Not Sure I Follow
I touched on this a bit last week when I wrote about our "late recruiting" style - how Brad Underwood has only signed one recruit in November so far with every other recruit joining in the spring. But I want to expand on that some more. I'm just not sure I understand how we're going about this whole recruiting thing.
Let's start with a snippet from that post to catch you up:
Looking back over John Groce's classes, every high school player he signed was signed in the early (November) signing period. Only the transfers (like Jon Ekey or Ahmad Starks or Kipper Nichols) were not added in November. So if we remove transfers from the equation and just look at high school commitments:
Players signed in November: Nunn, Hill, Morgan, Tate, Colbert, Black, Finke, JCL, DJW, Jordan, Lucas
Players signed in April/May: none
Players signed in November: Dosunmu
Players signed in April/May: Smith, Vesel, Eboigbodin, Bezhanshvili, Kane, Griffin, Jones, Higgs, Cockburn, (Kouma?)
And I don't need to just compare it to Groce. Bruce Weber, Bill Self, Lon Kruger - November signing day was always the day we found out about our recruiting class. Rarely did anything stretch into the spring, and when it did, it was usually adding a juco player (Cleotis Brown, Dominic Keller) or a transfer (Jack Ingram, Jon Ekey). The high school recruiting was done in the fall. And the high school recruiting was done in the fall because if you waited until spring, 90% of the high school players had already chosen a school and there weren't many options available. Unless you want to pick over the scraps in April, you need to lock up the high school recruits in the fall.
That's where I'm getting hung up here. That's what I don't understand. To me, it has to fall into one of two general categories:
1. Underwood would love to land a big class in the fall. It's just that everyone says no.
He tried to land Landers Nolley and Colin Castleton and Talen Horton-Tucker during his first fall - they all simply said no. Same with Drew Timme and EJ Liddell and Quincy Guerrier this past fall. It's not like he hasn't gotten players on campus - players who would go on to sign somewhere else come November. This whole thing could be as simple as "he can't get anyone to say yes".
2. Underwood prefers to monitor players during their senior seasons - the more time to evaluate them, the better, because he has a type.
This was my theory from the beginning. That Underwood, with his very specific (and fairly unique) systems would add some head-scratcher recruits. He'd see a guy that most every other school had passed on but notice how well he passes from the high post and offer immediately. Kind of a Bo Ryan "that guard can back someone down in the low post I can use that" type thing.
This is different from, say, how John Groce recruited. Groce always seemed to immediately move to plan B. And his plan B almost always followed the rankings. Let's see if I can explain this.
John Groce was looking for a point guard in the 2016 class (when wasn't he?). The main focus seemed to be Zavier Simpson, now at Michigan. While we heard other names (Alterique Gilbert, who went to UConn; Tony Carr, who went to Penn State), Simpson seemed to be the #1 target. Groce got him to visit for the first weekend of the fall (Labor Day Weekend, I believe).
But we did not land Simpson. He picked Michigan two weeks later. Carr had picked Penn State in August, Gilbert had picked UConn in July, so our top targets were all gone. So Groce immediately (and I mean immediately) moves to plan B. The way I remember it, the very next day after Simpson picked Michigan, Groce had an in-home visit with Te'Jon Lucas. Lucas wasn't a top-100 player like Simpson, Carr, or Gilbert, but was in that next tier. That "might be a high major player, might be a mid major" tier. There were some flaws there (mainly shooting), but he could handle the rock, so evaluators put him outside the top-100. Groce didn't land his top targets, so it was on to the next guy on his (and everyone else's) list.
Brad Underwood obviously doesn't do that. It's May 10th and we have 10 players for next year (11 if Bernard Kouma ever signs). The freshmen move onto campus in less than a month and we still don't have a full roster. John Groce moved to Plan B within seconds of finding out Zavier Simpson was heading to Michigan; Underwood missed on EJ Liddell in September and, as far as I can tell, besides maybe pursuing transfer TJ Holyfield for that same spot, hasn't pursued any plan B kids (or C or D).
Like, had Groce missed on Liddell, he would have found someone else by November. That player might not have been a Big Ten player, but plan D was better than an open scholarship in Groce's eyes (at least from my view). He'd just go down the list to the next guy and then the next guy until someone says yes.
I don't think Underwood recruits like that. I mean, maybe he does, and maybe plans B, C, D, and E have all said no and we have open scholarships right now because no one wants to play basketball in Champaign. But it seems like he's more of an "I'll know it when I see it" kind of recruiter, and if he doesn't see anyone he likes for a certain role, he won't offer.
I mean, how else can you explain May 10th, nine players returning, one player signed? Find me another school without a coaching transition that has three open scholarships on May 10th. The only explanation I can come up with is that John Groce looks at Te'Jon Lucas and says "maybe, if he develops, he can help us down the road" and Brad Underwood looks at a similar player and either says "yes" or "no". He doesn't do plan B, then plan C, then plan D because he already knows those players can't help him. He'll find his guys, and he'll offer them, and if they don't come, he's not going to replace them with a flawed version of them. He thinks he'll be able to just spot another Giorgi somewhere.
Which, to me, is frightening. I've lived for consensus rankings for 21 years now. Take five different rankings, combine and average them, and there are your targets. It's not just one person's opinion on a player - you're getting a consensus. If you don't land the top power forward, move on to the next guy and then the next guy until you land the highest-ranked player you can land. The last thing you want to do is be left holding open scholarships when 98% of all players have committed somewhere.
That's what I don't understand about our current recruiting. Right now it seems like we prefer open scholarships to project recruits. Groce (or Weber or Self or Kruger) would have added a few projects by now. Maybe they don't work out, but it's better than an open ride. In the very worst case scenario, there's always a Plan F kid in March who is committed to Northern Kentucky who could be flipped by an offer from a Big Ten school. Maybe they don't work out, but it's better than adding nobody.
So it's either that or the very scary "we've offered Plan F recruits - they simply said they'd rather play at Northern Kentucky than Illinois". I don't want to believe that's the case, so I'm stuck assuming that Underwood is "I'll know it when I see it, and if I don't see it, I'm not offering".
I mean, maybe that's the case. Maybe we're betting on next year. Nobody wants to come here when we've gone 14-18 and then 12-21. We'll bank a few rides for next year, get the the Tournament, and then land some high-end recruits/transfers because we're selling a Tourney bid instead of 12-21. 2020 Plan A's are better than 2019 Plan D's.
Or maybe, I don't know, maybe we do have players lined up for these three open scholarships and we just haven't heard their names yet. The spring signing period doesn't end until Wednesday, so maybe this weekend we learn a whole bunch. Maybe Kouma is in and Holyfield is in and then we have one more surprise recruit or something.
But if not? If we're just planning on going into the 2019/20 season with ten or eleven players? I'm not sure I follow.