Tipsheet: College basketball’s super seniors thrive during the extra year | Jeff Gordon

By | March 9, 2022

From time to time, the NCAA actually does the right thing.

The collegiate sports overlords offered a COVID-19 mulligan to athletes who have continued playing during the global pandemic, which is only fair.

These young men and women endured much adversity while keeping the collegiate athletic industry going. They lived and worked in isolation and played games in empty places.

Many battled the virus and struggled with recovery. Team after team played understaffed and/or sometimes suffered week-long shutdowns.

Games have been canceled or postponed. Make-up games forced players to grapple with the grind of condensed planning.

It was a lot. So the NCAA rewarded the effort with an opportunity to continue with an additional year of eligibility.

That’s why Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams enjoyed a second and far more festive “Senior Night” ceremony in Illinois on Sunday before taking on Iowa at State Farm Center.

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Both opted to use the NCAA ruling to play a fifth season for the Illini.

“I feel twice my age going through two seniors’ nights,” Frazier joked afterwards.

But he made the right decision. Frazier and Williams helped Illinois win part of the Big Ten regular-season title, which they secured with a dramatic 74-72 defeat of the Hawkeyes.

After the final buzzer, she, her teammates and coaching staff were immersed in a noisy student celebration on the pitch.

Across the college basketball landscape, “super seniors” are making the most of their extra eligibility.

Lucas Williamson, Tate Hall, Aher Uguak and Keith Clemons returned to Loyola Chicago for another year in a bid for another NCAA tournament berth.

The decision to stay paid off. The Ramblers beat Drake Sunday to win Arch Madness at the Enterprise Center and its associated automatic berth.

“That’s why these guys came back this year,” Loyola coach Drew Valentine said during the team’s on-pitch celebrations. “We talked about resetting it and we did.”

For players who also won a medical redshirt year in their career, the extra COVID-19 season gave them a six-year career. Tennessee forward John Fulkerson has played 161 games and counts for the Volunteers.

During his second Senior Night ceremony, he was allowed to give a farewell speech to a full house. “Last year with the COVID year wasn’t what it was supposed to be,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes.

Not every super senior had picture-perfect results. Our Town’s Aaron Cook played four seasons at SIU Carbondale, one season as a backup with Gonzaga for his Final Four run, and then this season as a starting point guard for Georgia.

This was a tough season as the Bulldogs sank to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. Coach Tom Crean’s frustration with him was captured in a private off-camera conversion, accidentally caught by the school’s videoconference stream. Crean tried to smooth things over afterwards.

Edwardsville’s Mark Smith played one season in Illinois and three in Missouri before retiring that season at Kansas State. Barring an unlikely Big 12 tournament win, Smith’s time will end without another NCAA tournament tour.

But he happily took a super senior bow in Manhattan, Kan, at the end of his only regular season there. Smith experienced frustrating ups and downs at Mizzou before rising to averages of 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds as a wildcat.

“I’m thankful for the Kansas State community, just for all the love they show me when I’m out and in Manhattan, and just for the little restaurants around here, and everyone who greets me after the game “, he said. “I really appreciate being here for a year and it was a special moment for me. I feel like I’ve been here for four years by how people treat me on campus and in the community.”

This is what life is supposed to be like for college athletes. It wasn’t like that during the pandemic — so trust the NCAA for giving them a chance to get it right.

Here’s what people wrote about college basketball:

Gary Parish, CBSSports.com: “The number one thing to do when trying to identify a potential bidder thief is to find a team that at one point or another has demonstrated the ability to beat the type of teams that are beating them this week must bid to win his league’s automatic title. Saint Louis ticks that box. The Billikens have hit the No. 2 Atlantic 10 Tournament (Dayton) and the No. 3 Atlantic 10 Tournament (VCU) — plus the No. 1 Mountain West Tournament (Boise State) and the No. 1 MAAC tournament ( Iona). That suggests they are capable. And although Saint Louis is only No. 5 in the A-10 tournament, the Billikens are actually the third-highest-ranked team in the A-10, according to KenPom.com. Will Saint Louis really do it? As always, we’ll see. But with a backcourt of Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson and a résumé of five wins across top 100 KenPom teams, there’s no denying the Billikens are legitimate candidates for bid stealing.”

John Gasaway, ESPN.com: “High hopes for the Atlantic 10: VCU is looking good in the NET rankings and great in record strength. In order to get the committee to study the team sheet in question, the Rams will want to settle business in the quarterfinals (possibly against local rivals Richmond) and reach a possible semifinals showdown with Dayton. The Flyers, of course, have hopes of their own after beating Davidson on the final day of the regular season.

Scott Gleeson, US today: “The Flyers (22-9, 14-4 Atlantic 10) started the day as one of the ‘next four out’ but probably jumped up on the outside of the bubble thanks to the win over borderline team Davidson 82-76. It’s a home win, so only qualifies as Quadrant 2 – meaning this program needs even more quality gains in its profile if it wants to go dancing. That’s coupled with three stunning losses in Quadrant 4.”

“This decision was actually quite difficult because I had a good year last year. I think everyone wants to finish on a good note and making it to the Sweet 16 is no small feat. I thought, ‘Do I want to continue or test the pro waters?’ I wasn’t very interested in switching. Therefore, I did not take this option seriously. It was more like, “Am I ready for something else? Am I ready to move on?’ I’ve been to a Final Four, been to a Sweet 16, played at the NIT. I have done a lot. I graduated. Is it time for me to move on and see something new?”

Loyola star Lucas Williamson told ESPN about his decision to play a fifth season.

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