With the Final Four coming to town this weekend, I thought it would be fun to look at the characteristics of championship caliber teams through the lens of previous championship winners. We start by looking at the past four NCAA champions: the Kentucky Wildcats (2012), Connecticut Huskies (2011), Duke Blue Devils (2010), and North Carolina Tar Heels (2009). While each team had its own unique personality and style of play, they shared four fundamental traits during their respective title-winning seasons.
You can’t make it to the Final Four without a collective passion for the game, your teammate and the moment. Most of you probably saw the devastating injury to Louisville guard Kevin Ware this past weekend in which he broke his leg on a routine defensive closeout. Despite the severity of his injury, he kept urging his teammates, “just win this game.” That’s passion. The Kentucky Wildcats exemplified passion throughout the 2012 season. It’s easy to point out they were the favorites to win it all with six players eventually chosen in the 2012 NBA Draft. But talent alone doesn’t get you far, as the Wildcats unfortunately learned this year with a first round exit in the NIT. Instead, the Wildcats fought hard every game, suffering just one loss the entire season. Their 38 victories broke the record for most wins in NCAA Division I history.
Leadership within the best teams comes not just from the coach, but also from key player(s). When a team has a strong leader that can serve as a coach on the floor, they execute better under pressure. These leaders motivate, communicate, and encourage every player to collaborate and work together effectively. The Tar Heels flourished under the leadership of senior Tyler Hansbrough during the 2009 season. Not only was Hansbrough the ACC’s leading scorer, but he was the glue of the team. He set the tone with his hustle and energy but was also able to keep the team calm with his composure in key moments. The team that wins it all in Atlanta will have a second coach on the floor—a player who binds and grinds the team to the win.
Recovering from Adversity
A team’s ability to recover quickly from adversity is the difference between good and great. There are rarely perfect seasons, so the ability to move forward from a mistake is critical. Sometimes the teams that struggle early are the ones that are still around in late March. They have been battle tested and they’ve had to respond to adversity before, so they know how to handle it. The UCONN Huskies were having a mediocre season in 2011, finishing the Big East regular season in a tie for ninth place. But the Huskies kept bouncing back, closing the season with eleven straight wins in postseason play. Perhaps the most impressive statistic? In elimination games, the Huskies were a remarkable 14-0. Connecticut had failed to make the tournament the previous season. They were not ranked when the season began. And they finished .500 in Big East play. The final line? National Champions.
In the NCAA tournament, it’s win or go home. There is no room for error so execution is key. Execution doesn’t happen unless team members embrace their individual roles. Executing what is expected of you seems basic, but how many teams get in trouble playing outside of their system and selves in big moments? Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils are known as a team that executes consistently at a high level. Coach K is known for putting together teams that are solid across the board with players that play to their strengths and understand their roles. The 2010 squad was no different, as the Blue Devils worked through their “Big Three” all season long, with Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith all finishing in double figures. Duke ended the season 35-5, winning the university’s fourth national title.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.