Big East wins by spreading wealth

Originally Published: November 18, 2011
By Keil Moore | 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 Keil Moore's grades.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The traditional powers toward the top of the ACC have done it again. Duke, Maryland and North Carolina have all put together top-10 recruiting classes in 2012. What is striking about the ACC is the next crop of risers in Georgia Tech and Clemson, which will move into the discussion with their work on the trail this year. When you throw Virginia into the mix, the ACC has five of the top 25 recruiting classes in the country. As a group, the ACC boasts more four-star recruits than any of the other five power conferences, and while there are strong classes at the top, there is a host of talent dispersed throughout the league, making the 2012 ACC classes an exciting addition to the league.

Any talk about the 2012 ACC recruiting classes has to include the Clemson Tigers. Their 2012 class is made up of five four-star players, all of whom have the potential to play major minutes for Itoro Coleman as she continues to rebuild the program. So much of what makes teams successful throughout the season is quality depth throughout the lineup. When you look at Clemson's 2012 class, it has acquired the necessary talent to compete with their starting five as well as depth on the bench.

Signature Signee: No. 7 Malina Howard, Twinsburg, Ohio
Maryland coach Brenda Frese started recruiting Malina Howard when she was an eighth-grader. For four years now, Howard has been a major target for the Maryland women's basketball program, and when she made her verbal commitment to the Terps in September, she solidified Maryland's 2012 recruiting class.


Big East Conference

On the surface, the Big East has the best recruiting class in the country. It has six of the 16 five-star prospects headed to play their college basketball in the conference, and four of the top-10 classes in the country. The six five-star prospects are heading to four different schools, with UConn winning the recruiting sweepstakes, pulling in three for itself. While the strength of the Big East is UConn's 2012 class, it is also noteworthy for the league that there are a number of teams outside of Storrs, Conn., stockpiling talent of their own.

While a number of teams throughout the Big East certainly got better with their work on the recruiting trail, one of the major winners of the 2012 recruiting sweepstakes in the Big East is Syracuse. The Lady Orange put together a recruiting class with two elite perimeter scorers in Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes. While traditional powers UConn, Rutgers and Notre Dame made major progress in terms of staying on top of the conference, Syracuse made a move that will help it make noise in the future, even if the noise is made further south in the ACC next year.

Signature Signee: No. 4 Jewell Loyd, Lincolnwood, Ill.
Loyd is the best offensive talent in the class of 2012. She has the potential to be a game-changer as a college player because of her ability to score the ball at all three areas of the floor. While there are a number of talented prospects coming into the Big East next year, when considering the opportunity that will be provided to Loyd at Notre Dame, it is very possible that she is the early favorite for Big East freshman of the year.


Big Ten Conference

It's not an indictment that the Big Ten is a conference absent a five-star recruit. But the fact that three of the top 15 players in the country attend high school in the Big Ten footprint and that all three decided to leave home for schools outside of the Big Ten is a red flag for sure. Compound that with their inability to secure a quality number of four-star recruits, just nine compared to the ACC's 25 and the SEC's 22, and you have a conference that will be looking toward the class of 2013 for a bounce-back year for sure.

While Northwestern's 2012 class finished just outside of the final 60 ESPNU HoopGurlz ranked classes, from a Big Ten perspective it fares very well. The Wildcats picked up three solid three-star prospects that should be able to fit into a role early in their careers. Northwestern's 2011 class was ranked No. 14 in the country, so there are already a number of elite athletes on campus. The 2012 class should give Northwestern quality depth at key positions as it continues to build a Big Ten contender for years to come.

Signature Signee: No. 34 Candice Agee, Victorville, Calif.
As far as the summer circuit is concerned, Agee is a late bloomer. She is a 6-foot-5 post player with the ability to dominate a game on offense as well as defense. She is a vastly improved offensive performer who is starting to make plays with her back to the basket. Defensively she is a force around the basket as a quality shot-blocker who can rebound in area. Given the Big Ten's lack of overall strength in the 2012 class, the addition of Agee to Penn State's lineup gives them a leg up on the competition.


Big 12 Conference

The talent at top of the Big 12 is as good as any group in the country. The conference has a collection of elite recruiting classes, with Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas pulling in top-15 classes nationally. What Oklahoma and Oklahoma State managed to accomplish with smaller class numbers was also impressive. Oklahoma has two four-star prospects, Maddie Manning of Ankeny, Iowa, and Nicole Kornet of Lantana, Texas. Oklahoma State has one recruit, four-star prospect Brittney Martin of West Point, Utah. Where the Big 12 fails to compare with the Big East is in overall volume and the distribution of talent among the teams. The Big East has 17 more players headed to their conference and six more teams. Of those 17 players, two are five-star prospects and three are four-stars. When comparing these numbers, it is important to note both the quality of talent headed to a conference as well as the overall depth. While the Big 12 grades out strongly in quality, it falls into the average range in terms of depth.

