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Turning Cinderella runs into recruiting success is key for mid-majors

Sep 18, 2013, 1:53 PM EDT

VCU v Michigan Getty Images

Any coach can put together the right game-plan, taking enough advantage of mismatches and getting his team to execute well enough that his group of guys can pull off an upset.

Get that team’s confidence going, and that team can reel off a couple of upsets in a row.

That’s how Cinderella runs in the NCAA tournament happen. Since our sport’s postseason playoff is a single-elimination tournament and not a five or seven-game series, we see these runs quite often. It’s part of what makes March Madness unique and beloved.

But, generally speaking, it’s not sustainable. Coaching wins games. Talent wins titles. There’s a reason that coaches known for their x’s-and-o’s hire ‘recruiters’ to their staff, while coaches that are capable of bringing in talent on their own will go out and hire tacticians as assistant coaches.

And that’s why, to build a program, it’s so important to capitalize on the exposure of a postseason run.

On Tuesday, Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com took a look at how VCU, Butler and George Mason have recruited since their respective Final Four runs, and it’s quite clear that the Rams have made the biggest jump of the three. Since their 2011 Final Four run, VCU has signed two top 100 recruits — Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess — while earning a commitment from a third — Terry Larrier — on Monday. The other six recruits they’ve signed or currently have committed are three-star players.

During that time, VCU has remained in or around the top 25 while making the jump from the CAA to the Atlantic 10. Perhaps most impressive is that Smart has yet to reap the benefits of his most talented recruits, as Burgess was ineligible last year, Johnson was a role player and Larrier is 15 months from actually playing a game. When you consider how Smart has coached up the two- and three-star recruits he’s landed, it’s easy to see why the best is yet to come for the Rams.

The same cannot be said for George Mason. Not only did their recruiting remain on the same level, four of the six best players they brought in in the next three years transferred — Jay Threatt (Delaware State), Vlad Moldoveanu (American), Luke Hancock (Louisville) and Kevin Foster (Fresno State). Jim Larrañaga left as well, and Mason has been more-or-less irrelevant since then.

Butler is the most interesting case. Not only did they have arguably the best young coach in the game — better than Smart, in my opinion — but they were also able to turn their success on the floor into success on the recruiting trail. Stevens brought in Rotnei Clark in 2011, who became eligible last season. He landed four-star recruit Kellen Dunham in the Class of 2012 and four three-star recruits — two of whom, Nolan Berry and Elijah Brown, were ranked in Rivals top 150 — in 2013. It should also be mentioned that the Bulldogs were in the mix with a couple of high-profile local players in the Class of 2014 before Stevens headed off to the NBA.

Butler also managed to climb their way from the Horizon to the Atlantic 10 all the way into the Big East this season. If Stevens had stuck around and Roosevelt Jones hadn’t broken his wrist, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that the Bulldogs would have, once again, but in and around the top 25 all year long.

So take note, Florida-Gulf Coast.

If you want to take a program from being good at the mid-major to being nationally relevant on an annual basis, the key is to capitalize on the recruiting trail when you have the limelight.

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