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Recruiting is sometimes complicated, pt 2

A common refrain, “Drink is doing it, so why can’t Zo?” needs a bit more nuance.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I wrote this, and I’d recommend you get through it first before proceeding because I’m going to assume you already read it from here on out. I’m going to try not to rehash the previous points, but the finisher was about an overall institutional lack of commitment to basketball being at least a partial reason why I seem to give Cuonzo Martin the benefit of the doubt moreso than some internet detractors.

But a common rebuttal to providing context around Mizzou Basketball recruiting goes something like this:

No offense to Kyle who I’m sure is a nice person (and thanks for reading the site!), but I’m using this tweet just as an example of a consistent argument I’ve seen.

For one thing, basketball recruiting and football recruiting are WILDLY different and difficult to compare. I’ll take up a little more on the fan portion later but let’s talk about Drinkwitz and Mizzou Football recruiting.

The more complicated answer on why College Football and Basketball recruiting is very different is the sheer number of players, and fewer options. Because I always like to have data to back up these sorts of discussions, I went back and looked at the 2022, 2021 and 2017 classes for both Basketball and Football and did some counting (I may expand this search at some point because it was kind of interesting).

In Football, there are 64 High Major teams scouting thousands of players. If every one of those 64 HM teams signed a class of 18 players (the low end of a signing class) that’s over 1,100 players signing up to play Power Five football. Move the number to 22 and it’s 1,408 players, make it 25 and it’s 1,600. So somewhere between probably 1,200 and 1,600 players are going to be signed JUST by the 64 Power Five Conference teams from the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, and Big 10. That doesn’t include some pretty solid schools to choose from outside the Power Five structure like UCF, Boise State, and some school called Notre Dame.

I looked at the top 250 players from 2021 and 247 of them picked either a Power Five school or Notre Dame, the other three chose Jackson State (nods to Deion Sanders). In 2017, 249 of the top 250 players chose P5+ND over the alternatives. The outlier chose UCF... a decent option lately. The top 250 players in Football represents the top 4% (ish) of the players I counted in this exercise. They all choose Power Conference schools because that’s their only path. There are no professional options out of high school; it’s College Football or bust. On top of that, those schools have between 18 and 25 spots each year, so they’re gobbling up commitments and trying to stack as much talent as possible.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The job for any football coach is to stack the best recruiting classes on top of each other year after year, and let the talent work itself out. Because a lot of it doesn’t work out, and the only way you safe guard against the miss rate in Football recruiting is to have more options. Typically you’ll have 4 classes on campus and those 83 scholarships, and only 30 of those players are seeing the field regularly. Maybe 40 if we’re generous. So you just need to stack good classes, and have a 50% hit rate.

On the flip side

Basketball recruiting isn’t like that at all. To reverse engineer the above, you need a much higher hit rate to succeed. With 13 scholarships, you need 2-3 elite players, and 7 reliable ones. You need closer to a 75% hit rate to succeed beyond squeaking into the tournament. Hit rate doesn’t mean landing your top targets, but landing players who’ll help you win.

The top players in Hoops simply have more options these days. If we’re starting at that 4% like I did with football, that equates to about the top 50 players. Just 41 of the top 50 players chose High Major schools, three chose Gonzaga, the others chose Dayton, Memphis, Milwaukee, and three went pro. So it’s easier for a mid-major school in the Atlantic 10 or American to pick of an elite player, and there’s also a pro option... and then there’s Gonzaga who’s also picking off elite recruits.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Baylor vs Gonzaga Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With the Big East included, there are more power conference teams and fewer spots on each roster. There are 76 high major teams in Hoops and if each team signs three freshmen that’s 228 players, four players is 304, and five players is 380. So high major teams probably sign around 300 players on an average cycle. Obviously the transfer portal has thrown a wrench into this plan for a lot of teams, but with so few elite players and so many more choices... the mud can get sticky for a lot of programs.

In 2021, 19 teams signed a 5-star player, 15 of those teams also signed a 4-star player, and 40 teams signed at least one 4-star player. This is all a long way of saying in Football you have fewer teams fighting over a larger pool of players, and in basketball more teams (and pro leagues) fighting over a smaller pool of players.

Around 15% of the players graded at 0.7800 or higher on 247sports were rated a 4-star player (that ends up being around 0.8900 and up). In 2021 that number ended up being around 360, with 64 teams that’s about 5 12 players per power conference team. On the Hoops side it’s actually closer to 30% which end up being rated 0.9350 or higher (the ratings aren’t exact comparison as you can tell), in 2021 there were 118 four or five star players, or just 1.5 per team.

It’s complicated, is what I’m saying.

The easier answer to this of course, is this — Mizzou’s Administration has been more committed to football in ways they’re simply not in basketball. Drinkwitz, despite having just one season of head coaching experience, reeled in a contract worth more than $4 million per year, and the Missouri Football budget has been boosted to complement its new $100 million dollar facility in the south end zone, and it’s new $35 million practice facility. Since Drinkwitz has taken over, the staff budget has gotten a lot closer to and surpassed its contemporaries.

They still lag behind Georgia, Alabama, and the rest of the top of the conference but they’re catching Kentucky and are spending more than South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and others (though for some reason Mississippi State is spending $5 million on Mike Leach).

Meanwhile, Missouri’s basketball budget has lagged behind its competitors. Matt Harris is cooking up a more in depth look at the numbers, just I’ll just say it’s not great. Missouri has never fully committed to being an elite hoops program. Mike Anderson used to flirt with other jobs because they paid more, and he was angling to get more money. Very often coaches do that not to improve their own financial windfall, but that for their assistants and support staff.

When Chris Beard took over at Texas Tech, the first thing TTU did was invest, heavily, in basketball. The support staff ballooned, new facilities were built or upgraded. When he took over at Texas, he was given a bag full of cash to hire his assistants. He hired two sitting head coaches to be assistant coaches, hired Jerrance Howard away from Kansas... That’s investment.

This is my way of saying why I don’t blame Cuonzo for where Missouri is because Martin is just the last one in the line to be dealt this hand.Mizzou administration doesn’t invest, the product is mediocre, fans don’t show up, we blame the coach, hire a new one, and the cycle continues. It’s like the recycle icon in practice. Given his resources and the recent history of Missouri, Zo has done a good job. Not an A+ job, but a good one. The Mizzou Administration is finally stepping up in regards to the facilities by doing a long overdue renovation on the locker rooms.

I don’t blame people for being upset, I just think the anger is misplaced. I may further expand on this, but at the least be on the lookout for Matt’s more in depth financial picture of the program.

Happy Sunday, everyone!