If recruiting’s a hit-or miss proposition for even the most high-profile coaches and college basketball programs, how are the mid-major programs of the world supposed to thrive?
Don’t recruit for positions, just recruit players, writes Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus.
You may recognize Cannon’s name. As an intern for Scout.com last summer, he wrote a detailed analysis of 32 players who made first-team all-league in the Missouri Valley, A-10 and Colonial League in an effort to determine why those players were passed on by BCS schools.
(If you haven’t read that study, it can be found here. It provides some insight as to why coaches whiffed on guys like B.J. Raymond, Dionte Christmas, Stephen Curry and Nick Fazekas.)
That study provided the basis for his latest article, which may sound all high-concept, but is really pretty simple. If BCS schools presumably scoop up players at traditional positions (PG, SG, SF, PF, C), then forgot finding players to mimic those spots and just get guys who can either rebound, score, handle the ball or create shots.
It boils down to this: On defense, you have to be ready for whatever the offense throws at you. But on offense, you really just need to rebound and protect the ball enough to let your scorers go to work (or protect the ball just enough that your dominant rebounding can keep putting points on the board despite below-average scoring, etc.). Really, how you put points on the board is your business. The defense is just reacting.
So before we get to the market inefficiency inherent in the status quo, this is what a typical lineup looks like in terms of our new positions:
C: Rebounder, D5
PF: Rebounder-Scorer, D4
SF: Scorer, D3
SG: Scorer-Creator/Handler, D2
PG: Creator/Handler, D1
Here’s where conventional wisdom breaks down. In reality, players have an offensive responsibility and a defensive responsibility, not just one position. I’m in Las Vegas on the recruiting trail, and already I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone ask if a kid projects as a 2 or a 3, or whether so-and-so can defend the 1.
Take a player like Drake’s recently-graduated Josh Young. He’s lightning-quick and a big-time scorer, but Young was slotted as a tweener. Too small to defend the 2, but also didn’t handle the point on offense. What I’m saying is that we should start understanding that all of the above is OK.
Cannon’s dream mid-major team? Young, Pat Calathes, Nate Funk, Jeremy Crouch and Will Thomas. Notice he didn’t request Curry or Adam Koch or some other mid-major player who’ll likely be tooling around on an NBA roster. He simply picked versatile guys who BCS schools see as tweeners (who may or may not be good enough to play at big-time programs).
To a certain extent many mid-major programs – and some major ones, such as Ohio State last season – already do this. Northern Iowa started 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder, but was just as effective last season when it had Koch (D3), his brother Jake (D4), Kwadzo Ahelegbe (D1), Ali Farokhmanesh (D2) and Lucas O’Rear (D5) on the floor. None of ’em are taller than 6-8, yet did just fine when matched up against a bigger, presumably more athletic Kansas team in the NCAA tournament.
Smart coaches figured out long ago that they can’t keep trotting out useless guys just because they look good in a uniform. More are going to do the same.
Then again, all of this doesn’t make recruiting easier. Coaches still have to find guys who can play…