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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/19/2006 06:03:00 PM

What Youth Movement?

Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels heavily overachieved in the regular season, finishing second in the ACC.

In March of 2003, we watched Carmelo and G-Mac, Syracuse's fab freshmen, lead the Orangemen to an improbable national championship in New Orleans. And it was widely proclaimed that this would revolutionize college basketball -- that experience would no longer matter, and instant-impact rookies would begin to dominate the game. The verb "Carmelo-ize" even came into use (coined, with poor results, by Oregon's Malik Hairston), as a way to describe a one-title-and-done collegiate career.

Come March '06, we're still waiting on the revolution. Third-seeded North Carolina, the youngest team in the tournament -- with four freshmen in prominent roles -- was stunned today by 11th-seeded George Mason. Tar Heels super-frosh Tyler Hansbrough was held to 10 points, 9.2 under his average, and fellow rookies Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green combined for just 10 more. Fourth-seeded Kansas, which started three freshmen -- Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright -- was knocked out in the first round on Friday by 13th-seeded Bradley. Both the Jayhawks and Tar Heels were popular Final Four picks, but their squads' regular-season precociousness did not translate into NCAA tournament success.

The Final Four, post-Syracuse, has become more of a veterans' affair. Last year, St. Louis was populated with junior-dominated teams in champion UNC, runner-up Illinois, as well as Michigan State and Louisville. In 2004, juniors Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor led UConn to the title, while Duke, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech were largely sophomore-and-junior-led squads. The biggest freshmen contributions have come in auxiliary roles: Marvin Williams was the Tar Heels' sixth man in '05; Luol Deng complemented the Blue Devils' Chris Duhon, Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick in '04; and Josh Boone was a defensive sidekick to Emeka Okafor on the Huskies' '04 title team.

With the fall of Hansbrough's Heels and Rush's Baby Jays, there are no true freshman "stars" left in the dance; only complementary players like Duke's Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus, Memphis' Shawne Williams and UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still remain. At this rate, Anthony and McNamara are starting to look like a freak occurrence.

(Readers, post your arguments in the comments section ...)

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