As long as teams like the Kentucky Wildcats’ freshmen-laden starting lineup exist, a discussion surrounding Youth versus Experience, often framed as Talent versus Experience, will exist. Forget about the side stories of “rolling the ball out” coaching, actual student-athletes, and universities just being stopping points on the way to the NBA - what do the numbers tell you? And what stories can be made from that?
A smokescreen look at 45 sets of teams tells an interesting story. Spanning 5 years and 9 teams - Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Louisville, Kansas, Florida, and Michigan State - the sample isn’t in-depth, but I believe revealing nonetheless. It includes all 4 past champions, the 2014 NCAA Final Four teams, and a few other perennial blue-bloods of college basketball.
X’s and O’s
The data focuses on two factors: season result and the average years experience of players. If a player was on the court, he was directly impacting the game. If he was directly impacting the game, we want to know the experience they have. So I recorded the class of the top 6 players with the most minutes played per team. Each class is representative of years experience playing ball*; freshman being 1, sophomore being 2, junior being 3, and senior being 4. From there, an average was calculated for player experience among the top 6.
(Not so) Fast Breakdown
How did the least experienced teams do?
Pretty freaking good. The four least experienced teams include:
- Kentucky 2013-’14 (1.33 years) - still playing in NCAA Final Four as of time of writing
- Kansas 2013-’14 (1.5 years) - NCAA Round of 32
- Connecticut 2010-’11 (1.67 years) - NCAA Championship
- Kentucky 2009-’10(1.67 years) - NCAA Elite Eight
The next 4 youngest include season results of NCAA Championship, NCAA Elite Eight, NCAA Round of 64, and First Round NIT appearance.
So among the eight least experienced teams, that’s:
- 2 NCAA Championships
- at least 1 NCAA Final Four (Kentucky’s 2013-’14 team)
- 2 NCAA Elite Eights
- 1 NCAA Round of 32,
- 1 NCAA Round of 64
- 1 NIT appearance
Lots of success for youthful teams, no?
How did the experienced teams do?
Pretty freaking good, as well. The four most experienced teams include:
- Florida 2012-’13 (3.5 years) - NCAA Elite Eight
- Duke 2009-’10 (3.33 years) - NCAA Championship
- Kansas 2011-’12 (3.33 years) - NCAA Championship Runner-up
- Louisville 2013-’14 (3.33 years) - NCAA Sweet Sixten
The next 4 most experienced include season results of 2 NCAA Sweet Sixteens and NCAA Round of 64 (Florida 2013-’14 as of time of writing still in the tournament).
So among the eight most experienced teams, that’s:
- 1 NCAA Championship
- 1 NCAA Championship Runner-up
- at least 1 NCAA Final Four (Florida’s 2013-’14 team)
- 1 NCAA Elite Eight
- 3 NCAA Sweet Sixteens
- 1 NCAA Round of 64
Lots of success for experienced teams, yeah?
How experienced were the most successful teams?
Now let’s see what the experience levels were for the most successful teams of the last 5 years in this dataset. We’ll define “successful” as Elite Eight appearance or better. This obviously slims it down, as for some programs reaching the Sweet Sixteen or even just the NCAA tournament is considered a successful year. But these are the best of the best, with many of the fan bases of these teams demanding Final Fours. So I cut it off at the Elite Eight.
Let’s dive in:
NCAA Champions for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013
- Duke (3.33 years)
- Connecticut (1.67)
- Kentucky (1.83)
- Louisville (2.83)
NCAA Championship Runner-up 2012
- Kansas (3.33)
NCAA Final Four 2010, 2011, 2012
- Michigan State (2.83)
- Kentucky (2.17)
- Louisville (2.67)
NCAA Elite Eight, 2010
- Kentucky (1.67)
NCAA Elite Eight, 2011
- North Carolina (1.83)
- Florida (3)
- Kansas (3)
NCAA Elite Eight, 2012
- Florida (2.5)
- North Carolina (2.33)
NCAA Elite Eight, 2013
- Florida (3.5)
- Duke (3)
NCAA Elite Eight, 2014
- Michigan State (3)
All over the board, right? The range of years experience averages are 1.67 years to 3.5. Sounds about right.
