Handicapping the Impact of Seniors on a Basketball Team

When a lot of people talk about college basketball – especially outside of the handful of elite, top level programs – they talk a lot about the significance of seniors in the lineup. The theory is that seniors are more experienced, they provide better leadership, and teams are generally better when they have more of them. That makes sense, and like most things that sound good it is at least partly true. It’s obviously not that easy and straightforward, though. Having seniors on a team can be good things, but teams full of seniors can be lousy, and really young teams can be brilliant. Before you can get too excited about a NCAA basketball team with seniors on the roster, then, you really need to look at how good those seniors are, and if having them around is really as good as it seems. Here are six questions to help college basketball handicappers figure that out:

How good are they? – This really is at the heart of it – bad players are bad players no matter how long they have been in school. A senior who is progressing and improving, and who is very talented, is always going to make a team better. Sometimes, though, a senior – especially at a top level school – stick around because they don’t have anywhere better to go. If a college senior is a better leader than he is a player it can be hard for a coach to take him out of the starting lineup. Often, then, a senior is a starter not because he is the best option for the position, but because he is popular with and important to his team. Before you get too excited as a sports bettor about the number of seniors a team has, then, make sure that they are seniors you would want.

How long have they been starters? – If a senior has been stuck behind an older player for much of his career then he could easily make it to his senior season without having started before, or with just one year as a starter under his belt. A senior with limited starting experience obviously isn’t quite as valuable as one who has been starting regularly throughout his career.

Who are they keeping out of the lineup? When a senior is starting that means that a younger player isn’t starting in the same spot. In some cases that’s a good thing. Other times, though, the senior is holding a talented youngster out of action, or is keeping a young player on the bench who could be improving significantly with each starting opportunity. In some cases starting a senior can actually make a team weaker – both now and into the future.

Have they worked with the same coach their whole careers? A senior basketball player who has played for the same college coach his whole career is more valuable by far than one who has gone through a coaching change – especially is the coach was also there when he was recruited. Through four or five years of experience the player has come to know the coach very well, and they know the systems and how to prepare for games. That helps the player to be at his best, and it also helps the coaches because they have another voice that knows what needs to be done. If a player has changed coaches, though, then they don’t have the same relationship, and because they weren’t recruited by the coaches they may not even be the ideal type of player that the coach would like to have.

Have they improved through their career? – In order to bet on a player, you generally want to see the player’s career progress on an upward trajectory – key stats improving each year as they get more experienced. If a player has done that through their career then it’s a fair bet that they will improve again as a senior and they will lift their team as a result. If a player has been less consistent, though – or if they peaked early in their career and their productivity has fallen off since – then sports bettors can’t be sure what they will bring this year, and it’s harder to get excited about having the senior in the lineup.

Are they strong leaders? – A player can more than make up for any deficiency in talent they may have if they are a very strong leader – the floor general or pseudo-coach type. That’s the kind of senior that makes a team better almost no matter what. Some people assume that all seniors are like that, but that’s clearly not the case. As a college basketball handicapper, understanding the type of player and leader a senior is valuable in assessing their importance to a team and how you may use them in deciding how you’ll bet.

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