Kansas University will rank atop more preseason college basketball polls than any other school. Somebody has to rank first, but it’s not as if KU is as easy a choice as North Carolina was a year ago. The reason: experience. North Carolina had far more of it going into last season than the Jayhawks have heading into the 2009-2010 season.
Roy Williams entered last season coaching a roster that already had a whopping 14,265 minutes of Div. I experience from basketball players on scholarship, led by Tyler Hansbrough’s 3,365 minutes. Seven players had more than 1,000 minutes going into last season.
Bill Self’s roster features three players with more than 1,000 minutes of Div. I basketball floor time: Sherron Collins (2,884), Cole Aldrich (1,367) and Brady Morningstar (1,153).
A more experienced team means a smarter team. College basketball veterans use their superior physical, mental and emotional maturity to their advantage. They also play hungrier because many of the players know their careers are winding to a close.
KU’s 2008 national champions brought 11,871 minutes into that season, compared to the 8,906 this year’s roster has going into the Nov. 13 season opener against Hofstra in Allen Fieldhouse. The 2007-2008 team had five players (Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson) who already had logged at least 1,000 minutes of Div. I time.
Kansas isn’t the most experienced team expected to be in the hunt for a national title, but it’s not the greenest, either. Kentucky’s John Calipari has the least experienced roster among teams getting the most love in conversations about the best handful of 2009-2010 schools. Calipari has a loaded recruiting class led by point guard John Wall and post player DeMarcus Cousins, but returning talent is thin in experience behind Perry Stevenson (2,096) and Patrick Patterson (2,040). Kentucky checks in at 7,086 minutes of experience.
Purdue (11,990 minutes) ranks highest among popular top-five picks, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team (10,311) led by Da’Sean Butler (3,131) is worth watching, and Michigan State checks in just ahead of KU with 9,082 minutes.
What Self’s roster lacks in experience it compensates for in length, quickness and versatility. Still, the freshmen can’t play like freshmen in March if KU is going to win a second national title in three years.
A possible starting five of Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich features a freshman, two sophomores, a junior and a senior, not tremendously experienced, but not green either.
Much of KU’s success will be determined by the answers to questions about newcomers. Such as:
How quickly will freshman Xavier Henry develop into a complete player who can be counted on to shut down the other team’s tallest wing?
Will Elijah Johnson and/or C.J. Henry polish the rough edges well enough to beat out Morningstar and Tyrel Reed for playing time?
Can Thomas Robinson learn enough in a short time to merit major minutes?
Watching answers to those questions develop won’t be boring.