As the season rolls into its final months, the odds of the Wolfpack making a run for the NCAA tournament are becoming slimmer and slimmer.
Now the question starts to loom: Is it time to start to let your young guys get a majority of your minutes?
With the injury to Devon Daniels, Shakeel Moore, Cam Hayes, and Dereon Seabron are starting to see an uptick in minutes. However, it seems Keatts is still attempting to pepper them in with the veterans, in hopes of getting easing them into action while limiting the weight they have to carry.
With only a handful of games left to play, and the Pack struggling as much as they are, do we start to see the freshmen really thrown into the fire? Will Keatts transition to building for next year and having these guys play major minutes on the floor as a unit?
There isn’t a clear answer here, we all know that. There are pros and cons that need to be weighed. Let’s try to weigh them…
Let’s face it, this season’s NCAA hopes are all but gone, and at no point has this team shown that they can play consistently enough to win an ACC tournament.
This means, when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament, we’ll likely have to wait until next year…again.
The freshman that have seen major minutes this year have shown us that they have the tools to compete. Moore, Hayes, and Seabron have all shown flashes of what they’re capable of. They have showcased their speed, length, and athleticism and it’s clear they are good fits for Keatts system in the long run.
At the same time, we have also seen just how raw these guys are. They struggle running the offense, making decisions, and playing good positional defense. These are givens for freshmen, especially in the unique circumstances these young players had to endure.
Look at the Kentuckys, Dukes, and UNCs of the world. They all normally compete year in and year out with young talent. But this year, all of these teams have struggled mightily. However, all have also gotten better as the year has gone on.
This is a testament to their coaching, sure, but a large part of it comes from gaining experience playing against ACC competition. Young players struggle to understand the speed of the game, they struggle to understand what a good shot looks like or what passes can get by a 6’9 lengthy defender.
Giving the reigns to Moore, Hayes, and Seabron will come with some growing pains but it will also get them ready to see action similar to what they will encounter next year when Beverly, Funderburk, and Daniels are all gone.
Transitioning to the young guys will give them the chance to work through their mistakes and better understand how they can be successful moving forward.
There would also be some value in getting minutes for guys likes. Guys like Dowuona, Gibson, and Farrar so they can jump start on getting ready for next season where they will undoubtedly be asked to play a larger role on this basketball team. Going all in would pay dividends for next year, but there is no doubt it would come at a significant cost.
Make no mistake, there are certainly some real downsides to this approach.
First off, your fanbase doesn’t want to admit it, but your goal as a coach isn’t just to win.
As a college coach, your job is also to get these players ready for the next step in their lives. Whether that is life after basketball or transitioning to the pros. Just because a guy may not have an NBA career ahead of them, doesn’t mean they won’t make a good living playing overseas. In fact, most college players, if they decide to, will get a contract somewhere to play more basketball.
Taking away minutes from the seniors means potentially taking away experience needed to get ready for the next step in their career. These are minutes they worked for. Minutes they earned. These are guys who put it on the line every day for you for three or four years.
Say whatever you want, but losing minutes to freshmen, after all you’ve given to this program will not be taken well. There are relationships in that locker room that aren’t talked about much. These are relationships that matter to Coaches like Keatts. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that maybe life is a little bigger than sports.
The blood, sweat, and tears guys like Funderburk and Beverly gave to this team over the past few years have to be consideredor. You risk damaging deep relationships and causing dissension within the locker room. You also send a message to your younger guys that this is how it is. If insurmountable adversity comes your way, this coach may move on from you, despite all you’ve dedicated to this program. That’s certainly not a good look and not good for your brand in a society where word travels fast.
So see, Keatts is between a rock and a hard place.
If you wave the white flag and start playing your freshmen things could and likely will be pretty ugly on the court. With no senior leadership on the court and a locker room full of players who aren’t very happy and feel slighted, the on-court troubles could spill into the lockerroom.
At the same time, you’re likely stunting the growth of your freshmen by continuing to play seniors when the writing for the season is, like it or not, on the wall.
So what do you do? I think I know what Keatts will do, but it’s important to understand that ‘just play the freshmen!’ might carry a little more baggage than you’re initially thinking.
Personally, we believe it is always best to continue to do whatever you can to win, and at no time would I find it acceptable for Keatts not to shoot for the NCAA tournament with this team. However, what if playing your freshman a little more ends up being the shift needed to get those wins? If you’re Keatts you’re going to have to start trusting Hayes, Moore, and Seabron more, but finding the right mix with the veterans will be key.
Next year hopefully will be a better situation as a whole for college basketball and allow for these young guys to develop and get stronger in the offseason. Though you still may take your knocks early on, you’ll have a headstart thanks to the minutes you get them this year. By midseason next year, if not earlier, Keatts should have these guys ready to make noise in the ACC.
What do you think? What is your take on what approach Keatts should take to finish off the season?