Do top 10 recruits make for national championships?

Joe Robbins

Kentucky's incoming recruiting class -- and Andrew Wiggins -- have been seen as saviors for their schools. But being an elite recruit says more about where you'll be drafted than how your team will perform.

Nothing builds excitement in a college fan base like landing a 5-star recruit. With incoming freshmen like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker at the top of mock NBA Drafts all over the Internet, some top squads have a lot of reason to be excited.

In this day and age, however, landing a top talent ensures just one thing: that your team has landed a player who very soon will be in the NBA. Landing one extremely talented prospect does not ensure immediate basketball success for a college team, and considering how rare it is for the most elite prospects to stick around for more than a year, it doesn't ensure eventual basketball success either. Even landing two doesn't ensure your team will do that much.

We took a look at the top 10 players in each of the last five recruiting services. (Yes, it's a small sample size.) We then looked at how their team fared in the player's freshman year by end result, and when the player was selected in the NBA Draft.

(2011 and 2012 rankings are from 247's composite rankings, before that we used Rivals.)

2012

1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (Freshman year: NIT, Draft: No. 6 pick)
2. Shabazz Mohammad, UCLA (Freshman year: first round exit, Draft: No. 14 pick)
3. Kyle Anderson, UCLA (Freshman year: first-round exit, still in college)
4. Steven Adams, Pitt (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: No. 12)
5. Isaiah Austin, Baylor (Freshman year: NIT, still in college)
6. Ricky Ledo, Providence (Freshman year: none Draft: No. 43 pick)
7. Alex Poythress, Kentucky (Freshman year: NIT, still in college)
8. Sam Dekker (Freshman year: first-round exit, still in college)
9. Anthony Bennett (Freshman year: first-round exit, No. 1 pick)
10. Rodney Purvis, NC State (Freshman year: first-round exit, still in school)

2011

1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky (Freshman year: NCAA Champions, Draft, No. 1 pick)
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky (Freshman year: NCAA Champions, Draft: No. 2 pick)
3. Austin Rivers, Duke (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: No. 10 pick)
4. Bradley Beal, Florida (Freshman year: Elite Eight, Draft: No. 3 pick)
5. Quincy Miller: Baylor (Freshman year: Final Four, Draft; No. 38 pick)
6. Marquis Teague, Kentucky (Freshman year: NCAA Champions, Draft: No. 29 pick)
7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: UDFA)
8: James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina (Freshman year: elite eight, still in college)
9. LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State (Freshman year: missed postseason, still in school)
10. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Freshman year: missed postseason, Draft: No. 8 pick in 2013)

2010

1. Josh Selby, Memphis (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: No. 49 pick)
2. Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (Freshman year: Elite Eight, Draft: No. 7 pick, 2012)
3. Enes Kanter, Kentucky (Freshman year: none, Draft: No. 3 pick)
4. Kyrie Irving, Duke (Freshman year: No. 1 seed, Sweet 16, Draft: No. 1 pick)
5. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (Freshman year: Sweet 16, Draft: No. 21 pick)
6. Brandon Knight, Kentucky (Freshman year: Final Four, Draft: No. 8 pick)
7. Tobias Harris, Tennessee (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: No. 19 pick)
8. Cory Joseph, Texas (Freshman year: second-round exit, Draft: No. 29 pick)
9. Perry Jones III, Baylor (Freshman year: No postseason, Draft: No. 28 pick)
10: Reggie Bullock, North Carolina (Freshman year: No. 2 seed, Draft: No. 25 pick, 2013)

2009

1. John Wall, Kentucky (Freshman year: Elite Eight, Draft: No. 1 pick)
2. DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky (Freshman year: Elite Eight, Draft: No. 5 pick)
3. Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech (Freshman year: second round, Draft: No. 3 pick)
4. Avery Bradley, Texas (Freshman year: first round, Draft: No. 19 pick)
5. John Henson, North Carolina (Freshman year: NIT, Draft: No. 14 pick, 2012)
6. Jordan Hamilton, Texas (Freshman year: first round, Draft: No. 26 pick, 2011)
7. Michael Snaer, Florida State (Freshman year: first-round Draft: UDFA)
8. Xavier Henry, Kansas (Freshman year: second round, Draft: No. 12 pick)
9. Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma (Freshman year: no postseason, Draft: No. 47 pick)
10. Mouphtarou Yarou, Villanova (Freshman year: second round, Draft: UDFA)

