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Experience versus Talent

An age old debate in college basketball has been experience versus talent. Is it more preferable to have wise old veterans or raw, unpolished skill? For Kentucky fans the answer is easy, Coach Calipari says if he “had a choice between a talented team and an experienced team, (he’s) taking talent every time.” That sounds eerily familiar to something the legendary John Wooden, who is arguably the greatest basketball coach ever, once said. “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.” I think that Woodenism turned out alright for him, wouldn’t you?

Let’s be honest, some fans “favor” experience, because their school of choice can’t land the elite talent. A simple rebuttal can be, if given the choice of a No. 1 recruiting class — taking the best talent available — or keeping marginal seniors, what do you choose? It’s a simple answer. Point blank, period. The ability to recruit and coach one-and-done studs isn’t the norm, therefore it should be regarded as a luxury to be able to survive and thrive in such a system. But then you have teams like Butler from a couple of years ago, who wouldn’t have made a run in March without its senior leadership, and that throws a kink in the theory.

So what is really better? I’ve taken some graphs and tables from of current numbers from this season and here’s what I found. Of the top ten most and least experienced teams, a significant difference appears in total wins, with 113 and 77 respectively. That distribution can be seen in this graph:

Here, the x-axis is class average where the average figure contains class year per minute played (seniority of a team in terms of years of experience and how many minutes they play) versus the y-axis of winning percentage. You can see minor variation across the board from the youngest teams of less than two years’ experience to teams with over three years’ experience, and it does favor the more experienced teams. What this suggests is that nationally, there is some correlation between winning percentage and experience level of a team. Note: The right extreme represents a team with nearly an all-senior squad. Because there are so few teams with this criterion I believe the figure is skewed. And in the case of the left extreme, an all-freshman team, there are none.

But this scatter plot shows how minor the variation is. Notice no clear pattern in the distribution of dots in terms of class average along the x-axis and winning percentage on the y-axis. The vast majority of teams just fall somewhere in the middle, with both extremes representing high and low winning percentages. If you’re wondering, Kentucky is the blue dot in the uppermost left corner.

Of course, there are always exceptions. In this case, Kentucky and Connecticut are spearheading the talent train, with a class average of about 1.8 years of experience and a combined record of 28-4. On the front-end of the veteran van is Missouri with a class average of 3.4 years and a record of 14-1.

One interesting note is looking at some of the teams this year running with little experience on the floor. In addition to UK and UConn, St. John’s, Boston College and Western Kentucky, while not “powerhouses” this season by any means, are notable college names. Contrast that to the experience path, aside from Missouri, there is really no one else on the list.

Finally, take a look at these conference breakdowns of the Big East, SEC and Big 10. What you’ll notice is several of the most experienced teams in each league have an underwhelming winning percentage, while a few of the younger teams are outperforming them.

In these graphs, the green line is the upward trend in seniority through the conference. The youngest teams are listed to the left and get older to the right. The blue line is winning percentage.

In the Big East, Louisville and South Florida are very experienced teams, but its winning percentages are nothing better than what Connecticut has done. And those teams in the middle of the pack all have lower winning percentages than a stereotypical “experienced team” should have. The three youngest teams in the SEC have the three highest winning percentages, but the old-timers of Vandy and Auburn and even Tennessee are floundering thus far. The only exception here would be Mississippi State. Finally, looking to the Big 10, Ohio State, Illinois and even Indiana are relatively young teams, but have a better record than the older teams like Nebraska or Purdue.

What does all of this mean? The first graphs we looked at paint an entire national picture of experience versus talent, and what it shows is a small lean towards experience. This could be because it’s factoring in so many smaller schools with a very small recruiting base. What the Big East, SEC and Big 10 show are a small lean towards talent where these schools have the ability to recruit elite skill and pump players thought the system.

While this data and analysis does not factor in variables such as scheduling and coaching, it can be seen as a rough estimate, at least for this year so far, that experience and talent have little to do with anything. So if you know somebody still debating this, let them know there’s nothing to argue.

The data represents both experience and talent depending on your scope. There’s plenty of teams who do can ball with youngsters, and loads of teams who stink. There’s also a fair representation of very veteran teams who can run with anyone, and just as many who can’t do jack. Talent or experience? Pick your poison. It’s all coming down to who wants it more, anyway. March Madness doesn’t care about these graphs or numbers. It cares about the will to win. So the elite teams should just keep going young, and the small-time teams should just keep going veteran.

I’ll be back on Thursday afternoon with more statistical analysis of Kentucky, breaking down the season six games at a time.

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR

48 Comments for Experience versus Talent

  1. mocha
    4:02 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    scatter plot!
    i’ll take talent over experience.

  2. ShepherdsvilleKAT
    4:04 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    My head hurts..

  3. Dude
    4:05 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    ^ X2

  4. SexnNursinHomes
    4:07 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    the corresponding data incrilates a movar assumption that triscapating teams may unfadicisouly fall to teams that more grastifying. Hammer, your right, it makes complete sense to me.

  5. Uh...What?
    4:10 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    #5–incrilates–using them big words like mayonnaise… You’re right. This reminds me waaaaaay too much of Economics!!

