Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How Would March Madness Look if Every Player Stayed 4 Years?

One of my favorite things to discuss is NBA players and where they played their college basketball - what school has the best pros, mid majors vs. majors, what active players have an NCAA championship, etc.. So in the spirit of "what if?" and my most recent post, how would this year's national title race look if every college basketball player stayed at his school for 4 years?

There was never a rule in place that mandated players stay all 4 years, but it was a little more common for players to choose that route in previous decades. With the advent of the "one and done" rule in 2005, we have seen a wave of players in the past 8 seasons who have played a year of college hoops strictly because they were required to do so, creating an association between player and school that would not have existed 15 years ago. As a result, we don't wonder "what if LeBron stayed 4 years?" Or "what if Kobe stayed 4 years?", but we do wonder, perhaps foolishly given the rule, "what if Kevin Durant stayed all 4 years at Texas?". One of my favorites is wondering if Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love could have won the 2009 title instead of UNC if they both decided to stick around Westwood one more year.

Via Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Westbrook#College

So, foolish or not, let's wonder what this year's college landscape would look like if every player used all 4 years of eligibility. That means that a junior last season, a sophomore from two seasons ago, and a freshman from three seasons ago all are in play. Here's my top 5: 

5. UConn
G-Shabazz Napier                 
G-Jeremy Lamb
F-Niels Giffey
F-Deandre Daniels
C-Andre Drummond

If there's one player in this top 5 where you could argue with me that we wouldn't like him as much if he developed in college versus developing in the pros, it's Drummond. But at 7' and pretty nimble, if UConn could develop him at all (this would be his third season), he'd be a problem. The way Napier has been playing this season plus what Lamb's been able to show here and there on OKC makes that backcourt promising. 

4. Michigan 
G-Trey Burke
G-Tim Hardaway Jr
F-Nik Stauskas
F-Glenn Robinson III
C-Jon Horford or Jordan Morgan

(Mitch McGary injured). It's not outlandish to suggest that the title game runners-up would return to prominence if they threw out the same players from last year, including the POY in Burke and this year's potential Big Ten POY in Stauskas. But the reason the Wolverines are probably this high is the Knick fan in me probably over-valuing Hardaway Jr. 

G-Tyler Ennis
G-Michael Carter-Williams
G-Dion Waiters
F-CJ Fair
F-Rakeem Christmas

Ennis and MCW in the same backcourt could either be the best run offense in the country, or just point guard overkill, and Waiters putting in multiple years as a college starter is a scary thought. 

The last 2 are, predictably, my picks for the national championship, which would be another epic between two programs who have a history against each other. 

2. Duke 
G-Kyrie Irving
G-Austin Rivers
F-Jabari Parker
F-Rodney Hood
F-Amile Jefferson

Imagine Kyrie driving all game and throwing no look passes and lobs to Jabari, who is deadly as is on the baseline even without Irving. You wonder, though, if condensed college defenses or zones could limit a little of Kyrie's magic, though. Rivers is kind of a wild card, too, because he was solid but not remarkable on a Duke team that flamed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and has been equally as "eh" in the NBA thus far. But if he had stuck around he would have been deadly, and just as hated as all the other famous Dukies for it. 

1. Kentucky 
G-Brandon Knight
G-Doron Lamb
F-Julius Randle
F-Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
C-Anthony Davis

Kentucky is all over the place with these one and dones. Would Anthony Davis still be eligible? Would John Wall? Is Boogie Cousins 30? It's hard to keep track of all of Calipari's guys that have bolted early to the NBA. In case you were wondering, Wall, Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe would have been juniors on the Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist 2012 championship team. Wow. 

But as for this season, this Kentucky team's matchup with Duke would be interesting just because Duke would be guard heavy and UK forward-heavy. I think you have to give the nod to Kentucky here, given what a game changer Davis was and also how good of a college player MKG was without taking much away from the rest of the team. Since those guys got it done two years ago, I like them over my fictional Blue Devils this year in my "what if?" March Madness.

What did I miss? Do you think Bradley Beal would have made this year's Florida team a contender against the above 5? How about Anthony Bennett and the Runnin' Rebels? 

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