We are on the cusp of the championship game, pitting another veteran, non OAD “system” team against a team heavily reliant on OADs and freshmen (and, arguably, formerly “system” to at least some extent, although perhaps less so now. Not quite the same dichotomy as Wisconsin and UK, but pretty close. In that vein, I’m trying to pull together various threads over the past week (indeed, entire season) regarding recruiting strategy and the merits or lack thereof of aggressively pursuing OADs.
HCBS earlier this year used the term “Fool’s Gold” to express his disdain? for (over)reliance on 3 pt shots in offensive scheming. I would argue that the real Fool’s Gold is making OADs central to the recruiting strategy, at least for KU and Self. Here’s why:
First, OADs don’t fit his system well - apart from learning the nuances, it requires strong fundamental skills that too many OADs obviously lack, on both offense and defense. What most OADs bring, at least on the offensive side, is shot-making and creativity, both of which are undervalued in the H/L, at least until the end of the shot clock. How many bigs during the past few years have come in with strong back-to-the basket skills and post moves - Okafor, Parker, Towns, and maybe Randle?
Two, it leads to recruiting over current players, resulting in transfers and even more program turnover, and may make it more difficult to get really good 3-4 star players (particularly to commit early).
Third, there are only 10-15 prospective OADs in each class, and only half of those actually live up to the hype - and, you can’t really know in advance which those will be (Alexander anyone?).
Fourth, at least as long as Calipari is at UK, it’s pretty clear that is the first choice of most of the elites - whether it’s Cal’s charm, Shoe Co, JayZ, Drake, Ashley, path to the NBA, cash on the barrel head or all of the above doesn’t really matter. What is means is that we’re waiting around until late spring every year to see what happens with UK - and, if we strike out with who is still uncommitted, then we are in full desperation mode trying to fill with 3 stars that no one else wanted, de-commits, and graduate transfers.
Fifth, and most importantly, based on the results from the past few years, it appears that the OAD approach only succeeds if you are really able to get multiple guys at the top of the class to commit - being able to put overwhelming talent on the floor, regardless of (in)experience level. The numbers don’t work - this is really a basic math problem. If there are just 10-15 prospective OADs each year, let’s assume UK gets 3-4, Duke 1-2 and AZ 1-2 (esp. the west coast guys), then the real pool for us becomes smaller. I would argue it’s simply more challenging for KU and Self to get the guys - some of it is system, some of it is Shoe Co, some of it is the Midwest and relative exposure.
That’s the theory - what’s the evidence. I would argue that we’ve seen all 5 problems manifest themselves at KU the past few years. We’ve had the consensus 2nd and 4th ranked classes the past two years (and 13th and 18th before that) - with 9 and 10 loss seasons and early exits to show for it. Correlation, but not necessarily causation. Let’s look at the broader “market”.
There are clearly too models for relatively consistent deep tournament runs and championships. One is the Nike stack, multiple OAD approach - let’s face it, it works. Maybe not guaranteeing championships, but UK now has 4 FFs in the past 5 years, and add Duke this year. AZ has 2 straight E8s. The other approach is the antithesis of the OAD/stack approach - teams led primarily by tough, experienced veterans, maybe augmented by underclassmen. MSU and Wisconsin this year are illustrative. Just look at their class rankings over the past 4 years (basically comprising their current rosters): MSU - 50th, >50th, 12th and 23rd. Wisconsin - >50th, 45th, 45th, and 50th. Izzo does recruit and occasionally gets elite players, but it certainly doesn’t appear that he is all in on OADs. Over the past 5 years, including the incoming class, I think he’s had just 3 5 stars - Dawson, Harris and an incoming player. Trice was a 3; Valentine a 4. Ryan has had just 1 - Dekker. Kaminsky and Jackson were 3s.
Apart from MSU and Wisconsin this year, look at 3 of the last 4 champions - Louisville and UConn twice. None of them had OAD stacks - I don’t think they had any OADs - they were characterized by veteran teams that played defense and had great guard play.
Let’s look at KU in this context. Self brought us 6 30 win seasons in 7 years with 1 NC, another FF, and 2 E8s - all without reliance on OADs. Indeed, very few top 10-15 recruits. Those were all typical Self teams - hard-nosed, strong rebounding, difficult to score upon, pound it inside. It worked and it worked consistently. Don’t know about you, but I loved it. A lot of guys that may not have been particularly talented (e.g, Reed, Morningstar, Releford) but they understood the system, and more, importantly, bled Jayhawk blue. They wanted to play for Kansas.
What happened? We lost the '12 championship with a classic Self type team to a UK stack of OADs and TADs. We were out-talented - even more obviously so when you look at the NBA (non)careers of the guys on those teams. I would argue that was a great coaching job by Self - we got to the finals with and hung with an uber talented UK team with a bunch of primarily 3-4 star guys. Rather than tweak a bit, I personally think Self overreacted to that loss and decided he had to compete with Calipari on his own terms - which, for him and KU, is the Fool’s Gold approach.
We’ll see how the next few weeks play out. Maybe Self will get Diallo or Maker, and Brown, in addition to Bragg. 2 OADs and one likely TAD - matched up with the returning veterans, it could be pretty formidable. But, if I had to bet, I would bet that we don’t get any of them. Then Self is begging to get Thorne for a year, maybe some Euro lug (a la Gonzaga) and trying to pick up juco or unwanted 3 star.
I’m not sure whether I hope I’m wrong or not. My own preference is to go after the 15-75 guys who will be around 2-4 years, who learn the system, and most, importantly, want to play for Kansas, rather than us being a second or third choice and brief way station in their basketball lives.