It’s always special when you win a national championship. However, some might argue it is a bit more special when you cut down the nets in Indianapolis, a city commonly known as the Amateur Sports Capital of the World.
In 2015, the Final Four returns to the Circle City for the seventh time with a flurry of teams hoping to close the year on (at least) a six-game winning streak.
So … who’s it going to be? History gives us some indication as to who might be on top of the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6.
In the past six Final Fours in Indianapolis, the future champion was ranked by the third AP poll released.
• 1980: Louisville, ranked 12th
• 1991: Duke, ranked 5th
• 1997: Arizona, ranked 11th
• 2000: Michigan State, ranked 3rd
• 2006: Florida, ranked 14th
• 2010: Duke, ranked 7th
In 2014-15, the Sweet 16 teams ranked in the third AP poll were:
• North Carolina
• Michigan State
• Wichita State
• West Virginia
In one step, we have trimmed the list of potential champions to 11.
Despite the AP ranking, Indianapolis’ Final Four history suggests that its champion will come from one of five different conferences.
• 1980: Louisville, Metro (now Conference-USA)
• 1991: Duke, ACC
• 1997: Arizona, Pac-10 (now Pac-12)
• 2000: Michigan State, Big Ten
• 2006: Florida, SEC
• 2010: Duke, ACC
By eliminating the teams not affiliated with one of these five conferences, the list shrinks from 11 to eight, as we remove Wichita State (MVC), Gonzaga (WCC) and West Virginia (Big 12).
• North Carolina
• Michigan State
In Indianapolis, if you want to win a title, it can’t come as a (big) surprise to many. Each past champion in Indianapolis was either a No. 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed heading into the Big Dance.
• 1980: Louisville, No. 2 seed
• 1991: Duke, No. 2 seed
• 1997: Arizona, No. 4 seed
• 2000: Michigan State, No. 1 seed
• 2006: Florida, No. 3 seed
• 2010: Duke, No. 1 seed
With that fact, our list shrinks once again:
• No. 1: Kentucky
• No. 1: Wisconsin
• No. 2: Arizona
• No. 1: Duke
• No. 4: North Carolina
• No. 4: Louisville
With that, UCLA and Michigan State are eliminated from our list. Of course, Tom Izzo and the Spartans are attempting to turn the clock back to 2000 when they hoisted the trophy in the RCA Dome, but a seven-seed in 2015 isn’t going to cut it according to our numbers.
Statistically, Indy’s past champions could score the basketball. All six champions averaged 74.5 points per game or more entering the NCAA tournament.
• 1980: Louisville, 77.7
• 1991: Duke, 88.6
• 1997: Arizona, 85.1
• 2000: Michigan State, 74.5
• 2006: Florida, 79.3
• 2010: Duke, 78.0
Two teams fall short in this requirement.
• Kentucky (74.9)
• Arizona (76.4)
• Duke (80.6)
• North Carolina (77.9)
Sorry, Louisville and Wisconsin. It wasn’t meant to be. The Badgers are the No. 1 seed in the West, but their scoring average falls just a few points shy of the magic 74.5 figure. Wisconsin very well could make a run in this year’s tournament, but it appears Bo Ryan will not be bringing the trophy back to Madison.
In the NCAA tournament, it’s always about the number four. So appropriately, we’re down to the Final Four in History’s Guide to the National Champion.
Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, and North Carolina have made it this far on our list and another national championship wouldn’t be a surprise to any of these fan bases across the country.
A Kentucky title would complete a perfect, well-documented 40-0 year. It would put the 2014-15 Wildcats in the history books as only the eighth undefeated national champion. It hasn’t happened since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 in 1976, but many fans and experts believe that John Calipari’s squad is destined to win it all.
If destiny isn’t on Kentucky’s side, then the Arizona Wildcats may win it all instead. A championship in 2015 would be the second in school history, with the first coming in 1997 when Lute Olson’s team beat three No. 1 seeds en-route to the title. Last year, Arizona was dangerously close to the Final Four, losing in the Elite Eight to Wisconsin 64-63 in overtime. The Pac-12 champions are determined to put last year behind them and go even further in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Duke. Indianapolis. In some ways, the two go hand-in-hand. The Blue Devils have won four titles in school history with half of them (1991 and 2010) coming in Indiana’s capital. Coach Mike Krzyzewski notched his 1,000th career coaching victory earlier this season and Duke impressed many with two great road wins this season, at Wisconsin and Virginia. Despite falling to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, Coach K and the Blue Devil program know the route to Indianapolis and history has certainly not forgot.
Finally, a team that is starting to get hot is Duke’s biggest rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Roy Williams and the Heels have had an up-and-down season, at one point losing five of seven in ACC play. Yet, North Carolina turned a lot of heads in the ACC tournament, winning three in a row before ultimately falling to Notre Dame in the title game. Indianapolis may be a stretch to some for North Carolina, but one can only think Roy Williams and company see signs of a team that could bring another title to Chapel Hill.
So … at the end of the day, who’s it going to be? Well, it starts on the bench.
Historically, five different head coaches have a won a national championship in Indianapolis. For all five of them, it was their first title.
• Louisville, Denny Crum (1980, ’86)
• Duke, Mike Krzyzewski (1991, ’92, 2001, ’10)
• Arizona, Lute Olson (1997)
• Michigan State, Tom Izzo (2000)
• Florida, Billy Donovan (2006, ’07)
Now, we apply that logic to the remaining four teams.
Kentucky, John Calipari (2012 national champion)
• Arizona, Sean Miller
Duke, Mike Krzyzewski (1991, ’92, 2001, ’10)
North Carolina, Roy Williams (2005, ’09)
The Wildcats have done it! No, not the Kentucky Wildcats, but rather the Arizona Wildcats. According to the history of the Final Four in Indianapolis, it will be Sean Miller’s team cutting down the nets on April 6.