My old colleague at the Lafayette Journal and Courier, Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame sportswriter Jeff Washburn, liked to say winning in college football and basketball is all about the “Jimmys and Joes, not the Xs and Os.”
It’s difficult to argue that premise. Just look at the familiar names that seem to make the College Football Playoff every year or are semi-annual participants in the NCAA Final Four in men’s basketball.
But there are exceptions.
Purdue junior center Zach Edey, the presumptive favorite to be college basketball’s national player of the year, was ranked 440th in the 2020 recruiting class by 247sports.com composite (an average of 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN ratings). Edey’s success story, plus the old chestnut pulled out by national sportswriters and broadcasters that Purdue coach Matt Painter “does more with less” prompted an examination of each Big Ten Conference basketball starting lineup.
Do the teams at the top have more Top 100 recruits? Or are college basketball recruiting rankings as unreliable as political pundits who were sure “a red wave” was coming in the 2022 elections?
We’ll look at each school based on the Big Ten standings as of Jan. 18.
Purdue: Zach Edey (440th in 2020), Caleb Furst (65th, 2021), Ethan Morton (103rd, 2020), Fletcher Loyer (96th, 2022), Brandon Smith (198th, 2022)
Edey wasn’t even the starting center at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where the Canadian native enrolled for his senior year. Future Duke star Mark Williams played ahead of Edey and later became a first-round draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets.
Furst, Indiana’s 2020 Mr. Basketball, was ranked second in Indiana behind future teammate Trey Kauffman-Renn (44th). Morton was Pennsylvania’s Mr. Basketball in 2020. Smith earned Indiana Mr. Basketball honors over Loyer, who was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the national high school 3-point shooting champion.
Of note: Since 2000, only All-American forward Caleb Swanigan (19th) was ranked higher than Kauffman-Renn and Furst.
Rutgers: Cam Spencer (unranked, 2019), Caleb McConnell (344th, 2018), Clifford Omoruyi (51st, 2020), Mawot Mag (212th, 2020), Paul Mulcahy (156th, 2019)
Like Purdue, the Scarlet Knights aren’t loaded with Top 100 prospects. Omoruyi is Rutgers’ fourth-best recruit since 2000.
Michigan: Hunter Dickenson (43rd, 2020), Kobe Bufkin (46th, 2021), Jett Howard (43rd, 2022), Terrance Williams II (101st, 2020), Dug McDaniel (87th, 2022)
Had Dickenson selected Purdue instead of Michigan three years ago, would Zach Edey have prospered elsewhere? There’s so much talent on the Wolverines’ roster that their bench includes Tarris Reed (35th, 2022) and Isaiah Barnes (117th, 2021).
Illinois: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech transfer, 90th in 2019), Coleman Hawkins (168th, 2020), Matthew Mayer (Baylor transfer, 93rd in 2018), R.J. Melendez (94th, 2021), Sencire Harris (113th, 2022)
Shannon (17.6 ppg.) and Mayer (11.1) are the team’s top scorers in their first seasons at Champaign. Point guard Skyy Clark, who recently left the Fighting Illini, was ranked 33rd in 2022. Bench players Ty Rodgers (59th, 2022) and Jayden Epps (72nd, 2022) are Top 100 recruits.
Wisconsin: Steven Crowl (235th, 2020), Chucky Hepburn (127th, 2021), Max Klesmit (Unranked, 2020), Tyler Wahl (204th, 2019), Jordan Davis (476th, 2020)
Now, this is an example of doing more with less. Crowl, Wahl and Hepburn are all averaging nearly 13 points a game for the Badgers.
Iowa: Kris Murray (333rd, 2020), Filip Rebraca (Unranked, 2018), Ahron Ulis (186th, 2020), Connor McCaffery (152nd, 2017), Tony Perkins (314th, 2020)
Murray is another big miss by the recruiting experts, who had his brother Keegan ranked 334th. Keegan Murray was taken fourth in the 2022 NBA Draft by Sacramento, one slot ahead of Purdue’s Jaden Ivey. The Hawkeyes’ second-best player, Patrick McCaffery (86th in 2019), is taking a mental health break from basketball.
Michigan State: Joey Hauser (Marquette transfer, 52nd in 2018), Tyson Walker (484th, 2019), Jaden Akins (54th, 2021), A.J. Hoggard (81st, 2020), Mady Sissoko (41st, 2020).
Sissoko, rated nearly 400 slots higher than Edey, started but did not take a shot against Purdue this past Monday. Starting forward Malik Hall, who missed the Purdue game with an injury, was rated 61st in 2019. He chose the Spartans over the Boilermakers.
