Many of the Class of 2015's top recruits opted not to sign with traditional powerhouse programs
With only a few unsigned prospects left in the 2015 class, recruiting analysts can begin to evaluate the top classes. But this year might make it a little more difficult than in years past. The top prospects of this class have not chosen the national powerhouses as in previous years, instead opting to sign with the underdogs. So with that, could the college basketball recruiting landscape finally be leveling out enough to provide more contenders for this year's national championship?
In 2014 the top class belonged to Duke, who was able to bring in four of the top 25 players in the ESPN 300 led by No. 1 overall prospect C Jahlil Okafor and No. 4 overall G Tyus Jones. Kentucky finished in a close second by also bringing in four of the top 25 led by No. 6 overall prospect F Trey Lyles. North Carolina would finish with the third-best class after bringing in three of the top 25 players, a trio led by No. 8 overall SF Justin Jackson. Kansas was right behind the Tar Heels for the third spot, but would finish fourth with its crop led by No. 3 overall prospect F Cliff Alexander. But the surprise of 2014 was UNLV, as Running Rebels were able to secure three prospects in the top 50 led by G Rashad Vaughn (No. 19 overall).
Let's fast forward to the 2015 class and look at how these powerhouse programs fared. Duke was able to continue its momentum, landing four prospects in the top 25, starting with No. 3 overall F Brandon Ingram. But other fellow blue bloods weren't as fortunate. Kentucky was looking forward to another great class filled with superstars, but for once John Calipari and his staff were unable to close the deal on many. Kentucky still was able to land two of the top 25 — No. 2 overall C Skal Labissiere and No. 13 G Isaiah Briscoe — but weren't able to replace all the talent that has already departed Lexington. No. 7 overall prospect Chieck Diallo and No. 12 C Stephen Zimmerman were able to give Kansas and UNLV, respectively, a boast in the rankings, but both teams were only able to land one other top 50 prospect each. The big loser in this class was North Carolina, as the Tar Heels were unable to land any prospects in the top 50, due in large part to concerns about potential NCAA penalties stemming from the university's wide-ranging academic scandal.
While all the big-name programs were trying to continue their recruiting success, a few unexpected schools rose to the challenge and lured talent to their respective institution. LSU was a winner this year by bringing in two of the top-15 prospects led by No. 1 overall F Ben Simmons, but the Tigers weren't the only rising team in this class. Cal was also able to land two top prospects, No. 4 overall G Jaylen Brown and No. 8 overall Ivan Rabb. Texas A&M was arguably the biggest winner by bringing in three of the top 50 prospects, led by No. 27 overall C Tyler Davis and No. 31 F Elijah Thomas. This success propelled the Aggies to their first top 10 class in over a decade. Florida State, Indiana, Marquette, Maryland, Mississippi State, Purdue, South Carolina and Villanova also were each able to land a top-15 prospect in this class while Memphis, Texas, and Washington were able to land multiple top-50 prospects.
The 2015 class was able to show that the top prospects aren't just looking at the powerhouses anymore and this trend will likely continue when the 2016 class starts to take shape. There have already been major surprises this cycle with Georgia, Harvard, Rice, Georgia State and Texas A&M building momentum early in the process, but will these influxes of highly regarded talent be enough for any of them to derail the powerhouse teams from adding another national championship to their collection?
Duke showed everyone what a No. 1-ranked class can do for a program but even the Blue Devils must admit the college basketball recruiting landscape is changing and the underdogs are building momentum for future classes.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.