What Baylor managed to do on the recruiting trail this year was phenomenal. It added a complete starting five while riding the momentum of having the best player in the country on campus currently. What's even better for Kim Mulkey and her staff is that the class of 2012 will be on campus for one year while Brittney Griner is in uniform. The ability to learn how to adjust to the next level while playing alongside a player of Griner's caliber is something that can't be undervalued. Putting together a top-five recruiting class and giving them the luxury of a year to learn and adjust to the college game is something we don't see on the recruiting trail very often.

Signature Signee: No. 10 Imani Stafford, Los Angeles, Calif.
Baylor's freshman class won't be the only one impacted by Griner's presence in the Big 12. Look for Stafford to take her knocks early in her career but learn from her encounters with Griner her freshman year, and then in turn make a similar impact on the college basketball landscape as she becomes an upperclassman. While their games are different, Stafford's mobility and size is comparable to that of Griner's, as well as her pedigree as a high school female dunker.


Pac 12 Conference

With the influx of new coaches fueling the machine, this year's Pac-12 performed well. It managed to haul in two five-star recruits in addition to keeping a number of solid four-star prospects, 11 in total, on the West Coast and away from the typical poachers in the other power conferences. When looking at West Coast recruiting year in and year out, so much of what you find is the mass exodus of elite talent headed East. This year there seemed to be less of that as a majority of the best prospects opted to stay home and play for a Pac-12 school. In the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, nine players made the decision to leave Pac-12 country for Eastern pastures. While that may seem like a lot, 12 decided to stay, including the West Coast's highest-rated player, Jordan Adams. Whether this is a trend that will continue in the future or an exception that won't be seen for years to come is left to be seen, but it is a banner year for the Pac-12 as a conference.

In 2012 Colorado picked up momentum as it joined the Pac-12. It was able to keep Lauren Huggins, a top in-state prospect, home and made a move into a neighboring state to get another quality four-star prospect in Jamee Swann. With these two, in addition to two-star guard Kyleesha Weston, Colorado has put together a solid foundation that should help it compete. They will need to continue to add quality prospects to the fold as they adjust to a new conference and new styles of play, but this is a very good start.

Signature Signee: No. 21 Katie Collier, Covington, Wash.
If healthy, Collier has the potential to be a program-changer for Washington. She is a versatile post threat with a polished skill set and great length. Collier is also a signature recruit for Washington as she has the ability to change the recruiting landscape in the Pacific Northwest. Typically players of her caliber spurned the local BCS powers for the likes of Gonzaga or the California Pac-12 schools. Collier's decision to attend Washington opens new doors in that part of the country.


Southeast Conference

While the SEC didn't quite accomplish all that the Big East did with the class of 2012, it did an excellent job of acquiring talent throughout the conference. Although there is only one five-star prospect headed to the SEC for 2012, just one SEC school is without a four-star recruit. A majority of the conference has at least two four-star players, and the SEC ranks second in number of overall prospects headed to the conference as well as second in the number of prospects per conference member. As a result it is easy to say that the SEC did a quality job obtaining elite talent as well as quality depth throughout the league.

There are a number of quality recruiting classes in this year's SEC, but LSU's stands out. First-year coach Nikki Caldwell managed to come into LSU and acquire two perimeter scoring threats in Danielle Ballard and Kuaneshia Baker. Ballard and Baker should pair well with LSU's solid 2011 recruiting class that was post-heavy, led by the explosive Krystal Forthan. In addition to Ballard and Baker, Caldwell was able to add more post depth in Derreyal Youngblood, who should be able to make an impact as she continues to develop her frame.

Signature Signee: No. 5 Bashaara Graves, Clarksville, Tenn.
Graves is an elite athlete with international basketball experience. With Tennessee losing two quality post players this year in Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh, Graves will have an opportunity to put her athleticism and experience on showcase early and often her freshman year. With hindsight on our side, she was a must-get recruit for Tennessee in this recruiting class.

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Keil Moore is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the Director of Scouting for the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report - a division of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Moore has been involved in the community since 2007 as a recruiting analyst and trainer. He can be reached at kmoore@peachstatehoops.com.

Keil Moore | email

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