Tate: I've got a 'fresh' take on college basketball

Tate: I've got a 'fresh' take on college basketball

It is traditional for preseason college basketball evaluations to revolve around returning regulars.

Projecting the 2017-18 campaign, we see that an upwardly mobile Minnesota team (11-7 in the Big Ten last season) welcomes back four double-digit scorers plus shot-blocking Reggie Lynch. Watch the Gophers.

Elsewhere, Miles Bridges' rejection of the NBA draft makes Michigan State a national contender. Purdue lost Caleb Swanigan but returns 60 of 80 points. Vic Law made 36 starts last season for Northwestern, a year after missing the 2015-16 season with a torn labrum, and adds another veteran presence to the Wildcats.

That's the way we do it. We check the returnees. IU's Hoosiers can't be good. They lost too much.

But that system may be out of date.

Freshmen, you see, are making huge impacts these days. They change programs overnight (check out Missouri). This has been increasingly the case since they were granted eligibility back in 1972. Some of us were slow to recognize how they would change the game.


Freshmen versus seniors

So here's another way to evaluate 2017-18. Jonathan Wasserman's way-too-soon 2018 mock NBA draft projects three elongated freshmen 1-2-3: Michael Porter of Missouri, DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas. In fact, Wasserman lists 12 hotshot freshmen among the top 17 to be drafted.

Put differently, the best players in the country are the freshmen.

This follows a year in which rookie guards Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lonzo Ball of UCLA were 1-2 in a draft that featured freshmen in 10 of the top 11 slots.

In other words, college basketball, for all its stature and excitement, is in reality a form of second-class citizenship. The NBA rakes off the cream of the crop every year.

This phenomenon has created a situation where, for many college coaches just below the Kentucky-Duke-Carolina opulence line (they refill with five-stars annually), the secret to success is lining up recruits who fall just short of NBA standards ... and are available for multiple seasons.

In a sense, NCAA and conference championships are decided by the whims of the NBA. Count the value of Yogi Ferrell's four seasons at Indiana, and Denzel Valentine's at Michigan State. Look what senior Bryant McIntosh has come to mean to Northwestern. And Nate Mason for Minnesota.


Where the Illini stack up

Illinois, a Top 10 program during the 1980s and again in the early 2000s, has fallen because it has lost contact with the nation's blue chippers.

The UI has never had a one-and-doner. Deron Williams dropped his senior season after the Final Four run in 2005. Since that time, in a basketball world grown dizzy with early departures and transfers (loyalty is a forgotten word), the UI's only loss to the NBA was still-developing sophomore Meyers Leonard, who greeted just-arriving coach John Groce with that announcement in 2012 after the Robinson native played two seasons with the Illini.

Far more valuable to the Illini was Malcolm Hill because he didn't quite measure up to NBA standards.

What now? The Illini celebrated the acquisition of Edwardsville guard Mark Smith, the state's top player. He is a quality prospect but does not fall into the NBA-ready category. Maybe that's good. Brad Underwood needs talent to build around. His isn't a one-year operation.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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Moonpie wrote on August 09, 2017 at 8:08 am

What, no tedious four-paragraph sports history lesson to start with?

Thanks, Capt. Obvious! Nice of you to realize what everyione else has known for a long time. I guess that's why you're a legend.

jjohnson wrote on August 09, 2017 at 10:08 pm

Moonpie, you need help, seriously.

cowpie needs a hobby wrote on August 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

"Tate was once mean to me and I have been holding a grudge about it ever since"

IlliniMike05 wrote on August 10, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I was wondering where this was going based on the headline, but the bulk of the article hits on the exact point I was going to make: having borderline NBA talent for 3-4 years is more valuable than one-and-dones. In the 11 years of the one-and-done era, we've had two national champions (2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke) that were freshman-driven (Davis, Teague, Kidd-Gilcrhist at Kentucky; Okafor, Jones and Winslow at Duke). Every other national champion has been primarily, if not entirely, led by upperclassmen. Even if we expand it to Final Four teams, you'll only find a handful of freshmen-driven squads: 2011, 2014 and 2015 Kentucky is mostly it. Even one-and-dones that lead teams to the Final Four like Derrick Rose and Kevin Love, as awesome as they were, joined already excellent veteran rosters.

Illinois does not need one-and-dones to return to the Final Four. If you aren't John Calipari or Coach K, you're arguably better off not having them. But if you do- and let's be real, no coach is turning down that type of talent- you're still better off with them supplementing an already strong core than trying to build from scratch around them. The Porters, for example, will have no long-lasting positive effect on Mizzou basketball, just as (through no fault of their own) Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz didn't at LSU and Washington.