Northwestern: Boo Buie (327th, 2019), Chase Audige (William & Mary transfer, unranked in 2018), Robbie Beran (110th, 2019), Ty Berry (153rd 2020), Matthew Nicholson (312th, 2020)
Audige and Buie would make an All-Big Ten underrated team, leading the Wildcats in scoring at 15.3 and 15.1 points per game, respectively.
Penn State: Jalen Pickett (Siena transfer, unranked, 2018), Seth Lundy (221st, 2019), Myles Dread (161st, 2018), Kebba Njie (118th, 2022), Andrew Funk (Bucknell transfer, unranked, 2018)
Averaging 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, Pickett is a contender for All-Big Ten honors. Otherwise, it’s a testament to former Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry’s coaching that the Nittany Lions are 12-6 overall.
Nebraska: Derrick Walker (Tennessee transfer, 270th in 2017), Juwan Gary (Alabama transfer, 93rd in 2019), Sam Griesel (North Dakota State transfer, unranked in 2018), Emmanuel Bandumel (SMU transfer, unranked in 2019), C.J. Wilcher (Xavier transfer, 113th in 2020).
Notice a trend? Even with today’s loose transfer rules, how does a coach build chemistry with a lineup of newcomers?
Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis (30th, 2019), Race Thompson (134th, 2017), Xavier Johnson (Pitt transfer, 236th in 2018), Miller Kopp (Northwestern transfer, 114th, 2018), Jalen Hood-Schifino (23rd, 2022)
Mike Woodson is the midseason favorite for getting the least out of the most talent, even with Johnson and Thompson out of the lineup with injuries. Replacements Jordan Geronimo (105th, 2020) and Trey Galloway (157th, 2020) are solid players.
Reserves Malik Reneau and Tamar Bates were ranked 30th in the 2022 and 2021 recruiting classes, respectively. Seldom-used Logan Dunscomb was 73rd in 2021.
Maryland: Jahmir Young (Charlotte transfer, 235th in 2019), Hakim Hart (467th, 2019), Donta Scott (145th, 2019), Don Carey (Georgetown transfer, unranked in 2019), Julian Reese (60th, 2021)
It’s not too surprising the Terrapins are in the lower half of the Big Ten.
Ohio State: Brice Sensabaugh (65th, 2022), Justice Sueing (California transfer, 171st in 2017), Bruce Thornton (51st, 2022), Sean McNeill (Sinclair Community College transfer, 24th in 2019), Zed Key (155th, 2020)
The Buckeyes may be struggling right now but Sensabaugh (16.9 ppg.) and Thornton (9.6 ppg.) could rank among the Big Ten’s best backcourts in 2023-24.
Minnesota: Jamison Battle (George Washington transfer, unranked in 2019), Dawson Garcia (Marquette transfer, 37th in 2020), Ta’lon Cooper (Morehead State transfer, unranked in 2019), Joshua Ola-Joseph (223rd, 2022), Taurus Samuels (Dartmouth transfer, 405th in 2018)
There’s a reason why the Gophers are the Big Ten’s only team with a sub-.500 record. Garcia has lived up to his reputation (15.6 ppg., 6.6 reb.) but Minnesota has struggled to play as a team.
By the numbers
A victory at Minnesota on Thursday night would give Purdue an 18-1 record, the best start in school history.
A secret to that successful start is making 294 free throws this season, 168 more than opponents. …
The 64-63 victory at Michigan State gave Matt Painter 200 Big Ten wins, making him the third Purdue coach to reach that milestone and the seventh overall. Gene Keady won 256 conference games, and Piggy Lambert claimed 228.
Bob Knight tops the list with 353 Big Ten victories at Indiana. Tom Izzo has 326 and counting at Michigan State. Indiana’s Branch McCracken won 216 games, two more than Lou Henson at Illinois. …
Much to Izzo’s chagrin after Monday’s loss, Purdue center Zach Edey continues to have more blocked shots (37) than personal fouls (27). …
Keep this in mind on Selection Sunday: Purdue is the only team with seven quad-1 victories. Five came against teams ranked in the NCAA Net’s top 30 (Gonzaga, Ohio State, West Virginia, Marquette, Duke). Six of the wins have come away from Mackey Arena, with Marquette the lone home victory. …
Fletcher Loyer was chosen the Big Ten’s Player and Freshman of the Week on Tuesday, becoming the first Purdue freshman since Robbie Hummel in February 2008 to win Player of the Week honors. Loyer also matched the school record with his third Freshman of the Week award, a mark shared by Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan.
Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Cou¬rier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.