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Why in the World are the Boone Twins not Nationally Ranked?

The two most-talented players in Oklahoma are dramatically under-appreciated by national analysts. Why is that?

If you’ve been following Oklahoma State basketball recruiting, then you’re probably aware that Mike Boynton and Company have been relentless in their efforts on the recruiting trail. That work finally paid dividends this past weekend as OSU landed 2 of the top 3 players in the state of Oklahoma for the class of 2019 in Kalib and Keylan Boone.

It doesn’t take a lot of time while watching their tape for a casual fan to come to the conclusion that these guys are studs. Their raw athleticism combined with their measurables tells a story that has high-major prospects written all over it. This is what us Oklahomans, and those who follow recruiting closely, already know. But why have the twins received such little love on the recruiting trail in the national scope?

To answer this question, I think there are three major factors to consider.

Cognitive Bias

This is a sports blog, so I won’t go too deep into the overwhelming number of these that exist, but I’d like to brush on a few as they pertain to our orange-tinted view of recruiting. Essentially, cognitive biases are the hurdles we have to clear in order to view a situation objectively.

In order to properly evaluate Mason Rudolph’s draft stock, we have to separate ourselves from the great (or sometimes frustrating) memories he’s given us as fans [familiarity heuristic/focusing effect]. In addition, the average fan has to consider that they’ve agonized over every play he’s ever made, while watching relatively little to no film of his peers.

Similarly, in order to properly evaluate the Boone twins, we have to realize our evaluation limitations as subjective fans. In the narrow scope of Oklahoma high school basketball, the Boone twins are kings backed up by state championships and stats to boot. The more difficult task is to fit this piece within the national picture. If you’ve started your comparison from a regional level, then you also have to avoid comparing everything back to the original highlight film you saw that had you scouring the internet for the location of the Final Four in 2020 [optimism bias, anchoring]. Finally, those highlight films? Those are not enough to portray the complete player [availability bias]. Although I’m good with just hanging on to this one.

Just how narrow is our point of view if we focus on Oklahoma talent? I’ve compiled some recruiting data broken down by state to illustrate.

In order to get a fairly complete and recent picture of the origins of top talent in College Basketball, the following graph shows the number of top 150 recruits according to 247sports’ composite rankings averaged over the last 5 years. I chose this amount because it’s a nice round number that happens to be around the range where 3 and 4-star talent meets, and also because the NCAA showed us this year that arbitrary ranges are all the rage.

As you would expect, the highest concentrations of generally come from the most populous states. It’s also worth noting that the Northeast (and eastern Midwest) produce a lot of basketball talent as well.

Let’s take a closer look at Oklahoma.

Out of 150 prospects, these results are, uh… not great. 2018 will be the first time since 2011 that a player in Oklahoma didn’t crack the top 150. This follows a two year trend with two players in each year (don’t look at who they are, you don’t want to know, trust me).

While this proves that we are looking at a small sliver of the top national talent, there are positives to glean from this, too. If Oklahoma gets their average, having 2 out of 3 of the top players in the state gives you a pretty good shot at having one, or both, of those guys.

Luckily as fans, we don’t have to care about all of this information. It’s the job of the coaches and scouts to do their best to eliminate as many biases as possible and recruit the players that best fit their needs after properly evaluating their relative talent. Every staff likely has their own way of doing this based off of their resources.

If we’d like to, as fans can just hang on for the ride; highs, lows, and all. Of course, the people like me will inject everything orange straight into our veins, and we’re the ones that have to temper our excitement if we want to properly set expectations for the future of OSU.

Are we the ones falling victim to our cognitive biases, or are the Boone twins victims of an overly political recruiting world?

If you’ve paid much attention to recruiting at a national level you know that there’s a varying degree of politics at play. For football, without many national level games, you’re left weighing talent based on historical data. Additionally, showing out at the right national camps (which happen to be in historically talent-rich states) plays a huge factor in grading recruits.

For basketball, the emphasis on talent determination is placed within grassroots AAU programs, as opposed to high school teams. While this allows more competition at a national level, it’s far, far from a perfect system. AAU does not provide equal opportunity, and has been justly criticized for lacking emphasis on fundamentals.

National recruiting experts are also prone to the same cognitive biases that we are. Recruiting sites, even with perfectly pure intentions, can’t possibly watch every somewhat-talented player on film and/or in person. The information can’t possibly be equal across the board. You have to make decisions on where to focus your resources in the name of efficiency. Ultimately, recruiting is, at best, not an exact science. There typically isn’t wild variation between the three major recruiting sites (247, Rivals, ESPN) - a symptom of the unavoidable information biases towards players that were identified early. This leads me to my final, most relevant point:

Lack of Exposure

High school is a time of massive change, both physically and mentally. As such, many players don’t get a chance to play at the varsity level until later in their careers, even for transcendent talents. According to MaxPreps, each of the Boone twins gained 2 inches in height from their Freshman to Junior years, and their game grew even more. The stats reflect that.

Take a look at the jump both players made from their sophomore to junior season. That’s over a 300% year-over-year increase in points for both players. Frightening. Extrapolate that data at your own risk.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be chugging the rest of my orange Kool-Aid and deleting that previous section about cognitive bias…

In all seriousness, the Boone twins have an opportunity to explode onto the national recruiting scene this Summer. They play with an incredible natural instinct and feel for the game, and they’re just know getting used to their freakishly athletic frames.

I’m not sure if the machinations of the national recruiting machine will let them vault as high as they deserve, but I certainly think that within the confines of that system, the ceiling is the roof. Who knows though, maybe the sequel to this piece is something about the first time ever two five-star players have committed to OSU in the same year.