  6. Flexin
    4:12 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    How about the winning percentage for teams with the best players – that seems more relevant than measuring experience by itself.

  7. Luke D
    4:14 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    I thought this was very interesting. Then again, I’m a mathematician. If you don’t like the post you can
    always just skip it.

    Strange that UK is only 12th in RPI. And Iona is 29th.

  8. Bmac
    4:15 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    On a side note, how the hell is UConn #4 in the RPI? Their biggest win was an overtime victory over a #20 (now unranked 6 loss FSU team and have only played one other ranked opponent all year (#25 Harvard)and have lost to 3 unranked opponents already.

  9. roosevelt gook
    4:16 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    WTF i thought classes didnt start until tomorrow
    and i agree with number 3 my head hurts now
    thanks a lot

  10. Bicycle Seat Sniffer
    4:21 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Interesting post. Good work!

  11. jaws2
    4:27 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Wow, this is not that complicated. In any given game, would you prefer to have 5 guys that aren’t worth a crap after 4 years or 5 freshman that might be NBA draft picks at the end of the season? Seems pretty simple to me without the charts and graphs. This really reminds me of taking in the useless drivel while attending Economics classes and then owning a business in the real world. Been in business 21 years and never ONCE used anything from Econ.

  12. Ryan
    4:31 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Great post! I’m sure some readers would like to see more stuff like this. ASeaofBlue definitely does a good job, but a few posts like this per week on KSR doesn’t hurt anything. Just don’t read it if it is too difficult.

  13. TampaCat
    4:34 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Damn nice post sir! But…. I’m a guy and i only read every sixth word. I got the just of it though. Thanks!

  14. RYNO
    4:35 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    10) Hey Luke the Mathematician! Why don’t you figure out for all of BBN (okay just me), exactly how RPI and SOS are calculated, and how much it should actually be taken into account when seeding the NCAA Tournament. I think it’s a bunch of crap, but every March, we hear non-stop analysis that claims that the most important NCAA Tourney resume building rankings are RPI & SOS (Strength of Sch.). Both of which I believe to be mostly made up.

    As you eluded to, UK’s RPI is 12th & Iona 29th? Right now, according to, UK’s RPI is actually ranked 8th, BUT GONZAGA is 9th!?!? And Seton Hall’s 3rd!! Wha?? That’s just idiotic to anyone who follows college hoops. SOS is equally mysterious. Syracuse’s SOS is #1, and UK’s #54. So far, Cuse has only played two ranked teams, only one out-of-conference (Florida, who we all know sucks big time). UK has played 4 total ranked teams, two in the top 5, three in the current top 15!! I understand that the remaining conference schedule is taken into account when determining SOS, but should Big East play really make up for playing only one ranked non-conference opponents vs. four?? And is the SEC really weighted so badly that despite the fact the UK’s non-conference schedule is obviously 100 times more difficult, it makes their ranking 53 spots worse? If so, then the formula must be so flawed that BBN needs to know about it, and we also need to know who to complain to about it. I don’t know if you can help with the latter, but I bet you could figure out the first one-

    I know you’ll get right on it. Thanks a lot man!

  15. TampaCat
    4:36 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Damn nice post sir! But…. I’m a guy and I only read every sixth word. I got the just of it though. Thanks! Now, where are those pictures of the Alabama and LSU hottie! I’m on my way back to those…

  16. bucky
    4:38 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink


  17. RYNO
    4:44 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Correction- UK has played 1 current top 5 (can’t count UofL anymore), three current top 10 (UNC, IU, Kansas), and four top 15 (+UofL). Syracuse has played two top 25 ranked teams total, Florida #19 (which is very generous I might add), and Marquette #25. How do they end up with the #1 SOS, and UK #54?

  18. Me
    4:45 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    That is an excellent read. I enjoyed the post and the factual stance. Thanks! Nevermind the drivel that say they were bored (or hurt ?)by reading your post, yet read it and posted about it.

  19. nolablue
    4:55 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink–Bobby-Hebert-s-question-for-Coach-Miles/11950592

    An article about how “calling out the coach” is getting national attention…
    yet Tipton calling out KIDS is acceptable? I think not!

  20. SMH
    5:01 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Welcome back BTI!!

  21. bung
    5:03 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    adolph sometimes used a stratified transitional hyperbolic parabaloid defense…never a zone

  22. sylvar
    5:03 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Ok, do this again, but instead of using the Avg Class for experience, use avg high school ranking for talent. It would be interesting to compare those.

  23. bung
    5:04 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    dang…i mispelt paraboloid…

  24. Stephen Hawking
    5:05 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    could you dumb it down a hair?

  25. Who Dey
    5:06 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    KSR needs more statistical posts such as this, as opposed to the lazy opinion pieces that permeate all of sports media. An opinion piece is fine so long as it’s presented with evidence to back up said opinion. An opinion piece is not fine when the closest thing to evidence presented is “[Team A] just wanted it more than [Team B]”, or “[Player A] just refused to lose”. That’s just being lazy, and it makes for very poor, clichéd sportswriting. Posts like these are both informative and well-researched. We need more of this in sports media.

