The formula for winning NCAA Div. I basketball games has changed over time.
Decades ago, nearly all student-athletes stayed in college for four years. Imagine how good KU might be if all of its players stayed in school for three or four years.
Once the rules changed, some talented athletes went straight to the NBA.
More changes created what is called the one-and-done?student-athletes who go to college for one year before turning pro.
The NBA has prohibited high school players from entering the draft since the 2006-07 season because of a glut of young players failing to find positions in the league. Now athletes have to pass their 19th birthday before attempting to enter the NBA draft.
The Wichita State and Kentucky game, called an instant classic by some analysts, presents two templates for winning these days.
Chris Dufresne, in a story for ?College Hoops,? wrote, ?You can be like Kentucky and annually sign the best crop of high school players in the country, or be like Wichita State and cobble together a roster of misfits who grow into their roles.?
I don?t think it?s fair to call the Shockers misfits, but it?s true that most of the WSU players don?t come with the same basketball pedigree as Kentucky?s. And still, the game was a classic. In fact, there were times it was hard to tell which team had the 5-star athletes.
Dufresne said the game ranked right up there with Houston versus North Carolina State in 1983, one of the best national title games ever contested.
He wrote, ?Too bad Wichita State vs. Kentucky had to be played on the first weekend instead of the last. It wasn?t just close basketball, it was great basketball.?
Although the outcome went to the squad dominated with one-and-done players, it?s clear that current eligibility rules help programs such as Wichita State compete at the highest level.
That?s not to say that the Shockers don?t have talent. Far from it. They have a ton of talent. The key for any successful coach is finding the right kind of talented player who fits into his system. In Wichita State?s case, Coach Marshall has taken the approach of mixing underclassmen with talented junior college transfers.
Kentucky leans heavily on McDonald?s All-Ameri?cans. Both KU and KSU have dabbled in that arena with varying degrees of success.
Of course, schools like KU, Duke, Kentucky, etc., have the best chance of landing one-and-done players. The question is how to make it work and is it worth it? It?s not as easy as it sounds.
It?s a lot like Wichita State?s 34-0 record before the NCAA Tournament. If it were so easy, more teams would do it.
Kentucky went from winning the NCAA Tournament one year to losing in the first round of the NIT last year to making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament this year.
It remains to be seen whether one or two of KU?s players will be one and done or continue in school. If a coach has an opportunity to have a hired gun ?er, one-and-done player join the program?it?s hard to turn down the opportunity.
The one-and-done approach is no surefire route to success. Most of the Cinderella upset specials the first weekend of the tournament were by veteran teams with years of additional maturity and added experience playing together beating blue-blood schools who relied too heavily on 18-year-old raw talent.
Of course, it doesn?t always work that way, much to WSU?s sorrow.
And don?t be too quick to blame the one-and-done athletes. After all, if you are talented enough to play in the NBA, how long do you stay in college and risk injury if you can be an instant millionaire?
The problem is some athletes are chasing fool?s gold. They don?t all make it in the NBA and suddenly they are ineligible for a free college education as a student athlete.
Ultimately, it?s up to the head coach how best to achieve success. The Wichita State and Kentucky game showed there?s more than one way to have success, and that the margin between winning and losing has never been closer.