Talent gap between Ohio St., Wichita St. has closed since high school

LOS ANGELES -- During Friday afternoon’s press conference, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was telling the story of how he ended up getting Cleanthony Early. How they found the Division III junior college transfer at an event in St. Louis.

Forward Carl Hall was in another room, talking about how he had to take almost two years off from basketball at Middle Georgia College due to a heart condition.

Marshall also discussed how guard Ron Baker decided to walk on for the Shockers. Baker and his family paid his own way -- even got into debt -- in order to play for Wichita State instead of South Dakota State or Arkansas-Little Rock.

Going up and down the Wichita State roster, there are plenty of stories exactly like those three. There are no blue-chip recruits in the Shockers’ rotation, with sixth-man Fred Van Vleet the highest-rated prospect coming out of high school.

Van Vleet was a borderline top-100 recruit and top-20 point guard in the class of 2012.

And he’s the most highly touted player on Wichita State.

Van Vleet would have been among the least-hyped prospects for Ohio State.

“We don’t get complete players,” Marshall said. “And maybe that’s the difference in us and . . . maybe even Ohio State -- five-star recruits walking in the door.”

Ohio State’s entire rotation is made up of four- and five-star recruits, save for Amedeo Della Valle and Trey McDonald, who play the fewest minutes among scholarship players for the Buckeyes, and Boston College transfer Evan Ravenel.

Yet those two guys would be considered impressive “gets” for Wichita State coming out of high school.

“I've always said this: I've had the privilege of coaching two national players of the year, and neither one of them were top-75 high school players out of high school,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “As I go out recruiting every year, I can’t tell the difference between the 20th player and the 120th player in the country. Coach Marshall has done a tremendous job in terms of putting those guys in position to be successful.”

Second-seeded Ohio State will take on No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday afternoon for the right to go to the Final Four. It’s going to be a grind-it-out affair that will likely go down to the final minutes. Despite the Shockers’ lower seed, they are getting healthy and are clicking at the right time. It wouldn’t surprise too many people to see Wichita State beat the Buckeyes.

But, on paper -- especially coming out of high school -- there’s a talent gap between the two rosters. 

Outside of Van Vleet, there was very little high school hype surrounding the Shockers. The only other player with any sort of rating on Scout.com, Rivals.com or ESPN.com was forward Jake White, who was ranked as the No. 52 power forward in the country by ESPN.com. Every other player in the rotation was either not in the player database at those three sites or was a junior college transfer.

“It shows that our coaches know how to recruit kids that aren’t on the radar,” Baker said. “All the guys on the team have that toughness in them, that swagger in them. To me, it’s the coaches knowing who are good players and who are not.”

Throughout the season, Ohio State faced familiar faces. Most Big Ten teams are filled with recruits that Buckeye players went up against in high school or on the AAU scene. The same goes for the marquee non-conference opponents on the schedule.

Last year in the NCAA tournament, Ohio State faced Syracuse in the Elite Eight. There is little doubt that many of those individuals had matched up before during springs and summer on the travel-team circuit.

It certainly won’t be the same on Saturday. Both Sam Thompson and Amir Williams don’t recall ever playing against any Wichita State players during their high school days, while multiple Shockers shared the same sentiment about the Buckeyes.

With that said, don’t expect the presumed talent gap to be indicative of Saturday’s outcome. Both teams have the pieces to reach Atlanta.

“If they’re here, they’re a great team," Thompson said. "They’re in the Elite Eight just like we’re in the Elite Eight. All the high school accolades don’t matter now. We still have to go out and play the game.”

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