Of the 20 starters in Indianapolis this weekend, just one, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, is a freshman. Compare that to 2015, when national-champion Duke had three one-and-done starters (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Tyus Jones), and Kentucky had two (Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles) and brought another (Devin Booker) off the bench.
Transfers are all the rage now. UCLA is the lone Final Four participant without a transfer in the starting lineup. Gonzaga has one, Baylor two, Houston four. Some grow impatient at blueblood programs, others were standouts from less powerful conferences. They all crave the NBA, generally without knowing they’re guaranteed to get there, which makes them play with more fire. And they’re older, more mature than freshmen.
The shift toward older-is-better in college basketball makes it more difficult to brand coaches as good or bad recruiters. Smart’s career to this point, the first half at VCU, the next half at Texas, provides a great example of that. His Texas tenure suggests he’s a terrific recruiter and not such a hot coach.
But is that fair? Wasn’t he actually a better general manager at VCU because, even though he didn’t recruit a single top 100 player, he won seven NCAA tourney games. In truth, in order to fit the good-recruiter description, a coach must assemble players with whom he can win. Smart did that at VCU, but not at Texas (sub-.500 record in Big 12 games), so wasn’t he actually a better recruiter at VCU?
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