Everyone knows, regardless of the fan base that you might be representing, the likes of Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas usually will come up with a top ranked recruiting class in any given year. However, why not give some dues to the non-power conference rung, where, every March, a few programs jump out from the fray and surprise some with exhilarating runs in the tournament.
Now that the college signing period is present and the season is just a few more days away, let’s give a look at ten of the top non-power conference recruiting classes entering the early signing period, a group led by the likes of Western Kentucky, Northeastern, and VCU.
In his first year on campus at Arkansas State, Grant McCasland, a one-time Baylor assistant, has a lot of reason for optimism thanks to his solid, three-man class in the hopper. The headliner of the class is Mark Tikhonenko, a 6-foot-10 big man with a sweet jumper from deep but the length and tougness that causes some damage around the basket. Tikhonenko isn’t the lone quality addition for the Sun Belt program as ASU hit it off in the backcourt. Solidifying its perimeter with Marquis Eaton, a combo guard from the state that can play either spot in the backcourt, and Travis Ingram, a premier athlete with length for days that makes the Virginia native a shutdown defender at various spots on the floor, together, the three-man crop creates one of the best non-power conference classes throughout the nation this fall.
Out west, Dave Rose has done a great job finding the best talent throughout the state and beyond where this year, the Cougars did an excellent job of bringing in two of the top prospects that call Utah their home. First, Christian PoPoola, a strong scoring presence off of the ball with good size where he can also playmake when asked upon, should fit in nicely within the WCC program. Creating a strong guard-big tandem is Kolby Lee, a blue-collar center that can score with skill but some grit down low, yet is more than capable of stepping out and hitting the perimeter jumper when given the chance. Together, the duo gives BYU another strong class heading into the winter months and one of the best groups from the non-power conference rung.
Like his predecessors at Murray State, Matt McMahon has put together a solid staff and together, the group has lured in some quality talent to the OVC program. This year is nothing out of the norm and thanks to two early additions from the south, the Racers have no plans of going anywhere in the years ahead. Tevin Brown, a 6-foot-4 swingman that can play both spots off of the ball out on the perimeter and has a go-to jumper that he can hit with consistency from off the catch, is the gem to the class. Beating out several higher level programs for the Alabama native, the same was done for the other committed Racer, JA Morant. The 6-foot-1 lead guard is super explosive at the basket as the duo should work nicely next to each other creating for an excellent class headed to Murray next fall.
Quietly, the CAA has remade itself and become one of the best mid-major leagues in all of the land and within the RPI and KenPom rankings, even outdoing a few of the perceived higher level conferences. The recruiting trail has remained kind to those throughout it and this year, it is Northeastern that sits atop of the rankings and looks to be one of the best non-power conference classes. Jason Strong, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Florida, is the sleeper from the class as the deceptively athletic but skilled big man could become an all-conference type upon the proper progressions. He will be joined by Tomas Murphy, a 6-foot-8 skilled and active forward, creating a strong interior in the years ahead. Out top, Derrick Cook and Myles Franklin, two jumbo-sized combo guards that define versatility and display major length, come together to create an excellent haul early on for Bill Coen’s program.
The talk of late out of the Ivy League has centered around the work that Tommy Amaker and his Harvard basketball program has done. However, the depth throughout the conference has continued to improve and entering the new season, it is Princeton that is thought of as the favorites to win the league. On the recruiting front, the Tigers remain out in the lead and look to have one of the best classes from outside of the power conference rung. Landing Jerome Desrosiers early in the process, the Canadian forward will immediately invigorate the program with his toughness and energy levels out of the frontcourt. He will be aided by Elijah Barnes, a productive forward from New Jersey, and Sabastian Much, a talented perimeter based forward that should excel early on. To top it all off, Ryan Schwieger, 6-foot-5 guard that can play all three spots on the perimeter, enters the mix, giving Princeton great reason for optimism moving ahead.
Entering the early signing period and out in the WCC, it is not BYU, Gonzaga, or Saint Mary’s sitting atop of the class rankings. Sure, each school has done great work on the trail once again this year but it is actually Santa Clara, with former Arizona State and NC State head coach Herb Sendek at the lead control, which has put together a super strong group of three committed seniors. The Broncos have gone for mix and match pieces all across the floor and found guys that can make shots, bring good toughness to their respective spots on the court, and can grow that much more within the WCC program. Matt Turner, a solid mid-range scorer of the ball, Josip Vrankic, a pick and pop 4-man that is a weight room away from being an issue within the WCC, and Shaq Walters, a major sleeper from England, come together in creating the league’s best class and one that should allow for greater success for Santa Clara in the nearby future.
First year head coach Rob Ehsan has been tasked with keeping together a fully loaded roster that now Stanford head coach Jerod Haase left over upon leaving for the west coast but even if things don’t go as planned this season, the Blazers have a lot to look forward to with its 2017 class. Landing two prospects that could have committed to power conference programs, the CUSA gang has reason to be excited. Led by Scootie Bryant, the 6-foot-2 lead guard out of Florida will bring immense toughness and production to the lead guard spot. Beating out the likes of Clemson and Iowa State for the floor general, Bryant will be a major asset for the next few years. Down low, UAB went with potential in Makhtar Gueye, a long and lean big man that can run the floor for days. Together, Gueye and Bryant create a dynamic two-man class and one that will reap much success within the new era that Ehsan now is at the lead at in Birmingham.
Another year, another recruiting class that continues to gather excellent versatility and talent for the VCU Rams as Will Wade has done major work on the recruiting front. Prior head coach Shaka Smart cut his teeth on his ability to find under the radar talent that would outwork others during their collegiate playing careers. Towards the end of his tenure in Richmond, Smart and his staff began to accumulate more highly touted recruits but Wade and his crew has taken things to the next level. Led by Lavar Batts, a 6-foot-1 lead guard that sits within the top-75 of our 2017 rankings, there might not be a better floor general for the up-tempo system implored at VCU. He will be joined by some talent in the frontcourt with the likes of premier rebounder Marcus Santos-Silva and super skilled and versatile forward Sean Mobley. Together, the trio should contribute early on and grow that much further within the confines of the A10 frontrunner.
One-time Mississippi State head coach, Rick Stansbury has been nothing short of remarkable during his quick time in Bowling Green thus far. The Conference USA bunch went out and did some early work on the transfer wire but it was the pledge that they landed with Mitchell Robinson that took the entire industry by storm. A 7-foot rim runner with some Tyson Chandler to him, Robinson is a top-10 recruit headed to a non-power conference program. You do the math; Robinson should excel early on and in a feisty way. He will be joined by another top-100 recruit in Josh Anderson, a do-it-all perimeter weapon that, with Robinson, gives WKU the top non-power conference class this fall.
When one thinks about the Mountain West Conference, usually the school names of San Diego State, UNLV, and New Mexico pop up when assessing who might be competing for the league’s title. However, Wyoming seems to continue to fly under the radar and now with Allen Edwards running the program, the Cowboys are ready to make another push for a conference championship where it currently sits with the best group of senior commits within the MWC. Backing away from his Creighton commitment, Hunter Thompson is an excellent pick and pop option in the frontcourt that has the talent base to build upon in becoming a solid scoring option out of the big man position. Hunter Maldonado adds further versatility and upside to the Wyoming gang and by beating out a bevy of power conference programs for the signature of Anthony Mack, don’t expect for the Cowboys to sneak up on many others for much longer where they are slowly evolving into being the hunted.