Tom Davis posted an interesting opinion column this morning comparing the Butler basketball program to Purdue’s. Davis thinks very highly of Butler’s program (so much so that he once used Twitter to encourage Collin Hartman to switch his commitment from IU to Butler), and rightfully so. Butler has had the most success out of any program in the state of Indiana over the last decade.
(And before I go any further, this is not meant as a hit job on Tom Davis or the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. I personally think that newspaper provides the best balanced coverage of college sports in the state, and as Sports Editor, Davis deserves a ton of credit for that. While Tom and I have had our disagreements on Twitter (because of course Twitter), the work that he and his colleagues produce is generally very good.)
So it’s not as though he got the situation completely wrong with the aforementioned article. Rather, I feel as though he left it incomplete. The main thesis of his argument is that, in his words: “Butler has surpassed [Purdue] due to better recruiting.” He goes on to say:
In studying the Purdue roster, there are countless examples of how not just Butler, but other Midwestern programs, have made more shrewd decisions and won more recruiting battles with Purdue
That’s an interesting argument that should really be separated into two parts – how Butler has out-recruited Purdue and how other Midwestern programs have out-recruited Purdue. Let’s look at Butler first.
Has Butler Out-Recruited Purdue?
No. Purdue and Butler rarely cross paths on the recruiting trail. And when they do, Purdue holds an advantage. I’ll start by looking at the 2009 class, since that was when Davis started. Since then, Butler has beat out Purdue for a recruit only once, when they landed Nolan Berry as part of their 2013 class. Purdue, during the same time period, has landed five players who had Butler offers: Patrick Bade (2009), DJ Byrd (2009), Terone Johnson (2010), Travis Carroll (2010), and Ronnie Johnson (2012). Butler has made a cautious entrance into major college recruiting with the likes of Cody Zeller (whom they lost to IU) and most recently, Trevon Bluiett. But by and large, the two schools recruit different players, and when they do go after the same kids, Purdue has come on top. Purdue’s main recruiting rivals have been Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State, but not Butler.
Has Butler Been More Shrewd than Purdue?
This is a tougher question, as it’s far more subjective. Butler has made some great decisions on the recruiting trail, most notably guys like Andrew Smith (2009). But just as Purdue has had their misses (as mentioned in the article, Sandi Marcius, Patrick Bade, and Travis Carroll), Butler has as well. Their 2009 class had only one member. Erik Fromm (2010) is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in just 12 minutes per game. Jackson Aldridge (2011) is averaging 0.9 and 0.9 in seven minutes a game. Kameron Woods (2011): 3.6 and 4.2 in 14 minutes. Andy Smeathers (2011) has played in only 13 games this season while averaging 0.8 points and 0.3 rebounds in 2.5 minutes a game. Kellen Dunham has had a great season, but the other members of Butler’s 2012 class haven’t fared so well. DeVantae Morgan has played in only 12 games, and Chris Harrison-Docks quit the team before the season even started. How are those numbers any better than the examples he threw out with Purdue?
Davis also mentions off the court success, which I’m not sure what he was getting at, but both schools are excellent academically and both teams have had to kick a player off the team for discipline-related issues, so I’ll call that a wash.
What About the Other Midwestern Programs?
Davis goes on to talk about guys that Purdue has missed out on, including: Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), and Mitch McGary (Michigan) as further examples of Purdue’s misses on the recruiting trail. No doubt, adding any one of those guys to Purdue’s roster would make this team much better. But he’s just cherry-picking there. Purdue would have been much worse off had they lost Ronnie Johnson to Illinois, or AJ Hammons to Minnesota, or Anthony Johnson to UCLA, etc…
Point being, you can’t just cherry-pick a few guys. Were there some errors in there? Sure. Some guys just picked someone else (Dawson) and some guys Purdue had to back off of due to reasons outside of basketball (McGary). And some guys just never really considered Purdue (Thomas). But yeah, maybe Purdue shouldn’t have backed off Harris like they did after getting a verbal from Rapheal Davis. And maybe they should have spent more time recruiting GRIII, despite the the fact that no one could have predicted that he’d blow up the way he did.
But the offer list for Purdue’s recruits match up well against any other Big 10 team’s, especially in the 2012 and 2013 classes – the two classes following Painter’s new contract, which Davis implies that Purdue isn’t getting fair value for.
So is Davis correct in his assessment of Purdue’s program? Partially. There’s no denying that there have been some misses over the years. But there have been plenty of successes as well. But he paints an incomplete picture. He started with his conclusion and built his data around supporting that conclusion. If you want to talk about Butler’s success, talk about how the excellence of their coaching staff. Or the fact that they have incredibly smart players. Hell, talk about how this is a much different Bulldog team if Rotnei Clark (their leading scorer and leading 3-point shooter by a mile) doesn’t transfer in. Those are the reasons why Butler has been the most success team in Indiana over the last 10 years. But the recruiting argument just doesn’t hold water.