If the current recruiting classes are any indication of how the BIG 10 basketball scene will be next year, then we’re in for a treat. As of November 2016, the BIG 10 is competing with the SEC for most top 100 recruits in the nation, an unheard of statistic as the BIG 10 hasn’t won a National Championship since 2000. Not only are they leading conferences in top 100 recruits, but teams like Illinois are at the head of the class. This may come to a surprise to a lot of people, but Illinois has steadily been in conversations with top recruits every year with Groce at the helm. It seems like every year they just miss out on top talent and continue to be mediocre in a conference full of powerhouses like Michigan State and newcomers Maryland. But why is this year any different? Why is the BIG 10 pulling its weight so profoundly and historically dominant conferences like the AAC and Big East are trailing?
The easy answer is…they started winning. Much like how it’s easier to market a winning team like the Golden State Warriors, it’s easier to sell a winning conference. We’ve seen this forever with the SEC, and the BIG 10 is starting to turn that corner as well. I believe that the inclusion of winning football teams and large market names like Urban Meyer and Lovie Smith have had a direct correlation on the ability to bring top talent to those teams as well. Frequently visits from recruits end with or start with a visit to Lovie Smith at the University of Illinois. There’s no reason not to use star power if you’ve got it.
Obviously the answer to why can’t be so simple, so let’s look into the more complicated reasonings behind recruitment success. First and foremost, teams have been doing a much better job of protecting local talent. The Midwest has steadily produced great basketball talent, but are lost to prestigious programs. 2017’s recruiting class so far has been able to hold onto talent from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin which bodes well for not only current teams but future recruiting as well. On top of local talent, it seems that the conference itself has been increasingly more aggressive with recruiting as well as providing some stability and star power. Nebraska has added some historical significance and competition to the conference even with a lackluster basketball program. Michigan State has been the poster child for consistency as March comes around and National Football Championships from the likes of Ohio State put the BIG 10 back on the map just as they were starting to fall off.
It’s hard to say if the hot recruiting will keep up, but currently, the BIG 10 has to be happy as a conference. Successful March Madness runs have created excitement, which helped to recruit, which in turn starts the process all over again. At this point in time, the BIG 10 holds 11 of the top 100 recruits in America with several more still undecided but leaning towards BIG 10 schools. The renewed rivalries and quality of basketball should spike drastically in the next few years, and it will be an exciting time to be a fan. Whether it’s Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland or even Penn State, the competition is going to be great. Let’s just hope 2017 isn’t an anomaly and the BIG 10 can give us something to be proud of for years to come.