Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Formula

So after the Badgers' disappointing loss to Davidson ended their season, there was the inevitable internet-based gnashing of teeth over the direction of the program, and whether it's hit a ceiling generally or, simply a ceiling under Ryan. That is, Big Ten good, but not national championship good. And it's been wondered about here too-- whether the Badgers' style of play is inherently limited, or whether Wisconsin will ever be able to get good enough recruits to get close to an NCAA championship, or whether its style of play drives away talented recruits. (Don't know about that last one-- see UCLA and Georgetown.) Then today, I read this little article in the Chicago Tribune. It basically talks about how all of the teams in the Final Four are likely going to lose a bunch of starters each, most of whom will be underclassmen leaving early. And that got me thinking about the different teams and their make-ups, and if there's an obvious "Formual" to being a national championship contender. Here's the starters for each team, with their year in school and their "star" ratings coming out of high schools.
Collison (Jr) 4
Shipp (Red. Jr) 4
Moute (Jr) 3
Love (Fr) 5
Westrbook (So) 3

Dozier (Jr) 4
Douglas-Roberts (Jr) 4
Anderson (Jr) 4
Rose (Fr) 5
Dorsey (Sr) 3

Hansbrough (Jr) 5
Ellington (So) 5
Ginyard (Jr) 4
Lawson (So) 5
Thompson (So) 4
Key Sub--
Green (Jr) 4

Jackson (Sr) 4
Arthur (So) 5
Rush (Jr) 5
Chalmers (Jr) 5
Robinson (Sr) 5
Key Subs--
Kaun (Sr) 4
Collins (So) 5

Anyhow, looking over the rosters, and reading the Trib article about all the likely early entrants, a pretty simple formula appears-- sign the most talented kids you can, kids with legitimate NBA chances, and get them to stick around as long as possible. Repeat that formula every season. Eventually, a guy or two will stay around longer than expected (Rush, with his ACL tear last spring for example), or a frosh will be even more dominant than you hoped (Love, Rose), you hope you'll end up with a strong enough squad to make a run at it. All these teams have been doing this for years. And even if you think that this year the stars aligned for, let's take Kansas, because Robinson, Kaun and Jackson are seniors and Rush is only back because he tore his ACL, you eventually realize they could be even more dominant had one or two more guys stayed. (Julian Wright would have been a junior for Kansas; Brendan Wright would have been a soph for UNC; Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar would be seniors for UCLA.) So they lose top-notche early entrants every year, and are almost always still this good. Pretty crazy stuff.

Here are some other interesting factoids--
Besides UCLA, all of the other three schools regularly "sign" kids who don't qualify academically, and thus end up not enrolling on time, or at all. Not surprisingly, Memphis, easily the worst school in the Final Four, leads the list. Several of Memphis's players (like Anderson and Dozier) were signed out of prep school, where uber-talented basketball players who are poor students go to raise their GPAs in hopes of finally qualifying. This means that those schools have the total green light to go after kids who don't meet the NCAA's academic standards.

And looking at the "commitment lists" for each of these schools, there are a bunch of kids with really high ratings coming out of high school that you've never heard of. That means they either dropped out, transferred, or are stuck on the bench. So these types of teams appear to have significantly higher turnover than normal college basketball teams.

So that's the formula-- chase the prep superstars every year regardless of their academic qualifications, if they turn out to not be good enough stick them on the bench 'till they drop out or transfer, and hope that enough of them stick around long enough to develop some chemistry so you can make a run at the whole thing. That's the formula in this new, NBA-age limit universe we've only been in for two seasons now.

Now, where do the Badgers fit in? Not so well. It seems that we will not chase kids who can't qualify academically. In fact, it appears that the University has standards above the NCAA's baseline. Plus, I highly doubt that Bo wants to chase kids who are hoping to jump to the league in two or three years. He's too much of a teacher for that. He wants to mold guys. So, sadly, barring some miraculous recruiting successes or unexpected development by some players, I don't see Wisconsin ever morphing from what it is-- an excellent to very good college basketball program-- into a legitimate national championship contender. We won't abide by boosters bribing kids (as far as I know). We won't mess with academic problems or me-first guys. So we won't get enough talent to really take a swing, unless we get really lucky. And if the NBA increases the age limit (as they're talking about doing) it might get even worse. I hope I'm wrong though.

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