What does it take to become a national champion?
An upperclassman carrying the team? Ask Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony about that.
Senior leadership? Yeah, the Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, and Sean May trio was chock full of seniors.
A hot streak heading into the tourney? Both Syracuse and UNC lost in their conference tournament in convincing fashion, and Connecticut was still working out the kinks in late February.
A top-notch point guard? Taliek Brown never received much in the way of individual publicity and nearly lost his starting job in December of the Huskiesí championship season.
When discussing the ingredients necessary to make a run at the national championship, the aforementioned four, and many others, are usually mentioned. However, if one looks at previous champions, you really donít need any of the things in the above list. In that case, what do you need to become the next NCAA Champion? Letís breakdown the past three champions: Syracuse, Connecticut, and North Carolina.
Syracuse went 30-5 overall, and 13-3 in the Big East. Led by superstar Carmelo Anthony, the Orangemen (they were still the Orangemen back then) lost their first game of the season and then ran off 11 straight wins. After they went 5-3 in their next eight games, ĎCuse won eight in a row before losing to Connecticut in the Big East Tournament for the second time that season. In the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse won four of their six games by double-digits, but only beat Auburn by 1 in the Sweet 16 and defeated Kansas by 3 in the title game. In terms of their personnel, Anthony did it all on offense. They went to him when they needed a basket, and he was nearly impossible to stop. Gerry McNamara provided the outside shooting, and Billy Edelin was a solid point guard that could get into the lane seemingly whenever he wanted. Craig Forth was a serviceable post player, while Hakim Warrick was an athletic big man who could block shots, rebound, and score down low. Josh Pace was a decent scorer; Kueth Duany was an average all-around player who was an energy guy; and Jeremy McNeil provided depth down low.
Connecticut went 33-6 overall and 12-4 in the Big East. Player of the Year Emeka Okafor led the Huskies to a 14-1 start, with the lone loss to eventual national runner-up Georgia Tech. However, after that start, they lost two of their next three and four of their next nine. After that slump, UConn won five in a row before losing to Syracuse to close out the season. They bounced back to win the Big East Tournament, going into the NCAA Tournament on a high note. In the Big Dance, Connecticut won their first four games by an average of more than 17 points. Once in the Final Four, they had a great comeback win over Duke and then dismantled Georgia Tech in the title game. Throughout the season, UConn was the most talented team in the country. Other than Okafor being the best player in the country, Ben Gordon became one of the better scoring guards once he realized how good he could be. Gordon could take over games whenever he pleased, and Okafor was dominant on both ends of the floor. Rashad Anderson was a streaky shooter that provided balance on the perimeter, while Taliek Brown was a decent point guard who allowed the Huskies to play at the pace they needed. Josh Boone was a very good defender and rebounder and Charlie Villanueva was a versatile frontcourt player who had worlds of talent. Denham Brown was an all-around player in the backcourt, while Hilton Armstrong provided depth up front.
Last season, North Carolina went 33-4 overall and 14-2 in the ACC. Led by four eventual lottery picks, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 14-1 start. However, the lone loss came on opening day, when they lost to Santa Clara (it was without Raymond Felton). UNC ran through teams with alarming dominance. In the eight games leading up to their second loss of the season, they had outscored teams by an average of almost 34 points per game. North Carolina didnít lose a home game the entire season, and only had one regular-season loss (to Duke) before bowing out in the ACC semi-finals to Georgia Tech. In the NCAA Tournament, as the favorite to win, UNC did not disappoint. They won their first two games by 28 and 27 points, respectively, before squeaking past Villanova by 1. After a surprisingly tough game from Wisconsin, UNC destroyed Michigan State. In the title game, the Tar Heels forced Illinois to take 40 three-point shots and won by 5. It was obvious during the whole season that North Carolina was the best team in the country when they were playing together. Raymond Felton was the fastest player in the country and an excellent passer; Rashad McCants was, at times, an unstoppable scorer; and Sean May was the best low-post scorer in the nation. Marvin Williams was an excellent sixth man, and Jawad Williams was an underrated inside-outside scorer. Jackie Manuel was an athletic lock-down defender, while Melvin Scott could hit the three-pointer. David Noel was very athletic and liked to get out in transition.
What do each of these teams have in common? Just look at the personnel of each squad.
Letís start at the top. All three had a solid point guard that could penetrate into the lane and then either score or pass. Billy Edelin used his strength to overpower smaller defenders; Taliek Brown had a combination of strength and quickness; and Raymond Felton was just plain faster than his opponents. No matter what way they did it, each team had a point guard that could create.
