Friday, December 20, 2013

Welcome to the Party, Freshman!

If any of you went to a small, private college, you know that the term “babe” is not used often to describe the female population at your school. The “hotties” are few and far between, there are not plenty of fish in the sea, and the development of beer goggles is crucial to a proud and satisfying love life.

At a private school, it’s every man’s dream to walk into their frat house and say, “Damn. I just saw the hottest chick,” but those moments are reserved for those bastards at the larger state school two hours away. Hey—at least we got to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in loans though, amirite?

If you have any idea what I’m talking about, then you also know that there are few moments as captivating as that moment when that one hot freshman walks into the party you’re at on Friday night. The level of excitement in that moment is hard to describe, and each gentleman deals with it differently.

Some boldly approach her to begin marking their territory in every manner imaginable—falling just short of lifting their leg to urinate on her. Others giggle in the corner and talk about how they’re each going to “get” her until they’re too drunk to do so and then just end up going home. Anyone not covered in those first two groupings probably just left the party to go home and change their shorts. Regardless of each man’s reaction in that joyous moment, one thing is certain: that moment is exhilarating.

The same goes for college basketball. Each year there’s that one hot freshman that gets everyone excited. Two years ago, it was Anthony Davis. Last year, Nerlens Noel. But this year is the jackpot. Andrew Wiggins is the prize stallion—the true ten—but right behind him are Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Wayne Selden, etc., etc. When a freshman class is as talented as this class, it obviously makes for excited fan bases, but how excited should they really be?

That hot freshman that walks into the party is never more attractive than that first moment you lay eyes on her. In that moment, we look past the small flaws that may exist because we’re entranced by what seems to be perfection. As her freshman year goes on, you may begin noticing those small imperfections. Maybe she’s too shy or too selfish. Perhaps she’s not really as gorgeous as she was at that party. Maybe she packs on the “Freshman 15.” But, in that first sighting, those things don’t matter. All you see is perfection, and that’s the danger. From there, you’re only leaving room for disappointment.

That first sighting at the party is equivalent to a recruit’s commitment day in college basketball. When a school gets a great recruit, its fan base immediately expects them to be LeBron—or at least college versions of Durant or Carmelo. That’s not necessarily new. Top recruits have always had high expectations and added pressure, but, in the last few years, recruits don’t only have personal expectations. They’re expected to, not only help, but actually lead their team to a national championship. Pretty high expectations for an 18-year old who’s never played a minute of college basketball.

The NBA is a league that wins with pure talent, but college basketball has never been that way. It’s always been a coach’s sport. So why are we all assuming that’s changing all of a sudden? Ever since Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky in 2009 and began building his superstar freshmen teams, fans and experts alike have practically handed the national championship to whichever school has the best freshmen before the season even begins.

But do you know how many teams since then have actually won a championship while starting more than two freshmen? Zero. Last year, Louisville didn’t start a single freshman. Two years ago, Kentucky—the team that everyone remembers for their freshmen—started two. TWO! They had a young team, but it was not all freshmen like we seem to think. Three years ago, UConn started one. As you look even further back, this trend continues. Talented freshmen are certainly helpful, but we have yet to see a team comprised almost entirely of freshmen win a national championship.

Last year, Kentucky started three freshmen, and they were the preseason #4. Remember how that turned out? Oh yeah…losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. Good thing they had those amazing freshmen, right? This year they were the preseason #1, and they start four freshmen! And, now, they’re already in a free fall.

With the way the NCAA is set up, freshmen are extremely important, but we have got to stop handing out preseason championships to teams that are depending solely on freshmen. That goes for both analysts and fans. We should be excited when our school signs a great recruit. They will make your team better, but we also need to remember that our level of excitement will probably never be higher than the day they commit because that’s when our expectations will be at their peak.

Kentucky and Kansas are competitive year in and year out, largely due to excellent incoming classes each year, and I imagine both will compete for the championship again this year. However, they both start four freshmen. Put your money where you want, but until we see a team with more than two starting freshmen win the national championship, I’m not betting on the team like KU or Kentucky.

In college, it’s not about the best freshmen or even the best overall talent. It’s about the right team with a great coach. So get excited about your great freshman. Set crazy expectations. Just know I’ll be the one in the back saying, “Told you” when Kentucky goes out in the Sweet 16.

More importantly though, remember that 18-year olds are legal. So you should probably try to hook up with that freshman at that first party because she’s all downhill from there.

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