LEXINGTON, Ky. — Remember when Duke had assembled one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time? The Blue Devils signed four of the top 15 players in the Class of 2016, good for the No. 1-ranked haul in the country. And yet … they didn’t advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Remember when Michigan State had assembled the greatest recruiting class of Tom Izzo’s career? The Spartans signed two McDonald’s All-Americans and four top-50 prospects in the Class of 2016, good for the No. 3 class nationally. And yet … they didn’t advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Remember when N.C. State and Texas combined to sign three 5-stars and seven top-100 prospects, giving the Wolfpack and Longhorns the No. 4 and 5 classes in the country? And yet … they both went 4-14 in their respective conferences.
Remember when Washington somehow snagged Markelle Fultz and LSU landed Ben Simmons, who might soon share the distinction of being No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft? And yet … both programs missed the NCAA Tournament and fired their coach.
You know who remembers all of these things and has no doubt kept score of the results? Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“People are finding out,” he said Monday on his radio show, “it’s hard to do what we do with young kids.”
Indeed, among the top 10 recruiting classes of 2016 (per the 247Sports Composite), only Kentucky and Arizona are still playing. Five of those programs didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament.
Rival fans love to proclaim things like, “Even I could win a national title with Calipari’s talent.” It’s an idea that greatly annoys him, as Calipari often facetiously refers to how critics must imagine his coaching style: “You know, I just roll the balls out,” he’ll say, rolling his eyes.
However, while having talent doesn’t guarantee a deep run in March, it’s mighty tough to make one without it. SEC Country scoured the rosters and recruiting rankings of each of the 16 teams still playing, and here’s what we found:
Every remaining NCAA Tournament team has at least one former top-100 recruit on the roster, 13 schools have at least three of those and seven have at least six. Half the Sweet 16 field has at least one former 5-star recruit and six teams have multiple 5-stars.
Kentucky has the most former 5-stars (six), while North Carolina has the most former top-100 recruits (nine). Arizona, UCLA and Kansas have the next-most high-end talent. Not shockingly, those programs have the best odds in Las Vegas to win the national title.
Here’s a look at every Sweet 16 team listed in order of on-paper talent, most to least, with another reminder that such things don’t always matter. Just ask Duke, Michigan State, N.C. State, Texas, Washington and LSU. Or John Calipari.
TOP NCAA TOURNAMENT TALENT
* Per 247Sports Composite. 5-star players are bolded.
NORTH CAROLINA (four 5-star, nine top-100) — 2016: Tony Bradley, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson. 2015: Kenny Williams. 2014: Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Joel Berry. 2013: Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks.
KENTUCKY (six 5-star, eight top-100) — 2016: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones. 2015: Isaiah Briscoe, Isaac Humphries, Tai Wynyard.
ARIZONA (four 5-star, eight top-100) — 2016: Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons. 2015: Alonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Chance Comanche. 2014: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen.
ULCA (three 5-star, seven top-100) — 2016: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu. 2015: Pricne Ali, Aaron Holiday. 2014: Thomas Welsh. 2013: Isaac Hamilton.
KANSAS (two 5-star, six top-100) — 2016: Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot. 2015: Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick. 2014: Devonte’ Graham.
FLORIDA (two 5-star, six top-100) — 2016: KeVaughn Allen, Keith Stone. 2015: Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza. 2013: Kasey Hill, John Egbunu (South Florida transfer).
OREGON (zero 5-star, seven top-100) — 2016: Payton Pritchard, M.J. Cage, Kavell Bigby-Williams. 2015: Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher. 2014: Dillon Brooks, Paul White (Georgetown transfer).
GONZAGA (zero 5-star, five top-100) — 2016: Zach Collins, Jacob Larsen. 2014: Josh Perkins. 2013: Johnathan Williams (Missouri transfer), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington transfer).
SOUTH CAROLINA (one 5-star, three top-100) — 2015: P.J. Dozier. 2014: TeMarcus Blanton. 2013: Sindarius Thornwell.
MICHIGAN (zero 5-star, four top-100) — 2016: Xavier Simpson. 2013: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Mark Donnal.
BAYLOR (zero 5-star, four top-100) — 2016: Mark Vital. 2015: King McClure. 2013: Ishmail Wainright, Allerik Freeman.
WEST VIRGINIA (zero 5-star, three top-100) — 2015: Esa Ahmad, Teyvon Myers. 2013: Devin Williams, Elijah Macon.
XAVIER (zero 5-star, three top-100) — 2016: Quentin Goodin. 2014: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura.
PURDUE (one 5-star, two top-100) — 2015: Caleb Swanigan. 2014: Isaac Haas.
WISCONSIN (zero 5-star, two top-100) — 2015: Brevin Pritzl. 2013: Bronson Koenig.
BUTLER (zero 5-star, one top-100) — 2012: Tyler Lewis (N.C. State transfer).
SWEET 16 TEAMS’ 2016 RECRUITING CLASS RANKING: 2. Kentucky, 6. Arizona, 11. UCLA, 14. North Carolina, 15. Gonzaga, 17. Kansas, 20. Oregon, 28. Xavier, 31. Michigan, 40. Baylor, 45. Butler, 60. Florida, 63. South Carolina, 65. West Virginia, 96. Purdue, 100. Wisconsin.