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The Meaning Of Star Ratings

On Friday, I happened to catch this headline on ESPN’s College Basketball Nation Blog. “Barbee must stop drama.” The reference was to Auburn head coach Tony Barbee who just dismissed Shaq Johnson from the team following an arrest for marijuana possession.

A few weeks ago I was optimistic about where Auburn was headed. Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears was going to help bring stability to the point guard position. And while Auburn wasn’t going to be in contention with Kentucky and Florida, they at least had a chance to get out of the SEC cellar. Then Seagears shifted gears and decided to return to Rutgers. Then Johnson was arrested kicked off the team. And suddenly Auburn has only two players left on the roster who were even 3 star athletes out of high school. With that level of athleticism in the lineup, winning SEC games looks nearly impossible for the Tigers.

Auburn may finish in last place in the SEC again. And if Barbee is dismissed, the alumni will probably blame that “off-court drama” for his dismissal. But is Auburn recent failure really about off-court scandals? Sure it would help to lose fewer key players to transfers and off-court issues. And sure, finding a few diamonds in the rough would help. But that just glosses over the more painful reality. Even with a new multi-million dollar arena, Auburn still isn’t recruiting a high enough caliber athlete to compete in the SEC on a regular basis. With yet another recruiting class filled with sub-3 star prospects, almost any coach is going to fail.

Earlier this spring I talked about what to expect from Top 100 freshman and Top 10 JUCO recruits. Today, I want to dig a little deeper and show a few facts about star ratings. The purpose is to essentially show how little a team can expect from lower level freshmen. This doesn’t mean that there won’t occasionally be a diamond in the rough. The numbers I am reporting below are the averages. But the numbers below show how painfully little a team can expect from non-elite freshmen.

ESPN, Rivals, and Scout evaluate all the players entering D1, not just players in the Top 100. Players are given a “star rating” evaluation. And just as the RSCI Rankings combine the Top 100 lists, verbalcommits.com has come up with a handy metric combining the star rating systems into a consensus star rating from 2-5. (Verbalcommits.com uses a floor of 2, because not all the scouting services go down to 1-star.)

You may wonder how much information those scouting services have about low ranked players. But it turns out these star ratings continue to have a lot of predictive power, even at these lower levels. The following table shows the average freshmen performance based on star rating. Data are for all conferences from 2011-2013.

VC Star Rating

ORtg

PctMin

PctPoss

5 stars

104.6

56%

22%

>4 and <5

102.5

45%

21%

4 stars

97.6

38%

19%

>3 and <4

96.4

33%

18%

3 stars

95.6

30%

18%

>2 and <3

94.2

31%

18%

2 stars

91.8

24%

18%

What’s the difference between Kentucky’s 5-star freshmen and Auburn’s sub-3 star freshmen? The difference is over 10 points per 100 possessions on offense (104.6 vs 94.2). Of course a player’s teammates, coach, and overall environment will have a lot to do with his performance as well. But the raw averages paint a pretty compelling picture.

And playing time continues to dwindle for players with lower star ratings. While 5-star players play only 56 percent of the available minutes on average in their first season, 3- and 2-star players rarely make the primary rotation. In their first year 3-star recruits play just 30 percent of the available minutes, and 2-star recruits play just 24 percent of the available minutes on average.

Now Auburn doesn’t have high basketball expectations. As Eamonn Brennan effectively articulated, the fanbase can tolerate a few losing seasons if the team is building to something. But with this caliber of incoming recruits, what is the team building towards? How can this roster sell hope to the fanbase?

Auburn fans might be willing to give up on basketball and concentrate on SEC football. But basketball weaknesses need not be permanent. You only need five players on the court at once. This week Northwestern’s new head coach Chris Collins added the Wildcat’s first Top 100 prospect since 1993. If Northwestern with zero NCAA trips in its history can still attract recruits, that shows that recruiting in a power conference shouldn’t be impossible.

But if Barbee can’t bring in 4- or 5-star prospects, at least Auburn should be attracting 3-star prospects. Quality coaches can make the NCAA tournament with those caliber players. Almost no one can reach the tournament when starting over with the caliber of athletes on Auburn’s current roster.

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