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The notion that freshmen can’t win a title is wrong

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All week long, the folks over at Grantland are running a series featuring writers pen 4,000 word arguments as to why their favorite team will win the national title.

Matt Jones, the brains and the brawn behind Kentucky Sports Radio and the leader of the cult known as Big Blue Nation, was picked to provide a homer’s view of why Kentucky hang their eighth banner this year. And while much of the article reads like the sermon given at a Big Blue pep rally, Jones does make a crucial and important point, one that he will — and should — make many times throughout the year: winning a national title with elite freshmen is not only possible, its been done before.

In the last two decades, there have been five years were one team was able to land a powerful recruiting class that included at least three of the top 15 high school players in the country — Michigan in 1991 (the Fab Five), Ohio State in 2006, and Kentucky in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

  • In 1991, Michigan started five freshmen — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — and while they struggled during the regular season, earning a six seed, the Wolverines clicked during the NCAA Tournament. The Fab Five made it all the way to the national title game, where they lost by 20 to Duke.
  • In 2006, Thad Matta brought in Mike Conley, Greg Oden, Daequan Cook and David Lighty. Despite Oden battling injuries throughout the first half of the season, the Buckeyes were still able to earn a No. 1 seed in the tournament and a trip to the national title game.
  • In 2009, Kentucky’s recruiting class was so good that four players — including one kid that couldn’t get off the bench — were picked in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. But as talented as John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins were, they couldn’t get past West Virginia in the Elite 8.
  • Last season, Kentucky played with blue-chip freshmen in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb — Enes Kanter was the best recruit of the group, but he never got cleared to play. Regardless, even without Kanter, Kentucky was able to play their way to the Final Four, upsetting Ohio State (who started a freshmen at point guard and center) and North Carolina (who started a freshman at point guard and small forward) along the way.

In the previous four instances where a team has relied heavily on a vaunted freshmen class, there have been two No. 1 seeds, a trip to the Elite 8, a trip to the Final Four and two appearances in the National Title game. That’s impressive. And that’s successful. The worst case scenario in this (extremely) small sample is winning both SEC titles, earning a No. 1 seed and making a trip to the Elite 8.

What coach in the country wouldn’t take that?

But there’s more.

In 2002, Syracuse brought in a well-regarded recruiting class that was headlined by one uber-recruit named Carmelo Anthony. Anthony went on to have one of the best freshman seasons in the history of the NCAA, averaging 22.1 ppg and 10.0 rpg while being named a second-team all-american and leading Syracuse to the national title. Joining him in the starting lineup that year? Freshmen Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin. McNamara averaged 35.3 mpg, which was second only to Anthony’s 36.4 mpg. That group of freshmen accounted for three of the Orange’s top five scorers in 2002-2003. Of their top seven scorers, three more were sophomores, meaning that of Syracuse’s seven-man, title-winning rotation, six were freshmen and sophomores.

There’s an even more recent example. Last season, Kemba Walker took over March. He led UConn on a five-games-in-five-days run through the Big East Tournament. After six more wins in the NCAA Tournament, UConn went back to Storrs with a national title. He was a junior, which means most people will ignore UConn on this list. But the Huskies need to be on here. Last season, five different freshmen started a total of 104 games for the Huskies. The freshmen averaged an even 100 out of a possible 200 minutes per game. In the national title game against Butler, UConn got 111 minutes out of freshmen. Freshman Jeremy Lamb became the team’s clear-cut No. 2 scoring option, the biggest reason teams were unable to double team Kemba. Freshman Shabazz Napier matured enough to hold down the point guard position, allowing Kemba free-reign to be a scorer. Alex Oriakhi, UConn’s enforcer inside and the guy that allowed a team that started (freshman) Tyler Olander or Charles Okwandu to dominate the offensive glass, was only a sophomore. In total, almost three-quarters of the minutes played by UConn Huskies last season were provided by freshmen and sophomores.

The UConn example is all the more reassuring for Kentucky fans because there is a good chance the Wildcat’s first two options offensively won’t be freshmen. John Calipari is notorious for using his words in the media to manipulate, but he said over the summer that Doron Lamb would be the best player on this team. Terrence Jones was the best player on the team last year before he lost his confidence. There’s a legitimate possibility that these hyped freshmen end up being the most highly-recruited role players in the country.

No one said that winning a national title with a roster chock full of talented underclassmen would be easy.

But winning a national title isn’t easy, period.

The best way to win it is by putting as much talent as possible on the floor. If you can’t compete with the blue bloods for top 20 recruits, than you have to build your program around development and upperclassmen. If you can compete for the best high school players in the country, then, by all means, recruit them and hope that things break your way during the season.

