How You Recruit Is How You Play

On Thursday,’s Mark Carroll examined which rotations were the most experienced in the ACC. Through his study, he found that the teams with the most upperclassmen weren’t necessarily the toughest ones. In fact, the three most experienced teams didn’t play in the postseason at all.

Traditional followers of college basketball often believe the No. 1 key to success is having upperclassmen who have been around the block and know how to play the game. The new class of fans pay more attention to recruiting, arguing that talent trumps experience if the two go head to head.

To see if the new class is on to something, we pulled data on recruiting and ACC standings to see if there was a correlation between the two. The following is an average ranking of where ACC teams’ recruiting classes ranked in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 signing classes.

Average Recruiting Class Ranking From 2011-13

1. Duke

2. Syracuse

3. North Carolina

4. N.C. State

5. Maryland

6. Pittsburgh

7. Florida State

8. Virginia

9. Notre Dame

10. Virginia Tech

11. Georgia Tech

12. Clemson

13. Wake Forest

14. Miami

15. Boston College

And below, here’s the average conference standings for the past three seasons, when those three signing classes would’ve been on the court.

Average Finish In Conference Standings from 2012-14

1. Duke

2. Syracuse

2. North Carolina

4. Virginia

5. N.C. State

6. Miami

7. Florida State

8. Pittsburgh

8. Notre Dame

10. Maryland

11. Clemson

12. Georgia Tech

13. Wake Forest

14. Boston College

15. Virginia Tech

Note: Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame’s rankings and finishes in the standings for the first two seasons were in comparison to the Big East, not the ACC.

As you’ll see, the average finish in the standings more or less mirrors the average place in team recruiting rankings. To make it easier to digest, we divided the ACC into three tiers, with five teams in each tier. In this case, you can see that the tier in which a team recruits is almost always the tier in which it performs.

Duke – Recruiting Tier 1, Performance Tier 1

Syracuse – Recruiting Tier 1, Performance Tier 1

North Carolina – Recruiting Tier 1, Performance Tier 1

N.C. State – Recruiting Tier 1, Performance Tier 1

Maryland – Recruiting Tier 1, Performance Tier 2

Pittsburgh – Recruiting Tier 2, Performance Tier 2

Florida State – Recruiting Tier 2, Performance Tier 2

Virginia – Recruiting Tier 2, Performance Tier 1

Notre Dame – Recruiting Tier 2, Performance Tier 2

Virginia Tech – Recruiting Tier 2, Performance Tier 3

Georgia Tech – Recruiting Tier 3, Performance Tier 3

Clemson – Recruiting Tier 3, Performance Tier 3

Wake Forest – Recruiting Tier 3, Performance Tier 3

Miami – Recruiting Tier 3, Performance Tier 2

Boston College – Recruiting Tier 3, Performance Tier 3

There were only four exceptions out of 15 teams. Maryland and Virginia Tech have under-performed their recruiting rankings, dropping down one tier. Virginia and Miami both outperformed their recruit rankings, rising one tier. It’s worth noting that both Virginia and Miami were aided by improbable first-place finishes in the past two seasons. In Virginia’s other two seasons within this set, the Cavaliers finished fourth and fifth in the conference standings. In Miami’s other two seasons, the Hurricanes placed sixth and 10th.

What this boils down to is that if you want to win, you have to recruit well. That’s why all these teams going through coaching searches are placing more of an emphasis on coaches with good recruiting track records more than prestigious coaching pedigrees in regards to Xs and Os. 

It’s not surprising that all of the conference’s longest-tenured coaches reside in the upper tiers of the recruiting class rankings. The only way to strike success and sustain that success is by keeping a steady flow of talent into a program.

So, yes, there is a direct correlation between recruiting well and playing well.

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