Thursday, December 9, 2010

Finding the Link Between Consistency and Greatness

In a sport like college basketball, it is incredibly tough to have a great, or even good team on a consistent basis. Teams like Duke, Michigan State, Syracuse, Villanova, and Kansas have been in the top 25 for what seems like decades, and look as if they will continue to be. The dynamics of college sports are vastly different from pro sports in the sense that the core of a pro sports team can stay together for five to ten years (Philadelphia Phillies, New England Patriots). In the college game, the core of a good team can only stay together for three or four years at the most. So how do these top-notch college basketball programs stay "top-notch?"

Year after year we see basketball programs rise to the pinnacle of the college basketball world, just to fall into the pool of mediocrity the very next year. Teams like Butler, our most recent example, have come within inches of winning the sport's biggest prize, and have struggled out of the gate the following season. Mid-major schools are more prone to this behavior, but big-name schools are not immune. Teams like UCLA and Oklahoma have caught this disease in recent years. So how have these top-notch college basketball programs fallen so hard and fast? The answer comes in what most programs don't have.

There are many reasons for success in college basketball. Money, recruiting, fan base, location, and resources such as practice facilities and equipment all factor in to the success of a team, but they do not explain how a team such as UCLA and a team like Villanova can be so vastly different. UCLA has a much larger fan base that can lead to more national exposure and draw in recruits. They reside in beautiful, sunny California compared to brisk and windy suburban Philadelphia. As part of the University of California system, UCLA has more resources and money at its disposal than that of a relatively small private school in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Having no knowledge of college basketball, and having read the last paragraph, you would think UCLA is the better basketball program. After all, it is far easier to recruit good players in a relatively watered down PAC-10 compared to the fierce competition of the Big East, "Big 5", and many other conferences cluttered into the North and East. Clearly that is not the case. UCLA, coming off a loss to Montana (MONTANA!!!), and more importantly a dreadful 14-18 '09-'10 campaign, sit at 3-4 and at the bottom of the (again I emphasize) watered down PAC-10. #12 Villanova, at 7-1, has a streak of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and is a perennial top-25 team in the toughest conference in America. How exactly does this happen? (I promise, this is the last time I ask)

The difference between these two programs is simple. Leadership. It is no coincidence that Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Mike Krz.... Coach K at Duke, Jay Wright at Villanova, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, and Jim Calhoun in Connecticut always have their teams in great shape, ready to play, and are consistent winners. A great leader needs to have a great work ethic, understand his subordinates, have confidence, be organized, and have an unquestionable will to succeed. These characteristics have allowed these coaches and players to not only buy in to the team's objectives and succeed, but succeed year in and year out on a consistent basis.

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