Youth Isn’t Served in College Hoops

It’s been a frustrating start for the Washington Husky men’s basketball team, which is 4-3 entering tonight’s game in Spokane against Gonzaga, the first matchup between the two teams in the state of Washington in nearly a decade. (They resumed their series a year ahead of time in the 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis.)

In the context of the UW roster, and specifically its youth, I don’t think much about how the Huskies started should be surprising.

The eight-player rotation on which Lorenzo Romar has settled includes three freshmen, four sophomores and senior Malik Dime, a JC transfer with just one year of Division I experience.

Overall, calculates the Huskies as having 0.98 years of weighted experience — that is, the average minute is played by a player with about one year of D-I experience — which ranks 341st of the 351 D-I programs. Looking around the six biggest conferences, similar teams haven’t (with one notable exception) been any more successful than UW.

Here’s how the five other major-conference teams with less than a year of weighted experience have started.

  • Tennessee is 4-3 and ranks 86th in the KenPom rankings
  • Iowa is 4-5 and ranks 87th, having lost at home to No. 156 Nebraska Omaha
  • Missouri is 5-3 and ranked 145th, having lost at home to No. 197 North Carolina Central
  • Kentucky is 7-1 and ranked 5th
  • St. John’s is 4-5 and lost five consecutive games (including No. 328 Delaware State at home) at one point, dropping to No. 114
  • Mississippi State is 6-2 but ranks just 119th, having beaten no team ranked in the top 100

Aside from John Calipari, who has established an NBA pipeline populated by premier one-and-done talent (including four of last year’s McDonald’s All-Americans), nobody else has found more success with as little experience as the Huskies, who currently rank 90th via KenPom.

Now, I know what you’re saying: None of those teams have one of the nation’s top freshmen either. Of course, there’s an easy example that one such star isn’t enough to guarantee competitiveness: last year’s LSU team, which was 4-3 and ranked 99th by KenPom at the same point of the season and ended up missing the NCAA tournament despite the presence of No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. (At 1.1 weighted years, the Tigers had a little more experience than UW.)

Top prospects like Simmons and Washington’s Markelle Fultz, who’s lived up to every bit of the hype so far, are fun to watch. But unless you have them in bunches, they don’t tend to translate into team success without the kind of experienced teammates the Huskies lack.

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