Villanova’s run to its second national title in three years Monday proved experience still more often than not pays dividends in college basketball.
One-and-done laden teams like Duke and Kentucky may get talked about more on ESPN. But developing players and building a cohesive team with an experienced core group of players ultimately leads to more consistent postseason success.
Duke in 2015 and Kentucky in 2012 were exceptions. But both teams needed at least one senior to help provide subtle leadership for the talented freshmen around them. In the case of Duke, it was senior point guard Quinn Cook, who provided a steadying influence running the offense. In the case of Kentucky, it was senior swingman Darius Miller, a valuable scoring sixth man.
Villanova and Michigan faced off for the national title Monday night with just one McDonald’s All-American on the floor, junior guard Jalen Brunson. Villanova had four juniors (including two fourth-year juniors) in its starting lineup. Michigan’s top two scorers in the national title game were a senior (guard Muhammad-Ali-Abdur-Rahkman) and a junior (center Moritz Wagner).
Last season, Florida rode an experienced core (senior point guard Kasey Hill, junior forward Devin Robinson, senior forward Justin Leon and senior sixth man Canyon Barry) to an Elite Eight appearance. This past season, the Gators weren’t quite as veteran laden, but behind senior point guard Chris Chiozza, fourth-year junior Jalen Hudson and grad transfer Egor Koulechov still reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament before falling by three points to Texas Tech.
Even if Hudson keeps his name in the NBA draft, Florida will have an experienced core returning in senior guard KeVaughn Allen, senior center Kevarrius Hayes and redshirt junior forward Keith Stone who have played/practiced together for four years. Of course, Allen and Hayes will need to bounce back from inconsistent junior seasons. Stone progressed as a redshirt sophomore last season and could emerge as UF’s second scoring option behind Allen next season if Hudson leaves.