One senior started in the national championship game in 2013. The year before, Kentucky won the title with one senior in its rotation, and KU’s Tyshawn Taylor was the only senior to start in the title game.
The one-and-done rule has changed the way some champions are built, but given the option, coaches still want some experience. Talented experience is even better.
Kentucky’s baby burger boys will be the story in the preseason, but by March, we’ll hear plenty about the guys who have prolonged their stay.
The mid-majors who crash the party are typically chock-full of them. A few contenders among the big boys also have a good share of upperclassmen next season.
Here are 10 long-toothed rosters to keep an eye on.
Impact Returning Seniors: Keith Appling, Adreian Payne
Impact Returning Juniors: Branden Dawson, Travis Trice
Impact Returning Sophomores: Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine
Once Appling, Payne and Harris decided to stay in school, it was pretty easy to pen the Spartans in as a preseason top five team.
Tom Izzo is probably getting calls this summer from other coaches wondering how he convinced three guys to all stay. This isn’t exactly Joakim Noah and crew deciding to stay one more season at Florida, but the three Spartans coming back is huge for Izzo. He has never gone more than three seasons without getting to the Final Four; next season could have been in serious jeopardy if a few of his guys had left for the pros.
Payne and Appling will try to continue the streak of every senior class recruited by Izzo playing in at least one Final Four.
Impact Returning Seniors: Juvonte Reddic, Terrance Shannon (transfer from Florida State), Rob Brandenberg
Impact Returning Juniors: Treveon Graham, Briante Weber, Teddy Okereafor, Jarred Guest
Impact Returning Sophomores: Melvin Johnson
Shaka Smart has to love his roster. Smart’s style requires a deep bench, and when that deep bench can be filled with upperclassmen, that’s a huge plus.
In 2011 when the Rams made the Final Four, they started four seniors and a junior. This team will likely start either three seniors and two juniors or three juniors and two seniors.
Impact Returning Seniors: Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Mike McCall, Rob Loe, Jake Barnett
Impact Returning Junior: Grandy Glaze
This core recruited by the late Rick Majerus has now been to two straight NCAA tournaments and also won an Atlantic 10 championship.
All six upperclassmen started at least two games last season. Evans and Loe started every game the last two seasons, and McCall started all 35 games last year.
The Billikens win because they play smarter basketball than everyone else. That’s not changing this upcoming season with all those old guys still around.
Impact Returning Seniors: Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow, Demetrius Walker
Impact Returning Juniors: Alex Kirk, Hugh Greenwood
If Tony Snell had returned, the Lobos could have claimed that they were the most experienced team in the country. They would have returned five starters who were all upperclassmen. Having four return is still a pretty nice luxury.
Impact Returning Seniors: Jeff Elorriaga, Ryan Watkins, Thomas Bropleh
Impact Returning Juniors: Derrick Marks, Anthony Drmic, Igor Hadziomerovic, Joe Hanstad
Impact Returning Sophomore: Mikey Thompson
Boise State graduated one senior and that senior, Kenny Buckner, played only 18.1 minutes per game last year off the bench.
The Broncos did make the NCAA tournament—you might have forgot because they loss in the play-in game—and that loss to La Salle is to be respected after the run La Salle went on.
With all that experience coming back, the Broncos are a good sleeper pick to win the Mountain West and to go on a tourney run.
Impact Returning Seniors: Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather
Impact Returning Sophomore: Michael Frazier II
The Gators could have even more experience if Rutgers transfer Eli Carter is allowed to play right away.
All four seniors have been part of the rotation on three straight Elite Eight teams. Usually you knock on that door enough, eventually you’re going to beat it in and get to the Final Four.
Impact Returning Seniors: Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Aaron Bright, Andy Brown, John Gage, Robbie Lemons
Impact Returning Juniors: Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic
Impact Returning Sophomores: Rosco Allen, Christian Sanders
Johnny Dawkins has been at Stanford five seasons and has yet to make the NCAA tournament. Last year the expectation was that he had the team to do it. The Cardinals won the 2012 NIT and had almost the entire roster returning.
That team made the NIT again. This one returns the starting five and loses one fringe rotation player. Four of those starters are seniors.
The expectation has to be NCAA tournament or bust.
Impact Returning Seniors: Jarred Shaw, Spencer Buttterfield, Preston Medlin, TeNale Roland, Marvin Jean
Impact Returning Juniors: Matt Lopez, Ben Clifford, Jordan Stone
Impact Returning Sophomore: Marcel Davis
Utah State’s seniors have missed the NCAA tournament two straight seasons after making it as freshmen.
The Aggies can look back at last season and think “what could have been.” They were 14-2 and 5-1 in the WAC until Medlin, the team’s leading scorer, was lost for the season along with fellow starter Kyisean Reed. The Aggies went 7-8 the rest of the way.
Reed is the only player in the rotation that the Aggies graduate. Medlin was the preseason player of the year in the WAC last year and scored 20-plus points in four of his final games. If he stays healthy, expect Stew Morrill's group back in the NCAA tournament.
Impact Returning Seniors: Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese
Impact Returning Juniors: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Kevin Ware
Impact Returning Sophomore: Montrezl Harrell
Do you like your talent with loads of potential? Or do you preferred it seasoned?
That’s the debate between Kentucky and Louisville for preseason No. 1. The Wildcats have the better talent on paper, but the Cardinals have players who have proven themselves on a huge stage.
Louisville returns 127 minutes from the national championship game in addition to Ware. Smith and Behanan have been starters on two straight Final Four teams.
Rick Pitino built this roster with an old-school approach, steering clear of the one-and-done or even two-and-done talents. It worked once. We’ll see if it can work again next year.
Impact Returning Seniors: Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith
Impact Returning Juniors: LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams
Thad Matta has done a nice job of building enough depth in his program that he’s prepared when players leave early.
The 2013-14 Buckeyes could have had both Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas as their go-to guys (in a universe where the NBA doesn’t exist). Instead, Ross will become a starter for the first time and also assume the role of go-to scorer. The way he played in the NCAA tournament—finishing by averaging 17.7 in his final three games—Matta should have faith he can do the job.
Craft and Smith have started all 78 games the last two seasons. When Craft is a successful coach in 15 years, is anyone going to act like they didn’t see that coming? Both Craft and Smith know exactly what Matta wants and Craft will probably do a lot of on-court coaching himself.
And if you’ve already had enough positive verbiage about the veteran Buckeye backcourt, you better sit this season out. Craft is the early favorite for the J.J. Redick Award, which goes to the senior that is glowingly talked about so much you hate him. Go ahead and carve Craft's name in the traveling trophy.