Indiana's basketball recruiting haul a boost for the entire Big Ten
The Big Ten needs Indiana basketball to not only be relevant, but to be one of the powers of the sport.
That might sound like a bunch of hooey to a Purdue fan. But since the Hoosiers last won a national championship in 1987, only 2 Big Ten teams have raised banners — Michigan in 1989 and Michigan State in 2000.
Indiana doesn’t have to be the team winning titles, but the league could certainly use another perennial top-10 anchor alongside the Spartans.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Just look at how many SEC programs are annually in the top 10 of college football recruiting rankings as they try to keep pace with Alabama and Georgia.
It’s a similar story in college basketball — if you recruit well, you’ve got a better chance at winning titles. And Big Ten teams have infrequently appeared near the top of the recruiting rankings in recent years.
With his first full recruiting class at Indiana, Mike Woodson is setting to change that equation. With Monday’s verbal commitment from 5-star power forward Malik Reneau, the Hoosiers now have the nation’s No. 5 class for 2022.
Clearly a lot can happen between now and the close of the signing period on May 18. Reneau, for instance, was committed to Florida before the Gators made a coaching change. And movements in the transfer portal can shake things up as well.
Should Woodson keep this class in the top 5, it would be Indiana’s highest since 2013. That class was signed in the wake of IU reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed — a program then seemingly poised to reach the top of the mountain under Tom Crean.
That obviously didn’t happen. But it was a lot easier to sell Indiana to recruits in the wake of what Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo accomplished.
Woodson has nothing of the sort to point to. It’s no small feat for him to bring the Hoosiers back to that level of recruiting on the heels of a modestly successful first season highlighted by a First Four win over Wyoming.
It also assuages one of the biggest concerns that surrounded Woodson’s hire. He hadn’t been involved with the college game since graduating from IU in 1980. It was reasonable to wonder whether the old-timer would be able to sell Indiana to a bunch of young bucks.
So far, so good. And with only so much to work with from the present, he’s been able to do so by blending a vision for the future with the tradition of the distant past.
As promising as this is for Indiana, the Hoosiers shouldn’t be the only B1G program to benefit from improved recruiting. Landing a top 5 class is not just a rarity for IU, but the Big Ten as a whole.
Top Big Ten recruiting classes since 2013
Per 247 Sports composite rankings
Michigan (National rank: 3)
Ohio State (14)
Ohio State (24!)
(Exclamation point added by author, who is incredulous no Big Ten program had a better signing class than Xavier, Western Kentucky or Virginia Tech.)
Ohio State (5)
Ohio State (6)
IU not alone in recruiting wins
Indiana may have the Big Ten’s top-rated recruiting class at the moment, but Woodson isn’t the only coach bringing his A-game on the recruiting trail.
There are currently 4 Big Ten programs with top-10 classes. Indiana is joined by Ohio State (6th), Michigan (8th) and Illinois (9th).
A year ago, Michigan and Michigan State were the only Big Ten teams that signed classes in the top 20. Now the league is poised to have twice as many schools in the top 10.
If that holds, it’s potentially seismic. Since 247 started ranking basketball signing classes in 2011, the Big Ten has never had more than 2 teams with top-10 classes.
Granted, a top-10 signing class in basketball has less chance of sustainable success than its football counterparts.
Many 5-star signees have little intention of sticking around longer than a year. Duke and Kentucky were simultaneously burned by their over-reliance on 1-and-dones when they missed the NCAA Tournament in 2021.
As is befitting the brutality of football, you can just mash as many 5- and 4-star prospects together until it finally works. If you whiff on a few prospects, so be it. Someone will take his place.
Basketball recruiting reflects life on the court. Space is limited. And success doesn’t hinge on star power alone. There is an art to finding the right chemistry. Just ask the 2022 Los Angeles Lakers. They’re available to answer with no playoff games to prepare for.
Indiana’s promising class does not guarantee future success, and the same goes for the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Fighting Illini. But it does show that the level of talent in the Big Ten may be on the rise. And that talent could very well be what digs the B1G out of its recent NCAA Tournament struggles.