  26. Who Dey
    5:11 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    I can’t believe so many people prefer the uninformed, banal, cliché-ridden pieces that are abundant not only on KSR but on most sports websites; it’s insane. Please, ignore them, Mr. Hammer, and deliver more posts such as this.

  27. Bledsoe's Biceps
    5:28 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    BTI is back under a different name. But he has obviously been hittin the roids.

  28. old_school
    5:31 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    It’s an utter myth to suggest you have to choose either/or talent or experience. You can have both – and so far Cal has had both.

    But that ends at the end of this season – and we’ll see what just talent can do next year.

    My preference is for talented experience, or experienced talent – however you want to word it. But a team with both will be superior to those who rely solely on experience or solely on talent.

  29. Philthy
    5:41 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    My ex-girlfriend was 25 years younger than me. She liked youth a lot more than experience. That’s why she’s my ex.

  30. old_school
    5:49 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    37 – I’m hoping you’re at least 43 years old.

  31. Tomas
    6:08 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    This is certainly better than that crap you wrote about the NBA. Nice redemption.

  32. TeamWeaver
    6:09 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Unfortunately, the analysis doesn’t resolve the specific question because it fails to factor in player quality. Clearly, if you are recruiting 3 and 4 star talent, then experience becomes very important. But if your coach is Calipari and your recruiting classes are dominated by McD AAs then experience is not as important to a team’s ability to compete at the highest level. This is why Hammer’s scatter plot fails to differentiate success scaled on experience.

  33. The Cheese
    6:18 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Someone is trying waaaaaayyyyyy too hard. This entire post is nonsense.

  34. Stephen Hawking
    6:20 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Nice post Stuart!

  35. Newtintheville
    6:40 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Scatter plot has left me scatter brained. It actually hurts to look at it. 33, spot on.

  36. Dave from Harlan
    6:41 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    I just can’t understand these. Do any of these charts have climbing gear?

  37. topshelfyaknow
    6:41 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Yeah nice post. This is definitely a 8th grade reading level and up. If you are not up to the challenge please go on to the next post.

  38. iamthebobcat
    6:44 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    So you’re saying I still got a chance?

  39. Bum Fuzzled
    6:56 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    I am 59 yearsold and have two Advanced degrees and the 15 minutes I spent trying to to get something out of this is the the most wasted time I cen recall. More usless than teats on a boar hog.

  40. Fum Buzzled
    8:02 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    39. What the hell are “advanced degrees”? I’m nearly 40 years younger than you and I understand this post.

  41. Dave in Kabul
    9:56 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Butler does not throw a kink in the theory.

    Butler had talent.

    Talent that developed. Talent that needed development. Talent that no one else noticed. Well, not many noted at the time that they were coming out of High School.

    Aren’t there at least 2 guys from those Butler teams that went in the 1st Round of the NBA Draft?

    How is that lacking talent?

    Two guys from the first Butler FF team now play for pay in the NBA. Not Europe.

    Basketball is a game wherein only 5 guys can be on the court at a time. 2 future NBA’rs are huge in a run to the Final Four. Especially when running up against the likes of Duke and Kansas who will have 1 legit NBA’r each and 4 NBA Busts each.

    It’s a myth of the Butler/Brad Boy run that Butler did it without talent. A myth perpetuated by the media who are either too stupid to research or have their own elitist “College experience” agenda.

  42. Dave in Kabul
    10:01 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack

    Both selected in the NBA Draft

    Hayward was a lottery pick

    Is that not having talent

    Mack stayed four years. Sure some folks stay longer and take longer to develop. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t talented.

    Hayward went to the Draft as a Junior.

    Mack should have been at UK. Another guy that Tubby let get away so that he could recruit the likes of Bobby Perry and Beaker from the Muppets.

  43. Dave in Kabul
    10:06 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Mack left as a Junior

    Hayward left as a Sophmore

  44. 13th. Grade
    10:07 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    McFly, you’ve got too much time on your hands. It’s a sport, not a scientific experiment. I can figure this stuff out. The question is, why would I want to?

  45. Zach Morris
    10:41 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Good stuff, Mr. Hammer. Next time I catch your name while I’m scrolling I’ll be sure to stop and check it out.

  46. Zach Morris
    10:53 pm January 10, 2012 Permalink

    Also, a lot of these posts scream “I hate this because I hate math, herp de derp de deedly derp!” It’s simply a statistical analysis, showing that there is no strong correlation between experience and win percentage.

    I just don’t understand why some feel the need to criticize a piece that offers statistical evidence instead of some random columnist’s knee-jerk reaction following a single game.

  47. uk3k
    10:03 am January 11, 2012 Permalink

    he’s blinding me with science…

  48. Musehobo
    1:29 pm January 11, 2012 Permalink

    WOW I was highly critical of Hammers first post, but this is great. While I admit I skipped much of the text here, I spent a large amount of time analyzing the charts. This is what BTI’s posts would have looked like minus the idiotic opinion, and with a lot more effort. Nice job Hammer, I said you would need some redemption for me to read more of your articles, and you sir “Totally redeemed yourself”!!!