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Experience Matters

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An experienced Baylor team has gelled late

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

I feel the need to write this story after witnessing the shocking insanity that was Wednesday night’s Carolina-Duke game. And no, I’m not talking the 8th wonder of the world breaking his shoe 36 seconds into the game. I’m talking about the shock of Carolina’s victory. The shock that was former walk-on Luke Maye, a senior, and junior Seventh Woods, a player who nobody in their right mind would have included on the list of best 200 players in college basketball today, mopping the floor with Duke’s other 4 McDonalds All-Americans. It was embarrassing for Duke, to say the least.

And it made me wonder. Was this a fluke? Or was this proof of what has become increasingly evident over the past couple years: In college basketball, experience matters. Young teams are flashy, fun to watch and they make SportsCenter. They also get their fair share of wins. But they can’t win when it matters, unless they’re Kentucky 2012. They hardly ever win big-time games, and they don’t win championships. Just look at the last three title winners: Villanova, North Carolina and Villanova. Teams packed with strong seniors, and tournament experience. What better way to prepare North Carolina for a 2017 championship than to lose the 2016 championship by one shot?

What on earth does any of this have to do with Baylor? This: Scott Drew runs an older program. At its most effective, Baylor Basketball is a 4-year school or school reliant on transfers. And that bums some people out, because that means the top-tier players won’t be attracted to Baylor. But top-tier recruits alone don’t win when it matters. To say recruiting hasn’t helped Carolina and Villanova would be blind, but these teams didn’t get incredible recruiting boosts. Look Nova’s recruiting rankings the four years leading up to their 2018 Championship: 48, 29, 45 and 28. Not ONE year in the top 25. They aren’t getting the newest, flashy players. But what are they getting? Solid team players, who are willing to stay 4 years, willing to be coached and willing to grow. Sounds a lot like a program I know.

Villanova and Jay Wright are really good at flying under the radar. Until two years ago, you’d never hear about Villanova during the season, until they show up in the championship game and you think “I haven’t watched a second of Villanova basketball this year”. But let me ask you, what would you rather have: a well know, popular, flashy team? Or a “quiet” team that can get past March, play, and even win games in April? I’d rather have the latter.

So, what does this mean for Baylor? It means Baylor is on the right side of the game. We may just have our own Jay Wright here in Waco. And the future is bright for Baylor. Every year recruiting gets a bit better, and one of these years Drew’s going to have an experienced team that can get to a Final Four.

Few are going to talk about Baylor. And ESPN won’t give us constant coverage like they give Zion Williamson. And they won’t make an ESPN+ show about us. But ESPN+ shows don’t win championships. Experience does. And that’s what Scott Drew’s system does: builds 3 star, 188th in the nation recruits into experienced 4-year players, who get picked 12th in the draft. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that this is a winning formula.