It's not often in college basketball these days that someone links winning to the aging process. But Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey credits old age, relatively speaking, for his program's sustained success.
That makes Thursday's game against visiting Kentucky, which is synonymous with so-called one-and-done players, an examination of the eternal experience-versus-talent question.
Kentucky cites (boasts?) the distinction of being the only BCS school to have not even one previous college start among its players entering this season. By contrast, the Irish had a collective 234.
"I hope it comes into play," Brey said on a teleconference Tuesday. "The big thing that helped ... is we stayed old. We've not had to play a lot of young guys. ... Certainly, if we're going to be successful Thursday night, our experience and our poise are going to have to play out. And we'll have to really be good in that department for close to 40 minutes to beat the talent they put on the floor."
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No one disputes Kentucky's talent or Calipari's modus operandi.
"They have soon-to-be-professionals on that team," said Notre Dame's Scott Martin, a sixth-year college player. "We're just going to come out and do our best to put it together as a team. That's what we do best. And that's when we get our best results. When we work as well as we can together."
Of course, Kentucky gets results, too. Calipari guided UK to the 2012 national championship, which followed a Final Four appearance in 2011 and a seeming advancement to the 2010 national championship derailed in a region-final upset.
Brey did not question Kentucky's reliance on one-and-done players. In Calipari's three previous seasons, there have been nine (counting the never-launched college career of Enes Kanter). Nor did the Notre Dame coach deny the appeal of such obviously talented prospects.
"If I can get my hands on three one-and-done guys, I'd be the first one to do it," Brey said before almost immediately contradicting himself. " ... But I think the way we're set up and our university and the kind of kids we're getting here, it's going to be more four- and five-year guys.
"I kind of like the rhythm of how we do it."
Notre Dame (6-1) has won more than 20 games in six straight seasons. Five times in that span, the Irish played in the NCAA Tournament. Having rewarded Brey with a new 10-year contract in June and armed with so much experience (all five starters return from last season's 22-12 team), Notre Dame looks to win the Big East Conference this season. More to the point, the Irish want to be regarded as a top program. Or, as Brey put it earlier this year, 2012-13 was the "time to join the party."
Freshmen play for Notre Dame. Cameron Biedscheid averages 17.3 minutes this season. But, more often, freshmen wait their turn.
"We don't panic or flush them," the Notre Dame coach said. "We redshirt them and just keep teaching them and keep getting older and stronger."
The Irish players do not claim any big advantage that comes with experience.
"I would definitely not say it's significant," said Martin, who won an appeal to the NCAA for a sixth season. He transferred from Purdue to Notre Dame to be closer to his father, also named Scott, who is battling a rare form of eye cancer.
"It's not going to score any points," he said of Notre Dame's experience. "You don't get to go out there with a 10-0 lead because you have more starts."
But, Martin allowed, experience "translates to a degree. It'll help us stay poised and keep calm. If things don't go our way early on, we'll be able to recover. We've been through it multiple times. So we've seen it before."
Junior point guard Eric Atkins, who has 26 assists and two turnovers in the last three games, echoed the sentiment about experience being of limited value.
"When you're out there, those moments (when it might help) really don't come up much other than in crunch-time situations," he said.
Martin acknowledged how Notre Dame believed its experience would make a difference against UK two years ago.
"I think that was the mindset," he said. "Those (UK) freshmen did a great job taking us off the dribble and beating us."
Kentucky beat Notre Dame 72-58 in Louisville in the 2010-11 season. Freshmen accounted for 56 of UK's points. Terrence Jones scored 27 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Brandon Knight added 20.
"I really don't think them being young really hurts them too much," Martin said of the Cats. "Especially with the players Calipari gets."