Coaching comes at a premium in the NCAA Tournament, when one or two possessions can make or break an entire season. But the biggest overall factor might be talent: as we've previously written, only one team in the expanded tournament era has won a national championship without at least one first-round NBA Draft pick on roster.
The easiest way to get that talent is on the recruiting trail, and it should come as no surprise that all four of this year's Final Four participants, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Villanova, have excelled at identifying and landing top players for their respective programs.
So how did each of the rotation players for the Final Four teams grade out as recruits? Let's take a look.
All recruiting rankings are from the 247Sports Composite.
|Duke starters||High School||Recruiting rankings|
|Jeremy Roach||Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, Va.)||Five stars | No. 23 Class of 2020|
|Wendell Moore||Cox Mill (Concord, NC)||Four stars | No. 29 Class of 2019|
|AJ Griffin||Archbishop Stepinac (White Plains, NY)||Five stars | No. 18 Class of 2021|
|Paolo Banchero||O Dea (Seattle)||Five stars | No. 2 Class of 2021|
|Mark Williams||IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)||Five stars | No. 28 Class of 2020|
Duke may have been the most talented team in college basketball this year, and the Blue Devils are certainly the most talented team in this Final Four field.
And while one could draw those conclusions from the NBA's heavy interest in the Blue Devils — as many as five current Duke players are projected as first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft — they're also reflected in Duke's gaudy recruiting rankings. Each of the top six players in Duke's rotation was a top 30 prospect in their respective recruiting class, and only Wendell Moore, the No. 29 overall player in 2019, failed to garner a five-star ranking. He didn't miss by much—28 players in that class earned five-star rankings.
Still, that makes Moore the lowest-ranked prospect out of high school in Duke's top six, behind Paolo Banchero (No. 2 overall, 2021), AJ Griffin (18, 2021), Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels (No. 23 overall in 2020 and 2021, respectively) and Mark Williams (No. 28, 2020).
Interestingly enough, that Banchero, Griffin and Keels 2021 class ranked sixth nationally, the lowest rank for a Duke recruiting class since the 2013 class ranked ninth.
Rounding out Duke's regular rotation is Marquette transfer Theo John, who arrived in Milwaukee as a three-star prospect and the No. 204 overall player in 2017. Joey Baker hasn't played in the last three NCAA Tournament games, but was a regular through the season and was the No. 33 overall player and a four-star prospect in 2018.
Duke also occasionally taps into an unranked former Davidson transfer in Bates Jones, the younger brother of former Duke standout and current Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Blue Devils might be switching coaches, but Jon Scheyer currently has the No. 1 class committed for 2022.
|UNC starters||High School||Recruiting rankings|
|Caleb Love||Christian Brothers College (St. Louis)||Five stars | No. 14 Class of 2020|
|RJ Davis||Archbishop Stepinac (White Plains, NY)||Four stars | No. 50 Class of 2020|
|Leaky Black||Cox Mill (Concord, NC)||Four stars | No. 71 Class of 2018|
|Brady Manek||Harrah (Harrah, Okla.)||Four stars | No. 117 Class of 2017|
|Armando Bacot||IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)||Five stars | No. 27 Class of 2019|
North Carolina doesn't quite bring Duke's talent level to bear, but don't cry for Hubert Davis, who was left a pretty stocked cabinet by previous coach Roy Williams.
That includes two former five-star prospects in Armando Bacot, the No. 27 overall prospect in the 2019 class and the top vote-getter on this year's All-ACC teams and Caleb Love, who was the second-ranked point guard and No. 14 overall player in 2020. Love teams with a former top 50 recruit from that same class in RJ Davis (No. 50) to form what has been one of the NCAA Tournament's most dynamic backcourt. And even Leaky Black, who gets slept on as a defender and glue guy, was a top 75 player in 2018, coming in at No. 71 overall with a four-star ranking.
Hubert Davis wanted North Carolina to get away from its recent two-big looks and pick up a four more likely to stretch the court, and he found a terrific piece in transfer Brady Manek, who was a four-star recruit and the No. 117 overall player when he arrived at Oklahoma in the same recruiting class as Trae Young.
The Tar Heels also have three former four-star players in their primary rotation in Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton from the 2020 class, where they were ranked Nos. 69 and 133, respectively, and freshman Dontrez Styles, the No. 66 player in 2021. When North Carolina has needed to utilize an additional forward piece, the Tar Heels have turned to Virginia transfer Justin McKoy, the No. 229 overall prospect in 2019, when he carried a three-star ranking.
