NCAA 2016 Championship: Seniors rule at Villanova and North Carolina

The Season of the Senior offers a break from the NCAA tournament story lines of the last five or six years.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
North Carolina's Nate Britt, right, and Villanova's Kris Jenkins celebrate after North Carolina won a regional final men's college basketball game against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in Philadelphia. North Carolina won 88-74 to advance to the Final Four.

The "One and Dones" didn't get anywhere near the Final Four this season. Instead, this will be remembered as the year when patience was rewarded.

The projected top two picks of the upcoming NBA draft, freshmen Brandon Ingram of Duke and Ben Simmons of LSU, were warming up the couch for Monday night's title game (9:19 p.m. Eastern on TBS) between North Carolina and Villanova — two teams that, quite fittingly, got where they are with a locker room full of seniors.

"We did have good freshmen this year," said Kansas coach Bill Self, in summing up the scene around the country. "But seniors stole the show."

The Season of the Senior offered a break from the story lines of the last five or six years, during which hand-wringing over the "One and Done" rule has taken over the sport, almost non-stop.

Officially, "One and Done" is the NBA's requirement that players be at least 19 and wait one season after graduating high school before entering the draft. With the league and its union expected to pick up collective-bargaining negotiations later this year, the debate will almost certainly be resumed.

What's the best outcome? Depends on who you ask.

At the college level, "One and Done" can make for some exciting one-hit wonders. John Calipari has led Kentucky to four Final Fours over the last six years, with one national championship, thanks to his uncanny ability to reload at Kentucky. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski also has a title under that formula.

Both have faced their share of criticism for sacrificing continuity and subverting education in exchange for the high of a quick title run. Calipari and Coach K are fond of bragging about the still-impressive numbers of their players who do get degrees — and insisting they're only playing by the rules, not writing them.

Meanwhile, at the NBA level, Charles Barkley considers "One and Done" a crisis.

"We've got guys who can't play coming to the NBA after one year," he said. "Our quality of basketball is awful. We've got six good teams. ... We can't sustain our business model that way. Charging people outrageous sums of money for regular-season tickets and putting a (bad) product out there, we're going to kill our product."

To Barkley's dismay, this season looks more like a one-time reprieve than a trend. The upcoming recruiting class is loaded. Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles have committed to Duke; De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo are pointed toward Kentucky.

All are already listed on 2017 mock NBA draft boards.

Because these five are moving as package deals to coaches who are used to this sort of thing, their chances for NCAA success over a short stay figure to be greater.

This year's freshmen, however, were different. Instead of "One and Done," this group was more like "Now or Never."

After winning it all last season with One-and-Doners Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, the Blue Devils, as Krzyzewski explained early and often, were thin this year, leaving Ingram on the outside looking in after the Sweet 16.

At LSU, coach Johnny Jones lost a pair of sophomores, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, to the NBA, leaving Simmons and the Tigers out of the tournament altogether.

"For Ben, things happened that were beyond his control," Jones said. "He was very impactful and engaged for us. He put his team in the best possible position."

In a perfect world, says former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, these situations wouldn't be so common.

"You take 770 kids transferring every year, and add those to the freshmen who leave," he said, "and it's a case where you just don't get the stability in the game. I'm not trying to be a curmudgeon. I'd just like to see more stability."

In a way, 2015-16 must have felt like a nice breather to him.

All these Final Four seniors — Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige of Carolina, Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono of Villanova, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and Michael Gbinije of Syracuse — should, at minimum, get a chance to make an NBA roster next season. Hield and Johnson could both be lottery picks. That they all had four years to learn basketball in college only helped their cause.

The Associated Press Player of the Year, senior Denzel Valentine, also benefited. His Michigan State team was supposed to contend for a title, but lost, shockingly, in the first round.

He's still glad he stuck around.

"I don't think it always needs to be a fight, seniors versus freshmen," Valentine said. "If you stay in school and you're a senior, there shouldn't be a knock on that. They shouldn't say, 'Aw, he waited too long.' Let's just look at who's good and go from there."


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