By: Alex Bogach
No, we can’t all be Joe Pearlman and predict one of the oddest Final Fours ever in our brackets and I don’t see us getting any better. Because March is getting Madder.
With David Stern’s one and done rule forcing high school stars to begrudgingly take a year in college, one could make the argument that there is a larger infusion of talent now in the NCAA–I’ll argue the opposite.
Here’s the problem, with these freshman phenoms holding down large roles on big programs, it is leaving the door open for mid-majors and other smaller programs to surge ahead. In March Madness, freshman often falter late in games. The pressure is too big. Did John Wall, Kevin Durant, Demarcus Cousins, James Harden, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose or Demar Derozan win an NCAA title? Nope. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer beat out Oden and Conley. Wall and Cousins fell short to Da’Sean Butler. Hansborough, Lawson, Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Raymond Felton won titles–not one and done freshman.
But big time programs have an infatuation with grabbing top high school players even if they know they are leaving. This is leaving the door open for mid-majors that feature far more upper-classman who are much more experienced, bigger and we also fail to realize that these guys are 4 years older. When I play against guys that are four years older they beat me with size, experience and craft–even if I’m more talented. Thus, teams like VCU, Butler and Florida State can make big, larger runs into the tournament because they can withstand the pressures that bigger schools cannot.
This is obviously not an absolute trend as some teams and players have been extremely effective. Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, a freshman, has been instrumental in their run to the Final Four–but he’s had junior Kemba Walker to rely on. Kentucky comes into the Final Four on the strong play from Brandon Knight and Terrance Jones but we’re forgetting one piece of the puzzle, Josh Harrellson. Harrellson, a senior, was crucial in stopping (yep, you guessed it) freshman Jared Sullinger in the Sweet Sixten. Maybe if Harrellson got some time at centre ahead of freshmans Demarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton–he could have led Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Cousins to the Final Four instead of falling to a team full of upperclassmen in West Virginia.
Senior-ladden teams from mid-majors now have an opportunity to stick it to these higher seeds. Tim Keown, a writer for ESPN, noted that freshman phenoms, Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving’s “best days are ahead. The same probably can’t be said for the guys at VCU and Butler.” The seniors at Butler and VCU don’t have an NBA to look ahead to and while by no means am I suggesting that Irving or Barnes are dogging it for their teams–I think they’re going all out–but the upperclassmen at VCU and Butler understand things a bit better and have far more at stake. If VCU wins, many of their players finish on top, if they fail–that is it. For Barnes and Irving, they’ll be finishing at top in the NBA regardless. There is a psychological difference. These guys are wired differently.
ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, in one of his recent podcast with gambling expert Chad Millman, was discussing with Millman how the NCAA game has gotten so much worse in recent years. It’s true. With the drain on talent even higher and big-time programs are searching for freshman superstars, there is no room for a player to grow at college and become a valuable senior.
As long as big time schools put more stock in one and done freshman superstars ahead of developing stars for the tail-end of their college careers, we’re going to see a lot more lower-seeds that have senior leadership being able to overcome the amazing talents of a Kyrie Irving or Harrison Barnes when the pressure builds come March.