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NCAA Mid-Major Success: Is It An Age Thing?

Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT via Getty Images

With Butler playing for the national championship for the second straight year, having defeated VCU in the Final Four, everyone’s debating the reasons behind the recent success of mid-major teams in the NCAA Tournament. Evidence abounds:

The most interesting view I’ve heard on why this is happening comes from Jay Bilas over at ESPN, who in this video argues that it’s not so much that mid-majors have suddenly gotten better, but that the “majors” have gotten worse. Bilas blames this on the “talent drain” of top college players leaving early for the NBA that’s been happening increasingly since 1995, the year that Kevin Garnett became the first high-school basketball player drafted since Moses Malone in 1975.
So, do major conference teams have younger rosters? Let’s take a look. Here’s a breakdown of the seven players who saw the most minutes on each team during this year’s Final Four:
VCU: 4 Seniors; 2 Juniors; 1 Sophomore; 0 Freshman
Butler: 2 Seniors, 2 Juniors, 2 Sophomores, 1 Freshman
Kentucky: 1 Senior; 3 Juniors; 0 Sophomores; 3 Freshmen
UConn: 1 Senior; 1 Junior; 2 Sophomores; 3 Freshmen
Clearly, UConn and Kentucky, the two teams from major conferences, have the younger rosters, with six freshmen and just two seniors between them, compared with just one freshman and six seniors between Butler and VCU.