National Champion Recipe: 7 Key Ingredients

March 17th, 2010

You've spent all winter in the kitchen, trying to find the perfect combination. A little bit of this, a whole bunch of that and a dash of something else.

There are many variations to the recipe. What works for your mom might not work for your dad. What works for you neighbor might not work for Bill Self.

Sherron Collinsou could line up 100 ingredients and still not have the right mix or the cohesiveness you need to win six straight games this month.

Or you could throw out most of them and consider keeping it simple. That's what I would do. And I'd need only these seven ingredients to win a national championship:

+ Coaching -- Tubby Smith led Kentucky to the 1998 national championship in no small part because he outcoached Mike Krzyzewski -- not an easy task -- and Duke in the South Region final. In a frantic, up-and-down second half during which UK staged a furious comeback and Duke had no timeouts, both teams were spent but Tubby knew his deeper squad was in better condition. So he let his boys play on without giving Duke a chance to catch its breath. Kentucky advanced with the 86-84 win.

+ Guards Who Control the Game -- It's such a cliche to talk about how important guards are to your NCAA Tournament chances. But just because something is frequently repeated doesn't make it wrong. In a single-elimination tournament, it's critical to control the tempo in games against teams with contrasting styles. If your guards control the pace, you have a great chance to advance.

+ Big-Money Shot Taker -- There's a reason why Bill Raftery's "Onions" call is as recognized as it is: It often follows huge shots that win games. Many players -- but definitely not all -- want the ball in their hands late in a tight game. And only a few can come through in the clutch the way that Stephen Curry did in 2008.

+ Big-Game Experience -- Listen to the experts talk this week and most agree this is a key reason why Kansas has the edge over Kentucky. Each team is immensely talented, but Sherron Collins and company have been tested, whereas UK, as dangerous as it is, is built around freshmen who are playing in their first NCAA Tournament. Even junior forward Patrick Patterson is a newbie.

+ Big Man w/ Presence -- Guards are great and all, and backcourt-heavy teams with little interior presence have advanced, but rarely do they win championships. The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups, and if Ohio State and Georgetown meet in the Sweet 16, you might see what happens to a team thin on the inside when it plays a physical team with great talent and better depth on the blocks.

+ Depth -- It's not as important as many think, but is still key nonetheless. Young kids are in their physical primes, so in many cases these guys can handle playing 40 minutes. But foul trouble and the possibility of injury are more difficult to control ... and overcome.


+ Defense -- Last season, North Carolina was a dominant offensive force that could have won the title by playing defense on their backs. But in most years, champions earn the crown because they play excellent team defense, usually led by one or two individual defensive stars. Even fans know it. Have you ever heard an "OFF - ENSE" cheer?

John P. Wise is the editor of Follow him on twitter @onegreatseason.