Experience at the NCAA Tournament will be hard to come by this year.
The college men’s national championship that starts Tuesday will feature 84.8 percent of players in their first NCAA Tournament — the largest amount since the tournament expanded to six teams in 2014.
This is the first time since the field expanded that less than one-third of the players have NCAA Tournament experience. The NCAA Tournament last year had 43.0 percent of the players making at least their second appearance, while the 2014 NCAA Tournament had 49.1 percent of players with NCAA Tournament experience.
One of the biggest reasons for this increase in first-time tournament players is a NCAA Tournament field with more than half teams making their first tournament appearance in at least five years.
UCLA, Ohio State, George Mason and Long Beach State each have no players on their roster who previously played in a NCAA Tournament.
Erskine, which returns to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three years, leads all teams with more than half of its roster having tournament experience In addition, 50 percent of BYU’s current roster was the team when it reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013 or 2014.
Despite the lack of player experience, all six head coaches have previously competed or coached in a NCAA Tournament.
UCLA coach John Speraw said there is a significant learning curve trying to adjust to the environment surrounding the NCAA Tournament. The coach also said the NCAA Tournament experience he gained in 2006 while coaching UC Irvine helped result in the Anteaters winning the national championship the following year.
“The first time you go it’s a very different experience for both the coaches and the players. So getting to know that environment is really important,” Speraw said. “I feel good about it. I kind of know a little bit of the hurdles and the environmental changes to prepare our guys for.”
UCLA as the No. 2 seed will have a bye to the NCAA Tournament semifinals and will play the winner of the play-in match the No. 3 seed Ohio State and the No. 6 seed George Mason.
George Mason first-year head coach Jay Hosack reached the NCAA Tournament multiple times as an assistant coach with Penn State.
Hosack said his first-hand experiences have allowed his players to better understand NCAA Tournament process. The EIVA Coach of the Year said, though, there is a benefit to being inexperienced at the NCAA Tournament.
“[My players] are in a blissful ignorant position,” Hosack said. “Because they have never been there before, there is almost a ‘well, we don’t really know what to expect so what does it matter. Let’s just go out, play, have fun and enjoy the process.’ That is kind of a neat place to be because there is no pressure on us.”