2008

1. Byron Mullens, Ohio State (Freshman year: first-round, Draft: No. 24 pick)
2. Jrue Holiday, UCLA (Freshman year: second-round, Draft: No. 17 pick)
3. DeMar DeRozan, USC (Freshman year: second-round, Draft: No. 9 pick)
4. Brandon Jennings, no college (Draft: No. 10 pick)
5. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: UDFA)
6. Tyreke Evans, Memphis (Freshman year: Sweet 16, Draft: No. 4 pick)
7. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest (Freshman year: first-round exit, Draft: No. 8 pick)
8. Greg Monroe, Georgetown (Freshman year: NIT, Draft: No. 7 pick, 2011)
9. Samardo Samuels, Louisville (Freshman year: Elite Eight Draft: UDFA)
10. Willie Warren, Oklahoma (Freshman year: Elite Eight, Draft: No. 54 pick)

For the tl;dr crowd

FRESHMAN YEAR RESULTS

Out of 47 players (three did not attend or play in college as a freshman)

Four missed postseasons
Five NIT's
16 First-round exits
Six second-round exits
Three Sweet 16's
Seven Elite Eights:
Two Final Fours
Three champions

DRAFT RESULTS

Out of 44 players (six are still in school)

19 top 10's
Seven 11-20's
Seven 21-30's
Five second-round picks
Six UDFA's

Summary

Kentucky's 2011-2012 season seemed to indicate a new era in college basketball. One-and-dones had existed for a while, but other than Carmelo Anthony, they hadn't been roads to titles. But when Calipari reeled in the top two prospects in his class, plus the sixth best for good measure, he romped to a title. It seemed like an incredibly difficult to accomplish formula for success, but a formula nonetheless.

But recent top recruits -- and even recent top recruiting classes -- have had widely disparate results. Sure, Kentucky won in 2012 with the top two players in the class, but they also had the top two players in the 2009 class, and although the Elite Eight is nothing to scoff at, it wasn't a title.

UCLA had two of the top three players in the class this past year, and fizzled. Texas in 2009 had two of the top six players and exited in the first round. And of course, there's this past year's Kentucky team, who started with national championship hopes, and one Nerlens Noel injury later, ended up losing in the first round of the NIT.

However, Kentucky this year has the potential to be another outlier. Nothing in recent memory resembles a class with five of the top 10 players in a class, a ready-to-go starting lineup of players that seem ready to play in the NBA. If anybody can once again replicate the success Calipari had in 2012, it's Calipari in 2014. (Although he's failed before.)

What the numbers do prove is that players considered great by talent evaluators out of high school are likely to be considered great by talent evaluators one year after high school. Only 38 players of the players surveyed remained at their school for a second year of college, and 33 of those were first-round picks. More than twice as many top 10 recruits ended up top 10 picks as any other outcome.

Even guys who didn't play in college like Enes Kanter, Brandon Jennings, and this past year, Ricky Ledo ended up being drafted, as did guys who didn't lead their team to college success like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Cory Joseph, and Perry Jones III.

Meanwhile, the most common outcome amongst teams with top 10 recruits was a first-round NCAA Tournament exit. To be fair, 32 times as many teams lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as win the whole thing. But there have even been more top 10 picks than guys whose teams made the Sweet 16, and while 33 players have been first-round draft picks, only 19 have made it to the 32-team round of the NCAA Tournament.

There are an incredible amount of factors that lead to an NCAA champion: having the best of the best from the most recent crop is important, but who's already on your roster is too, as is the guy coaching. But for a player to be drafted highly, they just have to keep being themselves.

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