The 2013 NCAA tournament came to a thrilling conclusion on Monday night, the Louisville Cardinals beating the Michigan Wolverines 82-76.
While the penumbra of a national championship is sure to help Louisville next season, it's not the only one who will benefit. The nature of the NCAA tournament is simple: Only one team in the field can go out with a win. But that doesn't necessarily mean that every team ended its season on a low note. For some losing teams, the tournament experience was still a learning experience, and a great one at that.
The criteria for inclusion below, more or less, came down to the following factors:
- Projected Returning Players
- Success of 2013 Experience
- Program Continuity
So to give a few examples of teams that weren't included: The Oregon Ducks made a great, surprising run to the Sweet 16 this year, but four of their top five players are graduating. Therefore, it's hard to say how much this experience helps the program. The same can be said of Miami (FL). And though Florida Gulf Coast, the tournament's undisputed darling, was led by a ragtag group of projected returnees (Sherwood Brown was the only major senior), its coach just moved 2,600 miles away from Fort Myers.
The following teams, however, meet all of the requirements listed above. And because of that, their experience in 2013 could drastically alter their success next season.
Honorable Mentions: Wichita State, Ole Miss, Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast, California
3. Harvard Crimson
Significant Returning Players
|G/F Wesley Saunders||So.||37.3 MPG, 16.2 PPG|
|G Siyani Chambers||Fr.||37.8 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 5.7 APG|
|G Laurent Rivard||Jr.||35.4 MPG, 10.3 PPG|
|F Steve Mondou-Missi||So.||20.6 MPG, 7.9 PPG|
|C Kenyatta Smith||So.||14.5 MPG, 5.8 PPG,|
|F Jonah Travis||So.||16.5 MPG, 6.2 PPG|
Harvard didn't make it past the first weekend, and it certainly didn't go out in impressive fashion. But in upsetting the No. 3 New Mexico Lobos, it did something exceedingly rare for an Ivy League team. And perhaps more importantly than that, it did so with a very young roster.
The Crimson return six of their seven true rotation players next year, including all three of their leading scorers, all five of their leading rebounders and all three of their best three-point shooters.
The win against New Mexico, despite the ignominious loss to Arizona the following round, should be enough to instill this group with confidence and poise next season. These Harvard boys learn quickly as it were, and the experience they gained only hastened that curve.
Next year, when the Crimson win their first-round game, don't expect any brackets to be busted. A top-eight seed is well within their reach.
2. Arizona Wildcats
Significant Returning Players:
|G Nick Johnson||So.||31.4 MPG, 11.5 PPG|
|F Brandon Ashley||Fr.||20.5 MPG, 7.5 MPG|
|C Kaleb Tarczewski||Fr.||22.0 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG|
|F Grant Jerrett||Fr.||17.8 MPG, 5.2 MPG|
Yes, Arizona lost the heart and soul of its team in Mark Lyons. It lost its second-best player, Solomon Hill, and fourth-leading scorer, Kevin Parrom, to graduation as well. So what is it doing on this list?
Look a little closer at that table up above. The Wildcats don't make the cut because of their proportion of returning players; they make the list because of their proportion of underclassmen among them.
Second-weekend tournament experience does more for younger players than it does for older ones. I don't think that's a terribly bold assertion. Freshmen are more timid in big situations, freshmen are more prone to experiencing jitters, and freshmen are more prone to benefit from exposure to the both.
Look for this band of youngsters to look a lot different—read: better—come next Pac-12 season.
1. La Salle Explorers
Significant Returning Players:
|G Tyreek Duren||Jr.||34.5 MPG, 14.2 PPG|
|G Sam Mills||Jr.||33.6 MPG, 8.0 PPG|
|F Jerrell Wright||So.||24.0 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG|
|G Tyrone Garland||Jr.||24.5 MPG, 13.1 PPG|
|C Steve Zack||So.||22.3 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG|
|G D.J. Peterson||So.||25.6 PPG, 3.9 PPG|
I was shocked, in researching this piece, to see how many players La Salle is returning next season. It did not play like a young team. And while, yes, it does lose team leader and top scorer Ramon Galloway, it's still almost sure to come back even stronger next season.
Just look at what it does return. Jerell Wright gives it a guy who's scored 21 points in a second-round game. Tyreek Duren gives it a guy who's scored 19 points in a third-round game. Tyrone Garland gives it a guy who's scored a buzzer-beater on the biggest possible stage.
More importantly than that, everybody who's returning now has four full games of NCAA tournament on their resume. So next year, when—not if—they re-enter the field, they'll immediately be among the most experienced rosters.
For a team in the Atlantic 10, the importance of that cannot be overstated.