The Louisville basketball program stands accused of hiring an escort service to entertain Cardinal recruits and players between 2010 and 2014. According to a new book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” former Louisville director of basketball operations Andre McGee paid as much as $10,000 over a four-year period to provide escorts for recruits on campus visits, as well as for players staying in Billy Minardi Hall.
When I first learned of these allegations, my immediate reaction was that any cheating that took place apparently didn’t work all that well, or indeed at all. I’ll soon be sharing some data I’ve pulled together on recruiting versus results over the past decade, but in the wake of this particular episode I’ll go ahead and offer a teaser.
Rick Pitino, very much like Tom Izzo, has achieved a level of success on the court that easily surpasses any corresponding results he’s been able to show purely as a recruiter during the one-and-done era. The Cardinals have been a top-15 program nationally in terms of recruiting, certainly, but there’s another category entirely comprised of schools that form a remarkably absorbent oligopoly on the talent circuit.
It will not surprise you to learn that during the period of interest raised by this book those schools, going from bottom to top in terms of recruiting results, have been Kansas, Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky. Those four have been statistically different talent-wise the past few years and everyone else is in line outside, waiting and hoping to join that club.
So Louisville is good but by no means great when it comes to recruiting. But maybe the alleged nefarious efforts of a rogue director of basketball operations provided a boost just the same. Perhaps allegedly breaking the rules furnished the crucial margin of difference in lifting the Cardinals’ success rate ever so slightly on the recruiting trail.
If that’s the case, the numbers don’t bear it out. Over the last decade, Louisville’s bottom-line recruiting results have in fact been indistinguishable year-by-year from what you see at peer programs like, say, Syracuse, UCLA, or Florida:
Louisville recruiting in the one-and-done era
Recruiting points 2006 17.4 2007 1.6 2008 11.7 2009 7.6 2010 6.2 (alleged nefarious activity starts here) 2011 14.7 2012 1.6 2013 7.4 2014 13.6 2015 12.8
These are recruiting years, not KenPom years, so “2015” refers to players who are arriving at Louisville as freshmen this fall for the 2015-16 season. As always I’m using Drew Cannon’s handy recruiting curve, which is severely and appropriately front-loaded based on observed experience. (Signing the No. 1 player in the nation is worth 10 points, No. 10 gets you seven points, No. 25 nets you five points, No. 50 earns you three points, and landing the No. 100 player in the nation is worth one point. I used RSCI for the rankings.)
Louisville’s five-season rolling average before the alleged nefarious activity was 8.9 recruiting points, versus 10 points in the five seasons afterward. That’s a difference of just 1.1 recruiting points, equivalent to signing or not signing the No. 97 or 98 player in a given year. And, with all due respect to players like Devin Mitchell or Pookie Powell, this kind of vanishingly minuscule difference is what the hip young people nowadays with their Otis elevator safety brakes and self-scouring plows like to refer to as statistical noise. In terms of pure recruiting results, Louisville is indistinguishable before- and after-The-Alleged-Event.
Which, by the way, is more or less always the case every time one of these cases arises. SMU did not see much performance benefit from keeping Keith Frazier eligible, Miami did not get much bang for its literal (alleged) buck from DeQuan Jones, and, at the cost of being subsequently exiled to El Paso, Tim Floyd got 46 percent 2-point shooting across just 1,216 quite good but by no means team- much less program-altering minutes from O.J. Mayo.
One of the few things more difficult than succeeding within the rules in college basketball is succeeding outside them. Louisville would have far been better off, allegedly, if someone had made that clear to McGee five years ago.