Are Super Seniors the Secret to NCAA Tournament Success?

If this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament looks a little bigger – a little older – your eyes will not deceive you.

Call it a silver lining of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic hit, college students had five years to complete four seasons of the game. For a variety of reasons – including injuries, one-time transfers or competition waivers – athletes could always find ways to extend their claim. But after the pandemic eliminated many conference tournaments throughout the 2020 national tournament, the NCAA added a special bonus year: Any athlete who lost playing time during the 2019-20 season was able to extend his college career by an entire season.

Now, every team that enters the Final Four this weekend, both men’s and women’s tournaments, will include players who have benefited from this option.

The extra season was meant to make the playing field even, but some rosters are more stacked with super seniors and graduates than others, and the trick-down effect can last for years.

“I do not think there is any question that any of us in college athletics would see the benefits of a more experienced squad,” said Tom Burnett, commissioner of the Southland Conference and president of Division I men’s basketball. Selection Committee.

A handful of athletes are older than their NBA counterparts this year. Just look at Kansas. Last Friday against Providence, Mitch Lightfoot, 24, a veteran bench player and sixth-year student, had four blocks, and Remy Martin, a 23-year-old Arizona State transfer, came off the bench to lead the Jayhawks at 23. Points. Both would not be back in college if not for the pandemic, Coach Bill himself said last weekend, adding: “I actually think Mitch is the best he has been.”

Jalen Coleman-Lands, a Super Senior guard for Kansas, is 25. So is Devin Booker, who is in his seventh season with the Phoenix Suns.

And there are still more seasons to go. “If you only look at our beginners, those beginners have the qualification left,” said Self. “Even though we are an old team, they can technically come back all next year.”

Self noted that Providence also had a handful of players who played along the standard qualifying period.

“If they did not have the four cats, they would look much different,” said Self. “If we did not have Remy, we would look very different. If Villanova did not have Gillespie, they would look very different.

Collin Gillespie, a 22-year-old guard, is the youngest of three Villanova graduate students to play this weekend.

However, aside from parity concerns, Self said that the bonus year contributed to the “super quality of the ball this year.”

That was the case in the Horizon League, where Macee Williams, 23, a Super Senior Center for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, won her third straight league player of the year award in the 2020-21 season. She chose to return for the 2021-22 season – her fifth year – and once again won the award.

“This is an example of how our women’s basketball programs have really benefited from this opportunity,” said Julie Roe Lach, Horizon League commissioner.

IUPUI, a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, lost just 6 points in the first round to No. 4 Oklahoma.

Depending on who you ask, this additional year of claim can be viewed as a glass half-full, half-empty issue. It allows college athletes to recover their lost years of play, and a larger, older team can mean an extra layer of cohesion.

“When athletes are upper class, there is a certain maturity that comes with team leadership and dealing with the pressure when you are in those end-of-season moments,” said Roe Lach, adding that “more young students and their teammates can benefit from their senior. Leadership. “

But some officials are concerned about the long-term effect cushioned rosters have on recruitment. If athletes choose to use their extra years of qualification, this could limit blemishes for fresh faces.

“Many of us ask this question: Are the opportunities still there for high school student-athletes?” Burnett said.

That’s exactly what worries Adam Berkowitz, the associate executive director of New Heights Youth, a sports-based youth development nonprofit in New York. The additional qualifying season added to an already complex system in light of the NCAA’s 2021 decision to eliminate the rule requiring athletes to sit one season in transfer, which had the effect of increasing the number of players and players double and dispel. Transfer pool, said Berkowitz.

Both of these factors have created a “changed landscape” when it comes to recruiting colleges, he added, resulting in a whole “scramble”.

“Last year was the hardest year I’ve ever had to place students in schools,” said Berkowitz, who has worked with transfer students for 20 years. “If you have an offer on the table, you have to take it seriously because otherwise it will not be there.”

As a result, Berkowitz said, students increasingly feel “under-recruited” and decide to attend lower-ranked schools, both Division I and Division II, before attempting to transfer. Berkowitz said that when he spoke to college coaches last year, many did not even look at high school students, preferring to turn to the transfer portal and then junior colleges.

Berkowitz said he predicted this would be the case for several more years because athletes would have the option to play for an extra year. High school sophomores will be first class not affected by the change.

“It’s just logjam in a lot of places,” he said. “If 200 guys take their fifth year, that’s 200 less places for high school graduates.”

Mitch Schmitz Report contributed.

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