NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Colgate vs Baylor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The day after No. 14 seed Oakland shocked No. 3 seed Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, sparking a fresh wave of criticism for Wildcats coach John Calipari and his roster construction philosophy, the formula used by fellow No. 3 seed Baylor stood out. 

Instead of relying heavily on five or even six freshmen like UK, Baylor relied heavily on two — and played a third for seven minutes — as it cruised past No. 14 seed Colgate 92-67 in the first round of the  NCAA Tournament.

Rather than having two juniors or seniors as part of their rotation like the Wildcats, the Bears typically played five juniors or seniors this season. 

In a college basketball landscape that looks drastically different than it did five years ago because of NIL, mass transferring and the extra season of eligibility provided amid the COVID-19 pandemic, every coach is searching for the right mix of experience and continuity to go with young talent.

"We're all learning on the fly," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. 

But some are learning faster than others, and Drew appears to be on the advanced end of the curve while Calipari remains lost. 

When UConn cut down the nets as national champions in Houston last season, it did so with a mixture of returning veterans, strategic transfer additions and the contributions of two talented freshmen in Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban.

The Huskies assembled a similar mix this season on their way to claiming the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's comparable to the formula of Baylor's 2023-24 roster.

Baylor ranks in the middle of the pack nationally in minutes continuity (234th) with a small but significant core of returners in Jalen Bridges, Josh Ojianwuna, Caleb Lohner, Langston Love and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

The Bears also added veteran transfers RayJ Dennis and Jayden Nunn to bring their standing in Division I experience to solid 81st nationally, per

But Drew didn't neglect the high school recruiting and the wealth of talent available from that pool. Baylor's 2023 class ranked No. 4 nationally with a trio of top-50 signings. Two of them, Ja'Kobe Walter and Yves Missi, have started virtually the entire season and been difference makers.

Both could be lottery picks, and both could help the Bears go deep in this NCAA Tournament.

The beauty of Baylor's roster construction, however, is that the Bears are built to compete even on the rare occasions when their freshmen look like freshmen. 

Kentucky wasn't.

As a fifth-year senior who shares the Baylor starting lineup with Missi and Walter, Dennis sees the Baylor age dynamic with his freshman teammates as "just like having a little brother," he told CBS Sports.

"That's what it is," Dennis said. "You just bring them along with you."

At Kentucky, the rotation's two veterans — Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell — were the big brothers to a group of seven scholarship freshmen this season. It was a tall task. At Baylor, the vets outnumber the diaper dandies.

Like Dennis, Bridges is a fifth-year senior. And Tchamwa Tchatchoua offers veteran leadership as a sixth-year senior and the last remaining player from Baylor's 2021 national title team.

"It's huge to have a bunch of older dudes," Dennis said.

The Bears are the only Big 12 team that put two players on the league's All-Freshman team, but they weren't disheveled on Friday by the fact that one of them (Missi) was limited due to back pain.

Calipari came close to getting the right mix of veterans and young talent in 2022 around National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe. Only one freshman, guard TyTy Washington, was a regular starter that season.

The problem was that UK's style of play was stuck in the stone ages as the Wildcats ranked No. 325 nationally in 3-point attempts while playing inside-out with Tshiebwe as the focal point. The Wildcats hit only 4 of 15 attempts from beyond the arc in a stunning overtime loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter's during the first round of the NCAA Tournament that season.

 It was more of the same last season, when the Wildcats flamed out in the second round with a 4 of 20 performance from 3-point range in a 75-69 loss to Kansas State.

This season, Calipari modernized the offense. But he did it with the wrong roster formula.

Baylor, which was neck and neck with Kentucky among the nation's top 3-point shooting teams this season, is an example of how you can get both right.

Freshmen are welcome. Just make sure they are outnumbered by big brothers.