The Final Four

We’ve had the college football playoff and now the basketball counterpart, March Madness, ending up with this weekend’s Final Four.

College, rah-rah wise, will be over until Labor Day.

It could be a great Final Four. Wisconsin and Michigan State, no strangers to the Big Dance, wish to bring the national championship to the Big Ten where fellow combatant Ohio State wrested the coveted football title from Oregon two months ago.

Duke and Kentucky, perennial big tent tenants, evidencing varying degrees of one-and-done-ness, are attempting to restore college basketball royalty to its perceived rightful place in Durham and Lexington.

Kentucky (38-0) is an interesting case. Led by much maligned coach John Calipari, they are the definition of one-and-done, a system favoring the admittance of players to an educational institution for the sole purpose of keeping them busy playing basketball until the required one year waiting period to get to the NBA is over. So much young talent abounds at Kentucky, this year’s team has only three seniors on the roster, each All-SEC All-Academic’s who have seen only minutes of total playing time in their respective careers.

The first team with a shot at 40-0, Kentucky is absent a nucleus of seniors who have learned the team’s system, are experienced in both basketball and academia, and are positioned to graduate, all former staples of national championship teams.

Wisconsin and Michigan State will be playing as decided underdogs. The Badgers will be playing to win their first national championship. Michigan State has had success under coach Tom Izzo, heading to his seventh Final Four, winning once.

Both Izzo and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan have traditional squads, disdaining the one-and-done approach.

Recently, Duke’s Mike Krzyewski, feeling pressured to win, has more closely followed Calipari’s formula for success, bringing in freshmen who have left early to go to the NBA.

Does one-and-done work? Let’s see.

Between 2006 and 2012, fifty-one players left after one year of college to turn pro. Kentucky alone saw nine players come and go, and was the only team to win a national championship, in 2012. They’ve had four leave since then, all without a title, and could have even more leave after Monday night.

Indeed, if Kentucky plays Duke in the final, all ten players on the floor at any given time may well be one-and-done guys.

Perhaps, the record of one-and-done teams in securing championships—just one in nine years—suggests it doesn’t work. If either Wisconsin or Michigan State wins the Final Four, that may be the final nail in the one-and-done coffin.

These numbers hint that team play, playing together for longer than a year or two, and learning the coach’s system, all integral ingredients of former championship teams, may return once again to reach or perhaps even surpass the combined fourteen National Championships of coaching legends John Wooden of UCLA and Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.

One response to “The Final Four

  1. I guess the only question left to be answered is why so many people complain about the state of college basketball… when ratings are actually up.