Experience makes a better March Madness dancer

Mar 21, 2017 3:00 AM

It’s important to understand and closely examine the schedule and the roster 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.

As we said last week, 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. Now It’s the final stretch run for the title. This is where the weak links drop off, while the better teams advance, though there will be upsets along the way – lots of surprises.

So this time of the season, is it important to have senior leadership? Look no further than a year ago, when No. 2 seed Villanova rolled to the title. The Wildcats had stability on the sideline with Jay Wright, along with seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Dan Ochefu, plus juniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Kentucky may have dazzled everyone with their kids five years ago winning the title and Anthony Davis was only the fourth freshman to win the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. However, that is not the norm, either. Remember that 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 last two years Kentucky’s talented young team flamed out, including a year ago, losing in the second round to Indiana, 73-67. Two years ago it was Duke topping Wisconsin for the title with two seniors and two juniors. Senior Quinn Cook started the title game, while junior big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were off the bench.

Three years ago No. 7 seeded UConn was a surprise national champ. Think they had an abundance of experienced leadership? Of the starting five, Shabazz Napier dazzled, along with fellow senior Niels Giffey, plus DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright were juniors. That experienced team didn’t miss a free throw in the title victory against Kentucky, 60-54, while the young Wildcats went 13-of-24 (54% from the line).

Four years ago Louisville won it all with one senior and two juniors in the starting lineup. The previous five years before the 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.

Seven 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.

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. So, yes, generally speaking, junior and senior leadership are important assets to have during conference tournament play and the upcoming Big Dance.