BY MATT NORLANDER — USA Today
I’ve got to point something out to you. Here it is.
Oh, I’m only getting started.
Let’s keep going.
Yes, there’s still more.
Almost done here.
Twenty-five names. All of them players either in the discussion to be a First/Second/Third Team All-American or are currently forecast to be drafted in June. I didn’t even get to Ole Miss’ rebel of a Rebel, Marshall Henderson (19.2 PPG) or Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (13.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG as a guard), two guys with supreme responsibility for creating offense for their tourney-hopeful teams.
Others such as VCU’s Juvonte Reddic and Memphis’ Joe Jackson and Virginia’s Joe Harris are also vital players this season, and will be at or near the top of the list of reasons why their teams will make the Field of 68.
You’ve got James Bell at two-loss Villanova, perhaps one of the most overlooked players in the country this season. Cincinnati’s 17-2 and undefeated in-conference thanks to reliabilities Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Jordair Jett — the best name in college basketball — and Dwyane Evans are two Saint Louis studs who are among the five best players in the Atlantic 10.
The Billikens are 17-2 as well. Best player on 5-0-in-the-Pac-12 California? A baller named Justin Cobbs who you won’t see enough of until it’s too late.
If you’re a diehard college basketball fan, you already know where I’m going with this. Even if you’re not, chances are you’ve figured it out. Many reading this who didn’t start tuning into college hoops until recently probably don’t know half these names — but merely knowing half of them is pretty remarkable, right? And to those who follow the sport throughout the season, they’re nodding their heads. These are all legitimate players of impact, guys who have earned their keep and are the first or, at worst, second name on a scouting report.
They’re seniors. Can you remember a season where there’d be a worthwhile reason to pen a column on seniors in college basketball and not have it come off as a desperate attempt to prove it wasn’t just a freshman and sophomore game? But we have arrived at this in 2013-14, somewhat ironically, given the invasion of absolutely stellar 18-year-olds who’ve once again invigorated our awe for the next wave of basketball millionaires.
Even still, the roll call of player father figures is as deep as I can ever remember. This is a culmination, and it’s no coincidence that the sport is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and water-cooler chatter. The freshmen are the icing, but really, only maybe six newbies of impact are really difference-makers. The seniors are the thick of the cake.
For a good decade college basketball’s been a young man’s game — freshman-dominated affair in terms of stars and headline-grabbers. Well, that’s what the lazy commentators will tell you. It’s true to a point, of course. I don’t begrudge the freshmen talent; I welcome it every year. But seniors have something to say about the national landscape of college hoops every year. Here and there, of course, we’ve had an older guy steal the show, but it’s never been as deep a class as what this year’s crop has grown into.
Billy Baron, a senior at Canisius who’s getting NBA looks, leads the nation in offensive rating on KenPom.com, scoring 126.8 points per 100 possessions. Seven of the top 10 most productive per-possession players are seniors. Aaric Murray, the well-traveled Texas Southern forward, has the biggest single-game point performance this season, when he doused Temple with 48 a week before Christmas. Bachynski, mentioned above, leads the nation in blocks per game.
You see what Creighton did to Villanova Monday night? That laughably unbelievable array it poured all over No. 4 Villanova? Yeah, the Bluejays have four seniors, led by McDermott. Another guy in his final year, Ethan Wragge, tied a program record with nine triples.
There are another dozen guys in their final months as a college basketball player who I could mention, but I’ve hammered home the point enough. As we turn to February pretty quickly here, know that it’s more than likely this year’s batch of conference races at every level; the teams that get No. 1 seeds, No. 2s and so on; who can reach the Elite Eight and Final Four. All of these journeys are going to be navigated by seniors more than any other type of player. They now represent the majority when it comes to the sport’s best.
It feels good to write this with surprise and complete truth. There is no stumping and turning a blind eye to a dearth of quality veteran. It’s always been lame that guys who stay four years have a stigma attached to them, but in this of all seasons, the best bundle of graybeards college basketball in ages are getting the love for sticking around and showing that college can be fulfilling without regrets. It can give you something that early entry never can: a fulfilled experience, a degree, and for plenty, still that chance to make millions by being drafted.
I’ll quit with the NBA talk there, though. Enjoy these players now, as they’ve got about two months left of eligibility. And if you don’t know enough about them yet, consider this your last chance before it’s too late. It’s such a good season that there’s room for everyone to have a lasting moment, but undeniably this is the season of the senior, and let us respect the elders on their way out.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball