It’s 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 ones and fatten up their won/lost record early in the season. Others want to test their teams early to toughen them up for conference play.
Now it’s time for conference tournament play, essentially the third season of college basketball. The first was November and December non-conference games, plus coaches trying to figure out their personnel and strengths and weaknesses. The second has been conference play the last two months, and now it’s tourney time. This is where the weak links drop off, while the better and more motivated teams advance.
So this time of the season, is it important to have senior leadership? Kentucky dazzled everyone with their kids two years 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 second leading scorer in the Final Four win over Louisville with 13 points.
Last year Louisville won it all with one senior and two juniors in the starting lineup. The previous five years before Kentucky kids won it, 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.
Four 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 5’s with no seniors. Eleven years ago, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim combined with a gifted group of freshmen and sophomores to win the NCAA title.
The Orange 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). Syracuse was 9-3 SU, 8-3-1 ATS on the road.
One characteristic successful handicappers possess is perspective. In the world of 11-to-10, it is 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.
If you’re looking for a team that might win it all, history suggests talent, depth, good coaching and experienced leadership are four key ingredients for success in March.
Generally speaking, junior and senior leadership are important assets to have during conference tournament play and the upcoming Big Dance.
2013 Louisville (1 senior, 2 juniors)
2012 Kentucky (none)
2011 UConn (2 juniors)
2010 Duke (4 senior starters, 1 junior)
2009 North Carolina (3 senior starters, 2 juniors)
2008 Kansas (2 junior starters, 2 seniors)
2007 Florida (4 junior starters, 1 senior)
2006 Florida (4 junior starters)
2005 UNC (3 junior starters, Felton, McCants, May)
2004 UConn (1 key sr, Taliek Brown, jr Emeka Okafur)
2003 Syracuse (Starters: 2 frosh, 2 soph, 1 senior)
2002 Maryland (2 key seniors, Lonnie Baxter, Juan Dixon)
2001 Duke (1 key senior, Shane Battier)
2000 Michigan State (Starters: 3 seniors, 2 juniors)
1999 UConn (Starters: 2 seniors, 2 juniors)
1998 Kentucky (Starters: 2 seniors, 3 juniors)
1997 Arizona (Starters: 3 juniors)
1996 Kentucky (Starters: 2 seniors, 2 juniors)
1995 UCLA (Starters: 3 seniors)
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. Follow him on twitter: @JimFeistSports . Reach him at [email protected]