How Good Have This Year's Final Four Teams Been in Recent History?
When LL Cool J created Mama Said Knock You Out , he must have had this year's Final Four in mind. For Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, and Michigan State, there's no need to call their Final Four appearances a comeback, because they've been here for years.
Specifically, in the six-year era since John Calipari bolted Memphis for Kentucky, you'd be hard-pressed to find four better squads over that time period than the 2015 Final Four participants. Especially when it comes to success in March and April.
Using our signature in-house nERD metric (which measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average squad on a neutral court), along with and Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Ratings from KenPom.com, we can truly see how good these programs have been since that 2009-10 season, adjusted for schedule and opponents.
Without further ado, let's jump in to the advanced metrics. The table below shows the average nERD, Adjusted Offensive Rating and Adjusted Defensive Rating from the 2010 through 2015 seasons for top teams who had coaching continuity over the time examined.
|Team||nERD||Team||Adjusted O. Rating||Team||Adjusted D. Rating|
|Ohio State||16.65||Ohio State||114.6||Kentucky||91.9|
|Michigan St.||14.30||Michigan St.||112.1||Duke||94.7|
While we previously anointed the Kansas Jayhawks as the best regular season team of the past decade, when it comes to March and April, the 2015 Final Four teams have had more success. Duke is the nERD champion given their highest average nERD, and they've had the best Adjusted Offensive Ratings over the period. Kentucky isn't far behind, and has the most impressive overall rankings across the board.
Wisconsin's signature offensive efficiency has resulted in strong Adjusted Offensive ratings since 2010 as well.
And while Michigan State's gritty approach may not result in overwhelming nERD totals, you can't argue with the results. They often come into the NCAA Tournament like they did this year -- underrated -- and then Coach Izzo and the Spartans start wrecking shop, especially on the defensive end.
NCAA Tournament and Final Four Success: Act Like You've Been Here Before
Over the past six years, the 2015 Final Four participants have a total of 10 (out of 24) Final Fours (Kentucky 4, Wisconsin 2, Duke 2, and Michigan State 2) and two National Championships (Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012). You wouldn't necessarily think it, but three of the four teams have the longest NCAA Tournament appearance streaks in college basketball, as Duke has been in 20 straight NCAA tournaments, Michigan State in 18 straight and Wisconsin in a surprising 17 straight.
Louisville is the only other team with multiple Final Four appearances in this stretch that hasn't had a coaching change (UConn and Butler are the others with two Final Fours apiece).
Coaching Continuity and a Winning Formula
So what's in the water in the cities where these great programs reside? For starters, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Bo Ryan, and Tom Izzo are among the most resilient and best coaches in the game. The continuity of them being fixtures in their programs help. More importantly, they not only recruit the best players, but find ways to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses as well.
For Calipari, it starts with recruiting. Coach Cal gets the players, knows they may be there only a year or two and then quickly integrates them into his system, which is predicated on swarming defense. He masks their weaknesses well (for instance this year's team aren't great shooters) and plays a deep lineup.
How good have the Wildcats been under Calipari? Four Final Fours, one national championship and potentially the best team ever seem to indicate they have been dominant. In fact, only Kentucky's 2013 team missed the NCAA Tournament. That team followed their 2012 championships squad that lost 5 players to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer to Gonzaga and future NBA lottery pick Nerlens Noel to a season-ending injury.
Coach K is always able to recruit star players as well, developing a strong motion offense with solid three-point shooting as staples of Duke teams. While they don't always have a low-post threat, this year's squad has one of the best in the country in Wooden Finalist Jahlil Okafor. While not known for it, in seasons where they make deep tournament runs, Coach K gets the Dukies to dial up the defense as they did in the South Regional last weekend.
What's impressive about Wisconsin is how coach Bo Ryan adjusts to his personnel. His bread and butter is being the architect of an incredibly efficient offense. However, in the 2012-2013 season, Wisconsin's worst of the period (lost in first round of NCAA Tournament), his team had the best Adjusted Defensive Rating in college basketball. Ryan also turned Frank Kaminsky from a 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game sophomore to a dominant senior All-American averaging 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Tom Izzo seems to be at his best when his teams are under-the-radar talent-wise. Until last year, Izzo had taken every fourth year player he's coached to the Final Four. So, he skipped a year? All that does is make the gritty, defensive-minded Spartans even more dangerous this weekend.
Taking Their Talents to Indy
Excellent coaching, premier talent, signature offensive and defensive systems, and recruiting are why Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State are in the Final Four this year, and why they've dominated the advanced metrics over the past six years. We're clearly in for a historic Final Four where the best programs of recent history are all competing for college basketball's biggest prize.