Senior savvy shines for men's basketball teams like Michigan Wolverines

Michigan guard Eli Brooks, right, shoots over Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. in the second half of a Big Ten Conference tournament game in Indianapolis on March 13. (AP file photo)


AP Sports Writer

Michigan’s second-round game against LSU was intense from the start. Up and down the court the teams went, trading runs and momentum swings with the season on the line.

One player for the Wolverines seemed calm and steady — guard Eli Brooks.

“I think just all the amount of reps we get in practice and being a senior, you see a lot of things through your time in college,” Brooks said. “Just being able to be on the court and have those experiences when I was younger I think really helped me out a lot.”

College basketball long ago reached the point when a team could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament while relying on freshmen or sophomores. In fact, Brooks’ coach — Fab Five standout Juwan Howard — played a big role in setting that trend. But under the pressure of a win-or-go-home scenario, experience can still be an asset. Brooks had 21 points, seven assists and only one turnover in Michigan’s 86-78 win Monday night. Chaundee Brown Jr., another senior for the Wolverines, scored 21 off the bench.

Elsewhere in this tournament, seniors like Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, Loyola Chicago’s Cameron Krutwig and Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson have been crucial in leading their teams to the Sweet 16. Baylor’s whole starting lineup is juniors and seniors. Oregon’s three senior starters — Chris Duarte, LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi — combined for 61 points in a second-round win over Iowa.

Loyola coach Porter Moser, who started four seniors in his team’s second-round victory over top-seeded Illinois, mentioned that type of experience when discussing the factors that can create more parity in the sport.

“I think there’s just kids getting developed and being old,” Moser said. “Having programs that have kids in the program — two, three, four years — that they develop and learn a system, get better.”

That kind of continuity is not a given at Michigan, where top players often have NBA potential and might leave early for the draft. Isaiah Livers and Brooks have been with the Wolverines for four years, and this season Howard added some experience via the transfer route. Grad transfer Mike Smith has taken over at point guard, and Brown arrived at Michigan after three seasons at Wake Forest.

“Chaundee has been rock steady all season long,” Howard said. “He understands, all his teammates do, understand that when one guy may have it going one night, or two or three guys may have it going one night offensively, but that doesn’t mean that we stop playing. We still have to compete on both ends of the floor.”

Production from players like Brown and Brooks became even more important after Livers went down with a foot injury. He hasn’t played in this tournament.

“I think we showed what we thought in the room that we have,” Brooks said. “Next man up, that’s our mentality. We knew we had enough in the locker room to get to the Sweet 16. Just keep buying in.”