It’s been a rough stretch for the Kansas Jayhawks. It’s now clear why — the recruiting pipeline had taken a hit.
The Jayhawks have lost their last three games with ranked opponents, and have lost five of their last eight games going into their first Sunflower State Showdown game this season with Kansas State. Even with Kansas State sporting just one Big 12 win, Kansas claiming the win isn’t as done a deal as you might think.
Kansas will probably still find its way into the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Bill Self may find a way to right the ship enough to make the Jayhawks an impact team in the tournament. But the issue right now is larger than just one season. It’s actually been building for three seasons, as both Fran Fraschilla and Dick Vitale have pointed out during ESPN telecasts the past two weeks.
I watch just about every Big 12 game, and in losses to Oklahoma and Tennessee, both Fraschilla and Vitale have talked about the ‘cloud’ of the NCAA’s investigation in the Kansas basketball program, one that is part of the overall FBI probe into college basketball. They both agree — as do I — that finalizing any punishment for the Jayhawks has taken WAY too long. We learned about the FBI investigation in 2017. We learned about the NCAA investigating Kansas as a result of that investigation in 2018. In fact, I know exactly when we learned about it.
That was Big 12 Media Days in Kansas City in 2018. Yep, nearly three years ago. And no end in sight. In fact, The Athletic reported new information about the investigation last weekend, including reporting from Bruce Feldman that notes a call transcript between a Kansas assistant coach and an Adidas rep named James Gatto that implies money changed hands to pay for a recruit’s visit.
Back in 2018, Self said he didn’t anticipate issues with recruiting. Well, he may not have anticipated them. But they’re happening.
Kansas has always been able to bring in big recruits (whether you think they’re paying for them or not). But when I went back and examined the recruiting data before the investigation and after the investigation’s announcement. It’s clear the program’s ability to cultivate blue-chip players has taken a hit.
Let’s consider 2018 our line of demarcation, shall we? I looked at the three classes before that — 2015, 2016 and 2017. According to 247Sports.com, the Jayhawks had three Top 20 classes. Combined, those three classes pulled in four 5-star recruits and eight Top 100 recruits. Those classes included Lagerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett, all of which were Top 100 players. Garrett, of course, is still in Lawrence.
In 2018, the Jayhawks roped in the No. 5 class in the country. This was the year the NCAA investigation began to unfold. That class featured two 5-star recruits and three Top 100 recruits. The two 5-star recruits — Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson — are gone. The only remaining Top 100 player from that class is David McCormack.
Since then, the decline has been gradual. But now it’s noticeable. The 2019 class was ranked No. 15, but for the first time in our sample there was no 5-star player, though Self roped in three Top 100 players — Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna and Dajuan Harris. That class also included Christian Braun (No. 130), and one might argue Braun’s impact, to this point, has been the most significant among the four.
The 2020 Class dropped to No. 22 overall and, for the first time in our sample, the Jayhawks didn’t have the No. 1 class in the Big 12. Self signed a 5-star player in Bryce Thompson, but Thompson was also the only prep 100 player. Self did snag the No. 2 juco player in Tyon Grant-Foster. But the rest of the class included Gethro Muscadin (No. 167) and Latrell Jossell (No. 309).
The 2021 Class, for now, includes a pair of Top 100 recruits in Zach Clemence and KJ Adams. But there are no 5-star recruits, and Self has a hard commit from another juco player, Sydney Curry. Right now, the 2021 Class is No. 38 overall and No. 3 in the Big 12. That would be the lowest-ranked class in the seven-year sample and would continue the decline of the program’s overall recruiting.
Since the revelation of the investigation, the Jayhawks have signed one 5-star recruit and, assuming the 2021 Class holds, five prep Top 100 players. For most programs, that would be cause for celebration in a three-year period. But not at Kansas. Not at the home of the rules of basketball. Not for a program that has only had to fire ONE head coach. And the program has only had eight of them.
That erosion of 5-star recruits is starting to show, especially as players continue to leave the program early for the NBA. That ‘cloud’ of the NCAA investigation is starting to show. Recruits aren’t easy to fool these days. They watch the news. They watch the games. They see Kansas struggling and think, ‘Wow. Do I REALLY want to go there now?’
Especially when no one has any clue when the penalties will come down and how severe they will be. Right now Kansas’ fate is in the hands of the newly-formed Independent Accountability Resolution Process, and their final ruling cannot be appealed. I wrote last month that Florida’s punishment for some relatively minor violations — including a one-year show-cause for head football coach Dan Mullen — could give the NCAA a template for punishing Self without forcing Kansas to fire him, if it comes to it.
But, for us to get there, the NCAA has punish the Jayhawks first. And something tells me Self wishes they would hurry it up. Because, when it comes to recruiting, it’s cramping his style and hurting the on-court product.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard. Send him a tweet with your question to be included in this week’s Big 12 Basketball Mailbag, which appears each Friday during the conference season.
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