Looks Like University Of Illinois - Taz Nicholson

Feb 15, 2020

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I feel a rant coming on. I usually do this when I have to catch up on an LLUOI post. I'm thinking about the recruit, but I'm also thinking about some recruiting thing. Today's rant: small recruiting classes and their ranking. Or perhaps I should say "ranking".

Let's start with a pet peeve you've heard from me before. Northwestern will add 11 players in March (they always offer and recruit early), and you'll inevitably see some headline where Northwestern has "the #9 class in the country". If you're like me, you want to throw tomatoes at that headline because in no way is that the #9 class in the country. Every other class will fill up with players, and when they do, that Northwestern class will fall from 9th to 51st. At no time did Northwestern have a top-10 class. They simply had numbers early. Rankings should only be looked at when the classes are full.

The classes are full, and the Illinois class ranks 87th on the composite rankings, two spots behind September opponent Bowling Green who just finished 3-9. All over Twitter, that's the talking point. "Bowl game and then 87th-best class?" I'm just as angry and tomato-throwy as the Northwestern example above. Comparing classes of 25 to classes of 13 and pretending the formula is set to even those out drives me crazy.

I won't even use Illinois here. Let's go with another "my God, what a recruiting disaster" school: Virginia Tech. After consistent top-5 classes, the Va Tech class ranked 14th out of 14 ACC teams. Disaster!

Well, yes, it was a big drop. But I saw several national writers use Virginia Tech's composite ranking (72nd) as some big gotcha, and it makes me just as angry as "Northwestern has a top-10 class". What's the main reason Va Tech is ranked 72nd? Because they had a small senior class and only signed 15 players (Illinois signed 13).

I did this last year with the Illinois class, so I'll do it again with the Va Tech class: using the class calculator with the composite rankings, I added five random players - no stars, just guys with a ranking the same as the average player in the Va Tech class - and looked at the ranking. It would climb from 14th to 9th in the ACC rankings and from 72nd to 57th in the overall rankings (again, just adding five warm bodies). Bad, no doubt, especially for Virginia Tech. But not "72nd-best class" in the same way that Northwestern never has the 9th-best class. It's an incomplete number.

To be fair, mathematically, a system to even things out is impossible. Bowling Green is 85th and Illinois is 87th because Bowling Green signed 32 players and Illinois signed 13. 247 sports, keepers of the Composite Rankings, made their best attempt at trying to figure out if Bowling Green's 32 players would provide more than Illinois' 13 higher-ranked players, but really, that's impossible. So I agree with their system. Heavy weighting for 4-star and 5-star players (add one single 5-star player to Virginia Tech's class calcluator above and the class would move even higher from 57th to 43rd) and diminishing returns as your total reaches 22 or 23 players (add a low 3-star as your 12th player, you still get a ratings bump; add a low 3-star as your 24th player, your ranking barely moves). They make the best of a bad job, because the task is basically impossible.

And it's getting even harder with the transfer portal. We see teams across the country saving 3-4-5 scholarships to chase transfers (Illinois saved 6), and those players don't really count in these rankings. Which is why I'm such a proponent of the roster rankings. It's really the only way to compare team to team. When a team has a class of 13 and then brings in 26 the next year, that class of 26 will be ranked much higher, but that number got a huge boost simply through "recruited a lot of players". All that matters on Saturday is your overall talent (last 4-5 classes) vs. their overall talent.

(Those "talent composite" rankings are still clunky - Illinois got a huge boost from Wole Betiku still being considered a 5-star and Brandon Peters a 4-star. Had they been re-ranked after transferring, the Illinois number would have been lower. But there are 5-stars who didn't prove to be 5-stars on Florida's roster, and they don't get dinged for that, so it's as close to "fair" as you can get, I think. If the Big Ten gets its way and transfers are allowed without having to sit out, I predict that recruiting class rankings more or less go away and "composite talent" is all that will matter in five years. Or at least some method where transfers are added to every "recruiting class".)

Anyway, that's my rant. With Jadon Thompson not qualifying, this Illinois class is dinged even more. What used to be four 4-stars dropped to zero (Thompson and CJ Dixon no longer part of the class; James Frenchie and Reggie Love both dropped from 4-star to 3-star after committing). Add six more players to the Illinois class and it probably only climbs to 12th in the conference, which is bad bad bad. So don't get me wrong here - this is not a good recruiting class by any means. It's simply not "87th", and ignoring the six transfers which will be added in the next five months gets more and more problematic every year.

Hey look at that. I wrote the recruiting class summary after all. And I buried it in a LLUOI post. Let's get to that post.

When Thompson decommitted, I wrote that it looked like we'd bring in 7 transfers this spring. Thompson was "replaced" by Tahveon "Taz" Nicholson, so it's back to six open scholarships available to transfers. There were six transfers added April-through-August last year (Sidney, Betiku, Peters, Imatorbhebhe, C. Brown, and D. Smith), so it looks like we'll see the same this year. That's my guess anyway.

As for Nicholson, he's difficult to read. He was headed to Florida Atlantic after high school but didn't get in. So he did a year of prep school in Florida and now he's on his way to Champaign. A friend tweeted me that we found "Devon Witherspoon II", but I don't agree with that. He looks like an offensive kid who we're going to teach to play defensive back (the press release lists him as a "DB", so I guess that's where he's going to play despite nearly all wide receiver highlights on his film).

My comp from the current roster would be (recently departed) Dominic Stampley. We discovered Stampley after juco and discovered Nicholson at prep school. Neither was a top target but we had open rides and took a shot. Stampley contributed a lot in 2018 but then fell out of favor in 2019 and will now transfer, so here's hoping Nicholson is more than that, but that's the player I see on film. Shorter, quicker guy (the punt return type) but might not be the athlete that, say, Devon Witherspoon is on film. Despite being a 0-star recruit, I gave Witherspoon 2.5 Cruises (should have stuck with my gut and gone with three), but I don't see the same on film with Nicholson. Hope I'm wrong.

So I think I'll settle on 1.5 Cruises. This is a project (are we sure he's not going to end up on offense?), and these projects usually only have a 20% chance of working out. As I always say when I do this: prove me wrong, kid.

Taz Nicholson - 1.5 Tom Cruises


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