There seems to be an unlikely Cinderella story in college basketball every March.
It’s part of the reason America loves the NCAA tournament so much. We fall for the underdog, and in a single-elimination format, anything can (and usually does) happen.
Nevertheless, for every Gonzaga, VCU and George Mason that makes a deep run in March, there are 10 blue-blood programs waiting for them in later rounds. What’s more, it is these powerhouse teams (Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, etc.) that dominate the rankings and take home most of the trophies, be it conference championships or the ultimate prize.
The quickest way to shift the typical balance of power within conferences or on a national stage is to compete with (and beat) the powerhouse programs on the recruiting trail. After all, the future of a program is entirely dependent on how effective its coach is at convincing 17- and 18-year-old kids to wear the right colors.
Here are five recruiting coups that could shift the balance of power in the near future in some of the power conferences.
*All recruiting rankings are provided by Scout.com.
Of all the potential balance of power shifts that are on this list, this one may be the quickest.
The ACC is supposed to be Duke and North Carolina’s conference, at least recently. In fact, you have to go back 10 years to the 2002-03 season to find the last time the Blue Devils or Tar Heels did not win at least a share of the conference crown.
But North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried might have something to say about that.
He landed the No. 5 ranked recruiting class in 2012, which was better than Duke, North Carolina and the rest of the ACC. Rodney Purvis, a 5-star shooting guard from right there in Raleigh, is the leader of the group, but Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren are 4-star weapons in their own right.
Throw that class on the floor with star point guard Lorenzo Brown, and all of a sudden the argument can be made that the Wolfpack are the conference favorites heading into the 2012-13 season.
That may not sit well in Chapel Hill or Durham.
Admittedly, Georgia Tech’s 2012 recruiting class probably doesn’t have the potential to shift the ACC balance of power as much as conference counterpart North Carolina State’s class does.
However, the fact that the Yellow Jackets, who, frankly speaking, haven’t really been relevant on a national stage since the days of Jarrett Jack, landed a top-25 ranked class is another indicator of a possible trend.
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils may finally be getting some stiffer competition in the ACC in the coming years (of course, the fact that Syracuse and Pittsburgh are joining the party also pretty much ensures this).
Georgia Tech is bringing in four prospects in its 2012 class, including 4-star forward Marcus Hunt and 5-star center Robert Carter. Both Carter and Hunt are from Georgia, which should be encouraging for Yellow Jacket fans hoping to close the state’s borders from a recruiting standpoint.
Georgia Tech may not be taking home a national title with its 2012 class, but it could find itself competing in a strong ACC for years to come if it continues to recruit at a similar rate.
Providence has been in the NCAA tournament four times in the past 22 seasons, and it has been out of the first round just one time in the past 25 seasons.
Well, head coach Ed Cooley is out to change that.
Led by 5-star prospects Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, Cooley brought in the No. 10 ranked class in the entire nation in 2012. But it’s not the overall ranking that is the most notable. It is the fact that the Friars had the highest-ranked class in the entire Big East.
What’s more, Syracuse and Pittsburgh were the only other Big East teams in the top 20, and both of those schools are leaving for the ACC sooner rather than later.
While I am not meaning to imply that Providence will be racking up Big East crowns for years to come, the fact of the matter is that the Friars will have a core of players that will be talented enough to compete with any of their conference mates if Cooley continues to recruit at this pace.
Wait, is Colorado starting to get the hang of this basketball thing?
Last season in their first NCAA tournament game, the Buffaloes beat UNLV for the first time since the 2002-03 season. It was only Colorado’s second tournament victory in 43 years.
That’s not exactly a UCLA- or Duke-like resume.
But things may be starting to change in Boulder.
Head coach Tad Boyle landed a top-25 recruiting class in 2012 that was a solid way to continue the momentum the team built with a postseason victory. Of the six prospects in the group, three of them are 4-star players, including center Josh Scott.
The Pac-12 is considered a two-team race for now (UCLA and Arizona), but if Colorado can rack up a couple more top-25 classes, perhaps the Buffaloes can build a better resume of their own.
Ohio State and Michigan State have won at least a share of six of the past seven Big Ten regular-season championships. Moreover, the Spartans won last year’s conference tournament and the Buckeyes won the two before.
At the same time, Michigan only has one conference title since the 1985-86 season.
But that one title was last year (it was shared with Michigan State and Ohio State).
Head coach John Beilein is quickly starting to turn things around in Ann Arbor. Additionally, if the Wolverines are going to truly shift the balance of power in the Big Ten, Beilein is going to have to do it on the recruiting trail.
And he has done just that.
Michigan landed the No. 9 ranked class in 2012 and currently holds the No. 7 spot in the unfinished class of 2013. Both classes are rated higher than those compiled by Michigan State and Ohio State, although the 2013 process is far from over.
While the supposed football revival in Ann Arbor ran into a brick wall that looked a lot like Alabama in September, the basketball program is about to be officially back.
That is if it's not already.