North Carolina is in a similar situation, having brought in six freshmen in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class. But at 12-6, the Tar Heels are doing much better than last year, when Roy Williams had the first losing season of his coaching career at 14-19.
Kansas lost two key players from last season’s team to the N.B.A., the senior big man Udoka Azubuike and the sophomore guard Devon Dotson, and hasn’t been able to overcome their absences to play to normal levels. The Jayhawks are 13-7 and have lost five of their last eight games. On Jan. 2, they were hammered at home by 25 points by No. 8 Texas, the largest margin of defeat at Allen Fieldhouse since 1989.
On Monday, they fell out of the Top 25, ending a streak of 231 consecutive weeks dating to Feb. 2, 2009.
For coaches like Calipari and Krzyzewski, the ideal situation is a blend of elite one-and-done players and veterans. During the one-and-done era, only two teams that have relied heavily on freshmen have won the N.C.A.A. tournament: Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015.
In recent years, the tournament has been dominated by veteran teams that had been together for several years and might send a couple of upperclassmen to the N.B.A. Villanova, which has won two of the last four N.C.A.A. titles, has eight players in the N.B.A., but not a single pure one-and-done under Coach Jay Wright.
“Those coaches do a great job of assimilating those young guys, and this year they weren’t able to do it,” Wright said on a conference call, referring to Calipari and Krzyzewski. “They couldn’t practice in the summer and the fall. And us, Gonzaga, Baylor are fortunate this year that we have a lot of veteran players. If this happened last year and we had last year’s team with no seniors, we would really be struggling.”
Even though experienced teams like No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Baylor and No. 5 Villanova have been hit by at least one extended pause for the coronavirus this season, they remain the favorites to cut down the nets after an N.C.A.A. tournament that will be played entirely in Indiana.