College basketball took advantage of the opportunity to flex its muscles in the first weekend of March Madness.
Twelve upsets headlined the weekend, reminding the world that despite the sport taking a distant backseat to college football, college basketball still has a postseason that no other sport can compete with.
Whether you were rooting for your team or the underdogs or just hoping that your bracket would survive the weekend, you got a good show. Who would have thought that schools like Mercer, Dayton and Stanford would steal the spotlight from headliners like Kansas and Duke and phenomenal freshmen like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins?
Upsets are part of why March Madness is great, and since George Mason pulled off its amazing feat of making the Final Four in 2006, there’s been a newfound respect for Cinderellas in March. While there is skepticism toward underdogs as a whole, there is always an expectation that at least one of them will dance their way onto the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.
What’s interesting about this year’s upsets is that experience is playing a major role, and with the NBA talking about extending its age limit to 20 years old and at least two years removed from high school, this weekend’s results could validate why such a change would help basketball at the collegiate and NBA level.
By using numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 (a player’s grade) to represent a player’s experience rating (EXPR) and averaging it for every team, you can find that in nine of the 12 upsets that happened over the weekend, the team that pulled off the upset was more experienced than the favorite.
For example, looking at Mercer’s big win over Duke, Mercer averages a 2.71 EXPR with six seniors while Duke, who has only four upperclassmen, averages only a 2.38 EXPR.
The only teams that pulled upsets and were younger than their opponent were Kentucky and Dayton. Kentucky was the outlier with a 1.88 EXPR, beating Wichita State, who averages a 2.19 EXPR. Dayton, with a 2.31 EXPR, beat both Ohio State (2.83 EXPR) and Syracuse (2.33 EXPR).
Of course, age isn’t the only factor that determines the outcome in games. Sometimes you just have a team (like Kentucky) that is talented and built to win.
But when a group of players has been together for as long as Mercer has been, and when they know that none of them are likely to play beyond the college level, they have an edge that younger teams can’t rival.
And though guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, who regardless of their experience will make the NBA, it does make you wonder that if less-talented players can stay for four years and cause havoc in postseason play, what would it be like if all of Kentucky’s players stayed for at least two seasons?
Michigan State’s Gary Harris is a prime example. Harris was a major contributor his freshman year for the Spartans, averaging 12.9 points per game and 1.4 assists per game. Many thought he would be a lottery pick, but Harris turned down the draft and went back for a sophomore season.
In his second season, Harris has improved in points, rebounds, assists, steals, free-throw percentage and minutes per game. The Spartans, although a No. 4 seed, are a big favorite to win the championship this season and Harris is a major reason why.
So this summer, as new NBA commissioner Adam Silver puts together his proposal for extending the age limit, the correlation between experience and success is one that should be examined. The league may argue that they shouldn’t prevent players from earning a paycheck, but if both leagues can stand to benefit from more-experienced players, then an increased age limit is a necessity.
This story was written by Neil Frawley