Photo by Sarah Sanchez
When the field of 68 teams in the 2017 NCAA March Madness tournament was whittled down to the Final Four, basketball fans looking to get a glimpse at future high-end NBA talent were left with little to be excited about. With all the projected NBA draft lottery talent in the college ranks in the 2016-17 season, it didn’t translate to big-time postseason success. Instead, the spotlight shined on the one asset that is even more valuable and harder to get than top-end talent: continuity.
The last teams standing were littered with upperclassmen who had stuck with their teams for several of their years of eligibility. The University of Oregon team featured 10 juniors and seniors, the University of North Carolina and Gonzaga had eight each and the University of South Carolina had six. The 2017 crop of Final Four teams also had continuity in their coaching. Gonzaga’s Mark Few was the longest tenured coach of the bunch in his 18th season. UNC’s Roy Williams was in his 14th year. Dana Altman was in his seventh year at Oregon and it was Frank Martin’s fifth year at South Carolina. The combination of the same coaches spending years with the same players has been proven to be a winning recipe in the big dance.
In the tournament setting, experience wins out more often than not. We’ve seen it time and time again with the University of Kentucky’s one-and-done super teams. The UK teams, which perennially lose their best players to the NBA after just one season, have made it past the Elite Eight once since the program’s 2012 national title. The most striking example of this was the 2014-15 team, which finished the regular season undefeated, but fell in the Final Four to a University of Wisconsin team led by senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker.
In regards to UVU, continuity was something that the 2016-17 Wolverine squad noticeably lacked going into the season. While excitement abounded about the level of talent that transfers like Kenneth Ogbe, Isaac Neilson, Conner Toolson and Brandon Randolph were bringing to the Wolverines, that excitement was always accompanied by a caveat. The ceiling of the team’s season would be determined by how quickly the chemistry developed among the new faces.
In the end, the Wolverines encountered a good amount of stumbling blocks, and a lack of chemistry played a factor. With its good streak to end the year, though, UVU provided fans with a glimpse of what is to come when the team has some continuity. Next season, head coach Mark Pope will be going into his third year at the helm of the Wolverines. While some roster shuffling is inevitable, the major cogs will return as UVU only graduated three seniors from this year’s team. The year of experience and added familiarity will give the Wolverines some of the continuity they were lacking this season.