Repeating as National Champions Next to Impossible in College Basketball Today

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 1, 2014

Nov 14, 2014; Storrs, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie talks with guard Ryan Boatright (11) during a break in the action against the Bryant University Bulldogs during the second half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Uconn defeated Bryant 66-53. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Connecticut is learning the hard way that it's beyond difficult to win back-to-back college basketball national championships in the 21st century.

After a hard-fought win over Dayton in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off semifinals, Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie said, per The Associate Press (via ESPN.com): "It's going to be some ups and downs. ... Everybody wants to beat the champion, so our team is understanding that."

Two days later, the Huskies experienced one of those downs, suffering their first loss of the season to West Virginia.

It certainly won't be their last, because these Huskies look absolutely nothing like the ones who won the 2014 national championship.

Even if you truly believe that Ryan Boatright has filled the void left by Shabazz Napier's graduation, who is replacing the role Boatright played last season? Where is this year's DeAndre Daniels? And is it possible that Niels Giffey's 48.3 percent three-point stroke was the biggest loss of all?

What else is new, though? Making the transition from "national champion" in the first week of April to "rebuilding program" by the first week of May is practically a rite of passage now.

Just take a look at this chart of how much the past 16 national champions have lost after cutting down the nets. A single "x" represents a player who graduated, while "xx" signifies a player not on the roster the following season due to reasons other than graduation—primarily early entrants to the NBA draft.

Top six players on each team determined by win shares as calculated by Sports-Reference.com.

Players Lost by Reigning National Champions
TeamRecordMVPNo. 2No. 3No. 4No. 5No. 6Next Year's Record
1999 UConn34-2xxxx25-10 (2nd Round)
2000 Mich St32-7xxx28-5 (Final Four)
2001 Duke35-4xx31-4 (Sweet 16)
2002 Maryland32-4xxxxx21-10 (Sweet 16)
2003 Syracuse30-5xxx23-8 (Sweet 16)
2004 UConn33-6xxxx23-8 (2nd Round)
2005 UNC33-4xxxxxxxxxx23-8 (2nd Round)
2006 Florida33-635-5 (Nat'l Champs)
2007 Florida35-5xxxxxxxxxx24-12 (No tourney)
2008 Kansas37-3xxxxxxxxx27-8 (Sweet 16)
2009 UNC34-4xxxxxx20-17 (No tourney)
2010 Duke35-5xxx32-5 (Sweet 16)
2011 UConn32-9xxxx20-14 (2nd Round)
2012 Kentucky38-2xxxxxxxxxxx21-12 (No tourney)
2013 Louisville35-5xxxxx31-6 (Sweet 16)
2014 UConn32-8xxxxxTo Be Determined

There are a total of 96 players (including repeats) represented by these 16 teams, and 55 of them did not return the following season. Thus, on average, national champions are forced to replace 3.44 of their six most important players. There is an 88 percent chance that their most crucial player isn't on next year's roster.

This isn't exactly breaking or shocking news.

Teams that make deep runs into the NCAA tournament tend to have at least one or two critical seniors, and an underclassman's NBA draft stock is never higher than when he has just helped lead a team to a title.

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 08:  Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates as he cuts down the net after they won 82-76 against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2013 NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at the Georgia Dome on April 8, 2013 in Atlanta,
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Every now and then we get a Russ Smith or a Kyle Singler who wins a title and decides to come back for one more season, but there are significantly more instances of guys like DeAndre Daniels, Marvin Williams and Wayne Ellington bolting for the draft despite barely any indication that it would have even been an option before the tournament.

If Kentucky had won instead of Connecticut, would the Harrison twins have come back for another season? What about Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress? And if Wisconsin had won it all, can't we safely assume that Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker would be gone?

As far as the following season or two are concerned, great teams with a lot of underclassmen are almost better off getting painfully close to a title than actually winning it.

To an extent, we see this in professional sports as well. Championship teams are ravaged by free agency and the players who do stay end up costing more money in the not-so-distant future.

But at least Super Bowl-winning teams have the option of paying their key players enough money to stick around. The peril is so much more pronounced in college basketball where you're lucky to get so much as two years out of a player who is talented enough for the pros.

Let's dig one step further into the above data, though, because it's how these makeshift teams fared the following season that is most interesting to us and most ominous for Connecticut.

