LAWRENCE — Earlier this season, Richmond coach Chris Mooney sat down to study the scouting report on Kansas, his upcoming opponent. As he began to trace the roster, looking at the Jayhawks’ starting lineup, he did a double-take.
Four seniors? Wait a minute. Places like Kansas shouldn’t be able to start four seniors.
“I couldn’t believe they started four seniors,” Mooney said.
A few days later, on Dec. 18, Richmond arrived at Allen Fieldhouse and suffered an 87-59 blowout loss. KU’s four seniors combined for 44 points and 24 rebounds. And the Jayhawks won their eighth straight game in what has turned into a 10-game winning streak.
No. 6 Kansas will put the streak on the line Sunday against Temple at Allen Fieldhouse in the final game of its nonconference schedule.
But let’s pause to consider if Mooney might have been on to something. How often does a team like Kansas have four senior starters, including three players that are in their fifth year of eligibility? Last season, a precocious Kentucky squad rolled to the NCAA title, proving that experience can be a little overrated when you have a roster full of freshman and sophomore lottery picks.
But this Kansas team, with fifth-year seniors Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Kevin Young in the starting lineup along with four-year senior Eliah Johnson, is trying to prove that age and wisdom can come in handy; that four years spent in the practice gym and weight room can make up for a lot when the ball goes in the air.
“I think me and Jeff were talking about how many years we have altogether,” said Young, a power forward who spent two seasons at Loyola Marymount before transferring to Kansas. “It’s crazy.”
Back in Richmond, Mooney had good reason to be surprised. Of the five teams ranked ahead of the No. 6 Jayhawks, only No. 1 Duke starts even three seniors. The four other teams — Louisville, Michigan, Arizona and Indiana — start just five seniors total.
And that, of course, doesn’t even in factor the Jayhawks’ three fifth-year players. They all took different routes. Releford redshirted after his first season; Withey, a senior center, sat out a year after transferring from Arizona; and Young spent a year on the sidelines before transferring to KU before last season.
But let’s put it this way: Kansas starts three players that are age 22 or older; the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers start three players age 21 or younger.
“We’ve been here; we’ve played in tough games,” said Releford, who is averaging a career-high 13.3 points per game. “And we’ve been in some of the craziest environments in the country. So we know how to handle all those pressure games.”
KU coach Bill Self likes to say that the perfect college basketball team has a group of rock-solid veterans — while it’s most talented player(s) are younger guys.
It’s no coincidence that Self’s most accomplished team — his 2008 NCAA champions — followed that exact template. It was nice to have Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson, but the Jayhawks wouldn’t have won the national title without sophomores Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur. The Jayhawks have a similar blend this season, with redshirt freshman Ben McLemore emerging into a star in his first year.