The story here isn’t that Experience always wins or Talent is always better - it’s that neither are better than the other. Duke’s 2009-’10 championship team was led by 3 seniors, 2 juniors, and a sophomore. Connecticut won the championship the next year led by 1 junior, 2 sophomores, and 3 freshmen. It’s worth noting that Connecticut’s one junior was uber-talented Kemba Walker, but he didn’t do it alone. Nearly half of the points scored in Connecticut’s championship win over Butler came from their freshmen. Freshmen also played 111 minutes in the game, 55% of the total minutes available.
The average years of experience for the most successful teams are 2.62 - the equivalent of sophomore and junior class teams. So you may need experience.. approximately one to two years of it.
How experienced were the least successful teams?
“Least successful” is defined by NCAA Round of 32 or lower. This leaves the Sweet Sixteen in this grey area between Most Successful and Least Successful. For some programs, a Sweet Sixteen experience is expected and anything less is unsuccessful. That said, here we go:
No post-season, 2012-‘13
- Connecticut (2.33 years)
- Kentucky, 2012-’13 (1.83) - NIT First Round
- Connecticut, 2011-’12 (2.67) - NIT Second Round
- North Carolina, 2009-’10 (2.67) - NIT Championship Runner-up
NCAA Round of 64, 2009
- Florida (2.67)
- Louisville (3.17)
NCAA Round of 64, 2010
- Louisville (3)
- Michigan State (3)
NCAA Round of 64, 2011
- Connecticut (1.83)
NCAA Round of 64, 2012
- Wisconsin (3)
NCAA Round of 64, 2013
- Duke (2.33)
NCAA Round of 32, 2009
- Kansas (2.33)
- Wisconsin (2.83)
NCAA Round of 32, 2011
- Duke (2.5)
NCAA Round of 32, 2012
- North Carolina (2.5)
NCAA Round of 32, 2013
- Kansas (1.5)
- North Carolina (2.5)
Noted stand-out among the least experienced team of this entire set is the Kansas 2013-’14 team with 1.5 years of experience on average, the youngest team in the data set. They didn’t even make it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But let’s not forget the Louisville team of 2009-’10, knocked out by Morehead State University in the NCAA Round of 64, with over twice the amount of experience per player: 3.17 years. That’s the range of this set of teams, 1.5 to 3.17 years, the equivalent of having a freshmen and sophomore-laden team versus a junior and senior-laden team.
The interesting story here is that it can’t be concluded, given our data set, that the least successful teams are usually the least experienced. In fact, in this set of 17 unsuccessful teams, 4 of them have 3 years or more experience. 3 teams have less than 2.
Game Recap and Caveats
There are some holes in this analysis. The most obvious is that by nature of the dataset selection, successful teams were more populous. A better analysis would be limiting the dataset to the last 5 years most experienced teams and least experienced teams, and comparing their season results (and maybe season record). Maybe for another day.
Nevertheless, the posit that inexperienced teams aren’t as successful as experienced teams is at the very least challenged. We don’t have to listen to the pundits tell us their story anymore; there are numbers that can tell their own.
My wife loves sticky notes. She loves writing lists. She loves keeping a notebook in her purse and recording all her ideas for interior designs, things that need to get done before the party this weekend, gifts to buy for nieces and nephews, and groceries for the next trip to Target.
She doesn’t love my incessant nagging for her to stop writing this stuff in one of her many notebooks or on sticky notes that fall off the fridge, but to start recording them in one of the many iPhone apps out there.
Problem is, I haven’t found one that works for both of us, and she has no interest in finding one herself.
So my semi-annual hunt for a list making, to-do tracking, simple sharing app is on once again. Here’s to making this the last one.
UPDATE: It only took a few hours, but we returned to using Wunderlist. We previously used Wunderlist to try planning our wedding and buying our first house, as well as a task list for myself for work. It worked (for the most part), and we found the biggest problem was not crossing things off when they were done and us not communicating when things were being worked on. So while we improve on that, Wunderlist does a great job at making easy-to-read lists, providing a simple method to share them, and offering just enough extra features to keep it from being too minimal (such as comments on tasks, ability to assign tasks, tagging system, easy rearrangement, multi-platform support).
Here’s to getting a lot more shi-, er, stuff done in 2014, and not forgetting anything at the grocery store!