clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BREAKING: Winning a College Basketball National Title is Hard

New, 34 comments

It seems like it should be a easy corollary. The number of National Titles you have shows how good of a coach you are. But as Calipari and Izzo reminded us this past weekend, it's not that easy at all.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

"He should have more National Titles."

It's a knock against Jim Boeheim that all Syracuse Orange fans have heard. Hell, it's a knock Syracuse fans hear even when discussing the Orange legend with other SU fans.

Following the 2015 Final Four, I think it's also probably a complaint that you'll start hearing about two other coaches in the college ranks: John Calipari and Tom Izzo.

Start with Calipari. He's been with the Kentucky Wildcats for six seasons now. He's had the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation most of those years and his rosters are full of NBA-ready stars-in-the-making. On paper, Kentucky should have at least three, maybe four National Titles during this run. Calipari's resume should be swimming in championships.

He has one.

Let's go to Tom Izzo, who has taken the Michigan State Spartans to the Final Four seven times since arriving in 1996. Even when they're a lower seed, like they were this season, they're one of the most feared teams in the tournament because everyone expects Izzo to turn it on in March (and April). Given all that success over a long period of time, you'd expect Izzo to have multiple National Titles at this point.

He has one.

All of this is not to say that John Calipari and Tom Izzo are bad coaches in any form. Far from it. Calipari is the master of the modern college basketball age and Izzo probably goes no worse than No. 3 in College Basketball Coach Fantasy Draft. They are deserving of all the credit in the world for their success and their programs.

But the fact is, more often than not, even when they make it far, they don't win it all.

That's not because they're something wrong with them as coaches. It's simply because running the table in the tournament, let alone the entire season, is really friggin' hard.

Some of the best college basketball teams in the history of the sport are just footnotes while some mediocre college basketball teams who got hot at the right time will be remembered fondly. Success does not ensure results. It's not random, per se, but sometimes there's a lot of dominoes that have to fall just right to get you all the way to the title. Even if you're 38-0 headed into the Final Four.

Hell, look at some recent years where Syracuse entered the tournament as a favorite. An Arinze Onuaku injury derailed what many still think would have otherwise been a deep tournament run in 2010. Just a couple years later, a one-seeded Syracuse team stumbled in the Elite Eight while playing without the services of it's shouldn't-have-been-eligibile-anyway center Fab Melo.

Flip that with the years SU made deep runs. Syracuse was a 5-seed in 1996, a 3-seed in 2003 and a 4-seed in 2013.

There's no rhyme or reason to it. Some of it was luck, good and bad. Some it was player performance, or lack thereof. Some of it was specific to each individual game along the way. It all adds up to a crapshoot that you can only control so much as you try to make it to the promised land.

I don't think I'm making any point that absolves Jim Boeheim of a single-title-ness, as it were. I understand why a lot of folks think his resume should include more titles and more hardware. But what the person making the knock against Boeheim usually omits is that most of Boeheim's contemporaries are in the same position when it comes to championships.

Sure, there's Krzyzewski, but he's in a class of his own. Rick Pitino, Roy Williams and Billy Donovan, for all the praise heaped upon them, have two apiece. You could make an argument they "should" have more (as if there are an untold number of National Titles just laying around). Other than them, a select few coaches have one championship while 98% of them have none.

It seems like it should be a easy corollary. The number of National Titles you have shows how good of a coach you are. But as Calipari and Izzo reminded us this past weekend, it's not that easy at all.