College Basketball Recruiting Series

One of my (Lewis) favorite things in sports is college basketball recruiting.  Given the growth of the recruiting guru industry, it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in my fascinations.  For example in the case of the University of Illinois, If you took a look at the message boards you might think there is as much interest and speculation about the recruitment of Cliff Alexander (the number 3 ranked player in the 2014 class) as there is in the this year’s team.

Over the next couple of weeks, our plan is to take an in-depth, data-based look at the world of college basketball recruiting.  Our emphasis will be on judging how well teams really recruit and whether players make rational decisions about where to play ball.  As always, the key to these analyses will be that we will use statistics and data to go beyond the conventional wisdom and drill down to the fundamental issues.

As a starting point for our series, we are re-running an earlier analysis that looked at fan support across teams. This study is important for two reasons.  First, intuitively we expect that players will be more attracted to programs that have strong support.  This is a rational criterion because support likely translates to plentiful resources and television exposure.  Second, this study highlights the nature of our approach to these studies.  Rather than rely on simple metrics such as attendance, that are a function of team performance we examine fan support after controlling for short-term fluctuations in team performance.  In other words, we control for the fact that it is easy to be a Duke or Kansas fan, while it takes real character to support a team that may struggle on the court (e.g. Maryland & Illinois).

We have four analyses planned.  As noted the first one focuses on the “fan equity” enjoyed by each teams.  These rankings provide a sense of the customer or brand equity of each team.  The second analysis will take a look at each school’s ability to produce NBA draft picks as a function of their recruiting rankings.  This is something that recruits should definitely consider.  The third analysis will examine draft pick production as a measure of team success.  This analysis really gets at the value of choosing a high profile, blue blood program.

The fourth analysis is probably the one that we are most enthusiastic about.  In the fourth study, we examine recruiting success after controlling for a myriad of factors such as current winning percentage, markers of historical success and financial investment.  As we will discuss later this analysis as some significant implications for how we should evaluated coaches and may even provide some evidence that some teams recruit “too” well.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.