North Carolina has the No. 11 ranked 2022 class, one that includes three more four-star prospects.
|Kansas starters||High School||Recruiting rankings|
|Dajuan Harris||Rock Bridge (Columbia, Mo.)||Four stars | No. 94 Class of 2019|
|Ochai Agbaji||Oak Park (Kansas City)||Four stars | No. 132 Class of 2018|
|Christian Braun||Blue Valley Northwest (Overland Park, Kansas)||Three stars | No. 130 Class of 2019|
|Jalen Wilson||Denton Guyer (Denton, Texas)||Four stars | No. 53 Class of 2019|
|David McCormack||Oak Hill Academy (Norfolk, Va.)||Four stars | No. 36 Class of 2018|
Kansas coach Bill Self's previous national championship team in 2018 came when when the Jayhawks were loaded to the gills with former five-star prospects. And a number of Kansas' better teams had former five-star players, from Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Josh Jackson, and on Self's two best recent teams, Malik Newman and Devon Dotson.
This year's team doesn't, with the most likely reason stemming from the cloud of the NCAA investigation.
The No. 36 player in the 2018 class, McCormack is the top-ranked prospect on a Kansas team that is perhaps most notable for starting three players from the same EYBL team. MOKAN Elite produced Ochai Agbaji (No. 132 in 2018), Christian Braun (No. 130 in 2019) and Dajuan Harris (No. 94 in 2019). Agbaji didn't even start for MOKAN, but exploded with a monster senior season that pushed him into a four-star ranking (and Kansas into recruiting him). Braun was a more traditional take, while Harris was a Missouri State commitment who reclassified from 2019 to 2020, led MOKAN to a title at Peach Jam, then went back to 2019 to sign with Kansas.
Rounding out the starting lineup is Jalen Wilson, the No. 53 overall player in 2019, who originally signed with Michigan, then reopened and chose Kansas after John Beilein's exit.
The Jayhawks have five four-star prospects in some kind of rotation off the bench. Mitch Lightfoot earned a four-star ranking in the class of 2016 as the No. 116 overall player, yet he's not Kansas' oldest player. That honor belongs to Jalen Coleman-Lands, Kansas' second-highest rated former prospect as the No. 37 overall player in 2015 when he arrived at Illinois before transferring to DePaul, Iowa State and now the Jayhawks.
Remy Martin (No. 84, 2017), who has been Kansas' biggest star in the NCAA Tournament, was a four-star prospect when he chose Arizona State.
When Martin was hurt, Joseph Yesufu played the second guard role; he wasn't ranked as Drake signee in 2019. When Kansas needs a different kind of big man option, the Jayhawks have turned to one of two freshmen: Zach Clemence (No. 50 in 2021) and KJ Adams (No. 75).
That NCAA sting could be fading: Kansas has three five-star players committed for 2022.
|Villanova starters||High School||Recruiting rankings|
|Collin Gillespie||Archbishop Wood (Warminster, PA)||Three stars | No. 200 Class of 2017|
|Caleb Daniels||St. Augustine (New Orleans)||Not Ranked | Class of 2017|
|Brandon Slater||Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, VA)||Four stars | No. 53 Class of 2018|
|Jermaine Samuels||The Rivers School (Weston, MA)||Four stars | No. 46 Class of 2017|
|Eric Dixon||Abington (Abington, PA)||Four stars | No. 71 Class of 2019|
Villanova is known for playing "Villanova basketball," with the Wildcats seemingly never straying outside the pace and style they want to play with. And Jay Wright operates similarly on the recruiting trail, eschewing one-and-dones for the kinds of players that fit Villanova's model. The guards are typically physical enough to post up, the wings long, athletic and switchable defensively and post players capable of operating in and out of the paint so the Wildcats can spread teams out.
The elephant in the room: Villanova would have started four four-stars and one three-star had Justin Moore been healthy—Caleb Daniels, a not ranked prospect who started his career at Tulane will replace Moore, the No. 57 overall player in the 2019 class and a four-star prospect.
The former three-star prospect in the starting lineup? That would be Villanova heartbeat Collin Gillespie, underrated as the No. 200 overall player in 2017.
Those long and switchable wings: How about Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater? Both were similarly ranked (and similarly ranked to Moore as well): Samuels was the No. 9 small forward and No. 46 overall player in the 2017 class, while Slater arrived a class later as the No. 11 small forward and No. 53 overall prospect.
And Eric Dixon certainly fits the bill as a big man who can stretch the floor; at a listed 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds he's made 17-of-33 3-pointers this year (51.5%).
With Moore out and Daniels moving up from sixth man to starter, Villanova will likely need more from another former unranked recruit, and the top ranked prospect on the roster. The former is Chris Arcidiacono who wasn't ranked in the 247Sports Composite out of high school. Bryan Antoine is the latter, the lone former five-star prospect on the roster as the No. 2 shooting guard and No. 17 overall player in the 2019 class. Antoine's injuries have kept him from consistently putting things together to this point, though he could have his chance on Saturday.
Freshman wing Jordan Longino suffered a season-ending knee injury but could be Villanova's next excellent wing. HIs recruiting ranking also stacks up with the others as the No. 54 overall player in the 2021 crop.
Villanova sits one spot behind North Carolina with the No. 12 class in 2022, one that includes a five-star wing and two other four-star recruits.