If there’s a been a dominant theme to the college basketball criticism this year, it is that there’s no dominant team. It hasn’t been a criticism really, just an observation from various announcers, writers, commentators and fans have noted that there’s no dominant team that will be a predominant favorite in this year’s tournament.
Depending on who you ask, as many as 8,10, 15 teams have a chance at hoisting the NCAA championship trophy. I was going to say, “cutting down the nets,” but let’s just sidestep that hornet’s nest for a moment. But the criticism of no dominant team seems odd to me, because I immediately ask, compared to what?
When I hear the discussion on no doubt #1 teams in college basketball, the commentators seem to imply that this is unusual to get to March and still have no real grasp on who is truly elite. This adds to the general thought process that parity reigns in NCAA basketball and teams with little or no tradition have just as good of a chance at advancing as ever.
But if we put these assumptions under the microscope, the reality is much different. Looking back to when the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 28 championship tournaments. 7 of those were won by a team winning it’s only National Championship. The last time a team won its only championship was 2003 when Syracuse won it. Since then it’s been a veritable who’s who of the blue blood programs especially in the past 5 seasons.
But many would argue that the last decade has seen teams like Butler, VCU, and George Mason make it to the Final four and the National Championship games, surely that shows the little kids have a better chance against the elite now? Actually no, while the Bulldogs back to back title games were impressive, is there any reason we should see Butler as a bigger underdog than previous schools from outside the elite who crashed into the final weekend like Providence(1987), Seton Hall(1989 title game), Mississippi State and UMass(1996)? Again, it’s an imperfect metric, but the last 12 years have actually seen the fewer teams make their single Final Four appearance* than either the 1980’s or 1990’s.
*For the purpose of this I defined 1 Final Four appearance as being after 1980. I did this for two reasons 1)I’m lazy and got tired of looking up the teams, and 2)To keep the study somewhat focused on more recent history as I doubt Cincinnati’s 1961 and 1962 National Championships were doing much for its tradition in 1992. 2a) But mainly it’s because I was lazy.
|Teams with 1 Championship||Teams with 1 FF Appearance|
Among teams commonly argued to be title contenders this year, Gonzaga’s are the lowest at 2. Certainly if they were to win out, the 37-2 record would stand proudly among past champions. But what if it was Kansas or Georgetown(currently 4 losses) or Indiana, Michigan, Louisville(5 losses) or even Michigan State winning the title with 7 losses. Those looking for a dominant team would surely laugh at a team with 7 losses winning the title. We’d get to read thrilling editorials about how this shows college basketball needs to keep players for an extra year, or how anyone can win in March, as opposed to the good old days.
But actually, the National Champion has been much tougher the last 12 years then in the 80’s or 90’s.
|Decade||Average Champions Wins||Average Champion Losses||Average Champion Winning %|
So when people start asking why we don’t see dominant teams anymore, remind them that a 26-10 NC State won the title in 1983. When someone says that it’s so great that Gonzaga made it to #1, since it shows that teams outside the power conferences can make it now, remind them that Temple finished out 1988 at #1.