I believe it’s proven you can win with any style of play or focus of recruiting, you just have to recruit the level of talent to make it work. I do however believe there are more conducive ways to win, especially for specific situations. We’ve seen multiple one-and-done freshmen lead teams to the final four or to the championship, in more recent years we’ve seen a heavy mix of transfers win as well.
You need the talent, the style of play to fit the talent. Maybe you get that from elite freshmen or out of the portal. In general, I do believe it’s easiest to win with a team that is older and experienced first off. Maybe you get that through the portal the year or a couple of years before, or maybe you recruit that out of high school and grow it over several years together and build the continuity. That continuity of homegrown players is what we will look at as well vs those that have been building via the portal. We’ve also found a crossover where some teams built through the portal a couple of years ago, but have retained those players for several years as well, and also continuity. The extra covid year created more of that than I expect you generally will see in a few years.
Now that the portal, free transfer, and NIL have changed the landscape of college basketball so much, is it really even possible to keep classes together at certain have not schools? Even the blue blood lose some players they might like to keep but aren’t playing as much now. The free covid year also really puts the contrast between older players and experience vs high school on steroids as well. In our findings, there were only a couple of teams in the top 50 that we categorize as being predominantly led by freshmen players. Nearly every team had some transfers and some own high school recruits playing. We’ve looked over each roster and graded them on the key value of the team’s top player or top 5 or so players were built more through the portal or high school. The players that really decided the games. We’ve also looked at how long these key players were together and given a continuity take if they it or were a newer group.
Here are the Top 50 current teams by NET on February 13th.
HS– Mostly High School Build
P-Mostly Portal Build
Mx-A mix of both
Y-Yes a lot of Continuity
N-No not a lot of Continuity
Mx-A mix of new and old players
|19||San Diego St.||P||M|
|36||North Carolina St.||P||N|
Mid-Majors in the Top 100 (as we define them)
|58||Sam Houston St.||P||Mx|
|59||College of Charleston||P||N|
|92||UC Santa Barbara||Mx||Y|
Freshman vs Older players
One thing that was beyond apparent is the older teams dominated. There were two teams we categorized as Freshmen dominated, Alabama surprisingly, and Duke. Duke has been pretty underwhelming this year, but Alabama is ranked 2nd with four of their top 5 scorers being freshmen, including their star. That is certainly an outlier in the top 50. While Purdue has 2 solid freshmen starters there is no doubt what is driving their team for example. Arkansas to a lesser degree. What is beyond clear is Alabama is a complete outlier this year being led by freshmen in this covid super senior landscape. Basketball is older than ever, and it shows in the top 50. There weren’t many difference-making freshmen beyond that either on these rosters that were really impactful.
It certainly seems at the top outside of Alabama winning with freshmen, continuity, and building mostly through high school is most successful. That makes sense because most of those programs are the elite of the elite where players want to be. There are lots of stability and coaches not scrambling to build a roster early in their tenure or to try to save their job. Texas is the only one I would categorize really as built mostly through the portal. That just how Beard built as well at Texas Tech when he made the finals. Even Baylor who was another transfer-heavy team that won a championship was mostly homegrown through high school this year.
There were probably more examples of teams with key players that had not played together for multiple years than I anticipated. I thought that would be a little bigger part that would help teams. Especially doing this with few games left as well. One thing that stands out is you don’t really need as much continuity as maybe I thought to be elite. It certainly helps but not required for the top 25 type teams. Where continuity does seem to help a lot is of the mid-majors. Nearly all of those teams in the top 100 had significant continuity. Many were also built mostly through the portal, more so than the top 50.
I believe there were some interesting takeaways. The free transfer and amount of transfers and NIL is still relatively new as well. I will be most interested in a few years after the extra covid super seniors are gone, and the portal has stabilized a little more what the mid-major aspect will look like. Is it even viable to build a mid-major through high school? Would a FAU type of team who saw an unexpected jump #132 to currently 20th. Would they even recruit the same amount of high school players now or more importantly be able to hang on to them over multiple years of high success like that? Of the P6 top 25 type of schools, it’s clear they can still build through elite high school recruits or pluck from the lesser mid-majors or P6’s. There are multiple viable paths to take at that level. Homegrown High School players over multiple years remain viable, although many of those programs mix in at least some portal players. As a side note it is interesting to see a coach like John Calipari really move away from one and dones and focus more on transfers like Oscar Tshiebwe. Is that more because he is under more job pressure to risk it with younger players, or a bigger philosophy shift? It was really only a few schools like Duke really all in on freshmen, and even schools like Duke and Arkansas still supplemented with a lot of transfers. I think in general you will see more coaches go for the proven older players overall. Everyone will still recruit the top 25 high school guys, but there are really only so many difference-making freshmen by the numbers this season.