Here's a very good article written by John Gasaway (that I highly recommend). The TL;DR version is that analytics are nice and often very useful, however, in the end talent is ultimately necessary and can win out if there’s enough of it (seriously, just go read the article). In an easy example from last year, 1 seed Villanova ran through the Big East and posted a 32-2 record along with being #5 in KenPom going into the NCAA tournament. The issue was when they got to the second round they ran into a talent-laden NC State who had talented upperclassman that transferred in and had underclassmen that were a part of back-to-back top 16 classes per 247Sports. Villanova on the other hand had four straight years with classes ranked between 28 and 32 (talk about consistency). Talent ended up winning through superior athleticism despite shooting worse from the FT line, from 3, and turning it over twice as often as Villanova (H/T to KJ on this article idea).
What is a category-5 roster?
Gasaway’s definition of a category 5 roster has only 2 criteria:
- Bring in a freshman recruiting class with at least 25 recruiting points going off of Drew Cannon's front-loaded point system.
- Return at least 40% of a team’s previous season’s possession-minutes
And so far there have been only 5 such rosters in the one-and-done era:
- North Carolina in 2008 (Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson: 36-3, Final Four)
- Kentucky in 2010 (John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins: 35-3, Elite Eight)
- Kentucky in 2012 (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 38-2, national title)
- Kentucky in 2015 (Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein: 38-1, Final Four)
- Duke in 2015 (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones: 35-5, national title)
All got to at least the Elite 8, all were 1 seeds, and all finished in the top 4 in KenPom. Right now, the 2016-17 MSU team appears to be poised to have a category 5 roster.
The Recruiting Points
Drew Cannon’s point system is simply this: the #1 ranked player is worth 10 points, #10 is worth 7, #25 is worth 5, #50 is worth 3, and #100 is worth 1. With that in mind MSU’s current class of Miles Bridges (#12 in 247Sports Composite), Josh Langford (#19), Cassius Winston (#29), and Nick Ward (#42) make 20.85 recruiting points. However, MSU appears to be in a very strong position with #1 Josh Jackson which would give them 30.85 points. It’s a little funny that while MSU did have a couple of very good players committed in Ward and Langford, there was a bit of positive domino effect when Winston committed to MSU. After Bridges committed, he said to Scout:
"When [Winston] committed, then I basically switched over to Michigan State from Kentucky," Bridges said. "At first I thought Cassius was going to Michigan. When he went to Michigan State, it changed everything."
Since then it seems as though Jackson’s friends Bridges and Winston have made MSU an attractive destination for Jackson, and I would put MSU as the team to beat at the moment.
The 40% Returning Minutes
Michigan State’s seniors are Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, and Colby Wollenman so they are not going to be on the 2016-17 roster. Going off of Dan Hanner’s projections at SI (which are at the very least a good baseline), their minute totals would equate to ~45% of the 2015-16 team’s minutes which would mean they would be returning 55% of their minutes. However, in order for MSU to get a commitment for Josh Jackson they would need to have one scholarship open up. Worse-case (realistic) scenario (basketball-wise) is that Eron Harris declares for the NBA after one year at MSU in large part due to having a having his degree after being in college for 4 years. If you add in 28 minutes per game for Harris, that puts the lost minutes at 59% leaving 41% of the minutes returning.
The issue for MSU is that while they would have an excellent team that would have the criteria for a category 5 roster, it’s very possible they wouldn’t be the only ones. Duke currently has a top 5 class for 2016 and adding Harry Giles (they’re currently the favorite) would get them over 25 recruiting points. They also would likely return greater than 40% of their minutes (going off of Hanner’s projections) due to having just two seniors with Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee, and only sure-fire one 1-and-done in Brandon Ingram (they may also lose Grayson Allen but they’re still likely to be above the 40% threshold).
Kentucky is another team that could have a category 5 roster that year as well. They appear to be the current favorite for De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who together would give Kentucky more than 25 recruiting points. The bigger issue for them would be returning minutes as they could lose up to six heavy rotation players and are somewhat likely to lose four of them all of whom are projected starters. If you estimate those four player average around 30 minutes each, that would give them exactly 40% of their minutes returning. So while Kentucky will have a good amount of talent regardless of who declares early, they may not end up meeting the definition of a category 5 roster.
What It All Means
Meeting the necessary requirements for both recruiting points and returning minutes would give the 2016-17 Spartans a category 5 roster. In the scenario of Harris leaving and Jackson committing, here is what that roster would look like:
That roster should easily be a preseason top 3 team and give Izzo a good chance at getting his second national championship. Its combination of young talent, veteran upperclassmen, versatility, and athleticism would be hard to match up against. At the moment Michigan State, Duke, and Kentucky all appear to be setting up for very deep NCAA tournament runs in 2016-17. Interestingly, it appears that MSU's strength would be its wing depth, Kentucky's would be its guard depth, and Duke would be its big man depth. It should end up as a very good year for Spartan fans.