Friday, March 6, 2009

I Still Think Experience is Over-rated

Last month I was looking at the effect of experience using Ken Pomeroy’s “Sr/Jr/So/Fr” experience variable. But a senior who rarely played as a younger player is hardly more valuable than a sophomore. And at the time I was hoping someone would do the analysis using “returning minutes” instead. (Returning minutes might not catch a team like Marquette, so the Pomeroy experience measure is still worth looking at, but returning minutes clearly has some advantages.)

And I’m pleased to see John Gasaway has done just that. He shows how every BCS team with greater than 83% returning minutes has performed this year relative to last year. John even breaks down why Notre Dame and Baylor have struggled this year.

One thing I want to emphasize is that even though Notre Dame and Baylor stand out for having disappointing seasons, roughly half the experienced teams were equivalent or worse than the previous year. Rutgers, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Providence, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Baylor were really no better than in 2007-08. So even though North Carolina fans can’t complain of a swoon, they also haven’t seen the team reach the level of domination they expected.

So revising my statement from before: Experience matters, and some players get better over their careers, but even when everyone comes back, significant improvement is only a 50/50 proposition.

Maybe the reason I feel so strongly about this is that year-after-year teams like Kansas and North Carolina never really take a step backward. Even if they lose everyone, talent seems to overcome inexperience for these teams. And as a fan of successful, but not elite programs, I’ve eventually become cynical to the statement that “Hooray, everyone’s back.” Notre Dame can bring everyone back, but they still aren’t North Carolina. And if they don’t work hard, they aren’t going to win.

I honestly think the best teams are usually teams that have one or two holes, but can fill those with a talented new-comer or former bench player. UConn’s addition of Kemba Walker this year is a perfect example, and the perfect historical example was Syracuse winning the title with Carmelo Anthony. Trust me, if I had to choose between bringing everyone back and bringing in one of the top freshman in the country, I’ll take the top freshman any day.

So yeah, I’m probably going to pick North Carolina to win it all this year, but not because they are experienced. I’m picking them because they have the most talent.