Because, eventually, Calipari is going to break through and win a national title. And when he does, this silly notion that experience is the only way to succeed in March will finally be thrown out the window.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Alec Peters to return for senior year at Valparaiso

Alec Peters, Valparaiso (Getty Images)
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Of all the early entrants to enter the NBA Draft earlier this spring, Valparaiso forward Alec Peters likely had the most interesting set of choices. Of course there was the matter of whether or not to remain in the draft. But in the case of Peters, as a player graduating with a season of eligibility remaining, there was also the question of whether or not he’d use that year at Valpo or another school had he decided to return to college.

Monday afternoon it was reported that Peters, who just before last week’s deadline withdrew his name from the NBA Draft, will in fact return to Valparaiso for his senior season. News of Peters’ decision was first reported by CBSSports.com. That means he won’t reunite with Bryce Drew, who coached Peters the last three years before taking the Vanderbilt job earlier this spring.

As a result of Peters’ decision a player who would have been in high demand as a graduate student (he graduated in three years) will be the focal point of new head coach Matt Lottich’s first team at Valpo. With Horizon League POY Kahlil Felder leaving Oakland, Peters will be the clear favorite for league player of the year honors next fall.

As a junior the 6-foot-9 Peters averaged 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the Crusaders, who won 30 games, the Horizon League regular season title and reached the championship game of the Postseason NIT. Peters’ ability to score in an efficient manner from anywhere on the court makes him not only the top returnee in the Horizon League but also one of the top seniors in college basketball heading into next season.

In spite of some key personnel losses, most notably defensive stalwart Vashil Fernandez, the Crusaders will return three of their top four scorers (Peters, Shane Hammink and Tevonn Walker). That will help Lottich as he looks to pick up where his boss left off.

Guard Malik Newman to leave Mississippi State

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) dribbles past a Northern Colorado player during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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In the aftermath of Malik Newman’s decision to withdraw his name from the 2016 NBA Draft, there were rumblings that he would not be returning to the Mississippi State program. Monday afternoon it was learned that Newman would transfer, with the news first being reported by CBSSports.com.

A top ten prospect in the Class of 2015, Newman was viewed as the crown jewel in Ben Howland’s first recruiting class at Mississippi State. Things didn’t work out as anticipated however, with Newman being hampered some by injuries throughout the course of the season. The Mississippi native averaged 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, but he did so shooting just 39.1 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three.

There’s also the question of what Newman’s role would be in 2016-17 to consider with regards to this decision. After not having a great amount of depth on the perimeter last season, that won’t be the case for the Bulldogs next season. I.J. Ready and Quinndary Weatherspoon are among the returnees, and Mississippi State adds a talented crop of newcomers that includes four-star guards Tyson Carter, Lamar Peters and Eli Wright.

Mississippi State also adds highly regarded wing Mario Kegler, and Louisiana Tech transfer Xavian Stapleton will be available after sitting out last season.With all of those additions, a feature role for Newman likely would have been tough to come by in 2016-17.

In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger, Newman’s father Horatio Webster (who played at Mississippi State) cited trust issues between Newman and Howland as the biggest reason behind the decision to transfer.

Newman, a player who many thought wouldn’t be in college for more than a season, will look for someplace else to call home.

Former UConn commit Brown arrested on robbery charges

Brown, Zach
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As one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017, 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown was a player on the receiving end of interest and offers from many of the top programs in the country. But now his future is in doubt, as the Miami, Florida native has run into serious legal trouble.

As first reported by CBS Miami, Brown was arrested Saturday night on charges of robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card, with the charges resulting in a bail of $25,000. In total there were two counts of robbery by sudden snatching, one count of armed robbery and one count of fraudulent use of a credit card totaling more than $100.

Brown originally committed to UConn in mid-January, and then transferred from Miami Beach HS to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut shortly after making that decision. However his time at PSA was brief, as Brown left the school after getting into an altercation with a player following a game in mid-February. Less than three months later Brown’s pledge to UConn was no more, as the two parties went their separate ways.

J.T. Wilcox of CBS Miami touched on Brown’s childhood in his story on the center’s recent arrest:

Brown, who’s said to have converted to Judaism – the religion of his legal guardian, has had a tumultuous past. The youngest of five, Brown grew up with his biological mother in Liberty City and spent time bouncing around in various foster care programs before he began living with (legal guardian Michael) Lipman.

In what has been a tough upbringing, Saturday’s news is a sad turn in the life of Zach Brown.

VIDEO: Kentucky fan makes a hype video

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 11:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the quarterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day weekend is typically a slow time for sports news, so over the weekend, the CBT crew has been discussing fan videos and songs.

If you’re not familiar, a lot of programs have fans that are so passionate, that they create something as tribute for their programs. This stuff tends to happen in the offseason.

Take this 12-minute video a Kentucky fan made that was posted by Kentucky Sports Radio’s Drew Franklin yesterday as an example:

Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.

Not bad.

But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.

So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.

Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.

Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement

Canisius head coach Jim Baron talks with players during college basketball practice in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, March 5, 2013. One year after Baron was fired at Rhode Island, the coach and his point guard son, Billy, have teamed up at Canisius to breath new life into a struggling program. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
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Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.

The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.

During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.

As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.