|A group of seniors, including Kenny Kadji (35) and Julian Gamble (45), have led Miami to the Sweet 16. (usatoday.com)|
Even in an era of freshmen leaving for the NBA after one year of college, experience still holds an important role in the college game; it translates into deeps runs in the NCAA Tournament.
Forget about the 2012 Kentucky team. It was an anomaly that a group of freshmen and sophomores were able to gel and perform consistently at a high level without having the normal ups and downs of performance as freshmen and sophomore who are still adjusting to the college game tend to do. This year's Kentucky team proved this much and the average expectation for a team made up mostly of top-rated freshman probably falls somewhere in between the two.
This is not to say teams shouldn't take highly touted freshmen just because they may leave after one year. Many of these teams have a freshman or two starting for them. But as you will see below, what most of these teams have is upperclassmen who have been in situations like this before.
Here's a breakdown of the number of seniors (and juniors) who started in the round of 32 for each Sweet 16 team:
Florida: three (two juniors)
Marquette: three (one junior)
Wichita State: three
Indiana: two (one junior)
Syracuse: two (one junior)
Florida Gulf Coast: two
Michigan State: one (two juniors)
Louisville: one (two juniors)
La Salle: one (two juniors)
Ohio State: none (three juniors)
Michigan: none (one junior)
The lights are the brightest and the stage is the largest at the NCAA Tournament and both of those get even brighter and larger as the field begins to dwindle and teams advance into the second and third weekends. As great as freshmen can be, it's still unfamiliar territory and the biggest stage they've ever been on. The best of both worlds is pairing one or two of these talented freshmen with a group of upperclassmen that can make them stay focused and not get caught up in the moment, which is familiar for many of these seniors.
Michigan has the fewest upperclassmen and have also been the least consistent in the last month, going 6-6 at the end of the regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines are extremely athletic and talented, yet the lack of experience and chemistry can be seen at the end of the season. Michigan could still easily advance to Atlanta — that's what talent can provide — but their lack of experience is definitely an outlier in the Sweet 16.
It is not a coincidence most of these teams have juniors and seniors making up more than half of their starting lineups and all but two teams remaining have a senior starting. Talent usually trumps experience, so naturally these players are also very good at the game of basketball. The advantage experience gives is these players have strong chemistry from playing together for multiple years and by now they've seen almost every situation they may face.
We'll see if this trend continues to the Final Four, but at a time where we focus on the best young players to come and leave after one year, this weekend will be a great opportunity to watch some of the best players to take advantage of their college experience and use it to reach this point.
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