Of the last 15 champions (excluding 2014 Connecticut), 10 lost their most important player and had at least one player leave early for the NBA. The ensuing season, those 10 teams had a combined record of 227-107 (68.0 percent). Not a single one advanced beyond the Sweet 16. Three missed the tournament altogether.

On the flip side of that coin, five of those 15 champions either got to keep their most important player for another season or didn't lose a single non-senior. Those teams had a combined record of 157-25 (86.3 percent). All five advanced at least as far as the Sweet 16.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Florida was by far the biggest exception to the reigning national champs rule.

Not only did the Gators not have a single important senior on the 2006 championship team, but Billy Donovan didn't have a single player leave for the NBA, eithereven though he had two of the best current big men in the NBA in Al Horford and Joakim Noah and an excellent 6'9" shooting guard in Corey Brewer. (Man, what ever happened to Taurean Green?)

So, yes, one team in the past 22 years repeated as national champions, but the conditions under which the Gators accomplished that feat were so far from the norm that it's hard to believe anyone would have picked against Florida in 2007.

What does all this mean for Connecticut?

It's not promising, that's for sure.

Jeff Goodman @GoodmanESPN

Missing Shabazz: Defending champion UConn trails Bryant, 42-39, about 5 minutes into the second half.

The Huskies lost four of their top six players from last year's team. Six of the previous 15 champs lost at least four players. On average, those teams won 22.7 games, lost 11.2 games and won 0.8 NCAA tournament games. All three of the reigning national champions who missed the tournament were in that camp.

Worse yet for the Huskies, each of those six teams was drastically better in its championship season than Connecticut was last year. All six were No. 1 seeds and had an average record of 34.8 wins and 3.7 losses. Even before losing Napier and company, Connecticut was a No. 7 seed that went 32-8.

With that in mind, were the early struggles against Bryant, College of Charleston and Dayton all that shocking? If undeniably great teams who lost at least four key players proceeded to lose an average of about 12 games the following season, how many losses might Connecticut accumulate in 2014-15?

Nov 14, 2014; Storrs, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Ryan Boatright (11) reacts after a basket against the Bryant University Bulldogs during the second half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Uconn defeated Bryant 66-53. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US

This is the point where the people who aren't fans of Connecticut run out and bet on anyone other than the Huskies (Memphis? Cincinnati??) to win the AAC. It's also the point where Connecticut fans decide it's all a bunch of hooey that doesn't apply to their beloved teameven though the Huskies followed up their last three championships with records of 25-10, 23-8 and 20-14, respectively.

It's really nothing against Connecticut, though. It's just the way things are today.

In fact, unless the one-and-done rule gets modified, we're left to wonder if we'll ever see back-to-back college basketball champions again.

There are a few teams potentially equipped to win in both 2015 and 2016, but it's only because they're so ridiculously young and deep.

For instance, if Kentucky were to win it all this year, there's a pretty good chance that at least six or seven players bolt for the NBA. But even if Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Marcus Lee are the only players who return next season, that's still one heck of a core trio around which John Calipari can build with his next inevitable batch of three to six McDonald's All-Americans.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Texas is another team that would have at least an outside shot at back-to-back titles.

Jonathan Holmes would graduate, and there's little doubt that Myles Turner, Cameron Ridley and maybe Isaiah Taylor all declare for the draft. However, Rick Barnes could still go to war with a nucleus of Javan Felix, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Holland, Jordan Barnett, Connor Lammert, Prince Ibeh, Maryland transfer Shaquille Cleare and however many freshmen he ends up signing.

But even a great team with a great recruiting class like Arizona would be hard-pressed to repeat as champs.

If the Wildcats win it all this year, T.J. McConnell graduates and there's about a zero percent chance that Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski come back for another season.

Sean Miller has already signed three 5-star freshmen in next year's class and would have some key returnees in Gabe York and Craig Victoras well as players like Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen who are currently redshirtingbut it would be a very inexperienced team with a very big target on its back.

As we're seeing this year with Connecticut, that's the case with most reigning champs. Guys like Kentan Facey and Omar Calhoun who played limited minutes last season and guys like Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton who are brand new to the team are needed to come in and immediately fill the shoes of players who were indispensable to last year's team.

Throw in the mathematics that even the best team in the country only has about a 25 percent chance of winning an NCAA tournament and it's hard to believe we'll see another team talented enough and lucky enough to repeat.

Best of luck, Connecticut. You'll need it.

Recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. 

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


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