The basketball recruiting class of 2016 was regarded as the best group of young talent in years, but several of the top prospects in that class will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament as freshmen.
At least eight of the Top 25 recruits from 2016 — according to the 247Sports composite rankings — will miss the NCAA Tournament, which starts this week.
That list begins with Washington’s Markelle Fultz, who was ranked as the No. 5 overall player in the 2016 class and is still projected as the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft despite playing for a Huskies team that finished just 9-22 this season. Fultz, who has already said he will enter this year’s draft, averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, leading all freshmen and major-conference players nationally in scoring.
If Fultz is selected with the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, he would be the second consecutive player to be taken there after not playing in the NCAA Tournament. Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons was the No. 1 pick last year.
North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. — the No. 7 recruit in 2016 — will also miss the NCAA Tournament after his Wolfpack finished the season with a 15-17 record. Smith averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game and is projected as the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com.
The next two highly ranked prospects from the 2016 class who won’t be in this year’s NCAA Tournament will be absent from the big dance because they didn’t play college basketball at all.
Thon Maker — the No. 10 recruit and an international high school player — went straight to the NBA last year and was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 10 overall pick. He’s averaging 3.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per game this season.
Terrance Ferguson — the No. 16 recruit in the 2016 class — signed with Arizona but skipped college to play professionally in Australia. DraftExpress.com projects him as the No. 14 pick in this year’s draft.
Jarrett Allen — a longtime UK recruiting target and the No. 17 player in his class — instead signed with Texas, but the Longhorns finished 11-22 this season. Allen averaged 13.4 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game, and he is not projected as a one-and-done player by DraftExpress.
Auburn ended up with two of the Top 25 recruits from the class of 2016 — No. 19 Austin Wiley and No. 24 Mustapha Heron — after Wiley graduated from high school early and joined the Tigers during the middle of the season. Auburn lost six of its final eight games through the SEC Tournament for an 18-14 record. Heron led the team with 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Wiley averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds over 23 games. Both are expected to return to the Tigers next season.
The No. 21 recruit from the 2016 class — Villanova’s Omari Spellman — was ruled academically ineligible to play this season. Spellman will have four seasons of eligibility remaining.
Another highly touted 2016 recruit might also not get on the court during this NCAA Tournament. UK’s Sacha Killeya-Jones — the No. 25 overall player from that class — has not played in the Wildcats’ past 15 games.
There were also eight Top 25 recruits in the 2015 class who did not play in the NCAA Tournament.: Louisiana State’s Simmons (No. 1) and Antonio Blakeney (No. 16), Mississippi State’s Malik Newman (No. 8), Marquette’s Henry Ellenson (No. 9), UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman (No. 12), Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon (No. 17), South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier (No. 25) and 19th-ranked Ray Smith, who never got to play for Arizona due to a knee injury.