All of the hype at the start of the college basketball season is going to the freshmen. Kentucky’s McDonald’s All-Americans and Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins are the two major examples of first-year players poised to make an immediate impact on their teams.
While many (including yours truly) are picking the Kentucky Wildcats to win the national championship, does John Calipari’s team have too many freshmen? Does talent beat experience when it comes down to who cuts the nets down in April? Finding the answer to this valid question requires a look at the past ten national champions, specifically the number of freshmen who were in the starting lineup. Is there a magic number? Here’s the breakdown:
- No freshmen: 7 teams
- Three freshmen: 2 teams (2011 UConn, 2012 Kentucky)
- One freshman: One team (2004 UConn)
2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats: Three freshmen
As Connecticut and Kentucky proved in consecutive years, a team can win a national championship with three superstar freshmen. The Harrison twins and Julius Randle sure fit the “superstar” description. But seven of the ten title teams didn’t require a blue-chip recruit to come in and lead them to the promised land. They won by experience and veteran leadership. This makes me very wary when picking the Wildcats to win it all. After all, remember Kentucky’s loaded team in 2010 with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe leading the way? That team, with three future NBA first-rounders should have been cutting down the nets. Instead, a poor shooting performance and turnover extravaganza in the Elite Eight led to a loss to West Virginia. This team, with three future NBA first-rounders, is expected to win it all and is getting “undefeated” hype. So what will it be this year? A repeat of 2012 or a disastrous reminder of when it all fell apart in 2010?
Are freshmen the way to go this year, or will a team with more juniors and seniors knock Kentucky off their throne this season? While there’s no clear-cut answer, and no “magic number”, one thing’s for sure: college hoops fans can’t wait to find out.