(UPDATED FROM WHEN ORIGINALLY POSTED TO INCLUDE 2009 NCAA TOURNAMENT)
I've forever believed that it takes more than good players, smart coaches and great chemistry to win a national title.
It's takes pros.
At least three of them, in fact.
And though I've said this many times on radio shows and written it in various places, I had never actually researched the theory until I decided last week to look at the likely NBA talent playing on college teams this season. So what I did was examine the rosters of the past 41 national champions and identify players who went on to either A) be selected in the first two rounds of the NBA Draft or B) play in the NBA at some point even though they might've been drafted later or actually gone undrafted. And what I found was that you can count on one hand how many times in the past 41 seasons that a national champion didn't have at least three players who went on to be a first-round pick, second-round pick or an NBA player via the more unconventional route.
Actually, you can count it on one finger.
Because only one national champion fits the description: the 2003 Syracuse Orange featuring Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and a bunch of non-pros. Beyond that, every single national champion from the past 40 years had at least three players who went on to be a first-round pick, second-round pick or an NBA player in general.
So what does this mean?
Well, for starters it means that -- surprise, surprise -- I was right again, just like always. But what it also means is that a college coach who looks at his roster and doesn't see at least three NBA-caliber prospects has virtually no chance of winning a national championship. Sure, you can still be good, maybe win your league and even go to a Final Four if everything breaks perfectly. But history suggests you're not going to win it all without three NBA-caliber prospects, and this is why coaches spend basically every day of the contact periods on the road killing themselves securing commitments from elite-level prospects.
Without them, there's a ceiling that can't be busted.
With them, anything is possible.
Anyway, below is a list I put together from the past 40 years.
(Note: It appears the most-talented roster was the one Rick Pitino assembled for the 1995-96 season. That Kentucky team had nine players who were subsequent first-round picks, second-picks or NBA players in general.)
2009: North CarolinaTy Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller
- Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins
- Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Chris Richard, Marreese Speights
- Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Chris Richard
2005: North Carolina
- Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, David Noel, Reyshawn Terry
- Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Boone, Marcus Williams, Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong
- Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick
- Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake
- Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon
2000: Michigan State
- Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell
- Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Jake Voskuhl
- Jamal Magloire, Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard
- Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry, A.J. Bramlett,
- Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard, Mark Pope, Wayne Turner
- Ed O'Bannon, George Zidek, Tyus Edney, Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey
- Corliss Williamson, Darnell Robinson, Corey Beck
1993: North Carolina
- George Lynch, Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori
- Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Thomas Hill, Antonio Lang, Cherokee Parks
- Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Brian Hill, Antonio Lang
- Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, Greg Anthony, George Ackles
- Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Sean Higgins
- Danny Manning, Archie Marshall, Kevin Pritchard
- Steve Alford, Dean Garrett, Keith Smart
- Pervis Ellison, Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner, Kenny Payne
- Ed Pinckney, Harold Pressley, Dwayne McClain
- Patrick Ewing, Bill Martin, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Michael Jackson
1983: North Carolina State
- Lorenzo Charles, Thurl Bailey, Sidney Lowe
1982: North Carolina
- Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins
- Isiah Thomas, Ray Tolbert, Randy Wittman, Jim Thomas, Ted Kitchel
- Darrell Griffith, Derek Smith, Jerry Eaves, Roger Burkman, Rodney McCray, Scooter McCray
1979: Michigan State
- Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent
- Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, Jack Givens, James Lee
- Bo Ellis, Bernard Toone, Butch Lee, Jerome Whitehead
- Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, Bobby Wilkerson, Wayne Radford
- Marquis Johnson, Richard Washington, Andre McCarter, Ralph Drollinger, David Meyers
1974: North Carolina State
- Tom Burleson, David Thompson, Monte Towe
- Bill Walton, David Meyers, Keith Wilkes, Greg Lee, Swen Nater
- Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, Greg Lee, Henry Bibby
- Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe, Steve Patterson
- Sidney Wicks, Henry Bibby, John Vallely, Steve Patterson
- Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen, John Vallely, Steve Patterson