Considering Florida: Is NBA Talent Necessary to Advance in the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 20th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Florida is one of the most debatable teams in the NCAA Tournament. UF should have walked away with the SEC crown on Sunday, but the Gators lost a double-digit lead to the Ole Miss Rebels. And again, UF was on the wrong side of another endgame situation with two crucial missed free throws by guard Scottie Wilbekin. Some believe the Gators have the talent and efficiency to make it to the Final Four, but others think they could find themselves in another close battle where the lack of a go-to guy leaves Billy Donovan’s squad looking for an answer. As Americans fill out their brackets, the debate over Florida begins.

Erik Murphy is an efficient college player, but that success probably won't translate to the pro game.  (US Presswire)

Erik Murphy is an efficient college player, but that success probably won’t translate to the pro game. (US Presswire)

During the SEC podblast last week (a fun 30 minutes of SEC Tournament debate if you haven’t checked it out yet), podblast co-host Randy gave us his gut feeling that Florida will experience an early NCAA Tournament exit (his prediction was that the Gators would leave prior to the Sweet Sixteen). In his commentary, he mentioned the lack of an NBA player in the Gators’ regular rotation, begging the question, have Final Four teams in the last five years had a presence of future NBA talent on the roster? Could some teams experience a situation where the sum is greater than the parts or is NBA level talent ultimately necessary to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament?

It should be noted that Randy’s prediction was prior to Selection Sunday, because, after all, match-ups are everything in the Big Dance. However, Florida’s lack of a clear superstar is one of several pressing issues for the Gators and we don’t get the impression that armed with the knowledge of the brackets has changed Randy’s mind on this. To examine a correlation between Final Four teams and NBA talent, we looked at rosters for each Final Four team over the last five years, from the 2008 Final Four to the 2012 version:

  • 2012: Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville
  • 2011: Connecticut, Butler, VCU, Kentucky
  • 2010: Duke, Butler, West Virginia, Michigan State
  • 2009: North Carolina, Michigan State, Connecticut, Villanova
  • 2008: Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, UCLA

* National Championship winners bolded

Anthony Davis blocked Kansas’ chances at a National Championship in 2012. Kemba Walker put the Connecticut Huskies on his back for the 2011 title. Tyler Hansborough willed his Tar Heels to a 2009 ‘ship. Who takes the Gators to the end? Florida lacks the superstar player to take over a game with individual dominance, but will it matter?

Is it possible to make the Final Four without any future professional players on the roster? It certainly is, but it is a somewhat rare feat. Over the last five years, only two teams have made the last weekend of the NCAA Tournament without an NBA player on the roster (it should be noted that figure includes 2012 Louisville which could still have a player drafted as a future selection). Not coincidentally, both of those teams, 2012 Louisville and 2011 VCU, lost in the National Semifinals to teams with six total draft picks and two lottery picks, respectively.

But does a second-rounder really make the type of individual impact that we are referring to in this conversation? And if the Gators are the team for comparison, they could have a player from this year’s roster sneak into the second round of the draft, right? If we restrict the conversation to first round NBA talent only, seven Final Four teams (2012 Louisville, 2011 VCU, 2011 Butler, 2010 West Virginia, 2010 Michigan State, 2009 Michigan State, 2009 Villanova) over the last five years have been without an NBA first round selection (for comparison, 13 Final Four teams within the same time period possessed at least one first round pick). In both 2011 and 2009, two teams without a first-rounder ended up in the NCAA Tournament’s promised land.

Do any of those seven teams have four players in double figures like the 2012-13 Florida Gators? Only one. The 2011 VCU Rams had four players score in double figures. But 2011, as you may remember, was a year in which there was not a dominant team, just as the championship is anybody’s game in 2013. Five of the seven teams without an NBA first rounder  (excluding only 2012 Louisville and 2011 Butler) had a balanced scoring approach with at least three players averaging double figures.

NBA talent certainly isn’t necessary to advance in the NCAA Tournament. There are countless examples of teams, like the 2012-13 Florida Gators, where the sum is greater than the parts. A team stacked with professional talent doesn’t hurt, though. More often than not, there’s NBA talent on the roster of any team that is able to survive the madness of March. And in many cases, there is more than one future pro. However, UF doesn’t necessarily need an NBA superstar, it just needs a player who can knock down a free throw in the clutch.

If the Gators are going to make it to Atlanta, it won’t be on the shoulders of one talented individual but on the backs of five teammates playing together. Florida has been successful using that approach all season long. And there’s no reason why the Gators can’t win four more games that way.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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