Column: Vets key to KU’s tourney success

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In many ways, the most significant development to come out of the Kansas University basketball team’s 69-52 victory Tuesday at Baylor involved the strong play of non-freshmen.

Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, KU’s heavy reliance on freshmen makes forecasting its postseason prospects a little shaky. You never know how a freshman will react when confronted with new circumstances. Last season, for example, Ben McLemore shot 2 of 14 overall and 0 for 8 from three-point territory in the two NCAA Tournament games in Sprint Center. He exploded for 20 points against Michigan, a game made possible by seniors performing so well against North Carolina.

In 2005-2006, freshmen scored 47 percent of the Jayhawks’ points and were bounced by Bradley in the first round.

So far this season, freshmen have accounted for 60 percent of KU’s scoring. They usually face man-to-man defenses, which keeps them in their comfort zones. Baylor played a 2-3 zone and, aside from a seven-point outburst in 93 seconds from freshman Andrew Wiggins, KU’s three top players in the game were junior Naadir Tharpe, sophomore Perry Ellis and senior Tarik Black. Non-freshman accounted for two-thirds of KU’s scoring in the defense-driven victory.

Kentucky proved in 2012 it’s possible to win a national title with the majority of a team’s points coming from freshmen. Probably because the first two picks in the NBA draft were freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, many forget that three of the top six scorers on that team were sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones and senior Darius Miller.

Freshmen scored 53 percent of the points for the Wildcats that year.

Comparisons to this season’s Kentucky squad and that one don’t ring true because the Wildcats rely on freshmen for 80 percent of their scoring this season. That’s asking a lot of frosh. KU’s freshmen carry a heavy load too, but they get more support from veterans than do Kentucky’s rookies.