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2 Legit 2 Commit

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I'll be real: it's basketball season. When I'm not watching whatever NBA game is on at any random time using NBA League Pass Broadband, earning small increments of money on centsports using my freakish ability to understand NBA betting lines, writing about Northwestern basketball for an undisclosed publication, playing pickup at Blomquist or Spac, or vainly attempting to lead my fraternity's B team to white league IM basketball glory, I'm generally thinking about basketball in some other way. I'm like this pretty much 12 months a year, but it's especially heightened now in this brief period of time when other people around me are also paying attention to basketball.

Point being, football is on the back burner. 

I'm supposed to be on top of my football nonsense for this site, but quite frankly, it's not like that. I saw Mike Kafka did nice in the shrine game and everything. Watched the highlight reel and everything. Sweet.  I'll talk about that a little bit before the NFL draft probably, but for now, I was indifferent.

Point being, I haven't been paying attention much to recruiting. This is for multiple reasons: first off, I think much recruiting hoopla is undeserved, secondly, I'm overwhelmingly creeped out by the cottage industry of older guys texting high school juniors about what they enjoy about various colleges. (One of the bonuses of not being a highly-sought after athlete is that there were no articles being printed online like "SHERMAN CONSIDERING APPLYING EARLY" that people had to pay to read. That's creepy.) But thirdly, and most key, is that LTP covers this stuff well. Every few days, there's some post about the latest guy to commit to NU, and his latest interview with Louie Vaccher from Rivals was pretty gangbusters. 

But the downside to all of this is that for some reason, I was under the impression that NU was reeling in a pretty good recruiting class. Not sure why. I think it's some combination of the fact that LTP has a way of getting me to be in a happy place about NU sports and the fact that we're living in the Era of Good Northwestern Sports, but I was clearly convinced that Northwestern was doing some good stuff with recruiting. Not like a top 10 class, but somewhere in the middle of the pack. Something respectable.

Well, y'all, ignorance is bliss. 

 

I took a peek at Rivals.com's team rankings the other day. I knew we wouldn't be on page 1. I'm not delusional. I figured, hey, we've had a pretty decent recruiting class, maybe we're sneaking in on the bottom of that second page? Nah! Top of the third? Bottom of the third?  My answer was waiting for me at the top of the fourth friggin page: we're No. 76. Seventy-six. Sesenta y seis, for my readers who don't speak any english. (It's impressive you've gotten this far.) 76 puts us behind all but five BCS programs (UConn, Washington State, Rutgers, and, luckily, Wisconsin and Indiana). It puts us behind San Diego State, where dual-threat QB D'Angelo Barksdale recently committed. (He's a pretty good player, but he's got an unfortunate reputation for choking when it all comes down to it.) It puts us behind NU is one of six BCS teams who hasn't brought in a four- or five- star recruit, according to Rivals. 17 recruits, 16 of them with 3 stars, is pretty good for us, historically, but in the grand scheme of things, not so much.

It should be noted that since I checked that last night at like 2:30 in the morning, we've been bumped up to No. 75, passing Temple. (Get some, Temple! Suck it, you owl bastards! Go eat some field mice or something!)

We're supposedly coming up, capitalizing on our recent success. We've won 17 football games in the past two seasons, yo! But we're decidedly not. I expected us to have a middle of the pack haul, and, well, we don't. 

I know what y'all are going to say, so, I'll just say it for you.

"But, hey, remember how Tyrell Sutton/Pat Fitzgerald/every other player in Northwestern history was underrecruited?We always find diamonds in the rough!"

"Those rankings are meaningless! It's just one person's opinions."

"But this year, we recruited based on need, not just trying to grab the most talented player."

"Hey, 16 3-star recruits isn't bad for us."

"NU sports is about making the best out of the players we had, outsmarting opponents, and winning with less talent."

 

Now, y'all, don't get me wrong. These are all arguments of varying reasonability, and all things I feel like I've said at one point in time. (Except the "Rivals is intentionally underranking NU." That's just silly, and if you don't believe me, I bet SMU, Tulsa, and UCF have less swing than NU, and they're ranked way higher than us. Conspiracies are for important things like presidential assassinations, not ranking the skill levels of mid-level defensive ends.)

 

Now, y'all, don't get me wrong. These are all arguments of varying reasonability, and all things I feel like I've said at one point in time. (Except the "Rivals is intentionally underranking NU." That's just silly, and if you don't believe me, I bet SMU, Tulsa, and UCF have less swing than NU, and they're ranked way higher than us. Conspiracies are for important things like presidential assassinations, not ranking the skill levels of mid-level defensive ends.)

It's just that I don't feel like recruiting undervalued prospects is a sustainable model of success. Yes, we've been very lucky to find a few diamonds in the rough. And we've competed with said rough-diamonds, and are doing pretty damn well for ourselves. And yes, NU has been blessed in the past decade and a half with great coaching staffs: via unique schemes teams aren't used to playing against and really phenomenal player development, they've taken teams that were way less highly-touted recruits than the teams we generally playing against and turned them into winners. Hats off to Coach Fitz. 

 

And, yes, to some extent, all this is silly. Some teams like Michigan and Notre Dame can't take a dump without hitting a 5-star recruit that will eventually sign to the school, and all they have to show for it in recent years are old-timey stadiums and depression, while we haven't ever had a single 5-star guy and we're doing mighty fine, in my opinion. A coaching staff and a team can do a lot regardless of how "talented" they are.

But if you need a reminder how important the opinions of a few creepy guys with clipboards at high school games is, peep our basketball program. You might have heard of it. Bill Carmody spent the better part of a decade with guys more suited for Princeton than the Big XI, and came away with little to show for it. In the past few years, his coaching staff has put an increased emphasis on recruiting, and they've come away with some great guys - guys other schools of competitive calibers were also looking at - and well, let's just say Evanston hasn't looked this bubbly since the introduction of flavored Andre. (Although I can say nothing wrong about regular Andre, don't get me wrong.) Carmody's always had a good system, and if you talk to anybody mildly related to NU or Big Ten basketball, they'll tell you that now that he has above-average players to slot into that system, the Wildcats are sorta scary. 

Fitz also has a good system, and I'm overwhelmingly confident in him. But if NU sports wants to be upwardly mobile, there can't be any laurel-resting, especially in terms of recruiting. A team with bottom-five talent can't do the things an NU sports fan dreams of, and according to a bunch of people whose job it is to rank recruiting classes, we have a team with bottom-five talent. Now, don't get me wrong. I'd love to see this group of guys we just recruited do great things.

But signing day is Wednesday, and I'm not saying "don't be optimistic." What I'm trying to say is,f our recruiting hauls don't soon start resembling those of the teams we want to outplay, the Era of Good Northwestern Sports can take a few more years before developing into the Era of Great Northwestern Sports we'd like to move into. 

 

(of course, Adam Rittenberg shows us that all this doesn't really matter by comparing the all-Big Ten teams, offense and defense, to what they were ranked coming into college. So, this is all pointless. Carry on with the interesting discussion in the comments, though.)