Inexperience card: legitimate excuse?

January 26, 2009

I’ve given Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter a pass the first four times he’s mentioned Iowa has one of the country’s least-experienced teams.

By giving him a pass, I mean I haven’t written anything about it. I figure if you dump your leading scorer last year in Tony Freeman, boot another part-time starter in Dan Bohall and start three freshmen in the process, well, that’s your bed. Now lie in it.

But Lickliter brought up the same issue Monday morning in the Big Ten coaches teleconference call. Here’s his quote:

“Well, I don’t know, you’d have to check this, but one of the assistants told me that he across a stat the other day that experience-wise, we’re the fourth or fifth least-experienced team in the NCAA,” Lickliter said. “You’d have to check it, I didn’t read it. And as I hear it, I’m thinking that’s pretty accurate.”

Lickliter has used the description several times the last four weeks. I’ve documented four times the description was mentioned in either a news conference or teleconference previous to Monday. And, really, it was probably mentioned a few more times.

If Lickliter had said it only once, then it’s a decent point. But by throwing it out there multiple times with no statistics to verify it, then it becomes, dare I say, an excuse. It’s being used almost as a crutch for Lickliter to explain why his team has failed to hold leads or challenge opponents on the road.

I am interested in Lickliter’s point, however. But I’m not interested in looking through every roster of every Division I basketball team to prove him right or wrong. So rather than examine each NCAA team, I went through each Big Ten men’s basketball roster. I looked at each roster and the number of years of experience, rather than chart minutes. Iowa has five seniors/juniors, which ties Illinois and Michigan for seventh. Penn State and Indiana each have four seniors/juniors.

Iowa’s seniors, Cyrus Tate and J.R. Angle, each have varying amounts of playing time. Tate is a senior co-captain who started 19 games last year and all but the last four this year because of an ankle injury. He should return this week. Angle rarely plays. Among juniors, both Devan Bawinkel and Jermain Davis either have started or played often within Iowa’s rotation. David Palmer has started the last three games, and totaled 46 points in those games, but barely played last year or this year before those starts. It’s likely he gets significant minutes the rest of the season.

So there’s four contributors with solid experience and maturity on the court through several junctures within a game. Bawinkel and Davis each played junior-college basketball last year so they’ve at least played college ball. Iowa starts two freshmen — Matt Gatens and Aaron Fuller — while Andrew Brommer has watched his minutes rise and plummet with the tide. Iowa is red-shirting walk-on John Lickliter and playing without Anthony Tucker, who was ruled academically ineligible.

There’s no question Iowa is a talented, yet inexperienced team. They’ve faltered late because of their youth and maybe their lack of depth. Lickliter accurately described the situation as “growing pains” and I couldn’t have agreed more. But it’s time to rest the “inexperience” card before it becomes a full-blown excuse.