Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils were the talk of college basketball during the 2018-2019 season. Many expected them to run away with this year’s title. But with their departure in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, it is all but certain no one-and-done players will be in this year’s Final Four.
When Michigan State bounced Duke on Sunday with a 68-67 win, four potential one-and-done players were removed from the equation. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones are all done for the year.
It’s become increasingly clear that leaning heavily on one-and-done players isn’t the way to win a college basketball national title. Yes, Villanova won a championship in 2018 with Omari Spellman on the team. But no one entering March Madness believed Spellman was going to jump for the NBA. He had a great tournament and used that to propel him to the next level. The Michigan team Villanova beat in last year’s final didn’t feature any one-and-done guys.
In 2017, North Carolina beat Gonzaga for the title, and the only one-and-done the Tar Heels had was Tony Bradley, who only played 14.6 minutes per game. That Gonzaga team featured future lottery pick Zach Collins, but he didn’t start a single game and played just 17.3 minutes per game.
The last team to win a championship relying heavily on one-and-dones was Duke in 2015. Those Blue Devils had freshmen Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow leading that roster. Even Grayson Allen got plenty of action as a freshman that year.
But that Duke team was an outlier in recent years. UConn’s title winning-team in 2014 and Louisville’s squad in 2013 leaned far more on veterans than youth.
Based on trends, it’s clear that developing talent is far more important in college basketball than just collecting it. Yes, one-and-done types can be huge and create a ton of excitement, but leaning on savvy veterans is far more important if winning a championship is the goal.
Kentucky is the epitome of one-and-done culture over the past decade. John Calipari and his staff have collected more talent than anyone nationally since he arrived in Lexington. The Wildcats won a championship in 2012 and reached the final in 2014. But Kentucky hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2015, despite having a talent advantage over every team it has faced.
This year it’s clear veterans have led the way.
Auburn relies heavily on seniors Bryce Brown and Malik Dunbar, and juniors Jared Harper, Samir Doughty and Austin Wiley. Sophomore Chuma Okeke was a huge part of what the Tigers do, but he’ll miss the Final Four with a torn ACL.
While everyone is hung up on landing the latest five-star talents, the coaches who develop veteran leaders are the ones left playing for titles in college basketball.