Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard has done a mighty favor for all of us cheapskates. He used his ESPN Insider access to read Dave Telep’s paywalled article about which programs have landed the most top 100 recruits and then passed the info along out in the open.
Waters was, of course, focused on Syracuse, which came in seventh on the strength of twelve top 100 signees over the past five years. Not a bad showing, and the Orange had a Final Four appearance this past season to show for it. Kentucky was, of course, tops on the list, with a whopping 23 blue-chippers, with a huge dropoff to Arizona and UNC, who shared the No. 2 slot with 16 apiece. The likes of Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Memphis and Indiana made the list as well.
The two programs that stood out as disappointments both came from Texas. The Longhorns of Austin tied with Duke for the third slot, with each landing 14 top prospects apiece. Just below Syracuse at No. 8 was Baylor, which has reeled in eleven mega-talents in a half decade. The Bears have done well in the years they made the tournament, just missing the Final Four in 2010 and 2012. But they seem to be in a on-again, off-again pattern, missing the Dance entirely in alternating seasons.
The Longhorns, on the other hand, appear to falter more every season recently. Rick Barnes and his squad haven’t played on the tourney’s second weekend since 2008, and they stumbled to a losing record last season with only part-time contributions from the stellar Myck Kabongo.
So, is talent overrated? Not really. It’s a must for a team that wants to win consistently in a top league, and continue to win in the postseason. But clearly Scott Drew and Rick Barnes are running into deficiencies in other aspects of the game, despite the truly impressive recruiting hauls they are able to bring in. They’ve had stability at head coach (Barnes is the dean of Big 12 coaches with sixteen years under his belt), strong overall support from their athletic departments, and obviously some dominant talent. But they haven’t been able to establish consistency.
If you’re looking for one sign that these teams have what it takes to turn it around, the evidence lies at kenpom.com. A quick look at the defensive efficiency numbers for both Lone Star squads for the past five years shows that both Barnes and Drew have their teams playing grinding defense; always in the top half of the Big 12 standings, quite often in the top three. That’s not easy to do when you’re recruiting athletic one-and-dones.
This will be an interesting year to watch Baylor and Texas. Both continue to pull in talent, but underwhelm fans with their recent results. With Kansas and Oklahoma State holding presumptive title to the top of the Big 12, the Bears and Longhorns will need to find a way to marry the defense and firepower into something impressive, or risk being left behind in the league race for a good long while.