Kirk Wessler

Seniors rock and rule during March Madness

by Kirk Wessler February 15, 2010 in Men's Basketball


You want a solid tip on upset specials when America immerses itself in the serious fun of filling out NCAA tournament brackets this March? Here it is.

Look for teams with senior leadership.

Whether it’s the mid-major 12 seed challenging the marquee 5, or a battle of bluebloods for the national championship, seniors tend to rock and rule. Just look at the past decade of NCAA champions. Where there weren’t senior stars—Michigan State’s Matteen Cleaves and Mo Peterson, Duke’s Shane Battier, or North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, winner of the 2009 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award – there usually was senior glue.

We remember 2003 for the breakout of Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony. But we never should forget the Orange likely wouldn’t have survived the early rounds and reached the Final Four without senior captain Kueth Duany. A refugee of the civil war in The Sudan, Duany infused his team with championship intangibles. He switched positions and sacrificed personal stats without complaint to make way for the talented Anthony. Duany was the smart, tough heart of coach Jim Boeheim’s signature zone defense. The senior glue.

“Seniors seem to tune in a little more to details that your younger players get a little bored with,” says Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, coach of Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award candidate Adam Koch. “They understand the importance of those details and help bring the guys along. What one or a couple of seniors really provide is that different level on a daily basis.”

You’ll find senior leaders all up and down the talent line. Some will be in the NBA next year. Some are destined to be CEOs. But they all embody the four Cs that the CLASS award celebrates. Check the list of nominees. Read those bios.

Competition? You’ll find competitive heart everywhere, whether it beats within an all-American like Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody and his double-digit averages in scoring and rebounding, or a young man like Duquesne’s Jason Duty, who walked on as a freshman to be practice fodder for a team torn by tragedy and rose to earn a scholarship as one of the Atlantic-10’s top three-point marksmen.

Josh Young of Drake is not only an all-Missouri Valley guard who’s on track to become the Bulldogs’ career scoring leader in February, he’s a Classroom ace with a 3.14 grade average in management and marketing who interned at Wells Fargo.

If you like a little dirty work in your Community service, you’ll love UNI’s Koch, who has spent summers doing things like sandbagging the flooded Iowa community of Cedar Falls, or helping citizens of Parkersburg dig themselves from the rubble of an F5 tornado.

And how many of us fully grasp the Character that Texas star Damion James needed just to survive his childhood? James refused to get sucked into the gangs and drug-trafficking that surrounded him, made his way to UT and became one of the nation’s best players while leading a title contender.

“Freshmen are trying to survive,” explains Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “Sophomores start to figure it out. To juniors, it means a little more. To seniors, it means everything.”

The Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award honors them.