On the perimeter, all of the teams had a three-point shooter that could stroke it consistently. Syracuse had Gerry McNamara, Connecticut had Rashad Anderson, and UNC had Melvin Scott. A championship team needs a player that can hit the three-ball on command and stretch the defense.
Each of the three teams had a perimeter player that could create his own shot and get a basket in crunch time. Syracuse used Josh Pace and Billy Edelin to get leaners in the lane; Connecticut allowed Ben Gordon to do whatever he needed to do; and Rashad McCants had the ability to score on anyone. A guard that can get his shot in crunch time is ideal.
Also on each team was an inside-outside scorer that created matchup problems. Syracuse had, obviously, Carmelo Anthony; Connecticut had Charlie Villanueva, when he played to his potential; and North Carolina had the underappreciated Jawad Williams. A versatile offensive player is key because he creates mismatches on defense with his ability to post-up as well as his ability to step out and hit the three.
Down low, each team had a solid to very good post player. Syracuse had Hakim Warrick, who had several big games throughout the season. Connecticut and North Carolina clearly had some of the best post players in the country in Emeka Okafor and Sean May, respectively. Having a big-time low-post scorer and rebounder adds balance and allows more movement in the offense.
Bench production and role players were also vital parts of these teamsí success. Syracuse actually used Billy Edelin off the bench, while Josh Pace also was a non-starter, and both were big parts of the national title run. Connecticut had Charlie Villanueva as their sixth man; he had the potential to be a dominant big man. Denham Brown received the majority of the bench minutes in the backcourt. North Carolina used Marvin Williams off the bench, and he was possibly the best freshman in the country yet he didnít start. Melvin Scott and David Noel were also key performers off the bench. As far as role players go, the Orangemen had Craig Forth inside, an underrated player who did all the dirty work. Connecticut had Josh Boone, a surprising freshman that season who was a very good shot blocker and rebounder. North Carolina had Jackie Manuel, the player who started over Marvin Williams. He was a phenomenal defender and athlete.
To recap, a championship team needs a solid point guard that can beat his defender off the dribble; a consistent three-point shooter; a perimeter player that can get a basket whenever necessary; an inside-outside scoring threat up front (either the inside-outside threat or the three-point shooter is normally a legit third option on offense); a very good post player who is capable of dominating (essentially making a top-notch inside-outside tandem vital); a solid sixth man; and several good role players. Sounds simple enough, right?
With all this in mind, which teams this season are capable of winning a national championship based on the aforementioned criteria?
- Point Guard: Marcus Williams/Craig Austrie
Positives: Have everything necessary to win it all. A variety of options on offense capable of putting up big numbers. A ridiculous amount of talent.
Negatives: Players fail to play to their potential often, and tend to run hot/cold.
- Point Guard: Greg Paulus
Positives: Excellent inside-outside combination in Redick and Williams.
Negatives: No consistent third scorer; Paulus is a freshman point guard.
- Point Guard: Kenton Paulino
Positives: Outstanding frontcourt group that is second to none. Gibson and Tucker/Buckman/Aldridge form great inside-outside combination.
Negatives: A severe lack of depth and quality role players. Paulino isnít much of a point guard.
- Point Guard: Kyle Lowry/Mike Nardi
Positives: Best backcourt in the country that has four players capable of scoring.
Negatives: No consistent low-post play.
- Point Guard: Darius Washington
Positives: Unbelievable amount of talent. Washington, Carney, and Williams form an outstanding trio. Lots of perimeter production.
Negatives: Lack of a dominant post presence.
- Point Guard: Drew Neitzel
Positives: Great trio in Ager, Brown, and Davis. Neitzel is a decent point guard.
Negatives: No player to take the load off of Davis inside. Neitzel is inconsistent at times.
- Point Guard: J.D. Collins
Positives: Might be the best offensive team in the country. Lots of shooters and guys that can score.
Negatives: J.D. Collins is not a consistent point guard. No post player besides Pittsnogle.
- Point Guard: Derek Raivio
Positives: Excellent duo in Morrison and Batista. Raivio is a very good point guard.
Negatives: Struggle defensively. Sometimes rely too much on Morrison.
- Point Guard: Justin Dentmon
Positives: Lots of offensive talent. Good inside-outside balance. Could be the most complete team other than UConn.
Negatives: Struggle defensively. Freshman point guard.