Prior to the Virginia Cavaliers winning the NCAA championship Monday night, signs pointed toward fans across the globe losing interest because of a lack of historic teams like Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky being in the mix.
For basketball fans who think of themselves as NBA scouts on social media, the NCAA tournament was supposed to be about freshman stars Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. It was expected to be about Ja Morant of Murray State or Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson from Kentucky leading their squads to deep tournament runs. Experienced veteran teams halted that this year, with Virginia using its stingy defense all season to take them all the way.
While these teams and big name players making it to the Final Four would definitely make it more entertaining, basketball junkies had no problem tuning in to watch some of the best defensive teams in Virginia and Texas Tech battle for the trophy. After all, the national championship game saw two sophomores projected to be drafted in the top ten of the NBA draft in Jarrett Culver and De’Andre Hunter.
It’s not that coaches like the legendary Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari didn’t prepare their one-and-done NBA prospects for the bright lights, it just comes down to the fact that experienced, disciplined teams are best suited for championship runs.
Texas Tech utilized the grad transfer market in the off-season and added Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens, two guys who were hungry for one last chance at postseason success before their college careers were over. Over the last few seasons, it has become more clear that relying heavily on the biggest college stars headed to the NBA isn’t the best recipe for winning titles.
Based on this trend of experienced teams outlasting the biggest player names in the tournament, it goes to show that developing talent is more important than simply collecting it. Yes, stars like Zion and RJ bring most of the attention and hype to college basketball, but relying on veteran players is most important if raising the trophy in March is the end goal.
While certain programs are stuck landing the latest and greatest five-star recruits, the coaches and teams who develop their players are the ones usually left playing for titles in college basketball. That is no discredit to Zion and the plethora of NBA players who only spent a year at the college level, it’s just what makes the game so unique and unpredictable.
Nobody has a clue what the Final Four will look like in 2020, but if the winner has a one-and-done freshman star, the narrative can change once again. Truly, there is no right answer or single way to winning in college basketball. Every season takes its turns and comes with some of the most surprises out of any sport. But don’t be fooled, you need experience in March to have sustained success.