There is a pandemic sweeping through the upper echelons of college basketball. A plague that offers new hope for the programs who don’t always pull the big name prospects.
This is the influx of so-called “one-and-done” players to big name programs like Duke and Kentucky. Villanova’s national title win on Monday is just the beginning of what looks like a power shift in college basketball.
These one-and-dones, such as Brandon Ingram, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, lead to a revolving door of a program that is simply focused on moving players through to the NBA. This should not be the sole goal of a college program; rather, it should be a by-product of the program’s success in general.
Teams like Kentucky and Duke who routinely lose integral parts of their lineups every year are seeing a steady decline in performance from the days of the past. Now more than ever, it is becoming obvious that there is more to winning a national title than just raw talent.
At this point, the biggest thing that is separating the good teams from the great teams is senior leadership that has had experience playing in high pressure situations. Now, a lack of this is not necessarily a death sentence to any team trying to win the national championship; it’s just
an extremely large hurdle to be overcome.
In April 4 night’s game, you could see just how important it is to have this leadership and chemistry in the face of adversity. During the game, both teams were on the brink of being out of the game before the final minutes. For Villanova, it came at the end of the first half when UNC started draining three pointers with little to no response. For UNC, it came towards the end of the second half when they were down by 10, and it seemed like the game was all but over. Had it not been for the upperclassmen leadership on both teams, I question whether they would have stayed in the game or even gotten to the national championship in the first place.
To quantify the leadership coming from both teams, all it takes is a look at the starting lineups. Villanova started one freshman as their only underclassman and UNC started two sophomores. Both of these teams had definite upperclassmen leadership to guide them through trying times, both through the season and in games themselves.
It is becoming clear that if a program wants to focus on getting better in the hope of winning a national championship, they should not necessarily focus on getting the top talent in the country; rather, they should focus on grabbing talent they know won’t flee to the NBA after a year or two. By doing so, programs can develop the talent they receive, fit that talent into their system and make them a better player for the NBA in the process.
I foresee two scenarios that will possibly end these revolving door programs. The first is that the NCAA passes something similar to what is in place for college baseball right now. Players would have to spend at least three years in college, and after their junior year they could declare for the draft or play another season. This would be the true end of revolving door programs but, in my mind, this won’t happen within the next 10 years.
The second possibility is that these coaches, in a moment of clarity, realize that their true goal is to win national championships, and if they can convince kids to stay with their program for more than one year, they drastically increase their chances of winning that title.
Now, I think that this is already in both Coach K’s and Coach Calipari’s minds for obvious reasons, and I think they could possibly develop a more convincing case to keep their players for more than just one year. For me, this scenario is even less likely to occur than the first because of the allure that the NBA and its salaries provides for any top prospect.
For a program like the one here at Tech, the time is now to pick up a coach who focuses on recruiting consistent talent over a period of a few years all the while working to develop a specific system not necessarily unique to Tech, but something we can say we do well. The time is now, but the window of opportunity is most likely closing.
Overall, I think Tech and a lot of other programs that are not always on the radar have a better chance of winning a title now than they did in the past.
For teams like Tech who are currently searching for a new coach, I think the main focus should be on recruiting talent to develop over four years and hiring a coach who has a proven record of being able to recruit. Perhaps we can then restore Tech basketball to its rightful glory.
For the Jackets, that search starts right now, and its repercussions begin immediately after.