UConn helps Big East earn an 'A'

Originally Published: November 18, 2011
By Chris Hansen | HoopGurlz

Now that the early signing period has come and gone, two ESPN HoopGurlz recruiting analysts fill out report cards for the six power conferences. Here are Chris Hansen's grades.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The schools we have come to depend on in the ACC -- Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland and North Carolina -- did their part, and this class was on its way to an A grade in the early signing period with the emergence of Clemson and a solid recruiting effort by Virginia Tech under its new head coach, Dennis Wolfe. Instead, the conference settles for a B as Miami, which landed the No. 67 prospect in the class, Keyona Hayes, couldn't land a second prospect that would have pushed the class into the upper echelons and cement the Hurricanes place near the top of the conference. Along with the 'Canes, Florida State had an unusually quiet early signing period after the star-studded 2010 class set expectations so high. The ACC has the most four-star recruits and plenty of ranked classes, but given the grading curve that the ACC's footprint covers more top-100 prospects than any other conference by a substantial margin, getting an A requires a little bit more.

The obvious difference-maker in the ACC is Clemson, but evidence of the Tigers' emergence started last year with a five-player class that ranked 30th in the country. The shocker of 2012 is the team that finished behind the Tigers in the ACC, Virginia Tech. With a new staff in place, the Hokies signed a pair of four-star prospects, No. 81 Alexis Lloyd and Lauren Evans, and a third signee with a three-star rating in Canadian Alexandria Kiss-Rusk. For the last-place team to land the No. 34 ranked class in the early period is remarkable.

Signature Signee: No. 3 Alexis Jones of Irving, Texas
Jones get the nod here, not simply because she is the highest-ranked player to sign in the ACC, but also because she came out of Big 12 country, where there were several national-contending offers for the talented 5-foot-8 combo-guard. She brings Duke a scoring threat on the perimeter to keep the Blue Devils from the offensive lulls that have slowed them down against the very best competition.


Big East Conference

Even with the ridiculous curve established by Connecticut, the Huskies managed to even outdo themselves by signing three five-star prospects. But even with UConn landing three top shelf recruits, three more found their way to the Big East to the likes of Notre Dame (Jewell Loyd), Rutgers (Rachel Hollivay) and Syracuse (Brianna Butler). Sure, the fate of the conference seems to change on a weekly basis thanks to the almighty football dollar, but for now the conference lays claim to five of the top 15 early signing classes and 11 of the top 60.

The difference-maker in the Big East is Connecticut. Sure, we expect that Geno Auriemma and his staff will be in the mix with the top player in most recruiting classes, but to secure both Nos. 1 and 2 is amazing. To put Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson into context, think of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Elizabeth Williams together like they were for USA Basketball's national teams. What if Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner had gone to the same program? The Huskies' third recruit, Morgan Tuck, could easily have headlined the class of nearly any program in the country. Somehow, UConn has found a way to redefine recruiting excellence.

Signature Signee: No. 2 Moriah Jefferson of Glenn Heights, Texas
Much like the ACC, the Big East lured away a five-star guard from the Long Star State as Jefferson chose Connecticut. She gives the program a gifted playmaker to supplement the perimeter scoring of Mosqueda-Lewis and the inside presence of Stewart.


Big Ten Conference

Although the Big Ten has the least top-100 prospects in its footprint, not signing a single five-star prospect out of the 16 rated nationally in this class is disappointing and thus the under-average grade. Purdue continues to pull its weight, and Michigan State, Minnesota and Penn State contributed a few elite prospects. But Ohio State has been one of the elite teams in the conference and failed to score a top-100 prospect, and the days of Jantel Lavender are gone. While the Boilermakers, Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Spartans have the talent this season, the pressure will be on the conference to recruit well in 2013.

The head of the class, by far, is Purdue. While signing just a single top-100 player in Joslyn Massey, coach Sharon Versyp has signed a class that adds depth in the paint to help replace Alex Guyton and Drey Mingo. The team also adds a pair of quality guards that can come in and have the opportunity to learn behind a solid core of returning perimeter players. With this class, Purdue can be really picky in 2013 and target the elite players in the Midwest, like the eight players in the ESPNU Super 60 in the conference's footprint.

Signature Signee: No. 27 Branndais Agee of Detroit, Mich.
Agee, once a Penn State pledge, at least decided to stay in the conference and is heading to Michigan State. She is a potential impact player who can play on the wing in transition or clean up the glass in the paint. Head coach Suzy Merchant should have a big smile when she thinks of Agee running with a point guard like Kiana Johnson in the not-too-distant future.


