College basketball recruiting and the scandals that come along with the pursuit of five-star players keep the sport in the news year-round. But there are some programs that have found success with a model that does not require chasing elite prospects.
Programs like Gonzaga are thriving on another formula. It's one that requires pinpoint scouting and player development.
The number of options for five-star prospects outside of college basketball is expanding, and it's rumored that the NBA could scrap its age-minimum rules in the coming years, which would lead even more top players to skip the collegiate ranks. So don't be surprised if more coaches start trying to master what these seven programs already have: winning without the recruiting hype.
Here are the top-seven programs in college basketball with a five-year team recruiting ranking average of 50 or lower. All recruiting class rankings are courtesy of the 247Sports Composite Ranking.
Is it possible for a coach who has made 15 NCAA Tournaments with four different schools (and been to the NBA Playoffs as an assistant with two franchises) to be underrated? Because it seems like Kelvin Sampson flies under the radar for what he's doing at Houston.
The Cougars had been to one NCAA Tournament in the 25 years before Sampson took over for the 2014-15 season. Now they are in the midst of five straight 20-win seasons and were on track to make a third straight appearance before the season's cancelation.
What's most impressive about it all is that the Cougars average team recruiting ranking from 2015-2019 was 89th. Sampson takes three-star talent and molds it into a five-star group.
Houston was four points away from upsetting Kentucky in the 2019 Sweet 16 with a bunch of players who would likely have never been considered for a scholarship with the Wildcats. Then, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Cougars' leading scorer was a three-star freshman guard named Caleb Mills who was ranked No. 199 in the 2019 class. Yes, Houston benefitted from the addition of Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes, a former five-star prospect who received a waiver for immediate eligibility. But by and large, the Cougars have thrived under Sampson with collections of unheralded talent.
Butler thrived in the Horizon League under Brad Stevens with three-star prospects such as Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward playing marquee roles.
But with Stevens' departure for the Boston Celtics and the Bulldogs' elevation to the Big East, it was fair to wonder about the continued success of the program's recruiting formula. Would they have to snag some top-50 players to continue competing during the transition to a higher level?
The Bulldogs have not made any Final Fours in the post-Stevens era, but they have remained fairly regular guests in the NCAA Tournament, even while cycling through coaches and bringing in mostly unheralded players. A couple of former three-star prospects in Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott led the way this past season as the Bulldogs surged to No. 5 in the country at one point.