8 NCAA Basketball Teams That Have the Recipe to Win It All
Recent history suggests the recipe to win an NCAA championship consists of five ingredients:
1. NBA Talent: Every one of the past 25 national champions had at least one first-round NBA draft pick on the team. All but two had at least one lottery pick, and 15 of them had at least three first-round picks.
2. Pro-Caliber Point Guard: Of the 16 teams that reached the title game the past eight years, all but one had a point guard who was taken in the two-round NBA draft. The one exception was Kalin Lucas of 2005 runner-up Michigan State, and he was Big Ten player of the year that season.
3. Margin of Victory: Although it's helpful to be able to win close games, teams that dominate seem to be the postseason monsters. Nine of the past 11 national champions ranked among the nation's top five in average margin of victory, and five of them led the nation in that category.
No statistic correlates with national championships as consistently as margin of victory.
4. Power Conference: No team from outside one of the six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) has won a national championship since 1990.
5. Elite Coach: Each of the past 17 national champions had a head coach acknowledged as one of the nation's best. Only Tubby Smith (Kentucky, 1998) and Gary Williams (Maryland, 2002) might not fit that description, and they weren't chopped liver.
We'll start with several highly ranked teams that don't have enough of the proper ingredients. Then we'll continue by counting down the eight teams that come closest to having the recipe to win it all.
Several teams that look like national title contenders have significant shortcomings in terms of our history-based recipe for becoming an NCAA champion.
Gonzaga: Although third nationally in average margin of victory, the Bulldogs are not from a power conference and don't have a point guard likely to be drafted. Whether Mark Few deserves to be considered in the same breath as Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun is debatable too.
Florida: Second in margin of victory, the Gators don't have any sure-fire first-round picks, and point guard Scottie Wilbekin may not be drafted.
Georgetown: Although Otto Porter Jr. is a likely lottery pick, the Hoyas lack a pro-caliber point guard. They also rank just 50th in margin of victory. None of the past 11 champions ranked lower than 40th in margin of victory.
Miami: I expect the Hurricanes to do well. History suggests something different. They rank only 44th in margin of victory and may have no first-round NBA picks on the team. None of the three draft websites cited are sure point guard Shane Larkin will be drafted. Although coach Jim Larranaga got George Mason to the Final Four, he does not yet carry the cache of an elite coach.
Michigan State: The Spartans' No. 46 ranking in margin of victory is their vital flaw.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 35
Admittedly it is strange to have Kentucky on this list, considering the Wildcats may not even make the NCAA tournament.
However, the metrics suggest that if the Wildcats get in, they can do some damage.
Even without Nerlens Noel, they have three players who could be first-round draft picks: Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Point guard Ryan Harrow has a chance to be drafted when he turns pro.
John Calipari has to rank among the elite coaches whether you respect him or not.
Their No. 35 ranking in margin of victory is relatively low, but within acceptable limits.
Mitigating Issues: Common sense and a margin of victory outside the top 20 weigh against Kentucky.
7. Oklahoma State
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 22
Logic says Oklahoma State is not a title contender. The recipe says it is.
The Cowboys are from a power conference, and they may have two players taken in the first round of the NBA draft: forward Le'Bryan Nash and point guard Marcus Smart.
Smart looks like he'll be a top-10 NBA draft pick, so the Cowboys get high marks in the point guard category.
Their ranking of No. 22 in margin of victory is high enough to warrant inclusion.
Mitigating Issues: The biggest mitigating factor is their coach. Travis Ford would not be included on a list of the nation's elite college coaches.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 4
Rick Pitino has won a national title and has taken three different schools to the Final Four, so Louisville has an elite coach.
The Cardinals' average margin of victory is a major favorable mark.
Two Louisville players, center Gorgui Dieng and forward Wayne Blackshear, could be first-round NBA picks.
Two other Cardinal players, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, may be drafted by the NBA as point guards, satisfying that criterion.
Mitigating Issues: Neither Dieng nor Blackshear will be a lottery pick, and there's no guarantee either will be taken in the first round. Siva is Louisville's point guard, and if he is drafted at all, it would be in the second round.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 13
Much of Michigan's postseason success hinges on point guard Trey Burke. He is clearly a pro-caliber point guard and could be a lottery pick.
Three other Wolverines, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary, could be first-round picks someday, too.
Michigan's No. 13 ranking in margin of victory is good enough, especially in the Big Ten, the most powerful of power conferences.
Mitigating Issues: Robinson, Hardaway and McGary may not be first-round-caliber players now, and it's debatable whether coach John Beilein falls into the elite coach category.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 15
Mike Kyzyzewski is at the top of the food chain in coaching status.
Blue Devils center Mason Plumlee is expected to be a lottery pick, and Rasheed Sulaimon could be a first-round pick someday, too. Forward Ryan Kelly and guard Seth Curry have a good shot to be drafted as well.
Point guard Quinn Cook may prove to be a pro-caliber point guard and has a chance to be drafted.
Duke's margin of victory is even more impressive in games in which Kelly played.
Mitigating Issues: The jury is still out on Cook's pro potential, and Plumlee may be the only first-round pick on the squad.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 12
Syracuse has one of the nation's top pro prospects at the point guard position in Michael Carter-Williams. He's projected as a lottery pick, and guard Brandon Triche and forward C.J. Fair have a good chance to get drafted as well.
The Orange have a favorable margin of victory ranking.
Jim Boeheim has over 900 career coaching victories, three Final Four appearances and a 2003 national title. His status as an elite coach is unquestioned.
Mitigating Issues: Just one sure-fire first-round draft pick makes the Orange a little light in the talent category.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 10
Having a top-10 ranking in margin of victory puts Kansas squarely in the conversation.
A bigger factor is that the Jayhawks have two likely first-round NBA draft picks in Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey. McLemore is expected to be a top-five overall pick, which further enhances the Jayhawks' profile.
Point guard Elijah Johnson has a chance to be drafted.
Coach Bill Self is shooting for his ninth straight regular-season Big 12 championship and has coached in two NCAA title games, winning one. He's elite.
Mitigating Issues: Johnson is not as strong a point guard as Trey Burke or Michael Carter-Williams, and Johnson may not get drafted.
Average Margin of Victory National Ranking: 1
Leading the country in margin of victory automatically makes Indiana a title contender based on the recipe.
Guard Victor Oladipo and forward Cody Zeller are both probable NBA lottery picks, which gives the Hoosiers more than enough NBA-level talent.
Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell could develop into a pro prospect. ESPN.com projects that he could be a second-round pick someday.
Coach Tom Crean got Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, so he is a proven commodity.
Mitigating Issues: Ferrell is not a pro prospect yet, so whether the Hoosiers currently have pro-caliber talent at point guard is debatable. Crean is not yet in the class of a Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim.