Junior and senior leadership key in NCAA basketball

Mar 12, 2013 3:04 AM

It’s time! Time for college basketball teams to begin conference tourney play, also known as separating the contenders from the pretenders.

It’s important to understand and closely examine the schedule of college hoop teams. Some teams start off the season playing a bunch of cream puffs, while others face a mixture of good and bad teams.

What has taken shape the last few months, though, is largely conference play. Since conferences are purposely made up of schools with a similar level of talent, you need to pay attention to how teams start the season and what their schedule was like.

Some schools want to get a few cheap victories over smaller schools and fatten up their won/lost record early in the season, while others want to test their teams early to toughen them up for conference play.

So this time of the season, is it important to have senior leadership? Kentucky dazzled everyone with their kids a year ago winning the title, and Anthony Davis was the fourth freshman to win the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. However, that is not the norm, either. Remember, their only senior, Darius Miller, was sixth man off the bench and was the second leading scorer in the Final Four win over Louisville with 13 points.

The previous five years college basketball’s champions UConn, Duke, Kansas, Florida and North Carolina, had a combined 20-of-25 starters who were juniors or seniors. In 2011 UConn had a pair of juniors, including star Kemba Walker, while the team they beat, Butler, was a senior-laden squad.

Three years ago, Duke started three seniors and two juniors in the title game against Butler. In 2009 North Carolina had three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup when they whipped Michigan State for the title, 89-72. Clearly, having that kind of an edge in experience can be an important factor, though it isn’t everything, especially with more college athletes leaving earlier for the pros.

The two years prior to those teams, Florida and North Carolina had starting fives with no seniors. Ten years ago, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim combined with a gifted group of freshmen and sophomores to win the NCAA title. The Orangemen upset Kansas in a thrilling finale, 81-78, with a starting-five of two freshmen (F Carmelo Anthony, G Billy Edelin), two sophomores (C Craig Forth, F Hakim Warrick) and only one senior (G Keith Duany).

The kids played like veterans for the Orangemen. Note that Syracuse was 9-3 SU, 8-3-1 ATS on the road. No nerves away from home for the kids, straight up and against the number! In the final three tournament games they were a +3, +3 and +5 dog to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas and won them all straight up (+200 in the title game on the money-line).

NCAA Champions Sr. and Jr. Starters    NCAA Champions Sr. and Jr. Starters
2012 Kentucky none    2003 Syracuse 1 Sr.
2011 UConn. 2 Jrs.    2002 Maryland 2 Srs. 
2010 Duke 4 Srs.,1 Jr.    2001 Duke 1 Sr. 
2009 UNC 3 Srs., 2 Jrs.    2000 Mich. St. 3 Srs., 2 Jrs.
2008 Kansas 2 Jrs., 2 Srs.    1999 UConn.  2 Srs., 2 Jrs.
2007 Florida 4 Jrs., 1 Sr.    1998 Kentucky 2 Srs., 3 Jrs.
2006 Florida 4 Jrs.     1997 Arizona 3 Jrs.
2005 UNC 3 Jrs.     1996 Kentucky 2 Srs., 2 Jrs.
2004 UConn. 1 Sr., 1 Jr.    1995 UCLA 3 Srs.

We are in an era with fewer seniors in college hoops, but let’s not downplay the value of veteran leadership, as the Blue Devils showcased last season.

One characteristic successful handicappers possess is perspective. In the world of 11-to-10, it’s essential to maintain an even keel: one can’t get too high over a big point spread victory or too low when lady luck drops a curveball on a game you have isolated from every angle as a strong play.

Perspective is important as college basketball tournament play gets underway, because what Syracuse did in 2003, with so many youngsters, is not that common. The 2006 Florida team had four junior starters who had been together for a while, then came back the next year and repeated. North Carolina in 2005 had three rock solid juniors in Ray Felton, Sean May and Rashard McCants. In 2004, UConn had senior guard Taliek Brown and star junior center Emeka Okafur.

Generally speaking, junior and senior leadership are important assets to have during the conference tourney play and the Big Dance.

Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Reach him at [email protected]

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