Arizona has featured at least one one-and-done player in five out of the last six years, six players in all that have left for professional basketball after their freshman season.
Sean Miller came close to the Final Four twice in that span, but could not get past the Elite Eight in 2014 and 2015.
In the last two seasons, two of the most talented players to play at Arizona — Lauri Markkanen and Deandre Ayton — could not take the Wildcats past the Sweet 16. The star power of Ayton, a national player of the year candidate, was not enough to lead his team past a Buffalo team in the first round that ended up losing to Kentucky in the next round by 20 points.
Ayton is one of three freshmen on the AP All-American team released today along with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Oklahoma’s Trae Young.
This year’s Final Four with Kansas, Loyola Chicago, Michigan and Villanova does not include a one-and-done freshman. This is only the fourth Final Four (2009, 2010 and 2013 are the others) that will be the case.
Get this: Kansas, Michigan and Villanova do not have the highest scoring true freshman in the Final Four. That player is on the roster of Cinderalla team Loyola Chicago — center Cameron Krutwig averages 10.3 points a game. Krutwig is not on anybody’s NBA mock draft list.
The most notable NBA draft prospects in the Final Four are either juniors or seniors, including Villanova junior forward Mikal Bridges and junior guard Jalen Brunson, Michigan junior forward Moritz Wagner and Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham.
The past two national champions — North Carolina and Villanova — featured experienced lineups that have stuck around college ball for more than one season. This year will make the third straight season of such an occurrence since Duke won the title in 2015 with freshmen Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
“It’s always valuable in these games,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said last week about having valuable veterans in the lineup. “I think the teams — even 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.”
ARIZONA’S ONE-AND-DONE PLAYERS[table “” not found /]
Not having a one-and-done player also takes the focus off that player from a media and fan standpoint, and also where the ball must go on offense. Much was written and said after Buffalo’s win over Arizona that coach Nate Oats boldly said Ayton was not going to beat his team because his guards were better than Arizona’s perimeter players.
Arizona might have featured more talent on the perimeter with Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier — both of whom are moving on to the professional ranks — but the chemistry between Arizona and Buffalo was like night and day.
The question at the outset of most seasons under Miller, especially in recent years, is how he will mold the one-and-done talent within the rotation comprised of other players who were rated high by recruiting services coming out of high school.
Basketball is played with only one ball and most of these prospects bask in highlight reels showing their shooting and dunking skills, not their defensive prowess.
Teamwork, adjustments, defense, believing in each other, the coach pushing the right buttons and luck — all are elements of a team advancing to the Final Four.
Talent is also part of the equation, but as recent history suggests, that does not require a one-and-done freshman.
Mike Bibby helped Arizona win a national title as a freshman in 1997, but he was a reliable point guard, who bonded the team, and he was not bent on leaving after only one year. Also, the ball went through him. He did not demand the ball.
Interesting to note: Arizona’s one-and-done players include only one with point guard skills — Jerryd Bayless in 2007-08 — but Bayless was more of a scoring guard under interim coach Kevin O’Neill that season. Nic Wise was the starting point guard.
Can a one-and-done player enhance a team’s title quest? Of course. How could he not based only on talent?
Is it necessary to have one? No.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.