Heralded recruiting classes get lots of attention every offseason -- mostly because they inspire hope for the long-term future of programs, sometimes because they actually are a great indicator of success on the way in the upcoming season. For instance, Kentucky enrolled the nation's top-ranked class in 2011, then won the NCAA Tournament in 2012. And Duke enrolled the nation's top-ranked class in 2014, then won the NCAA Tournament in 2015. So, sometimes, these unbelievable recruiting classes do pay off immediately.
But other times ... they don't.
Last season is a good example of the latter.
That's when Memphis, Kentucky, Duke, Oregon and Villanova enrolled the best five recruiting classes, according to 247Sports, but only one of those schools, Duke, finished in the top 15 at KenPom. So, in general, the Class of 2019, for various reasons, had a disappointing impact on the top of the sport.
But what about the Class of 2020?
Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Tennessee and Arizona are enrolling the nation's best five recruiting classes this year, according to 247Sports. Will those classes result in those schools competing for the 2021 national title (provided there's a season, which remains unclear because of the COVID-19 pandemic)?
Let's take a look!
Recruiting class ranking: No. 1
Preseason Top 25 And 1 ranking: No. 14
Nobody has endured more roster turnover year after year for the past decade than John Calipari. So if anybody is prepared to start from scratch, it's him. But, make no mistake, the Kentucky coach is basically starting from scratch considering he's returning just one player -- ONE PLAYER! -- from last season's team, and that one player (Keion Brooks) only averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. So this recruiting class should make the Wildcats talented enough to be good again, and me having them 14th in the Top 25 And 1 proves I'm mostly a believer. But history shows Calipari's teams that are this reliant on first-year players often have ups and downs early (and sometimes from start to finish). So anybody expecting a smooth ride to a Final Four, or even a smooth ride in general, is maybe being a little too optimistic.
Recruiting class ranking: No. 2
Preseason Top 25 And 1 ranking: No. 15
The Tar Heels were dreadful last season, limping to a `14-19 record that Roy Williams called the toughest of his coaching career. But if you wanted to get your UNC jokes off, you should've done it then because the Tar Heels appear equipped to bounce-back well thanks to a recruiting class featuring three five-star prospects -- Caleb Love, Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. That's strong. And the fact that those freshmen will be joining a roster with some talented experienced pieces (Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black) suggests the Tar Heels should go from finishing in the bottom three of the ACC last season to finishing in the top three of the ACC this season.
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Recruiting class ranking: No. 3
Preseason Top 25 And 1 ranking: No. 7
The Blue Devils are losing the top three scorers from a team that finished tied for second in the ACC, but Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore are back to provide an experienced nucleus of players who averaged at least 20.5 minutes per game last season. Meantime, Duke's recruiting class that features a national-best four five-star prospects -- Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward and Mark Williams -- will once again have the Blue Devils loaded with future NBA talent. So I know the anti-Duke crowd isn't going to want to hear this, but here's the truth: Mike Krzyzewski has a roster good enough on paper to compete for what would be his sixth national title. The Blue Devils won't be the preseason favorites. But they should be on anybody 's short list of true contenders to win the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Recruiting class ranking: No 4
Preseason Top 25 And 1 ranking: No. 11
Tennessee went a combined 57-15 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons while finishing in the top two of the SEC standings each year. Unsurprisingly, especially after Lamonte Turner had shoulder surgery after 11 games, the Vols slipped last season. But, just like North Carolina, UT is set to bounce-back strongly. Assuming Yves Pons withdraws from the 2020 NBA Draft, Tennessee will return five of its top six scorers and pair them with a recruiting class headlined by five-star prospects Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. So a top-two finish in the SEC for the third time in four years is very much possible. In fact, for my money, the Vols should be the preseason favorite in the SEC.
Recruiting class ranking: No. 5
Preseason Top 25 And 1 ranking: Unranked
Arizona had three projected first-round picks -- Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji -- on last season's team but still lost 11 times and only finished fifth in the Pac-12 standings. That was disappointing. And now all three of those players are off to the NBA Draft, which means the Wildcats are losing the top six scorers from last season's team and returning nobody who averaged at least 20 minutes per game. So, yeah, Sean Miller's recruiting class is strong and something that will likely have Arizona back near the top, or even at the top, of the Pac-12 in the coming years. But classes that feature zero five-star prospects, like Arizona's this year, don't usually result in immediate success at the highest level of the sport.