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Gasaway on the Insider

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Gasaway on the Insider

Post  MULECHOPS on Fri Dec 10, 2010 12:42 am

By John Gasaway
Special to ESPN Insider
Archive

John Calipari has been the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats for a little more than 600 days, and in that short time he has seen much roster turnover. You could legitimately say he has driven that amount of turnover.



Players like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have been around the Duke Blue Devils seemingly forever, but in Lexington, things are a little livelier in terms of personnel. For UK fans, stars like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are here one year and gone the next.



Constantly churning rosters seem like a bad thing on the surface, but Calipari has pretty clearly carved out a new template for success in the one-and-done era. In Coach Cal's hands, roster turnover is a blessing -- it means the talent is too good to hang around.



Calipari's biggest accomplishment: He gets that top-tier talent to play defense. Last season, Kentucky labored under a persistent misapprehension that it was some kind of explosive offensive team; in fact, the Wildcats' offense was only as good as Florida's and was even a little worse than Vanderbilt's in SEC play. But UK's defense was on a different level entirely. The Cats played the best D the SEC has seen since LSU's 2006 Final Four team, led by Tyrus Thomas and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.



This season, Calipari once again has a team that is extremely young and extremely talented. If anything, the Wildcats play younger this season. Last season, at least there was a graybeard like Patrick Patterson on hand. This season, the offense in Lexington is supplied almost entirely by freshmen, namely Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb. And judging by performances like Jones' 27-point, 17-rebound double-double against Notre Dame on Wednesday night, relying on freshmen might not be such a bad thing.



So, can a team as young as the 2010-11 Wildcats make the Final Four?




Based on returning possession minutes (RPM), this season's UK team is basically the same age as last season's; that squad got to within a game of the Final Four, losing to the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Elite Eight.



Yet, Kentucky's near miss in 2010 was more unusual than you might think. Wall, Cousins & Co. were flying in the face of a tendency that's downright anti-youth: The further you go into the NCAA tournament, the older the teams tend to get. In this sense, the example of Duke last season is particularly instructive. The Blue Devils seemed like a veteran bunch, right? Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, Singler, Smith -- those guys weren't what you'd call precociously young.



Maybe not, but get ready for a surprise. Duke in 2010 actually skewed young in terms of recent Final Four teams.



Of all Final Four teams from 2008 to 2010, the 2010 Blue Devils actually had the lowest percentage (64) of possession minutes returned from the previous season; the Butler Bulldogs, whom they beat to win it all, had returned 97 percent of their possession minutes from the previous season.


Entering last season, the Blue Devils had said goodbye to Gerald Henderson, who in 2008-09 had a very good season as the co-featured scorer (along with Singler) in Mike Krzyzewski's offense.



Caveat: Remember the Ohio State Buckeyes team from a few years back led by one-and-dones like Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook? That Buckeyes team made it to the 2007 national championship game before falling to Florida. Thad Matta's roster that season was indeed pretty young, returning just 35 percent of the possession minutes from the previous season. Yet even that team received big contributions from returning veterans like Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler.



Basketball Prospectus has tracked RPMs for five seasons, measuring how experienced major-conference and high mid-major teams are year in and year out.



A run-of-the-mill team in that demographic tends to return about 59 percent of its possession minutes in any given season. Based on those numbers, the conclusion is that, Ohio State in 2007 notwithstanding, Final Four teams are on average much more experienced than a team chosen at random.



That doesn't mean Kentucky is doomed this season just because it returns a paltry 12 percent of it possession minutes from last season. (In fact, UK has the least experienced major-conference roster in the nation. The California Golden Bears are a close second.) It does mean that Calipari is trying to do something that's never been done in the one-and-done era. Of course, he almost pulled it off last season, so we know it's not so far-fetched. Relying this heavily on freshmen is not standard operating procedure -- and it sure is fun to watch. In other words, it's Calipari's work through and through.



John Gasaway writes for Basketball Prospectus; his archives for that site are here. You can find him on Twitter here. He'll be covering aspects of college hoops on ESPN Insider throughout 2010-11.

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MULECHOPS

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Age : 47
Location : Sullivan Kentucky
Favorite College team: : UK
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