Talent Distribution: the SEC

This is day seven of evaluating the upper-end talent in major conferences. So far we've covered the ACC,  the AAC, the Big East, the Big Ten,  the Big 12, and the PAC 12. Go to the first link (the ACC) to read up on methods and where the data comes from. There's also a graphic there that shows in very simple terms why landing top 100 recruits is probably more important than you think.

Today it is on to the most bizarre conference – the SEC. It's bizarre because of Kentucky. They do two things: 1) they completely skew the way talent is distributed across multiple teams, at least in comparison to the other major conferences, and 2) they obscure some fairly impressive recruiting from other members of the conference.

Here is how that talent looks:

To the surprise of no one, Kentucky and Florida have deep and talented teams. Last year, the Gators had as many top 100 players as any team in the country. This year, they've dropped to eight, but no major conference team in the nation had that many last year and failed to be 11-5 or better in conference play. [Note – these graphs include a player for UF and a player for LSU who have yet to qualify]

After those two, there's a block of eight teams which all have 3-5 top 100 recruits on their rosters. That middle ground in the SEC is going to be competitive. At the bottom, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Georgia should bear in mind that there were 18 major conference teams in the nation last year which had one or zero consensus top 100 recruits, and one of those 18 teams finished with a winning conference record*. Good luck.

[* Ole Miss began 2012-13 with two, but lost Demarco Cox after 7 games, and went 12-6 in conference. H/T to @KoryKeys]

Drilling down to the top 50 recruits, and Kentucky's dominance really begins to show.

The Wildcats "only" have eight top 100 players, but of course all of them were in the top 50 (top 40 to be exact).  The Gators have four, and Tennessee, LSU, and Arkansas each have three.

For the elite, 5* top 25 type players, it looks like this:

Again, Kentucky is elite. Arizona and Florida are the only other teams in the nation with more than three top 25 players, and Kentucky has seven. Kentucky alone has as many or more than most conferences, including the Big East, the AAC, the Big Ten, and the Big 12.

But this obscures what the rest of the SEC has done. Take Kentucky completely out of the equation, and the only conference that has more top 25 players than the rest of the SEC is the ACC. The SEC might not have the depth that a few other conferences have, but they have the top end talent. The problem is that Kentucky is the only SEC team to make a Final Four in the last six tournaments. If the SEC wants to make their name as anything other than a football conference, that has to change. But at least they have the elite players who can put a team on their back.

Talent distribution: the SEC

If you examine the rosters of NCAA Tournament champions they have a couple things in common. One, they’re filled with elite recruits. Two, they have multiple players who end up as 1st round picks in the NBA. Those two things are not always interchangeable. Not every elite recruit pans out. Not all 1st round picks were elite recruits. But it’s pretty darn close. Evaluating talent in basketball is easier than it is in other major sports. You could watch Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in high school (then, Michael Gilchrist) and see an NBA player. It’s hard to look at a high school quarterback and see anything more than NFL potential.

Of the 29 1st round picks in the 2012 NBA draft (one player was foreign and unevaluated) 24 (83%) were former consensus top-100 recruits. Twenty-two (76%) had been top-40 recruits.

This is the reason why I track where elite talent ends up. Those schools win titles.

Today, it’s the SEC. For a data source I use RSCI Hoops, which, if you aren’t familiar with this site, you should be. They take ESPN, Rivals, Scout, etc… rankings and combine them into one consensus ranking. Other sites have co-opted their methods (without citing them of course), but RSCI is the original. Run the Floor even creates some consensus rankings, but we use those as a stop-gap between RSCI updates. In the end, we defer to RSCI.

Combing through the SEC rosters it turns out that there are 50 players who were consensus top-100 recruits at RSCI. Here’s how that distribution looks:

The Florida Gators, remarkably, have 10 of 13 scholarship players who were consensus top-100 players. Two of them will not be eligible until next year, but still, all five starters will be consensus top-100 recruits, as will the majority of their backups. Kentucky is next with six, while Tennessee, Alabama and Texas A&M each bring five to the conference. Everyone else has between one and four, except for Mississippi State which is starting anew after turning over a tremendously talented roster.

But, as mentioned above, 22 1st round picks in this year’s draft were ranked 40th or better. We’ll cut that back to 50th and see how the same chart looks:

Here’s where Kentucky begins to show their talent dominance. Yes, UF had 10 top-100 players, but only half were among the top-50. Kentucky, meanwhile, didn’t drop anyone. Of the 25 top-50 players in the SEC, the Wildcats and Gators account for 11 (44%). Alabama has three, as does newcomer Missouri.

But what about the elite players. The top-25. Here’s that chart:

Kentucky. They can run out an entire lineup of 5* consensus players. The Gators drop a couple more players, showing that they are deep and talented, but cannot match Kentucky on a pure talent basis. Missouri has two, and three other teams have one.

For top-10 players it gets even more skewed. Kentucky has three, the Gators have one, and the rest of the conference is shut out.