We are definitely in the middle of one of the most unique seasons of college basketball. Last year the game was dominated by a small group of teams, led by Kentucky, Duke, and Wisconsin, that all had the services of at least one five-star player. In fact most of the top teams had a five-star on the roster, this year however things are different. The question is, exactly how different?
To determine that I took the rotation players on the current AP Top 10 teams and compared it to the final, pre-NCAA Tournament, AP Top 10 from the last two seasons. A rotation player was defined as someone who played at least 10 minutes per game and in at minimum 70 percent of the team’s games.
The numbers were stark. This year is extremely different from the 2014-15 campaign, and also quite a bit different from 2013-14, despite a few major anomalies that year that skewed the data.
Currently all of the AP Top 10 are in power conferences. The Big East and Big XII have three teams each, two from the Big Ten, and one a piece from the ACC and SEC, which isn’t all that different from last season when only Gonzaga wasn’t from a power conference and was in the top 10.
Still despite being a power conference top 10, only nine five-star prospects combined are defined as rotation players. Since there were 83 qualified rotation players among the 10 teams, it means only 10.8 percent of the players in the rotation for the programs are five-star recruits.
When you compare that with the 2014-15 season, the contrast is stark. Last season of the 75 qualified rotation players, 21 of them were five-star prospects. That works out to 28 percent of the rotations were made up of five-stars.
Even looking at the 2013-14 season there is a big differential and there is one key thing to keep in mind. During the 2013-14 season two schools, Michigan State and Kentucky, weren’t in the final AP Top 10. While Kentucky played for the national title and was loaded with five-stars and Michigan State was considered by many the best team in the nation going into the NCAA Tournament, due to injuries and youth those two teams found themselves outside of the top 10.
Still even with those two excluded, and with Wichita State in the top 10, 16 of 79 rotation players were five-star prospects. That equates to 20.2 percent, or almost double of what it is this year.
Digging even deeper into the situation, the evidence is clear in another way, the freshmen were far more prevalent. In terms of five-star level freshmen, only two of them are in this year’s top 10. One is Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, who is a role player, and the other is Maryland’s Diamond Stone who has bounced between starter and backup for the Terps.
Compare that with 2014-15 when nine five-star freshmen were in the AP Top 10 including standouts like Kentucky’s Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, and Stanley Johnson of Arizona.
In 2013-14, even without Kentucky’s quartet of James Young, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, and Julius Randle, you had six freshmen five-stars in the mix. That included Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson of Arizona, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of Kansas, and Jabari Parker at Duke, all of which were obviously huge contributors.
Clearly much has been made of the relative weakness of this year’s current crop of talent, and a closer look shows it to be playing out empirically and not just through the eye test. Five-star freshmen aren’t leading any of the top teams, and after a large amount of five-stars left for the draft the past two seasons this year’s crew hasn’t been able to replace that sort of talent.
Because of that teams dominated by four-star and three-stars in the rotation are having the most success, mostly because they are older players who have developed despite not having the huge NBA ceilings like the guys of years past.
Of the qualifying rotation players in this year’s AP Top 10, 43 percent of them are former four-star prospects while 29 percent are former three-star prospects. Both of those numbers are at a two year high. Combined the 72 percent of prospects in the four and three star range in the top 10 is well ahead of last year’s number of 63 percent and 55 percent from two years ago.
Parity is clearly reigning in college basketball this season, and a huge reason for that is the lack of five-stars dominating like they have in years past. With one of the best classes on record coming in for the 2016-17 season don’t get used to this as a trend, but for now enjoy it and be prepared because anything can happen this season.