- By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Oklahoma’s Trae Young captivated the college basketball world, dashing and dishing and filling up the hoop. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton was called a cyborg and a unicorn, whatever people could think of to describe his unique combination of power and athleticism. Marvin Bagley III seemed to be playing a different game than everyone else, dunking, slashing, shooting and dominating at Duke.
All three are headed to the NBA, Ayton and Bagley potentially as the draft’s top two picks.
None made it to college basketball’s final weekend. The trio — and the rest of the coveted one-and-dones — were already done before the bracket branched into San Antonio.
Winning championships, except in rare cases, takes more than one talented player. It requires a collective effort, experience, leadership — elements Villanova and Michigan have stockpiled while building toward the NCAA Tournament title game on Monday night.
“There’s a process of going through the season that you have to experience one, two, three times before you can really have this type of success under this pressure in March,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
The Final Four this year has come down to just that.
All four teams had talented freshman, though none of the one-and-done variety. Loyola-Chicago’s Cameron Krutwig was the Final Four’s leading true freshman scorer at 10.3 points per game.
The last two teams have counted on freshman to help them reach the title game.
Wildcats big man Omari Spellman is a freshman, but had a redshirt year to learn coach Jay Wright’s system and transform his body. Collin Gillespie has appeared in 31 games, but averages only 4.3 minutes.
The Wolverines have two key players who are freshmen in Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers. Poole hit the buzzer-beater against Houston to send Michigan into the Sweet 16 and was the vocal leader in the locker room when the Wolverines trailed Loyola-Chicago at halftime in the national semifinals.
Livers has started 21 games this season, rotating with Duncan Robinson at forward.
One-and-done they are not.
These title contenders are here because they have veteran leaders, savvy players who know the game’s nuances and can handle the brightest spotlights without peeking around the corner to a professional career.
“We recruit guys that just want to be in college,” Wright said. “We want them to enjoy the college experience and then we hope that after one year of enjoying the college experience they have a really difficult decision to make that the NBA wants you but you really enjoy college. Rather than come to college saying I want to get out as soon as I can.”
Villanova is led by Associated Press national player of the year Jalen Brunson, a heady, always-in-control junior who fills up the box score. The rest of the leadership trust includes juniors Mikal Bridges, Eric Booth and Eric Paschall, and scrappy sophomore Donte DiVincenzo.
Michigan’s main man is junior Moe Wagner, a multi-dimensional German big man and matchup nightmare. Juniors Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are the other main scoring options, sophomore Zavier Simpson runs the point, graduate seniors Duncan Robinson and Jaaron Simmons provide depth at guard.
Wagner, Brunson and Bridges will likely have NBA careers. Some of the others, just maybe.
“We always say and I think it was Rudy Tomjanovich who said this, ‘We’re not amassing talent when you’re building a team; you’re building a team,'” Beilein said.
There have been seasons when freshmen were the catalysts to championship runs: Pervis Ellison and Louisville in 1986, Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003, Anthony Davis and his fellow future NBA friends at Kentucky in 2012.
The most recent freshman-fueled title came in 2015, when Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones led Duke to its fifth national title.
Even when a freshman carries, others have to help with the load. Someone has to provide the veteran leadership, fill the gritty roles crucial to winning titles.
“It’s always valuable in these games,” Wright said. “And I think the teams — the Duke teams, the Kentucky teams that have won with one-and-done players — they’ve had great experienced players on those teams, too. They might not have gotten the hype, but they were the players that kind of led those young guys through that experience.”
Villanova and Michigan both have that — without the one-and-done guys.
More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events