Big 12 Conference

Much like the ACC, the usual suspects again got busy on the recruiting trail. The Aggies of Texas A&M capitalized on the national championship run with a pair of five-star prospects in Courtney Williams and Jordan Jones and six total from the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. What a parting gift from the soon-to-be SEC program. But fellow Big 12 juggernaut, Baylor, decided it wants to continue winning long after the sensational Brittney Griner graduates and signed five-star prospect Alexis Prince. The conference's fourth five-star prospect, Imani Stafford, goes to the Longhorns in Austin, Texas. Oklahoma had some pretty big targets and managed to sign two of them, Nicole Kornet and Maddie Manning, ranked Nos. 19 and 33, respectively. Oklahoma State showed it was getting back into the mix with the signing of No. 18 Brittney Martin of West Point, Utah. Iowa State stayed true to form by picking up a shooter, a quality point guard and a blue-collar post player, regardless of rank, a Bill Fennelly-esque class to say the least. This is B work, but losing Nos. 2 and 3 in the class, both from the Dallas area, draws a minus. And with the reality of A&M leaving, someone else needs to emerge if the Big 12 wants to avoid being a one- or two-trick pony.

It is easy to get excited about the large quantity and quality of signees for the Aggies and the Bears, but getting Stafford from Los Angeles is a biggie for Texas. With that, the two-player class that coach Gail Goestenkors inked gets the nod for the biggest potential difference-maker, with runner-up honors going to Missouri, which should improve on its 13 wins from last season with this crop. But the Longhorns have Stafford, an impact post player who other teams will have to scheme for, as well as No. 70 Empress Davenport of Duncanville, Texas, who can really impact a game defensively and create offense. And as an encore to the 11th-ranked 2011 signing class, don't sleep on the burnt orange crew.

Signature Signee: No. 19 Nicole Kornet of Lantana, Texas
There were plenty to pick from, but don't be surprised if Kornet really excels in coach Sherri Coale's system. It's just a nice fit, and her basketball savvy and shooting ability should be showcased sooner than later at Oklahoma.


Pac 12 Conference

It was impossible from the get-go for the Pac 12 to earn an A. Cal has 13 returning players and Stanford has 12, so two of the consistently major players in the conference were not as active as usual. In fact, the Golden Bears ended up carrying their two scholarships into 2013, when the Bay Area is ripe with talent. That withstanding, the conference landed seven classes in the top 60, and six of those were in the top 29 spots of the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings. USC was 50 percent on keeping local five-star players home, signing Jordan Adams but losing Stafford. UCLA reloaded its perimeter with an alpha-player, a dead-eye shooter and a lockdown defender.

For several years now, fans and analysts alike have criticized the conference for basically being Stanford and then everyone else. Over the past few years, several athletic departments have turned over coaching staffs to revitalize waning programs. One such is Oregon State, a program that had a mass exodus of players under former head coach Lavonda Wagner, who was replaced by Scott Rueck last year. Signing any top-100 players would have been a major coup, but landing two -- No. 41 Jamie Weisner and No. 92 Samantha Siegner -- will accelerate the rebuilding process that is already yielding better-than-expected results. The Beavers also added two quality three-star role players to round out the class.

Signature Signee: No. 12 Alyson Beebe of Santa Maria, Calif.
Stanford may not have a big class in quantity, but it adds a real impact player in Beebe. She's recovering from an anterior-cruciate ligament tear, but when healthy she has a tremendous upside in the post. The Ogwumikes can't play forever, and her size and smooth athleticism should give the Cardinal another in a long line of posts to rely on.


Southeast Conference

The SEC has nine teams ranked in the top 50 classes, but on a curve this haul is underwhelming with only one five-star prospect, No. 5 Bashaara Graves (Tennessee) and only three in the top 25. Yes, Tennessee's class, with three players in the top 40, is impressive. And South Carolina's signing-week heroics, landing No. 40 Khadijah Session and signing the No. 18 overall class, is also impressive. But this is the SEC, and losing two impact five-star players is not acceptable. One thing that is worth getting excited about is the number of quality point guards heading to the conference with No. 20 Andraya Carter (Tennessee), No. 24 Danielle Ballard (LSU), No. 35 Janee Thompson (Kentucky), No. 40 Sessions (South Carolina), No. 62 Marjorie Butler (Georgia), No. 77 Chadarryl Clay (Auburn), No. 86 Jasmine Jenkins (Vanderbilt) and three-star prospect Jessy Ward (Mississippi State).

After signing mostly size in her last two recruiting classes, Dawn Staley signed a quartet of talented perimeter players for her Gamecocks. While not the highest-ranked of the group, Tiffany Mitchell may prove to be the most valuable because she has the size to play any perimeter position, but also the skill and leadership to run the show at the point. But with two point guards in the class  Sessions and three-star Tiffany Davis  South Carolina should be equipped to handle even the deepest of teams employing pressure defenses.

Signature Signee: No. 24 Danielle Ballard of Memphis, Tenn.
If you look just at pure talent, Ballard may be the top perimeter player signing in the SEC this year. When she's dialed in, her explosiveness leads to a lot of scoring, both for herself and for her teammates. If she can find the consistency that's been evading her in high school, LSU is going to be difficult to scheme for.

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn.com.

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