Is the 2017-2018 College Hoops Season Making Basketball Great Again?

We are in the midst of the one and done era. An era in college basketball where the players are less investments and projects, but more like rentals until they quickly enter the NBA draft. Duke is a perfect example of this. Over the past four seasons, Coach K’s squad has had nine freshman to leave after their first year to enter the draft, and this season is just going to increase the average. After this season, four of their starting five are freshman who went into Duke knowing it was just a quick stop on their journey to the NBA.

So why is this season helpful for the NCAA? As of week 13 of the AP poll, the top three teams are Villanova, Virginia, and Purdue. Each of those three teams have upperclassmen leadership, a balance of scoring, and exceptional coaching. None of these teams recruit five star players who demand playing time right away. Villanova, despite making big headlines two years back, have their freshman play less than 25% of the team’s total minutes this season. Out of the three teams, only one of the fifteen starters is a freshman.

The important thing is not seniority. What makes these stats impressive is the improvement each kid has from year to year. Villanova’s leading scorer is junior Jalen Brunson, who is averaging 19.4 points per contest in 30.8 minutes per game. Since his freshman year, Brunson is averaging almost 10 points more per game as well as an additional six minutes. Brunson is just an example. Seniors like Devon Hall from Virginia and Isaac Haas of Purdue are averaging double figures this season although neither averaged more than ten as underclassmen. Matt Painter, Jay Wright, and Tony Bennett all do fantastic jobs in what can be called the forgotten piece of college coaching: development.

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Jalen Brunson in highschool not knowing he will be a Wooden Award candidate this season.

Virginia currently has five people in the NBA: Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), Joe Harris (Nets), Mike Scott (Wizards), Justin Anderson (76ers), and two way player London Perrantes (Cavs). Of these five, none came into Virginia with the idea they would make it anywhere past UVA. Now, they find themselves on competing teams getting significant minutes for their respected teams.

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Current Virginia seniors Devon Hall (left) and Isaiah Wilkins (right) standing with 2017 NBA ROTY Malcolm Brogdon (center).

Mikal Bridges of Villanova was only a four star recruit three years ago when he decided to commit to play for the wildcats. Bridges definitely had NBA potential, but by staying three years he has lottery capability. On the other end of the spectrum, Harry Giles, a 2017 Duke center, somehow lowered his value by playing college ball.

This is in no way a shot at Coach K and the duke program. Giles obviously did not have his best season at Duke. He was riddled with injuries and was surrounded with other NBA talent which prevented him from getting the touches he wanted. However, despite this disappointing season for Giles, he decided to enter the draft. He had the possibility to improve his elite game even further if he chose to stay at Duke under a hall of fame coach rather than going straight to the highest possible competition.

This season of college basketball is unlike any in recent memory. The top three teams in the country are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the pack. They lead every other D1 team in KenPom, BPI, and Sagarin. However, their talent is arguably worse than the teams behind them. The players in these programs are all in for their college and are not worried about anything else but winning. In a recent interview with the NCAA, Virginia point guard Ty Jerome said that he and his teammates “bought in” to Virginia and are invested in reaching San Antonio.

The NCAA is all about turning amateur athletes into men capable of playing at the pro level. The problem with this philosophy is that a lot of these young stars come into their first year at college ready to compete at the higher level. This makes the teams invested in development and chemistry not as elite as the Kentucky’s and the Kansas’ of the world.

This is why this season is so special for basketball. Development trumps skill in 2018. Virginia, Villanova, and Purdue have all developed their athletes to compete at the highest level and have shown the rest of the college hoops world that to reach the level they are currently at, there can be no freshman stars ready for the NBA right away. These teams, ranked 1, 2, and 3 in the AP top 25 and the NCAAM Review top 25, got to where they are today through hard work, determination, and development.

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