O’Donnell, step your game up!), and has been an advocate that raw talent matters a whole lot - maybe even as much as scheme/coaching.

Bud’s blue-chip ratio is a simple, yet effective, formula for determining who has a chance to run the gauntlet and win it all. The blue-chip ratio is the percentage of players on your roster that were 4-and-5-star prospects. He’s the yin to Bill Connelly’s yang (or in our world, KenPom).

Update: After speaking with Bud, his ratio looks at signees, not roster. I think looking at the roster is a better metric for college basketball. Landing a prospect who transfers shouldn’t increase the value of the roster when he’s no longer there. In my opinion!

Given we’re looking at the entire roster and not the class, this is essentially a 4-5-year window of how well a program has recruited. So while one good class might prop up a program in the media (we’re looking at you, SEC teams), you really need to get it rolling over several years (unless you are Kentucky or Duke, I guess).

Since it’s a long week, I decided to take a look at how this correlates to basketball and if it holds up. A couple of notes though before we get to the data:

  • I think football’s three-and-done rule vs. basketball’s one-and-done rule makes for a larger sample of basketball teams that could potentially fit the ratio in any given year (more on that tomorrow). So instead of killing myself with research (I have a real job, I swear), my baseline was just checking the ratio of the previous National Champions.
  • The other big difference from football is roster size. I believe it’s a lot easier to achieve a 50% mark in basketball against 13 scholarships and ~125 available/year than it is to achieve that mark with 85 scholarships against ~300 available/year. Should the ratio be higher? We’ll see.
  • As KenPom details, roster continuity matters a lot in basketball. I think it does in football as well, but more at key positions like quarterback. We’ve seen the Alabama machine plug-and-play on the lines with minimal dropoff for years. I don’t entirely know how to marry that data to recruiting since I’m not Will Schreefer, but thought it worth calling out since 2012 Kentucky is the only recent example of a group of freshman putting it all together.
  • 2003 was the first year of data because the 247 Composite rankings are very incomplete before that. So the first full roster of data we have is 2006. I also used a smattering of Rivals data in the early years where 247 didn’t have data logged for players.
  • I broke out 5-stars and 4-stars, because I think this matters for visibility and debate - can a lot of 5-stars overcome a lower blue-chip ratio?
  • If I couldn’t find data on a (scholarship) player, I labeled them a 3-star or lower for purposes of the ratio. I excluded walk-ons (even if they played) from the calculation. Too arbitrary to find a meaningful cutoff.
  • I tried my best to not include players that were sitting out due to redshirt, transfer or injury but I’m sure I missed a few. For example, I didn’t count Omari Spellman in 2017 because he had to sit out. I did count Donte DiVincenzo in 2016 because he played before his injury. Not a perfect science, so any questions holler at me.

On to the data! Here’s your National Champions dating back to 2006 alongside their blue-chip ratio.

Blue-Chip Ratio of College Basketball’s National Champions

Year National Champion 5-stars 4-stars 3-stars and below Blue-Chip Ratio
Year National Champion 5-stars 4-stars 3-stars and below Blue-Chip Ratio
2006 Florida 1 4 3 62.50%
2007 Florida 2 6 3 72.73%
2008 Kansas 6 3 2 81.82%
2009 North Carolina 4 7 2 84.62%
2010 Duke 4 3 2 77.78%
2011 UConn 2 4 4 60.00%
2012 Kentucky 6 2 1 88.89%
2013 Louisville 1 6 3 70.00%
2014 UConn 1 4 5 50.00%
2015 Duke 4 6 0 100.00%
2016 Villanova 1 7 1 88.89%
2017 North Carolina 2 7 1 90.00%

Some quick thoughts:

  • All champs hit at least 50%, so Bud’s ratio holds up (barely). We’ll give UConn the benefit of the doubt on that 50% (more below). This isn’t a surprise to the ‘recruiting matters’ crowd, but it does go to show you that the odds of a scrappy underdog winning it all are in fact low.
  • 2009 North Carolina and 2012 Kentucky are widely considered the most talented teams to win it all, and uh, yeah. Insane.
  • 2015 Duke is the only perfect (all blue-chip) model - don’t think we talk about that team enough because of how they turned it on so late in the year. That’s what Villanova should strive for from a recruiting strategy, IMO.
  • UConn with the two lowest ratios wasn’t surprising given what I remember about those teams - but in fairness they recruit internationally as much as anyone and there were some players that fell into the non-blue-chip category purely because they weren’t evaluated by the services back then.

Now here’s Villanova within that same time span (updated to include season results for reference):

Villanova Basketball’s Blue-Chip Ratio

Year Team 5-stars 4-stars 3-stars and below Blue-Chip Ratio Overall Record Big East Record Notable Accomplishments
Year Team 5-stars 4-stars 3-stars and below Blue-Chip Ratio Overall Record Big East Record Notable Accomplishments
2006 Villanova 1 6 4 63.64% 28-5 15-3 BE Co-Champs, BET Semis, NCAA Elite 8
2007 Villanova 0 5 4 55.56% 22-11 9-7 BET Quarters, NCAA First Round
2008 Villanova 2 4 5 54.55% 22-13 9-9 BET Quarters, NCAA Sweet 16
2009 Villanova 2 4 3 66.67% 30-8 13-5 BET Semis, NCAA Final 4
2010 Villanova 5 5 1 90.91% 25-8 13-5 BET Quarters, NCAA Second Round
2011 Villanova 5 2 1 87.50% 21-12 9-9 BET First Round, NCAA First Round
2012 Villanova 3 4 3 70.00% 13-19 5-13 BET Quarters
2013 Villanova 1 4 4 55.56% 20-14 10-8 BET Quarters, NCAA Second Round
2014 Villanova 0 6 4 60.00% 29-5 16-2 BE Champs, BET Quarters, NCAA Third Round
2015 Villanova 0 5 3 62.50% 33-3 16-2 BE Champs, BET Champs, NCAA Third Round
2016 Villanova 1 7 1 88.89% 35-5 16-2 BE Champs, BET Finals, NCAA Champs
2017 Villanova 2 5 3 70.00% 32-4 15-3 BE Champs, BET Champs, NCAA Second Round
2018 Villanova 2 5 3 70.00%

More thoughts:

  • Jay Wright hasn’t dipped below the 50% mark in over a decade, which is pretty astounding and I wouldn’t have guessed that before pulling the numbers.
  • I just continue to be stunned at how little the program accomplished from 2010-2012 with boatloads of talent. We don’t need to revisit it in detail, but it continues to make me very sad.
  • Villanova’s best ratio years were the fall from grace, and then the recent mini-dynasty. So recruiting matters, but so does culture. I got your back, Jay.
  • Notice the trend the last couple of years in 3-star players...taking developmental and 4-year players is fine - all the National Champions have done it. But he ratio hasn’t been hurt and the talent gap has been offset because of Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman.

Tomorrow during part 2, I’ll look at this season’s blue-chip ratios and who has the raw talent to compete for the National Championship.